Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site - St. Francisville, Louisiana

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site
One of the best known and most beautiful of the South's historic antebellum plantation homes, historic Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville has been a Louisiana landmark since 1834.

Named after a play its builders, Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull, saw on their honeymoon, Rosedown is now a state historic site and is open to the public year-round. In addition to preserving one of the finest collections of antebellum plantation structures in the nation, the park also preserves Rosedown's magnificent gardens which also date from the antebellum era.

Construction of the main house at Rosedown began in 1834. Framed by a beautiful avenue of live oaks, the facade of the Federal-Greek Revival style home is one of the most recognized in the South. Other surrounding plantation structures, including a doctor's office, kitchen, etc., were built in similar styles and many survive today.

Gardens at Rosedown Plantation
Rosedown's magnificent gardens date back to at least 1836, when Martha Turnbull made the first entry in her "garden diary" that survives today. Over the decades that followed she created one of the largest private gardens of the 19th century, importing exotic plants from Asia and other overseas destinations. Rosedown, in fact, was the site of one of the first known plantings of camellias in America and blooms from the original stock can still be seen there. The 28-acre gardens are also known for their azaleas and other beautiful flowering plants.

Camellia at Rosedown
The Turnbull family continued to live at Rosedown throughout the Civil War, despite the terrible violence that took place within earshot of the home during the Siege and Battle of Port Hudson. The home was not damaged during the shelling of St. Francisville by Union warships, although the arrival of Federal forces in the area meant freedom for the more than 100 slaves who lived and worked on the farm. After its fall in July of 1863, nearby Port Hudson became a major recruiting and training center for African American soldiers who came from area plantations to join the Union army.

Rosedown survived, however, and today is one of the most beautiful of the numerous historic plantations that line the Mississippi River from Natchez down to St. Francisville. To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Port Hudson State Historic Site - Zachary, Louisiana

Confederate Earthworks at Port Hudson
Although its story is often overshadowed by that of the Battle of Vicksburg, which took place at the same time, the Siege and Battle of Port Hudson was one of the monumental confrontations of the Civil War.

After a failed attempt to retake Baton Rouge in August of 1862, Confederate forces in Louisiana withdrew about 30 miles up the Mississippi River to Port Hudson. A small community located atop high bluffs overlooking a bend of the river, Port Hudson offered the ideal place for a citadel to prevent Union warships from reaching the vital junction of the Mississippi and Red Rivers.

Garrison Flag that flew over Port Hudson
Over the months that followed, the position was heavily fortified and by early 1863 a Confederate force of around 7,500 men held the position and manned the heavy guns that aimed down on the channel of the Mississippi. A flotilla of Union warships commanded by Admiral David G. Farragut tried to blast its way past Port Hudson on March 14, 1863, but only two of the vessels made it. The U.S.S. Mississippi was destroyed and the other ships had to turn back. Port Hudson had proved its worth as a defensive position.

Cannon at Port Hudson, Louisiana
Determined to eliminate the Confederate bastion, Union General Nathaniel P. Banks moved against it with more than 30,000 men in May of 1863. The severely outnumbered Confederates dug in even deeper and devastated the Union army in its two major attempts to storm the works. An attack on June 14, 1863 went so bad for the Federals that they suffered casualties of 1,792 men compared to only 47 of the Confederates, giving Southern General Franklin Gardner one of the most lopsided tactical victories of the Civil War.

Port Hudson held out until after the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July of 1863. The fall of that city gave Union ships coming down the Mississippi access to the river's confluence with the Red River and there was no longer any reason for the Confederates in Louisiana to continue to hold out. Gardner surrendered on July 9, 1863, having withstood until then the longest total siege of the Civil War.

To learn more about the Siege and Battle of Port Hudson and to see photos of Port Hudson State Historic Site and other points of interest in the area, please visit

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oakley Plantation (Audubon SHS) - St. Francisville, Louisiana

Oakley Plantation
Built in around 1806, Oakley Plantation at Audubon State Historic Site has been a Louisiana landmark for more than 200 years.

Built with clear West Indian influences, the house dates from the days when the Florida Parishes of Louisiana were still part of Spain. Oakley was still new in 1810 when the territory east of the Mississippi, south of the 31st parallel, north of Lake Pontchartrain and Gulf of Mexico and west of the Perdido River rebelled against the Spanish and declared its independence. The Republic of West Florida, so named because it was part of colonial West Florida and not present-day West Florida, lasted for only three months before it was taken over by the United States.

Footpath at Oakley Plantation
Oakley Plantation's best known interaction with history, however, came in 1821 when famed naturalist John James Audubon was hired by Mr. and Mrs. James Pirrie, the plantation owners, to teach drawing to their daughter Eliza. Although he remained there only a few months, the plantation became a landmark location in the life and career of Audubon because it was here that he began work on 32 of his famed paintings of North American birds. He was so taken with the farm and its surroundings, in fact, that he described its beauty as "almost supernatural."

Oakley Plantation is now preserved at Audubon State Historic Site on the outskirts of St. Francisville, Louisiana. To learn more, please visit

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Grave of the best known Private Soldier of the Confederacy - Milledgeville, Georgia

Private Edwin F. Jemison, 2nd Louisiana Infantry
A stone monument at Memory Hill Cemetery in historic Milledgeville, Georgia, bears a name that touches the heart of many who read about or study the Civil War: Edwin F. Jemison.

Jemison was a 16 year old volunteer in Louisiana when the haunting photograph that many consider the best known image of a private soldier of the Confederacy was taken. He never saw his 18th birthday.

Born into a prominent Georgia family, Edwin F. Jemison (who signed his military papers as E.F. Jemison) was a descendant of early Quakers who had founded the town of Wrightsboro, Georgia, and was the great-grandson of a hero of the American Revolution. His family had moved to Louisiana from Georgia during the 1850s and had acquired large holdings in the Monroe area. When President Abraham Lincoln called for hundreds of thousands of volunteers to put down the rebellion in the South, Jemison was among the Southern men and boys who turned out to defend their homeland.

Grave of Edwin F. Jemison
Edwin F. Jemison was mustered into the 2nd Louisiana Infantry Regiment on May 11, 1861, and served in Companies I, B and C during his 12-months tour of duty. Possibly because of his young age, he was detached early in his service to assist at the headquarters of General John B. Magruder. By the winter of 1861-1862, however, he was in the ranks in Virginia where the 2nd Louisiana had been sent to defend the Confederate capital city of Richmond.

Only 17 years old, he was shot down when his regiment stepped out in one of the human waves sent by General Robert E. Lee against Union artillery positions at the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. His sad eyes, however, stare out through the years to remind us of the cost of war thanks to the 150 year old photograph that has been widely reprinted since the war.

A monument to Jemison was placed in the family plot at Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville soon after the war and visitors today can view his grave and read an interpretive panel that tells his tragic story. To learn more, please visit

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Confederate States of America was formed 150 Years Ago Today

Alabama State Capitol Building
On February 4, 1861, delegates from the seven Southern states that had declared their independence from the Union met in Montgomery, Alabama, and declared the existence of a new nation, the Confederate States of America.

The meeting took place at the historic Alabama State Capitol Building, which also would serve as the first capitol of the Confederacy. As the delegates convened in the magnificent old building, they declared themselves a provisional legislature for the new Southern nation and authorized a committee to begin work on drafting a Constitution that would unify the seceded states for their common defense and welfare.

First Capitol of the Confederacy
The move would set the stage for the largest conflict of arms ever to take place on the North American continent. The new Southern nation defied the will of the old Union and attempts at negotiation to resolve the difference between the two governments would fail. It would be from Montgomery, two months later, that President Jefferson Davis would issue the order for Confederate guns to open fire on Fort Sumter. That attack would officially open the War Between the States or Civil War. By the time the war came to an end, the history of the United States and its people would be forever changed.

The historic Alabama Capitol Building which served as the First Capitol of the Confederacy remains in use today. It stands atop Goat Hill at the end of Dexter Avenue and has looked out on an amazing array of monumental historical events, from the formation of the Confederacy and beginning of the Civil War to the end of the Selma to Montgomery March during the Civil Rights Movement.

To learn more about the building's role as the First Capitol of the Confederacy, please visit

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Two Florida Civil War Battlefields facing Possible Closure

Olustee Battlefield
With the 150th anniversary observation of the Civil War now underway and tourists flocking to Civil War sites across the nation, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is considering locking the gates to the only two state-owned Civil War battlefields.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park and Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park are among 53 parks and historic sites DEP is considering closing to save $6.5 million from the agency's $1.5 BILLION budget. The cut would represent the closing of one-third of Florida's state parks and historic sites while barely impacting DEP's massive budget.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park (just east of Lake City) preserves the scene of the February 20, 1864 engagement that was the largest Civil War battle in Florida. The Battle of Olustee was a massive Confederate victory that preserved the supply lines providing beef and other food for Southern armies and stopped a Union plan to restore the allegiance of at least part of the state in time for its electoral votes to be counted in the 1864 Presidential Election. Olustee was the bloodiest battle of the war for the Union army in terms of the number of men involved (around 10,000). To read more about this highly significant park, please visit

Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park (south of Tallahassee) preserves earthworks and other features from the last significant Confederate victory of the Civil War. The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865, and preserved Tallahassee's status as the only unconquered Southern capital east of the Mississippi River. The battle also prevented the destruction of much of the infrastructure and public and private property across a large area of North Florida and South Georgia. The cadets from West Florida Seminary (today's Florida State University) fought in the battle and to this day the FSU ROTC is one of only three in the nation authorized by the Pentagon to carry battle streamers.  To learn more, please visit

Natural Bridge Battlefield
Both battlefields are also landmarks of black history. At Olustee, the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a famed African American regiment, took part in heavy fighting and played a key role in the escape of the Union army from the battlefield. At Natural Bridge, virtually all of the Union soldiers engaged were from the 2nd and 99th U.S. Colored Troops. More than 150 men from the two African American regiments were killed, wounded or captured in the battle.

I encourage you to contact Governor Rick Scott of Florida to voice your opposition to these proposed closings. You can obtain his address or write him through an online form by clicking here.