Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg
Standing on a high hill overlooking the city, the Old Court
House Museum is an impressive structure. With 30-foot Ionic entrance columns,
the building contains original iron shutters, doors, and inside stairway.
Several Presidents and dignitaries have spoken from the steps, including
Zachary Taylor, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Booker T. Washington.
It was here on July 4, 1863, that General Grant, and John Pemberton, Commander
of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg, rode their horses together to
the courthouse from Pemberton's Headquarters, and climbed the steps to
watch the changing of the flags when Vicksburg was formally surrendered.
Within the museum, as you walk along the creaky wooden floors and view
the many artifacts, you become transformed back to a time when cotton
was king, and the state prospered, and also to a time of hardship, as
the "Gibraltar of the South" was under siege for 47 harrowing
days by Union troops during the pivotal point of the Civil War.
includes many interesting pieces, including Native Indian artifacts, antiques,
items of Southern heritage, and maritime history. There is a large steamboat
display, including the original captain's wheel and parts to the Sprague
steam sternwheel towboat (the largest and most powerful one ever built).
It was known as "Big Mama", built by the Dubuque Boat &
Boiler Works in 1902, and still holds towing records even today. When
I was a kid, I toured on the old sternwheeler several times. Years later
in 1974, it burned as it was docked along the river.
The sternwheels were the primary form of commerce and transportation along
the Mississippi River for many years.
The Museum also houses many Civil
War pieces, including battle flags, bayonnet guns, artillary shells, Jefferson
Davis's personal items, and an executive chair that Grant sat in during
the occupation of Vicksburg.
Located upstairs is the courtroom where proceedings were held from 1859
until 1939. After occupation of the city by Union troops during the Civil
War, the courtroom was used by U.S. Army personnel. Following the war,
many cases and speeches were made in the courtroom. One of the most notable
cases was in 1874, where former President Jefferson Davis tried to get
his plantation, Brierfield, which was located nearby, back. While attending
the proceedings, Davis would wear his usual gray suit. He lost the case
in the carpetbagger-controlled courtroom, but later won by appealing to
the Mississippi Supreme Court.
It is interesting to note that during the Civil War General
Grant usually rode a horse called Cincinnati. Within Grant's memoirs,
he later admitted that while in the Vicksburg area, he stole a small horse
from Brierfield Plantation, and named it Jeff Davis... One lesser known
court case involved Holt Collier, a black Confederate veteran, who was
accused of murdering a white Union officer. The courtroom, with its' 24
foot high ceilings, uses the same color scheme today as when the first
proceedings were held. Iron doors lead to the balcony area.
During the Civil War, Confederate troops used the cupola as a signaling
station. It was often the target by Union troops, and a mortar shell hit
the courthouse during the siege of Vicksburg, killing two Confederate
soldiers. At one point prior to the siege of Vicksburg, Union prisoners
were temporarily held in the courtroom area.
Filled with priceless Civil War-era artifacts, historic items, and a museum
store, allow several hours to walk through the Old Court House Museum,
it will be time well spent. The museum store contains a wide variety of
very reasonably priced souvenirs, battleflags, muskets, and numerous Civil
War historic books, including those written by former curator and noted historian,
Gordon Cotton. Thanks to Eva Whitaker Davis, the building was saved in
1948 from demolition, and the Old Court House Museum was founded.
Membership in the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society, at $10
a year, allows free admission to the Museum, use of the research library,
and a 10% store discount. To join, mail $10 to The Vicksburg and Warren
Country Historical Society, c/o The Old Court House Museum, 1008 Cherry
Street, Vicksburg, MS. 39183.
Vicksburg also includes an exceptional National
Military Park, the Bierdenharn Coca-Cola Museum, bed and breakfast inns,
accomodations, pilgrimage tours of impressive mansions, with numerous
shopping, dining, riverboat casinos and entertainment opportunities available.
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