At the largest siege in the western hemisphere, right under the noses of a superior force, an entire army vanishes into thin air…Later, two armies clash, yet the sound of their gunfire is lost mysteriously, spirited away by magical wind…Nearby, a thriving town disappears, leaving behind an architectural jewel that will preside with grace and elegance over a picturesque ghost town…Further east, the gentle hills of Mississippi melt away suddenly, replaced by jutting rock cliffs and ledges and overhangs as high as 60 feet, where a simple and pleasurable canoe trip becomes an adventure in natural beauty and drama…where long lost Indian tribes once came to quarry stone to create tools, and today's outdoor lovers come to discover the recreation capital of the mid-south.
And now it's time for your own disappearing act. Leave behind the everyday, and come lose yourself in this fascinating and history rich corner of paradise. Your adventure begins in Corinth.
Corinth: The greatest Civil War site in earth.
In 1862, Corinth, Mississippi was second only to Richmond in its importance to the Confederacy. Called the Crossroads of the Confederacy because of the two vital railroads that converged there, Corinth witnessed the influx of more than 300,000 soldiers from both sides during the course of the war.
Today, you can still see the point where those rail lines crossed at the Corinth Depot, now under restoration. At the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, operated by the National Park Service as part of Shiloh National Military Park, you can explore through exhibit and film the significance and context of the two major battles that scarred this town. But what may speak loudest of all to you is the silent testimony of some of those "scars"-namely, the largest and best-preserved set of military earthworks in the United States, rugged fortifications that bore witness to one of the greatest escapes in Civil War history, and to one of the fiercest hand-to-hand battles of the war.
It was for Corinth that Shiloh was fought, only miles from the city. After the battle, the Confederates under General P. T. Beauregard, retreated to Corinth with their wounded, and the Union army led by General Henry Halleck, followed. It was not a hot pursuit, however, as both armies dug in with what were the newest advances in military strategy: earthworks and trenches, great gashes of earth festooned with logs and sharpened trees known as field fortifications. If Halleck's progress was slow, it was also inexorable. Finally, facing food and water shortages as well the massive army digging its way toward his position,. Beauregard ordered a secret evacuation to begin immediately.
All through the night, campfires burned, and buglers played tattoos and taps. As empty train cars pulled in, the Confederates gave rousing cheers as if to greet reinforcements. Placed along the perimeter were dummy cannons made from painted tree stumps and called "Quaker guns," because they couldn't fire. When Halleck moved in on the city the next day, he was greeted with what the Chicago Tribune would call "one of the most barren triumphs of the war."
Yet the railroad had been seized, and now it became a sudden and unexpected haven for escaped slaves, who flooded the city by the thousands; a Contraband Camp was established, initially to provide food and shelter for the former slaves, yet it grew to become a flourishing community and an inspiring social experiment.
Still while the "contrabands," as the former slaves were called, became self sustaining, Halleck had other concerns, foremost among them the need for improvements to the fortifications the Confederates had created, including the construction of a number of new batteries. Later, when Confederates returned in a failed attempt to retake the city, their advance would die under the blistering fire from Battery Robinette, which was located only a few feet from where the Interpretive Center is now located. Battery F still stands, offering its simple yet eloquent statement on the hazards of war.
With the Center and the earthworks, which you can tour by car or bicycle, Corinth really puts you in the thick of things. The depot where the slaves and soldiers disembarked by the thousands has now been restored and is home to the Crossroads Museum. Learn more about the inspiring story of the remarkable "contrabands" at Freemen's Camp, spreading over 21 acres, with pedestrian promenades and interpretive exhibits providing an in-depth picture. There's also more information at the city's Black History Museum. Another must-see: the Corinth National Cemetery where the remains lie of nearly 2,000 known and nearly 4,000 unknown soldiers, representing 273 regiments from 13 states.
After you relive the excitement of the camps and battles, it's time to surrender to the charms of this historic city. You might want to start with an old-fashioned soda or milkshake at Borroum's Drug Store, opened in 1865, and still the oldest family-owned drug store in the state. Be sure to pick up a map for the city's residential and historic district, where more than 50 historic homes and businesses await. Of special interest is Verandah/Curlee House, built in 1857, and pressed into offering its hospitality to a rotating group of commanders from both sides.
After Corinth, it's time to head south toward Jacinto, where a boom town went bust, but left a remarkable architectural treasure behind.
Jacinto Courthouse: Poetic justice.
Perhaps that first indecision in the name was a warning of doom for the city of Jacinto, but it was a later decision by railroad that finished the once thriving town. In 1836, after nearly a million acres of ceded Chickasaw lands became Tishomingo County, the county seat was first christened Cincinnati only to be re-christened Jacinto in honor of the recent battle in Texas. At first the frontier town hummed with prosperity, with bustling taverns, newspapers and stage service four times daily. But when the railroad decided to bypass Jacinto that snub signaled the end.
Today, it's impossible not to admire the town's stubbornness in refusing to admit defeat when they constructed their new courthouse back in 1854. Built when the town was already dwindling and would soon be replaced as county seat (when the county was split into three), the Jacinto Courthouse, with its brilliant Federal design and brick walls nearly two feet thick, was built to last-and it did, maintaining its dignity in various guises, including as a school and as a business facility, before it finally stood down a wrecking ball to be restored. Today, it is today one of the finest examples of Federal style architecture in America, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, immortalized on screen in the film adaptation of Faulkner's story "Tomorrow," starring Robert Duvall. Open for tours on select days and times, the Courthouse is also the site of a popular annual Fourth of July celebration.
From the dignified Courthouse in Jacinto, it's time to plunge into something refreshing, as you head further south, to Iuka.
Iuka: Fall in love with a spring.
With all of today's "designer" waters, most of which are just plain tap water that come "fresh" from a treatment plant, it's almost hard to recall that once upon a time, clear, cool water did indeed bubble up from underground springs. In Iuka, the waters from Mineral Springs won the 1902 World's Fair award for best mineral water, and today the spring lends both its name and its charm to the Mineral Springs Park, where you can soak up the old fashioned ambience that includes a pioneer cabin and covered bridge.
Nearby, at the Old Courthouse Museum (yet another Tishomingo courthouse, built in 1870, burned in 1885 and rebuilt in 1888), you can delve into the city's history, which, like Corinth's, has been marked by Civil War strife.
At the Battle of Iuka, the Confederate and Union armies clashed, but it was the wind that carried the day-literally. After Corinth was seized, Confederate General Sterling Price marched on Iuka. At that, General U.S. Grant sent two forces to battle Price, one force from the west commanded by General E.O.C. Ord, and one from the southwest commanded by General William Rosencrans. It was crucial, Grant believed, that the battle be engaged in a single coordinated strike. He commanded Ord not to attack until he heard Rosencrans engage with the Confederates. In fact, Rosencrans did engage Price, in fierce fighting that went all day and long into the night, yet because of a fluke in the wind patterns, Ord and his men never heard a sound, and they stood by waiting, as the battle raged only a few miles away. Eventually the Confederates were able to slip away and join Earl Van Dorn in his attempt at retaking Corinth. Today, 263 Confederate soldiers are buried at Iuka's Shady Grove Cemetery.
From Iuka, continue your own southward march, toward Tishomingo State Park. But be forewarned: You're about to be taken by surprise.
Tishomingo State Park: Rock and roll.
If you've done much traveling in the Mississippi Hills, you've grown accustomed to just that-hills, gentle and rolling for the most part. So be prepared for the rugged and rocky beauty that awaits you on the more than 1500 acres of Tishomingo State Park. Mountain laurels, rock-strewn streams, sandstone ledges, sky-high overhangs, all give this lower Appalachian area some real drama, even as it gives visitors like you excellent recreation choices that include rock climbing, some terrific hiking on 13 miles of trail in Bear Creek Canyon, and an 8-mile canoe route that's both scenic and interesting (Class I riffles) yet perfect for the entire family. And for a little more excitement, you won't want to miss the Swinging Bridge.
More than 7,000 years ago, native peoples were drawn to the sandstone and clay of the area to make tools, and even in the 20th century, quarrying in the area continued to be important, as when the Park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Today, those stone buildings built by the CCC are beautiful complements to the timeless atmosphere of the park.
If after swimming, hiking, climbing and camping at the Park, you're ready for more, remember that in Tishomingo County you're smack in the middle of what has been crowned "the outdoor recreation capital of the mid-South." That means two large lakes-Bay Springs and Pickwick Lakes-seven marinas (including one of the largest freshwater marinas in the nation), 40 miles of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, two state parks, more than 30,000 acres of pristine and protected hunting areas in and around the county and 10 parks created by the Corps of Engineers.
So pack your bag, load your car and get some good walking shoes. This is the time, and this is surely the place, to watch your cares vanish amid a paradise of natural beauty and historic preservation.
Walking Tall in Corinth
It was called the Shamrock, but there was nothing lucky in it for the suckers who visited this Corinth area motel and grille and general den of vice. The Shamrock was only one of the criminal enterprises operated in the state line area between McNairy County, Tennessee and Alcorn County, Mississippi during the 1950s and 60s by groups known variously as the State Line Mob and the Dixie Mafia.
The motel’s 49-cent country ham breakfast came with a far steeper price for those who partook of the Shamrock’s crooked gambling and brothel services, and those who threatened to expose the operation risked the ultimate price. But when former wrestler Buford Pusser put on the McNairy County sheriff’s badge, he vowed all that would change.
In 1966, he came to the Shamrock to arrest owner Louise Hathcock for robbery. The moll of one crime boss and the widow of another whom she had killed herself, Hathcock fired on Pusser, and he fired back, killing her. The next year, the mob would have its revenge in the infamous ambush that killed Pusser’s wife and left the sheriff’s face permanently scarred. In the end, however, in the movie and in real life, the State Line Mob was defeated, and the Shamrock was torn down.
Today, it’s only a roadside ghost, where curious passersby sometimes stop to take photos and do a little walking tall around the site.