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Report From Corinth

By Rosemary Williams


August 2005

Corinth's national historical significance lies in its role as a strategic railroad junction during the American Civil War, and the armed engagements to either capture or defend the town. These engagements include the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege and Battle of Corinth, the outcomes of which proved to be pivotal in the course of the Western Campaign.

The surviving earthworks from this period, found scattered throughout Corinth, are considered one of the largest and best-preserved fortifications groups in the nation. Historic significance is also derived from the formation of the Contraband Camp near Corinth during the years of Federal troop occupation, where thousands of African-Americans began life as freemen. This model town provided recruits for the organization of some of the earliest African-American military units, including the First Alabama Regiment of African Descent. Along with its wealth of other historical and cultural resources, Corinth provides a unique opportunity to learn about often overlooked aspects of the Civil War.

After more than 140 years, Corinth's significance was recognized nationally in the early 1990s and after more than 12 years of work and fundraising a $9.5 million Civil War Interpretive Center is open and preservation of the historic sites is well underway.

The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center opened at the Battery Robinett National Historic Landmark site on July 24, 2004, turning a long sought community dream into a reality. Shiloh National Military Park Superintendent, Woody Harrell, who oversees the new Center, is proud of the building's design and its integration into the surroundings on the hillside while reflecting the theme of earthworks and earthen structures. Harrell said he thinks the Center is one of the most unique and striking visitor's facilities in the entire National Park Service system. [See Civil War News July 2004]

Over 5,000 square feet of interior exhibits explain several key themes:the causes and coming of the Civil War; early use of railroads for military purposes; development of offensive earthworks as a prototype for modern warfare; key military events in North Mississippi and Southwest Tennessee; and the war's impact on civilians, especially the story of the model Corinth Contraband Camp, an important first step to freedom for many self-emancipated and liberated Americans held as slaves.

Interior exhibits include a variety of media such as interactive devices, audio-visual programs, full-scale models and bronze statuary. At the rear of the center a large open courtyard uses a unique water feature to chronicle the American story from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution through westward expansion to secession, war and reunion. The Center also includes a major Civil War bookstore and an 80-seat auditorium.

In addition to the state-of-the-art Civil War Interpretive Center, there are 20 miles of hiking and biking trails leading to historic battlefield sites for those with recreational interests. The trails begin in downtown Corinth at Trailhead Park adjacent to the historic rail crossing. The National Historic sites along the trails includes the new Contraband Camp Commemorative Park (Phase I) and remains of miles of earthworks, redans and batteries dating from the 1862 siege and battle.

Other sites of significance include the Verandah House (ca. 1857) which served as headquarters for both Confederate and Union generals, and where the decision to engage in the Battle of Shiloh was made; site of Rose Cottage where Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston lay in state; Oak Home, (ca. 1857) former headquarters of Gen. Leonidas Polk; The Fishpond House (ca. 1856) headquarters for both Generals Beauregard and Breckinridge;

Also, The Duncan House (ca. 1857), which served as headquarters for both Generals Beauregard and Rosecrans. Thomas Duncan, a Confederate soldier wrote his Recollections of the Civil War while at the home; The National Cemetery where hundreds of Union soldiers are buried; and historic downtown Corinth where fighting took place in the streets and soldiers camped near the historic rail crossing.

All sites can be accessed by a driving the entire Shiloh-Corinth tour, or to walking the one-mile walking tour of historic downtown. Maps may be found at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center at 501 Linden St. or at the Corinth Area Tourism office at 602 East Waldron St. in downtown Corinth. All sites feature interpretive signage.

The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, a unit of Shiloh National Military Park, is open from 8:30 until 4:30 every day except Christmas. Group tours are available on request. There is no charge. The Center is located four blocks from downtown Corinth.

During the past year visitation has been brisk at times and slow during the winter. The visitor count has been lower than expected both in Corinth, and at Shiloh and other National Military Parks in the region. Visitation is expected to increase as we spread information about the Interpretive Center and when fuel costs decrease. Visitors have registered from all regions of the United States and many foreign countries including Europe, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, and others.

The Corinth Battlefield preservation and interpretation effort has been led by the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission, a city/county appointed entity consisting of five members. The commission was organized in 1993. Early projects included purchasing the last remaining battery of the original six surrounding the town; a master plan for preservation and interpretation; and the opening of an interim Civil War Interpretive Center.

Through the following years, and with the help of more than 50 partners, many of the major land resources were purchased, trails were built for access, maps published, interpretive signage installed and the interpretive center was built by the National Park Service.

It has been said that the Corinth preservation/interpretation effort should serve as a national model.

The battlefield preservation effort has spurred an interest in restoration and revitalization of the nearby historic downtown. Shops and businesses have opened in the lower portions of many historic structures while apartments and a hotel of luxury suites occupy the upper floors creating a new life for downtown.

For more information:Corinth Area Tourism Promotion Council, (800) 748-9048, fax (662) 286-0102, e-mail:tourism@corinth.net, Web site:www.corinth.net. Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, (662) 287-9273 and www.nps.gov/shil.

Rosemary Williams has served as Chairman of the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission since 1993; recently retired from the Civil War Preservation Trust Board of Trustees; serves as a member of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees and the Mississippi Civil War Commission. E-mail:rosemarywms@bellsouth.net.

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