While many small southern towns can lay claim to playing an important role in Civil War history, Corinth, MS stands out not only as the site as one of the most savage battles of the war, but as home to one of the most impressive contraband camps.
As federal forces occupied major portions of the south, enslaved people escaped from farms and plantations and fled to safety behind Union lines. Considered “contraband of war,” the U.S. government refused to return these freedmen and established government-supported camps at approximately 100 sites in Union-occupied southern territory.
While many of these camps were just tent sites, the Corinth camp stands out as a success story; not only did it boast 110 wooden buildings, including a school, commissary, hospital, church and offices, but each cabin also had a garden, and Black craftsmen, including carpenters and shoemakers, were able to establish businesses at the camps.
The camp also featured a progressive cooperative farm, where freedmen cultivated 300 acres for cotton and another 100 for vegetables. By May 1863, the camp was making a monthly profit of $4,000-$5,000 from its enterprises. More than 1,000 children and adults had been taught to read. Unfortunately, in 1864, Union forces had to abandon Corinth as the war moved on, and more than 1,500 freedmen had no choice but to dismantle the camp and follow the Army westward.
While there are no photos of the camp, its history is shared at the Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth, which contains interactive exhibits, videos and artifacts of the siege and battle of Corinth, as well as recordings of the writings of missionaries and soldiers describing life at the camp. The Corinth Contraband Camp, located on the camp’s original site, is now a park featuring six life-size bronze sculptures depicting the men, women and children who lived there. This touching display provides a more detailed look at the people who, despite originally being enslaved, were able to succeed on their own once freed by Union forces.
Much of Corinth pays tribute to its 1800s history, from the Corinth Crossroads Museum, which sits alongside the railroad junction that made Corinth second only to Richmond in importance for Civil War planning and strategy, to the many 19th-century homes that can be seen on a ’60 Sights in 60 minutes’ historic downtown walking tour. Highlights include City Hall, in the Houston Mitchell House, which was once the Civil War headquarters of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the Tishomingo Savings & Loan, built in 1870, which was robbed of $15,000 by Jesse James and the James-Younger Gang.
A must-stop on the walk is Borroum’s Drugstore, which was founded in 1869, making it the oldest drugstore in Mississippi. Now owned by descendant Camille Borroum Mitchell, one of the first female pharmacists in the state, the drugstore still maintains much of its historical charm, from its black-and-white checked floor and red booths to its photos of the founder and other local historical figures along the walls.
Famous for its slugburger, a mixture of ground pork, soy flour and spices deep-fried in vegetable fat, these imitation hamburgers were developed during the Depression as a way to stretch meat and money, and were sold for a nickel, otherwise known as a slug. They are still on the menu today and are best accompanied by the soda fountain’s amazing chocolate milkshakes.
Speaking of historical foods, Corinth is also home to the Corinth Coca-Cola Museum, which features thousands of pieces of authentic Coca-Cola memorabilia. If you’re lucky, you might also get to speak to Kenneth Weaver Williams, the grandson of Kenneth Weaver, who established a soda water bottling plant in Corinth in the early 1900s before receiving a Coca-Cola franchise in 1907. Happily admitting that if he doesn’t know the answer to a question about the museum, he’ll lie, the charming 80-year-old, who has competed in 20 Boston marathons to date, swears to have never drunk a Pepsi in his life.
The company has come far from its early days, when the first product was delivered by wheelbarrow to downtown Corinth, and celebrated its 115th birthday this year, as well as the addition of the fifth generation of the Weaver family to join the business.
One more recent addition to Corinth—in 1962—is Dilworth’s Tamales, a drive-through only restaurant where you can order hot or mild tamales made from a recipe that the original owner purchased from a pushcart vendor who had been selling them at the train station for 30 years. Just a hint; these handmade delicacies, which sell for $5 a dozen, make the perfect road trip food as you cruise the historic streets.
On your way out of town, make sure to make a stop at Abe’s Grill; while it’s a little intimidating on the outside with signs covering every inch of the building, the choices inside are endless, and include local meats, hickory smoked barbecue, redeye, sawmill and chocolate gravy, and biscuits that they start baking at 1:15 a.m. They are not open on weekends, though, so plan your trip accordingly.
For more information about Corinth, MS, visit https://www.corinth.net.