Miss. library spotlights Confederate president

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BILOXI, Miss. -- The life and writings of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, are on display at the newly opened Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.

Civil War reenactment The library, resolutely presidential, stands on the grounds of Beauvoir House, the National Historic Landmark that was Davis' gulfside retirement home from 1877 until his death in 1889. "Jefferson Davis had, after all, been a president and deserved the same type of recognition and respect given to other chief executives," said Keith Anderson Hardison, executive director of the Beauvoir complex.

The library's components were designed to mirror the libraries of U.S. presidents and thus include a theater, exhibit gallery and research library. One difference is in the funding. Presidential libraries normally are constructed using private as well as nonfederal public funds. Once built, they are operated and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Jefferson Davis Presidential Library's $4.5 million budget came from the state of Mississippi. The library is maintained by the Mississippi Division of the United Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The two-story, 13,500-square-foot, Palladian-style library is fronted by a reflecting pool and simulates the architecture of Beauvoir House and its flanking pavilions. Its theater, where visitors can view a film of Davis' life -- his West Point training, Mexican War leadership, government service as a U.S. senator and cabinet member and his Confederate presidency -- provides space for symposiums, lectures and plays.

The exhibit, displayed in a 3,500-square-foot gallery, is said to be the most comprehensive ever mounted on the life of Davis. Exhibits include his funeral catafalque, figures of Davis in the Mexican War and as Confederate president and a re-creation of his prison cell in Fort Monroe, Va., where he was jailed for two years after his arrest by Union soldiers in 1865.

The second-floor research library houses materials devoted mostly to the Davis era. But among the multitude of volumes on the stacks, a diligent scholar also can find some rare volumes on Southern history. Materials from the 19th century and the post-Davis era include original Davis family and wartime documents as well as books from libraries compiled by Davis and other occupants. Noteworthy among them are Confederate veterans who resided there when Beauvoir served as the Confederate Men's Hospital from 1903 to 1957.

Other points of interest are the Confederate Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier, located behind the Beauvoir House. The cemetery contains the graves of 771 Confederate veterans and their wives.

The 52-acre estate hosts a number of public events throughout the year. On Oct. 17, 18 and 19, Beauvoir will sponsor the annual Fall Muster Reenactment. Each year, approximately 400 "soldiers," accompanied by their wives and children, return to 1860s Beauvoir for two days of camp life. The highlight is a mock skirmish between the Blue and the Gray, featuring original Civil War artillery.

Other activities include music and dancing, a medical demonstration, an infantry drill, an artillery drill, 1860s church services and children's games. Period apparel, equipment and memorabilia will be offered for sale along with food and beverages. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 17 and 18, and 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 19. The fee for this event is still undecided, so call ahead and confirm. Daily tours are $7.50, adults; $6.75, military, seniors and AAA members, and $4.50, children ages 6 to 15. Younger children are admitted free with a parent.

Beauvoir House holds five or six special events a year, Hardison said.

September and October feature a Children's Shakespeare Festival and a one-woman play. On Dec. 11 and 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., Beauvoir House will open for candlelight tours. Decorated for Christmas in the Victorian style, as it had been when the Davis family lived there, Beauvoir will feature a 14-foot fir tree and a live, Victorian Santa Claus. The house will remain decorated for tours until Christmas Eve.

There is free on-site parking for up to 90 vehicles. During special events, free overflow parking is available at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum & Convention Center, adjacent to the property.

The regular tour hours for the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The home and library are closed Christmas and Thanksgiving.

The Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, Phone: (800) 570-3818 or (601) 388-9074, Web: www.beauvoir.org

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