Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center part of Shiloh National Military Park near Corinth, Miss. Visited: February 13, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 153 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? A newly opened Museum dedicated to explaining both the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh and the April and May Union siege and capture of Corinth, Mississippi, an important railroad center.
BEAUTY (6/10) The Interpretive Center’s ads, found in all the tourist publication promote the “$9.5 million facility” that has “5,000 square feet of exhibit space” and an “open courtyard with a water feature”. The ads’ spartan word choice does not do to the Museum justice.
The Site’s is located across from a school and near the train tracks on the outskirts of town. We openly wondered why they would put a tourist attraction such an unappealing area. Closer inspection revealed that the red brick Museum is built on and around Battery Robinett, one of the Union’s primary defense positions. The Building incorporates the slope of the earthwork and mimics its shape.
The path from the parking lot to the entrance travels up switchbacks that are littered with bronzed Civil War-related items that have been paved into the walkway. The exhibit space is fantastic, incorporating large amounts of wood, colorful easy to read displays and lots of open space.
The “water feature” is actually an interpretive sculpture. The design is a minimalist representation of American history from the Revolution until 1870. It begins with a marble slab inscribed with the Preamble to the Constitution. The water flows steadily from the words and down a short staircase until it reaches a line marked 1861.
There it meets stacked bricks that represent over 50 Civil War battles. The bricks vary in size given the number of casualties suffered in the respective battle. At first, they appear to be haphazardly placed until you realize that they are in chronological order and curve to demonstrate Union or Confederate success.
The bricks alter and separate the water’s path until a year marked 1865. When the battles end, the water flows back into the same pool. It is simple, moving and inspired. If only it were that easy.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (8/10) Why are both the Battle of Shiloh and the Siege of Corinth important to American history and the outcome of the Civil War? An exhibit posits this exact question and answers it in convincing detail. They were the first battles with large casualties. The War was not going to be short and easy. Corinth was a major southern railroad hub. The Union siege and capture further isolated the Confederate west from supplies and material help.
Corinth was the site of the Civil War’s largest Contraband Camp, a self-contained community populated by former slaves who had escaped their masters and found their way on to Union controlled soil. The federal government dealt with the issue by calling the escaped slaves contraband of war and allowing them to remain in the hands of the Union army.
Smaller contraband camps existed throughout the South. Corinth’s was the only one to move beyond temporary tent dwellings. Small cabins were constructed. A school and church were built. Years before the Emancipation Proclamation, black Americans received their first glimpse of life as a free individual. The original Contraband Camp has been unearthed and plans for an on-site memorial are underway.
CROWDS (6/10) We were the only people in the Museum on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. There was plenty of space and exhibits to accommodate and entertain entire regiments of Civil War re-enactors.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (1/5) Corinth is no longer the railway and commercial center that it was in 1862. It is 46 miles north of Tupelo and the four-lane Interstate-esque U.S. Route 78. The closest major city is Memphis, located 100 miles to the west. For tourism purposes, the most important nearby destination is Shiloh NMP, located a winding 20 miles to the north.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) Incredible Civil War bookstore. What else is new?
COSTS (4/5) The Corinth Interpretive Center, unlike its parent Site the Shiloh NMP, is absolutely free.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5) Even though the Interpretive Center is designed to be completely self-guided, there were two Rangers on duty to help.
TOURS/CLASSES (9/10) The film about the Battle of Shiloh is indicative of Corinth’s stellar educational power. The film is shown in a small amphitheater with only one short bench for seats. Seven monitors tall and thin monitors are placed equidistant horizontally and stretch the limits of your peripheral vision. The middle screen primarily shows a map highlighting troop positions at specific times of the battle. The six other televisions rotate between re-enactors, drawings and Civil-War era photography.
Somehow, the multimedia presentation avoids the bug-eyed madness of CNN Headline News or the Bloomberg Channel. The videos are placed far enough apart that you can focus on only one the entire length of the film and go back to the map when necessary. The grounding force of the map is helpful. You always know where the Battle is talking place, where the fight is occurring.
FUN (8/10) We claim not to be Civil War buffs, but nine separate Park Sites in ten days probably proves otherwise. Still, we left Shiloh NMP confused and ornery. Shiloh’s horrible film and long driving tour through monumented woods did not help us figure either out what had actually happened or why the Battle holds such an indelible historical presence.
We had a collective bad attitude and did not want to go to yet another Civil War Museum. The Corinth Interpretive Center was so well done that we left with our Shiloh questions answered, a greater understanding of Grant’s War in the West and smiles on our faces.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10) Should the in-depth educational part of Shiloh NMP be on the Battlefield’s grounds instead of 20 long miles south, in an urban setting and across the Tennessee state line? Probably not. The hard feeling between the two Sites is palpable. The Shiloh NMP Visitor Center does not advertise the Corinth Site. Corinth is not on the Park Brochure. Our request for directions was only grudgingly obliged with a small mimeographed sheet of paper that the Rangers kept behind their desk.
We know that everyone wants a piece of the lucrative Civil War tourist trade. Just ask Stephen Reed, the mayor of our fine hometown. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania just opened our own Civil War Museum. Sleepy Corinth, Mississippi projects that its Museum will bring in 250,000 people per year. Last year Shiloh NMP had 350,000 guests; Corinth’s projection is reasonable.
The Corinth Interpretive Center is a must see on any western Civil War itinerary. It is the best educational Civil War Site we have visited to date and is an essential stop before you travel to the Shiloh Battlefield. There is a good mix of esoteric paraphernalia and analysis (for the hardcore buff) and easy to understand explanations, charts and videos (for his loyal companion).
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