Published on February 17th, 2014 |
by Newt Rayburn
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.”
Meridian’s new “Civil War Trail” begins at the Union Train Station. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
The house known as Merrehope somehow escaped the destruction of Union General Sherman’s burning of Meridian and is now one of the city’s most famous houses. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
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.”
Mississippi Representative Greg Snowden speaks about Union General Sherman’s invasion of Meridian from the sitting room at Merrehope. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
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.”
Brigadier General Parker Hills gave a fascinating and lively presentation at Meridian’s Civil War Symposium called “From the Red River to the Queen City.” Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Jim Woodrick, Director of the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, spoke on the importance of Meridian’s railroads to the Union war effort. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
A crowd gathers for the official unveiling of Meridian’s Civil War Trail. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Meridian and Lauderdale County Tourism Director Dede Mogollon and Malcolm White, Director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division, unveil Meridian’s Civil War Trail marker on Friday, February 14, 2014. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Meridian’s Civil War Trail begins at the Union Train Depot downtown. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Union General Sherman claimed to have destroyed over 100 miles of railroads around Meridian, Mississippi in February, 1864. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Sherman’s soldiers heated up railroad tracks and bent them around trees in order to render them useless. The bent rail ties became known as “Sherman’s Bowties.” Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Meridian’s fire station is built on grounds that once housed a former Confederate hospital. Over 100 bodies were reinterred from this location to the Rose Hill Cemetery after the Civil War. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Betty Lou Jones of the Meridian Restorations Foundation, speaks at Merrehope. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Britt Gully and Scott McQuaig, entertain the crowd with Civil War era songs like “Lorena,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Dixie.” Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
A full moon rises over Merrehope, 150 years after the Union occupation. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.
Newt Rayburn Newt Rayburn founded THE LOCAL VOICE in March of 2006.
Previously, Newt was Editor of PROFANE EXISTENCE in Minneapolis, and Art Director for Ole Miss' LIVING BLUES magazine. Newt won a National Magazine Award in 1999 for his SOUTHERN MUSIC ISSUE with THE OXFORD AMERICAN.
A seventh-generation Lafayette County, Mississippian, Newt Rayburn's alter ego—Neuter Cooter—lead the Mississippi band THE COOTERS to Rocknoll Glory across the USA from 1993-2018.
Newt is a family man who also is a publisher, photographer, writer, musician, landlord, and Civil War enthusiast.