When the Davis family left their plantation home, Brierfield, to move first to Montgomery, and then to Richmond during the war, they left behind most of their possessions, including the treasured family Bible. We don’t know if Mrs. Davis moved the Bible from the main house before she left, or if one of the servants moved it later for safekeeping, but the Bible waited out the war in a shanty near the big house.
That is where it lay when the Yankees marched into Vicksburg, cocky and sure of victory. According to journalist H.C. Reed of Delaware, Ohio, and Cameron F. Napier, Honorary Regent for Life of the White House Association of Alabama, this is what happened next.
A young Union sergeant named Charles Smith found the brown Bible in its shanty hiding place. He reportedly presented the confiscated Bible to Dr. Plynn a. Willis, his commander in the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Commander Willis was a surgeon from a prominent Ohio family. Dr. Willis took the Bible home to his family after the war. Sadly, he died of pneumonia in 1876 at the age of 39.
A half century later, his younger brother, Rollin K. Willis, then 83 years of age and the president of the Delaware Board of Education, sent Jefferson and Varina’s brown Bible back to their former home in Montgomery. Here it remains, on the center table in the 2nd parlor of the First White House of the Confederacy, under the watchful eye of the ladies of the White House Association and the WH Receptionists. People are astonished when they hear the story of the “lost and then found again” stately family Bible. We are most grateful to the gentleman who returned it to us. What a treasure!