Civil War-era Tupelo comes to life

S. TODD SHERMAN

Event organizer Dick Hill stands beside a pre-Civil War road in Lee County.

FAXBOX

- Battle of Tupelo program

- 1 p.m. Saturday

- Natchez Trace Visitor Center (Milepost 266)

- Celebrate the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Tupelo

- Free and open to the public

- For more information, please call the Parkway Visitor Center at 800-305-7417 or 840-4027.

HED: Civil War-era Tupelo comes to life

- A presentation of the past will mark the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Tupelo.

By Emily Le Coz

Daily Journal

TUPELO – It’s Saturday. It’s hot outside. You and the kids are looking for something to do – preferably indoors and inexpensive.

You’re in luck.

The Natchez Trace Parkway will take you back to Civil War-era, when Confederate soldiers roamed the dirt roads and the first railroad rambled through a place that would be incorporated as Tupelo in 1870.

The half-hour presentation Saturday afternoon marks the 143rd anniversary of the Battle of Tupelo – also known as the Battle of Harrisburg – and will explain how the war shaped the future city and how people lived back then.

“A lot of people aren’t into battles but might be interested in the social history, and it’s very much rooted in the Civil War,” said Natchez Trace Park Ranger Ernie Price. “It won’t be a program about regiments moving around a battle field and who was shot where. This is about Tupelo during the Civil War and how much it grew because of the Civil War and because of the railroad.”

Local history buffs Bill Lyle and Dick Hill will make the presentation, which starts at 1 p.m., and they’ll take audience questions afterward. Photographs and other visual aids will be on hand to show how the Tupelo area once looked.

“What we’re trying to correct is the thought that Tupelo didn’t play an important role” in the Civil War, Hill said. “Because that’s not true.”

Tupelo was the western division headquarters for the Confederates’ lower guard and the training ground for new recruits. It also housed a storage and supply center for the Confederacy, said Hill, who credited Lyle and fellow Civil War buff Julian Riley of Verona for much historical assistance.

And despite the city’s sole Civil War battlefield marker – a one-acre field on West Main Street – the 1864 battle fought here was larger than the more noted one at Brice’s Crossroads near Baldwyn, Price said.

Some 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers fought during the Harrisburg skirmish, which spread out over a swath of land more than two miles long. Roughly 2,500 men lost their lives. Hill said historians still debate who won the battle, the last ever fought in Mississippi during the Civil War.

As to why it’s sometimes called the Battle of Harrisburg, Hill said the skirmish spread into the nearby village of Harrisburg, which at the time had some 100 residents.

But Harrisburg soon faded away.

“It’s all about the railroad,” Price said. “The one by Tupelo Hardware is the first one that came through, and what it did, it was the death nail for Harrisburg. That killed Harrisburg and it birthed Tupelo. That’s what made Tupelo important.”

Contact Daily Journal city reporter Emily Le Coz at 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.