While the White House of the Confederacy was closed for six months in 2020, I got a spot on a tour the day they reopened. It was obvious from the outside that the house had been protected- some windows were still boarded, and there was some tape where things had been closed. This museum has been on my list to check out for a while, and I am glad I got to see it!
Where To Get Tickets
Occasionally, discounted tickets will pop up on sites like Groupon, but the most impact for the museum would be to grab them through their website directly. The most expensive tickets are only $9, they have many discounts, and if you are going to visit other Civil War museums, they have some bulk discounts.
Where To Park
One of the weirdest thing about this museum is where it is located. The house has not moved since it was built, but Richmond has certainly changed. It is right in the middle of the Virginia Commonwealth University campus sandwiched between classroom buildings. To visit you must park in the parking garage for the hospital. According to the sign above, there are some free parking times, but I was there during the week.
Just so you know, apparently, they have considered moving the house a few times, and it can be moved. Unfortunately, there is no way to get it out of the city- the roads and buildings are not wide enough to move it. So until it can be airlifted out of Richmond, it will remain where it is.
Just a tip- park on the 8th floor. This allows you street access to the museum. I ended up walking up three flights of stairs.
Looking for other things to do in Richmond? Check out My Poe Museum (Richmond) Visit!
My White House of Confederacy Visit
The house, from the outside, looks pretty nondescript. It’s a big white house. The picture above is of the front of the house, and below is a picture of the back. The rear is actually a bit more grand, and behind it would have been a kitchen, slaves quarters, and other buildings that were not preserved.
There is a lovely courtyard there now that is between the house and the gift shop/place when you check-in. While I was there, several people used it as a place to rest, including a distracted mom whose little boy used the courtyard to address nature’s call.
I really had no idea what to expect when I visited the White House of the Confederacy. I have spent much time studying homes from the founding fathers, but the decorations and technology of the Civil War era are pretty unknown to me. I have to say my first thought inside was, “Wow, this is ugly.” The style during the 1860s is not something I would enjoy!
The still functioning bell above the front door.
Without giving you too many spoilers from the tour, the house has an interesting history, even aside from its function during the Civil War. It was originally built for a doctor and his family, who then sold it to the city and presented it to Jefferson Davis (the President of the Confederacy). After the war, it was used as a school and then as a storage building for Civil War items. There are no existing pictures of the inside as it was during the war (there are many of the outside) and there wasn’t the careful documentation as in other buildings. So, some of the features inside are guesses based on what was popular then.
The walls are covered with wallpaper that looks like marble. They are unsure whether the flooring or wallpaper is accurate, but the chairs and door are.
Most items were auctioned off to raise funds after the war, and many have been returned with their original receipts. So, there are quite a few original pieces in the home. Additionally, Davis’ widow was alive when the museum opened in its first form, so she was able to give them some feedback. She was advanced in years, so her memory was not incredibly sharp, but an eyewitness to the house is a great resource.
Also, be sure to ask your tour guide about the slaves who lived in the house. At least THREE of his slaves escaped to freedom during their tenure, and it’s possible one of them set fire to the kitchen to escape!
The wallpaper, curtains, and carpet were SO busy. All the patterns in the dining room were overwhelming.
The dining room is the biggest downstairs, and it reminds me of the size of the dining room at Mount Vernon. This led to one of the most interesting conversations of the tour- about George Washington.
If you look at the picture hanging on the wall, you will see George Washington. That isn’t the only picture of the first president in this home. According to my tour guide, Jefferson Davis was obsessed with Washington and saw himself as the Washington of the South. He believed he was creating a new nation from nothing and would one day be revered in the same manner. In fact, Jefferson Davis was sworn in as the permanent president of the Confederate States of America on Washington’s birthday in 1861. In his inaugural address, Davis said, ‘On this the birthday of the man most identified with the establishment of American independence, and beneath the monument erected to commemorate his heroic virtues (there was a Washington statue behind him) and those of his compatriots, we have assembled to usher into existence the permanent government of the Confederate States.”
Mrs. Davis’ sitting room.
I don’t want to give away too much more from the tour, but there is one room I HAVE to tell you about. One of the reasons I visit these places is that when I know I am in a room someone important was in I get chills. I love being in the president’s homes and knowing important decisions were made. I didn’t have that feeling in this house UNTIL I hit the snuggery.
The snuggery is a small room off the main foyer used as a library and meeting room.
In 1865, when Richmond fell, the Davis family was rushed out of the city. Very soon after President Abraham Lincoln visited the house and met with people in that snuggery. This would have been on April 4, 1865. He was assassinated on April 15, 1865. It was less than two weeks before his death and one of his last trips outside of the DC. Being in the room where he was at such an important time made me take pause.
The House of the Lost Cause Exhibit
In the basement was The House of the Lost Cause exhibit. Davis was jailed briefly after the war. Once released, he wrote a book about the war, and this display shows some of that and gives a picture of life in the South after the war.
I won’t really go into most of this information, but honestly, a good portion of it just made me angry and sad. Almost everything I learned the day I toured the house was new information. Aside from my American History in high school and any movies I have watched, I have done little research on the Civil War, so the house was eye-opening for me. I will do more moving forward as I have other museums to visit!
Have you been to the White House of the Confederacy? What were your thoughts?