Forget, for a moment, the muddy fields, the rotten, often sparse, rations and wet, cold living conditions. While soldiers were sometimes barely surviving in the field and dying by the thousands in combat, what was it like to live as the president of the Confederacy?

At the Museum of the Confederacy, in the one-time Confederate capital city of Richmond, visitors can walk through the Confederate White House where the southern President, Jefferson Davis, and his family lived for about five years.Tour guide Abdur Ali-Haymes will take you through the mammoth mansion, starting at the servant's entrance and moving through the beautifully decorated parlors, dining room, bedrooms and even the Davis children's nursery.

And as an African-American, Ali-Haymes says he has no problem telling visitors about the leader of a nation who wanted to preserve the practice of slavery.

``The war is over. The more facts we learn from history and the more history we learn, hopefully we'll never make the same mistakes again,' Ali-Haymes said.

Ali-Haymes made his first visit to the White House when he was just 11 years old. Back then, Robert E. Lee's granddaughter was a tour guide.

``It kind of sparked my interest in history,`` Ali-Haymes said.

He went on to earn a history degree and join the U.S. Army, retiring in 2000 as a sergeant major. Upon retirement, he became a middle school principal, working at the White House on his days off.

Here, he says, he ``tries to bridge some gaps in Richmond, especially with the African American community.'

From the rear, the three-floor home somewhat resembles the White House in Washington D.C. with towering columns.

It was built in 1818 for a mere $20,000, though the third floor was added later. The 7,700 sq. ft. interior has been renovated to replicate the Victorian decor it had when the Davis family called it home. Only three original pieces remain in the home, since everything inside was auctioned off after the war.

Inside, the home is stately and beautiful. Ceilings on the first floor measure 14.5 feet tall.

Ali-Haymes and other tour guides, will point out the bedroom window where Mrs. Davis once remarked how she could look out over the James River. Modern construction has now blocked her view with buildings.

They will point out the painting that Pope Pius IX gave Davis, depicting the Arch Angel Michael expelling satan from heaven. Museum officials believe the painting dates to 1517. The pope called him, ``Mr. President' and was perhaps the only foreign dignitary to recognize Davis as the leader of a sovereign nation.

And they will walk guests through the home office where Davis, Gen. Stonewall Jackson and Gen. Robert E. Lee huddled together in meetings.

Tour guides also point out the ``snuggery,' a tiny room where Abraham Lincoln and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant met once Davis had fled the city.

Once the Civil War ended, the home became the city's first public school, when many say children caused more damage to the house than the war did.

In 1889, officials announced plans to demolish the home but The Ladies Hollywood Memorial Association of the city saved it by forming the Confederate Memorial Literary Society in 1890. In 1894 the women were given the title to the home and they then opened the Confederate Museum two years later.

The home was closed again in 1976 for restoration and opened in 1988.

It sits in front of the 44,000 sq. ft. Museum of the Confederacy. The spacious museum houses the world's largest collection of Civil War artifacts, including 500 wartime flags, 250 uniform pieces and personal belongings of many Confederate generals.

Here, visitors can learn about life in the south, life on the battlefield and celebrate the dream that was the Confederacy, though Ali-Haymes said the museum tends to greet more northern visitors than southern.

Throughout the year, the museum offers glimpses at special collections, such as a look at some ofthe personal effects of Gen. Robert E. Lee. A new exhibit, debuting on May 23, called ``The Confederate Nation' offers guest a look at patriotic life on the southern homefront. And Ali-Haymes and others will be there to help visitors learn from the past and look to a bright new future.

``I wouldn't be any other place,' he said.

\ Contact Allison Perkins at 373-7157 or aperkins@news-record.com

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