By JANE CLARK SUMMERS
Special to The Daily Journal
CORINTH – The route from the parking lot to the newly completed Corinth Civil War Center takes visitors on a trip into time where they can interact with the history.
Reproductions of relics typically found on a battlefield in October 1862 are embedded in the sidewalk that zigs and zags its way to the top of Fort Robinett where two days of bloody fighting took place.
The center sits on a killing field, hallowed land, said Woody Harrell, superintendent of the Shiloh National Military Park and the Corinth center, which is a unit of the Shiloh park.
Visitors will step over a single boot, a belt buckle, mini balls, powder flask, cartridge box and parts of a rifle musket and sword, a tin cup, a pair of broken eyeglasses and other items that might have fallen from a soldier’s knapsack.
Dedication ceremonies will be held at 1:30 p.m. June 24 at the $9.5-million National Park Service facility on Linden Street west of downtown Corinth.
A regimental band in the Civil War style, the Corinth Symphony Orchestra and a community chorus will provide musical entertainment. It’s all free and open to the public.
The way it began
Work on the project began 13 years ago when NPS officials met with a group of interested citizens. A 20-member force began the work, then was replaced by a five-member Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission.
The commission, established by the city and county in 1993 to oversee preservation of Corinth’s historic resources, was the driving force behind the interpretive center.
“This has been a model project according to the American Battlefield Protection Program guidelines, which provided a grant for planning, studies and master plan,” said commission chairman Rosemary Williams.
“We would not have been successful if not for the outstanding leadership from Mississippi in Washington and our state Capitol,” Williams said. “It has been a pleasure and learning experience to work with both delegations as well as our local government officials.”
The commission oversees maintenance for 800 acres acquired for preservation over the years. The land is valued at more than $2 million.
With other projects, including a $2-million Civil War Hiking/Biking Trail and Trailhead Park, the commission’s projects will total $17 million when completed, Williams said.
Architects Overland Partners of San Antonio, Texas, and EDAW Firm of Denver, Colo., created a contemporary design that incorporates earth berming like that of the earthworks first used during the Battle of Corinth.
“Corinth has a remarkable surviving set of early earthworks that have never been disturbed,” said Harrell. “There is no other place in the nation like it. A lot of these earthworks are just like the soldiers left them, with only a little melting away in the last 142 years.”
The 12,000-square-foot building is designed to reflect the scale and character of Civil War history and Corinth’s major role in it.
For six and a half months in 1862, Corinth was second only to Richmond, Va., in strategic importance to military planners because the town sat at the intersection of two of the most important trunk railroads in the Confederacy.
The railroad crossover gave to Corinth a strategic significance that made it the most important transportation hub in the western Confederacy during March-May 1862. The Battle of Shiloh was fought for this crossing.
The center’s exterior and interior finishes feature brick, concrete, granite, copper and wood.
Large timber framing, cherry wood paneling and display cases are used throughout the interior where 5,000 square-feet of exhibits will explain key themes: causes and coming of the Civil War, early use of railroads for military purposes, development of offensive earthworks that became a prototype for modern warfare, key military events in North Mississippi and Southwest Tennessee and the war’s impact on civilians and the story of the model Corinth Contraband Camp that housed and educated more than 6,000 freed slaves.
A variety of media, including interactive devices, audio/visual recordings, full-scale models and statuary are used with the exhibits.
A large water attraction in the courtyard chronicles the history of America from the Declaration of Independence and Constitution through the western expansion to secession, war and reunion.
The center has a 75-seat state-of-the-art auditorium, a major Civil War book store and a research room or historian’s laboratory.
Several other sites scattered throughout the city, county and Southwest Tennessee are expected to become a part of the Corinth unit.
Visitors attending the opening ceremony are encouraged to bring lawn chairs for their comfort.
Shuttle buses will be available to transport visitors from run-over parking lots across the street.