Built atop one of the highest hills of the old city, Vicksburg’s historic Old Courthouse was a key landmark of the Civil War siege and battle.
Union troops could see the clock tower atop the courthouse throughout the Battle of Vicksburg MS, yet despite its symbolic defiance to their efforts to conquer the city, the massive structure survived the numerous bombardments.
When Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863, the courthouse became the scene of confusion and celebration as General Ulysses S. Grant marched his men into the city and the United States flag was raised once again from the top of the building.
Built in 1858, this magnificent structure is a Southern architectural treasure, but its history actually predates the building itself. Future Confederate President Jefferson Davis began his political career with a speech on the grounds. The site is denoted by a marker today.
The historic Old Courthouse is rich in history and its upstairs courtroom has been preserved and restored. Early cases and lawsuits were argued here and visitors experience a sensation of stepping back in time as they step through the courtroom doors.
The Old Courthouse became a museum and memorial in 1948 and now houses a stunning collection of artifacts of significance to Vicksburg, Mississippi and U.S. history.
Many of the exhibits, of course, detail the terrible ordeal suffered by the citizens of Vicksburg during the 1863 battle and siege. Original Civil War flags adorn the walls and display cases overflow with shells and bullets collected from the Vicksburg battlefield.
Exhibits also detail what life was like for the civilians of Vicksburg during the history-changing battle. Many were forced to dig tunnels beneath their homes where they sheltered themselves from the falling Union cannonballs. The siege of Vicksburg was as much a siege of the city’s people as it was a siege of Pemberton’s Confederate army.
Despite the war taking place around them, the people of Vicksburg tried to maintain some since of normalcy despite the falling bombs. The museum preserves rare samples of newspapers printed even as the city was surrounded by Union troops. Since paper was in short supply, the shorted editions went out on sheets of wallpaper.
Other displays highlight the Native American history of Mississippi and the Choctaw Trail of Tears. A set of trophy antlers won by the famed riverboat Robert E. Lee hang on a hallway wall and there are other riverboat displays as well.
Even the museum gift shop is unique. While many such shops sell reproduction items and novelties, visitors to the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg can buy actual pieces of history. Artillery shell fragments and lead bullets from the Battle of Vicksburg are offered for sale, along with historic coins and a wide variety of other items.
The shop also offers, of course, a wide variety of material on the history of Vicksburg and the 1863 battle.
The Old Courthouse is one of a number of pre-Civil War structures that still survive in Vicksburg. Considering the severity of the bombardments unleashed on the city, the fact that any still exist. Other points of interest can be viewed along the driving and walking tours and include homes, structures, battery sites and more. The home that served as General Pemberton’s headquarters is located not far from the courthouse and is now a property of the National Park Service.