Bush signs bill to expand park to add home

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 14, 2002

[10/13/02]President Bush has signed a bill to include in the Vicksburg National Military Park the building Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton used as his headquarters during the Civil War siege on the city.

The property at 1018 Crawford St. will add less than a quarter of an acre to the park.

“It’s not the acreage that’s significant, but the building on the acreage,” said park superintendent Bill Nichols. “The ball is in our court now.”

This week, homeowner Andrew Johnson and park officials will have the home appraised, Nichols said. Decisions made by Johnson and park officials will then face congressional approval.

“The act will enable the Department of the Interior to preserve property for the education of Americans today, and in generations to come,” Bush said in a statement after he signed the bill Friday.

“The act authorizes the secretary of the Interior to add the Confederate commander’s headquarters to the park, which has included the Union commander’s headquarters for many decades,” the president said.

Upon purchase, park officials’ primary focus will be to make sure the house grounds and foundation are stable, which will require a historic structures report on the building.

“As much as it’s feasible and practical, we’ll return the building to its 1863 appearance with the type of construction,” Nichols said. “Everything we do will have to be historically accurate. We’ll make sure the building is sound and in good condition.

“A lot of this is speculative,” he said. “We don’t own it and haven’t done any prerequisite planning. It ain’t a done deal yet.”

Nichols plans to turn the house into a museum with exhibits about Pemberton, the post-siege occupational phase of Vicksburg and the defense of Vicksburg in 1863 during the 47-day siege.

“We’re going to tell a city-based story,” Nichols said. “The guns of the Confederacy have told the story of the military maneuvers that led to the defeat of the Confederate forces.

“Now we’ll be able to tell another story the city and the people and John C. Pemberton.”

Interest in buying the house began in 1899 when the Department of the Interior and Congress established parks across the states where the Civil War was fought.

“They wanted it included in the park, but Congress did not do it,” he said. “It’s always been on a back burner among historians in the park.”

Pemberton Headquarters, the Old Court House Museum and Fort St. Pierre are the three sites in Warren County included on the National Historic Register, and the park averages about a million visitors a year.

Pemberton’s headquarters, on the south side of Crawford Street across from the entrance to the Southern Cultural Heritage Complex, was built in 1835. It was owned for years by the Sisters of Mercy before it fell into disrepair over the past 20 or 30 years.

Johnson, who bought the house in the 1990s, undertook a restoration project that has allowed the bed and breakfast inn to be included on several tours, including during Pilgrimage.