The Civil War and Corinth, Mississippi

Article by Mary Ann Anderson in The Miami Herald, July 5, 2011:

CORINTH, Miss. – Standing on the crossties at the intersection where the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and the Mobile & Ohio Railroad meet in Corinth, I shiver in the morning sun. But not from the chilly, breezy spring air, but more so from a sense of history, for where the rail lines make a perfect “X” is perhaps the most important 16 square feet of land during the Civil War.

That crossing was vital to both the North and South, as Memphis & Charleston was the Confederacy’s only east-west rail link. Now in the shadows of the Crossroads Museum, which once served as Corinth’s railroad depot, it is one of the most visited spots in this town of about 15,000.

“Corinth is a railroad town,” says Kristy White, executive director of the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Its railroad crossings brought the conflict home during the Civil War, and those same railroads were a source of prosperity only a few years after the end of the war and are still today.”

Corinth, in the northeast corner of Mississippi where it intersects with Alabama and Tennessee, is one of those small but historically significant towns that, in the 150th anniversary year since the beginning of the Civil War, you may not have heard of but is worth a visit.

Places like Corinth, founded in 1854, have become more significant and prominent as interest in Civil War tourism rises much like the South did after Reconstruction.

To get a sense of Corinth, first stop in at the Crossroads Museum, stand on those tracks – make sure a train isn’t coming first – and then see the relics and artifacts that help tell the story of Corinth’s role in the Civil War all the way through the Civil Rights era to now. As museums go, this one is fun and colorful and it’s clear that lots of thought was given to its design.

A few blocks over, the Civil War Interpretive Center, a unit of nearby Shiloh National Military Park, is a real masterpiece in retelling the stories of the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege and Battle of Corinth in 1862. A great time to visit may be spring of 2012, when re-enactors in full uniform plan to march the 20-plus miles from Corinth to Shiloh just over the state line in Tennessee.

Almost 24,000 lives were lost in two days of fearsome battles near Shiloh Church in April 1862. That’s so hard to imagine today because the park, whose name means “place of peace,” is one of the most beautiful and serene Civil War sites I’ve ever visited.

The rich, fertile farmlands around Corinth also have more remaining earthworks than any other place of the Civil War. As I wandered the Beauregard Line, one of the finest examples of earthworks anywhere, I was thrilled to see a quicksilver-fast bobcat, perhaps the most elusive and skittish of all Southern wildlife.

Despite the battles and protective earthworks, Union forces eventually took over Corinth. When escaped slaves heard the news, they made a beeline for the town. A contraband camp was set up, where as many as six thousand former slaves lived from 1862 until 1863. A small portion of the site is open to the public and contains life-size bronze sculptures depicting life in the camp.

From there, a 40-home historic architectural walking tour of Corinth takes you past both Mississippi Historic Landmarks and National Historic Landmarks like the Verandah-Curlee House Museum. Built in 1857, it became the headquarters for a number of Confederate and Union generals, depending on who was winning the war at any given time.

Now to more good stuff:

You can’t talk South without talking food. If you don’t eat another thing while you’re in Corinth, try a Slugburger at Borroum’s Drugstore, a combination drug store, soda fountain and sandwich shop built in 1865.

A Slugburger is not made of slugs – eewww! – but is a deep-fried pork-ish patty slung on a bun with mustard pickle, and onion. During the Depression, Borroum’s developed the cheap version of a hamburger and sold it for a nickel, which is sometimes called a slug, so the faux burgers then became known as Slugburgers

A good rule of thumb in the South is that when the parking lot is full, you just know the food will be belt-busting. That was the case at every place we ate in Corinth, but keep the statins handy, because it’s all about biscuits, bacon and grits at Abe’s Grill (the guy sitting next to you is probably Corinth’s mayor, who drops in regularly), a place that was once voted as the best place in Mississippi to ruin your diet.

Borroum’s sandwiches and salads pair well with the Slugburger, while the Shrimp Boat, with its fresh seafood, got our vote for dinner for fried shrimp. So did the cozy Pizza Grocery. Yep. It’s a restaurant, not a grocery store, and the Italian dishes are a nice respite from fried foods.

After you’ve eaten, take in Pickin’ on the Square, a weekly free bluegrass event that occurs every Thursday year ’round. Corinth even has a symphony orchestra and little theater. And depending on when you visit, take in one of more than a dozen festivals like the Crossroads Festival and Chili Cook-Off, the Slugburger Festival, or Hog Wild Barbecue Cooking Festival.

Scads of boutiques, galleries and antique places draw shoppers from across the Southeast. It’s said Corinth is where Memphis shops, with fun places like the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery that features local artwork and Franklin Cruise with its eclectic collection of furniture and gifts.

Only a one- to three-hour drive from its big-city cousins of Nashville, Memphis and Birmingham, Corinth is the true small-town South.

IF YOU GO:

Contact the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.Corinth.net or (800) 748-9048.

Corinth has name-brand hotels, including the full-service Holiday Inn, as well as RV parks and guestrooms at the Generals Quarters Bed & Breakfast and Franklin Cruise Luxury Suites.

The closest international airport is in Memphis.

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