Published on February 17th, 2014 | by Newt Rayburn0
Meridian, Mississippi Commemorates Civil War History
Meridian, Miss. (TLV) – On Valentine’s Day, 1864, there was no love in the city of Meridian, Mississippi. Residents were fleeing for their life, with whatever they could carry, as Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army of 23,000 men invaded, destroyed the railroads, and burned the town. Sherman’s Federal army spent five days in February 1864 destroying just about everything of value in the area. At the end of his occupation, Sherman declared, “Meridian, with its depots, storehouses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments, no longer exists.”
One hundred and fifty years later, the city’s tourism council VisitMeridan.com is commemorating their Civil War history by unveiling a new “Civil War Trail” to attract cultural tourism. The new trail features custom made markers at ten of the most important Civil War-era attractions in Lauderdale County, including cemeteries, battlegrounds, train depots, and one of the only buildings that remain from the time period, the Merrehope mansion.
The city held a symposium on February 14, 2014 at the Union Train Depot featuring a variety of well known speakers. Brigadier General Parker Hills gave a fascinating and lively presentation called “From the Red River to the Queen City.” Hills is a well known military historian and author, and owner of the leadership training company Battle Focus. His speech tied Meridian’s burning into the wider conflict of 1864 that included the Union occupation of Vicksburg, Mississippi, and the Red River Campaign in Louisiana.
“Meridian was kind of his dress rehearsal for what Sherman would do in Georgia — his Atlanta campaign and his march to the sea,” Hills said. “He was practicing his concept of the total war.”
Following the symposium, Meridian and Lauderdale County Tourism Director Dede Mogollon, and Malcolm White, Director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division, unveiled the first marker of the city’s historic trail at the Train Depot.
Their work is expected to pay off, according to Malcolm White.
“This whole idea of cultural and heritage tourism is something that Mississippi has really taken root in and we’re really doing a great job,” White said. “I think it can be a new economy for us and certainly it’s a new tourism tool.”
Speakers at the historic home included Mississippi Representative and Civil War historian Greg Snowden, Merrehope historian Fonda Rush, and Betty Lou Jones of the Meridian Restorations Foundation. Live music was played by Britt Gully and Scott McQuaig, who entertained the crowd with Civil War era songs like “Lorena,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Dixie.”
The city of Meridian hopes to attract thousands of Civil War tourists to the area.
“Now we are validating the fact that this is a very important and very significant part of Mississippi history and a very important part of Meridian’s history,” said Betty Lou Jones of the Meridian Restorations Foundation. “Sherman didn’t burn us. We do exist. It took 26 days for us to rebuild and now we are still here 150 years later.”