Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Lost in Time:
Vicksburg’s Old Court House Museum
Vicksburg's Old Courthouse - visited by Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Teddy Roosevelt -- brims with exhibits that create a snapshot-in-time historical look. *
By Susan J. Young
Dramatically perched atop a hill overlooking Vicksburg, the Old Court House Museum on Court Square oozes history. Insider’s secret? We believe it’s the best spot in town to soak in the city’s history and culture.
Too often, however, this site is simply overlooked by individuals or groups that tour the area. Most head for the Vicksburg National Military Park, Clay Street (US-80). Yes, that’s certainly an excellent choice for 1860s history buffs. But there’s more to Vicksburg.
Truthfully, the first two times I arrived, I passed by the Old Courthouse, dating from 1858. On my third visit, I ventured inside. My reward was a wonderful, low-key museum where past and present, war and peace, culture and politics mix.
It’s amazing is that the structure even survived the 47-day Vicksburg Campaign in 1863. The city was besieged daily by cannon fire; many other historic buildings were leveled or destroyed by fire. The Confederate Army and the city’s brave residents held out against all odds despite a lack of food, medical supplies, and other necessities.
Finally, given no choice, Confederate General John S. Pemberton surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863. Vicksburg’s surrender, coupled with the fall of Port Hudson, LA, divided the South and gave the North undisputed control of the Mississippi River. It was a turning point in the war.
A Proud Lady
Perhaps it’s fitting that such a grand dame structure – completed in 1860 just before the war began -- did survive. Today it stands proud as a National Historic Landmark and continues to tell the tales of its long-departed citizens who endured a very dark piece of history.
Four porticos, supported by 30-foot Ionic columns, still flank the entrances. The building boasts its original iron doors and shutters. And in 1978 the American Institute of Architects chose it as one of the 20 most outstanding American courthouses.
Civil War Fare
In the Confederate and Jefferson Davis Room, you’ll see cannonballs, shells, boots, bayonets and buckles, along with old money, military flags, musical artifacts and powder horns. Sheets with “military orders” reveal Confederate history.
One room is dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his family. This room also covers Davis’ pre-war life and his time as a local resident. You may not know that Davis was a U.S. Congressman, Senator, Secretary of War and a military hero. Even at the war’s end, Davis’ history was entwined with the Old Courthouse’s. Here he filed a lawsuit to regain his Warren County plantation, Brierfield, which he had lost during the war.
At the courthouse and throughout Vicksburg, some locals may still be willing to share stories of the Vicksburg Siege passed down from generation to generation. Not surprisingly, the stories have a decidedly Confederate tone.
It’s fascinating stuff regardless of which side your ancestors were on. Be sensitive to local feelings, though. You’ll likely encounter warm, helpful residents willing to share their tales.
If You Go
According to its Web site, the Old Courthouse Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Time. It's also open Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. During Daylight Savings Time periods, it's open until 5 p.m.
Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for kids in grades one to 12. Adults 65 or older are admitted for $4.50
For more information, contact the museum at 601-636-0741 or www.oldcourthouse.org.
Or, contact the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-221-3536 or 601-636-9421 or www.vicksburgcvb.org.
*Photo is owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. All rights reserved. Please do not link to this photo nor copy it. Thank you.