By Renée S. Gordon
Corinth, Greece, the ancient crossroads city, was the home of Paul the apostle and later its citizens were the recipient of his epistle warning “that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. ” (I Corinthians 1:10) Paul’s letter, sent around 50 BC, referred to religious differences that splintered the community. Nearly 19hundred years later, in 1861, ideological differences would split this country and a new Corinth, one located in the northeast corner of the state of Mississippi, would be pivotal in the events to follow.
Corinth, Miss. was established in 1854 as Cross City, so named because it sat where the Mobile & Ohio and the Memphis & Charleston Railroads crossed. The town grew rapidly because this was the South’s only east/west, cross-country, line. Four years later the townspeople decided that the name should be changed to better suit their growing importance and the name was changed to Corinth after the ancient commercial intersection.
In 1861 Corinth became a transportation point for Confederate soldiers going to war and one year later it became central to the Civil War battles in the Western Theater. Corinth’s Civil War history also holds a deep significance for African Americans and their role as contraband, noncombatants and soldiers. The city’s story is unique and begins in the city and spills out into the surrounding countryside. The events that took place in and around Corinth have been referred to as the “beginning of the end” of the war and a “new beginning” for the freshly emancipated.
It offers much more than Civil War history but no matter whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, shopping in the eclectic stores in the downtown area or dining in some of the areas truly special eateries, you should start with a trip to the Corinth Tourism Office. Here you can obtain brochures detailing several thematic tours, activities and scheduling information.
The Tourism Center is located near the famous 16-sq. ft. Railroad Crossing that made Corinth so strategically important and led to the battles in Corinth and Shiloh. The tracks are in the same beds and it remains active. The Confederate Army (CSA) burned the original depot in 1862. The rail junction, with the Crossroads Museum, located inside the 1918 station, in the foreground is a great photo op.
The stucco veneer Crossroads Museum has five permanent galleries and temporary exhibits. Self-guided tours give visitors an overview of the city’s history in general and the Civil War specifically. Information is also given on the African American presence. The museum gift shop is a good place to purchase inexpensive souvenirs. www.crossroadsmuseum.com
Architectural tours of the city include 54 sites constructed from the 1850s through the 1940s and showcase styles from the Federal Period to Art Deco. A brochure is available and, to the layman’s delight, includes not only a map but also a complete listing and definitions of architectural terms, styles and features. Corinth’s Civil War Trails guide lists 21 sites. Many buildings are on both maps and I highly recommend that visitors use both simultaneously for a better understanding of the structures and their use.
The Greek Revival Verandah-Curlee House alternated as headquarters for both Union and Confederate generals. Constructed in 1857 the mansion has soaring 16ft ceilings and the original louvered blinds. It is within these doors that Order #8 was completed authorizing the Battle of Shiloh.
Across the street from the Verandah-Curlee House was the location of a speech given by General Lorenzo Thomas in 1863. On May 16th of that year he began a recruitment effort to form units of the US Colored Troops (USCT). While in Corinth Thomas visited the contraband camp and announced that he would deliver a message to President Lincoln regarding the progress of the freedmen.
A marker at the site of former Rose Cottage denotes the place where Confederate General Johnston was headquartered. Johnston was killed at Shiloh, on April 6th his body was returned here, and on the 7th lay in state for public viewing. Ironically, while at Rose Cottage Johnston contracted for 500 coffins. It is believed that his body was placed in the first one.
The Black History Museum of Corinth’s goal is to preserve and present the black history of Alcorn County. The permanent collection highlights such individuals as the city’s first black mayor and opera singer Ruby Elzy. The museum interprets the history through a variety of documents, artifacts, photographs and memorabilia. Call ahead for hours of operation.
Built in 1935, the Beaux Arts Pickwick Theater, “The Gem,” is the oldest extant theater in Mississippi. It was refurbished in 1935 and operated until 1961. The stage, curtain and balcony are original.
The Coliseum Theater has been designated a National Historic Site. Constructed in 1924 this combination of Victorian and Art Deco styles was the largest theater in the northern part of the state. Noted features are the grand white marble staircase, ornate plaster ceiling, marble wainscoting and stained glass lighting fixture.
Waldron State Christian Church, built in 1912, is a fine example of Dutch Revival architecture. The original 2-story brick church was razed in 1862 by Union troops in order to build ovens. After the war the government awarded the congregation compensation in the amount of $800.
A highlight of any trip to Corinth is a visit to C & D Jarnagin the nation’s largest historical outfitters. They are the premier suppliers of re-enactors clothing, tinwear and leather goods from the period 1740-1865. The outfits are historically accurate and the fabrics are as close to those used during the time period as possible. Clothing is custom made and the average cost of a complete outfit is about $1,200. Jarnagin’s creations have been made for theatrical productions, operas, state and national parks, armed forces honor guards, movies such as “3:10 to Yuma” and all the uniforms in “Glory.” Visitors can get a glimpse of individual craftsmen at work, try on hats and purchase authentic replicas. This is a one-of-a-kind treat. www.jarniginco.com
Borroum’s Drug Store is a must stop prior to leaving the historic area. After the Civil War Dr. A. Borroum, a former CSA surgeon and POW, stopped in route home and decided to stay. He joined an existing practice and then established a drugstore in 1865, now the oldest continuously operating drugstore in the state. The current Italianate building was once a livery stable constructed in 1873. The store is decorated with Native American and Civil War artifacts and general memorabilia and one wall is dominated by a huge antique soda fountain.
Borroum’s is renowned for its food and I can attest to the fact that they make some of the best milk shakes in the country. Here you can also taste Corinth’s famous delicacy, the “slugburger.” The slugburger was first made during the Depression and was so named because it cost a slug, a nickel. It is made from beef, filler, pickles, onions and mustard and is really quite tasty. If you are anywhere near you must eat here. www.borroumsdrugstore.net
Jacinto, founded in 1836 and named the Battle of San Jacinto, was once the seat of Tishomingo County. The Federal-style courthouse dates from 1854 and was constructed of bricks handmade at the site. A tour of the four rooms and central foyer reveal original spectator’s benches, the judges’ faux-marble bench and interior architecture. Also on the grounds is a country store with interesting items for sale.
The Battle of Iuka took place on September 19, 1862 and the field on which it took place is one of the most endangered battlefields in the country. The battle site tour, on 76 of the original 150-acres, has four stops. This battle is instructive in that it was extremely bloody, in 2 hours there were more than 1800 casualties, and both sides made grievous errors. It ended in Union victory. www.tishimingo.org
Settlers moved into Farmington in 1763 and the town was granted official status in 1838. On May 9, 1862 war came to the town and after a six hour battle the Union burned the town to the ground. In 1997 the city was rechartered and until earlier this year it held the distinction of being the oldest and the youngest town in Northern Mississippi. On view are two important sites, the Farmington Baptist Church, one of the oldest in the state, and the battlefield. The battlefield is worthy of a visit because it is 160-acres of unspoiled ground and looks just as it did in 1862. Reenactments here have a special aura of authenticity. www.battleoffarmington.com
Tishomingo State Park rests in the nearby foothills of the Appalachians. It is an ideal destination for lovers of nature and the outdoors. The park can trace the Native presence to 700 BC and is named after the influential Chickasaw Chief Tishomingo. Visits include a 13-mile nature trail, swinging bridge over a designated Scenic Stream, the state’s sole rock canyon, and 1840s restored log cabin and mini-museum inside the Nature Center. www.stateparks.com/tishomingo_tishomingo
Mississippi’s system of pensions for Confederate veterans was instituted in 1888 and, unlike any other southern state, African Americans were included on the rolls from the beginning. Ultimately 1,736 applications would be submitted representing more than 95% of the CSA units in the state. African Americans were present at every engagement in the Western Theater.
There are always new insights into the Civil War and in part two of our Corinth tour we’ll visit more sites of specific importance to African Americans as the nation prepares for the commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.
Information is available on the websites listed and online at www.corinth.net
I wish you smooth and edifying travels!