Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Beauvoir – Biloxi Mississippi

Departing New Orleans and Louisiana on our pre-Christmas trip, we drove east into coastal Mississippi following US Highway 90.  We were headed for the east shore of Mobile Bay where we were spending the night and it was just a short drive…so we had some time to explore.  I’d checked out my guide books looking for attractions on the way.

Did Laurie, Dawn and I find a small walk-through zoo?  Yes and no… The Dromedary Camel, the miniature horses and other critters are pastured in back of Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in Biloxi.  As you will recall from your history lessons, Davis was President of the Confederate States of America. (CSA)

Laurie loves animals and she’s telling this little bovine just how pretty she is… Other animals wandering on the grounds included a standard size horse, llamas, donkeys and sheep.

Beauvoir is a Mississippi Historic Landmark as well as a National Historic Landmark.  It’s dedicated to preserving and interpreting the legacy of Jefferson Davis as well as the Confederate Soldier.  The property is owned and operated by the Mississippi Division, United Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.  Operation relies solely on admission receipts, gift shop sales and contributions for its funding…

As shown in the photo, this is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Confederate States of America.  There is also a fairly large cemetery containing 771 graves of Confederate veterans and their wives.  I don’t quite understand the pasturing of animals on the cemetery portion of the property…

Among those buried in the cemetery is Samuel Emory Davis, the father of Jefferson Davis.  Samuel Davis was born in Georgia in 1756 and served as a major in the militia of Lincoln County Georgia during the American Revolution.

This is Beauvoir.  Its construction was begun in 1848 by a wealthy plantation owner.  It was purchased in 1873 by the planter Samuel Dorsey and his wife Sarah Dorsey.  After her husband's death in 1875, Sarah learned of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis' financial difficulties. She invited him to visit at the plantation and offered him a cottage near the main house, where he could live and work at his memoirs.  That resulted in his publication of "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government".

Ill with cancer, in 1878 Sarah Ellis Dorsey remade her will, bequeathing "Beauvoir" to Jefferson Davis and his surviving daughter, Varina Anne Davis.  His wife Varina Howell Davis was also living there and the three of them lived in the house until Davis' death in 1889.

After the death of Jefferson Davis’s daughter in 1898, Davis’s wife, Varina Howell Davis inherited the plantation.   In 1902 she sold it to the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans with the stipulation that it be used as a Confederate state veteran’s home and later it was to be used as a memorial to her husband.  Barracks were built nearby and the property was used as a CSA Veteran’s Home until 1953, when the last Confederate States Army veteran died. 

This historic site almost disappeared in 2005…

This was Beauvoir House after Hurricane Katrina… The home was a shambles!  The house has been restored but the Presidential Library is still a work in progress… The storm destroyed the Hayes Cottage, the Library Pavilion, a barracks replica, the Confederate Museum and the director's home.  The first floor of the Davis Presidential Library was gutted by the storm and about 35% of the collections were lost.

Since thousands of homes in Mississippi were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, construction work was diverted to all of the disaster areas in the state.  As a result, restoration of Beauvoir proceeded slowly. However, as it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials approved Federal support for the efforts to the repair and rebuild the Beauvoir complex.  The house opened in June of 2008 and the new museum opened in 2013.

If you’re wondering why Beauvoir suffered such damage, you only have to take in the view from the front porch of the home.  That is the Gulf of Mexico right across US 90 from the home…

We were looking forward to our tour of the home… However we soon learned that we were to be joined on tour by a couple of 4th grade classes.  The tour was a ‘circus’ in the worst sense of the word!  The docents and teachers didn’t keep the kids under control and the information offered was minimal…exclusively aimed at the kids.  We would have skipped Beauvoir if we’d known how bad this experience was going to be…

Note: Just to add to the experience, the boy sitting on the step and one other were so sick, that their parents had to be called to come and get them. Yikes!

The house has been handsomely furnished but with all of the school kids on hand and the uncontrolled chaos, we weren’t able to learn much about the furniture or decorative pieces.

The original owner used slave labor and hired craftsmen to build the Louisiana Raised Cottage.  The single story home was constructed of cypress and heart pine, with a roof of English slate.  The raised design, along with the porches, tall windows, high ceilings, and the arrangement of the rear wings, promoted ventilation.  The house was elevated on 62 eight-foot-tall brick piers to provide antebellum air conditioning—not to avoid high water.  As it turned out, elevating the house and sealing the heavy slate roof around the edges saved it from the storm surges of Camille and Katrina.  The basic structure has withstood eighteen hurricanes since it was built! 

Jefferson Davis’s first wife was Sarah Taylor, daughter of Colonel Zachary Taylor…who later became the 12th President of the United States.  Sadly, Sarah died of malaria only 3 months after the wedding.  Davis survived his bout with the disease…but bad health plagued him for the rest of his life.

In the midst of the 4th graders, Dawn Marie managed to take this photo of Laurie and me…not the happiest of tourists!

This is a reproduction of the Library Pavilion…the original was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The original owner used this cottage as a schoolroom for his children.  Jefferson Davis rented it for $50 a month from Sarah Dorsey from 1877 to 1878.  Davis enclosed the eastern porch for additional living space and lined the original room with bookcases.  Here Davis, with the help of his wife Varina, wrote the “Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government”.

This is a reproduction of the Hayes Pavilion which is located at the right side of the main house.  Again, the original structure was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  The builder of Beauvoir built this cottage as a haven for itinerant Methodist circuit riders.  The building was later named for its later use by the family of Margaret Davis Hayes, the elder daughter of Jefferson and Varina Davis. 

I ‘borrowed’ this photo of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library and Museum from the Internet… It's located right behind Beauvoir.

Did you know that, in addition to being President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis previously served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Senator from Mississippi?   He also served as the U.S. Secretary of War under 14th American President, Franklin Pierce.  Davis was a graduate of West Point and he served 6 years as a lieutenant in the United States Army.  He fought in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848), as the colonel of a volunteer regiment.

This was another bit of incongruity that we noted… First it was the grazing animals in the cemetery and then there was this statue of Jefferson Davis outside the museum and library… I’m not sure that he would have appreciated the “Santa Claus” hat and other decorations.

Before the War, Jefferson Davis operated a large cotton plantation in Mississippi.  He had over 100 slaves and he was well known for his support of slavery during his time in the Senate.  Although Davis argued against secession, he believed that each state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union. 

Following the Civil War he kept his view to himself but privately he expressed opinions that federal military rule and Republican authority over former Confederate states was unjustified.  He considered "Yankee and Negroe" rule in the South oppressive.  Like most of his white contemporaries, Davis held the belief that blacks were inferior to whites.

The exhibits in the museum were interesting but one has to wonder what was lost to the fury of Katrina… We felt that this museum was a bit sparse, really a work in progress. 

Many historians attribute the Confederacy's weaknesses to Davis’s weak leadership. He was preoccupied with detail, reluctant to delegate responsibility, lacked popular appeal, feuded with powerful state governors, showed favoritism toward old friends, and generally was unable to get along with people who disagreed with him.  

President Davis met with his Confederate Cabinet for the last time on May 5, 1865, in Washington, Georgia, and officially dissolved the Confederate government.  Davis and his wife were captured by Union forces on May 10 at Irwinville in Irwin County, Georgia.

Later that month, Davis was imprisoned at Fortress Monroe on the coast of Virginia.  Irons were riveted to his ankles at the order of General Nelson Miles who was in charge of the fort.  Davis wasn’t allowed any visitors, and no books except the Bible.  His health began to suffer, and the attending physician warned that the prisoner's life was in danger.  He was finally provided with better quarters after several months.

Davis’s wife and daughter were finally allowed to join Davis, and the family was eventually given an apartment in the officers' quarters. Davis was indicted for treason while imprisoned but there was no consensus in President Andrew Johnson's cabinet to try the case.  After 2 years of imprisonment, Davis was released on bail of $100,000.  It was posted by several prominent citizens including Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt.   Davis remained under indictment until he was released from all liability through a presidential amnesty issued by President Johnson on Christmas Day in 1868.

For a brief history of Jefferson Davis, you can go to

This portrait that we noticed in the Jefferson Davis Museum provides an interesting footnote for me to end this posting with… This is Stand Watie. (1806 – 1871) He was also known as Standhope Uwatie, Degataga, and Issac S. Watie.  In Cherokee, his name meant "stand firm".  He was a leader of the Cherokee Nation and a Brigadier General of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.  He commanded the Confederate Indian cavalry of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.  This force was made up mostly of Cherokee, Muskogee and Seminole Indians.  Stand Watie was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender at war's end.

Of course, one of the questions that came to my mind was why a Cherokee leader would fight for the Confederacy?  The answer was rather pragmatic.  Fearful of the Federal Government and the threat to create a State (Oklahoma) out of most of, what was then the semi-sovereign "Indian Territory", a majority of the Cherokee Nation initially voted to support the Confederacy in the Civil War, though less than a tenth of the Cherokee owned slaves.
To learn more about Stand Watie’s very complex story, just go to

This was an interesting historical site and we probably would have really enjoyed learning more about the history if our tour had been focused on adults… To learn more about Beauvoir, go to

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Jefferson David would not have enjoyed seeing himself in that Santa hat, that's for sure. It was a grand home in its day and not as over-the-top as some. I had no idea the destruction Katrina caused this home. I feel for your experience with the four year old kids.They sounds too young to be going on a historic house tour. I can't imagine them even being interested...

  2. Lots of interesting history, Dave... In all of the years I lived in New Orleans, we never visited Beauvoir. I do remember taking the kids (MANY TIMES) to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a daytrip to the beach... We loved doing that.. I was devastated when seeing all of the damage that Katrina did to that area...

    Hope you all complained about the house tour--with all of those children.. That is HORRIBLE...