Federal funding puts Pemberton Headquarters restoration on hold

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 22, 2004

[3/22/04]The downtown residence where the Confederate commander of Vicksburg made the decision to surrender the city is in federal hands, again, but will sit empty before any work can begin on stabilization and restoration.

In August 2003, the final papers were signed to transfer title of what is called Pemberton Headquarters from private ownership by Andrew Johnson to the National Park Service. The federal movement paid about $750,000 for the building that stands in the center of the 1000 block of Crawford Street across from the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

Additional budget allocations will be needed before the home can be opened to tours and there’s no guess how long that might take.

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The home was built about 1835, and, during the Siege of Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863, it was used as the headquarters for Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, commander of the Confederate Army’s forces defending Vicksburg. On July 3, 1863, Pemberton met with his staff in one of the front rooms of the house to discuss surrendering the city to Union forces under the command of Gen. U.S. Grant. After Pemberton made his decision, he surrendered the city the next day, July 4, 1863.

Many historians have written that the decision was a crucial turning point in whether America would continue as one nation or two.

Over the years, the home has been a family residence, classrooms when owned by the Sisters of Mercy whose convent was across Cherry Street and low-rent apartments. Owners before Johnson attempted restorations but ran afoul of city building regulations. Johnson bought the house in 1990 and accomplished some restoration before opening it as a bed and breakfast inn.

With the purchase last year, Pemberton Headquarters became the second acquisition of the Vicksburg National Military Park past boundaries created in 1899. The first was the land at Delta, La., that surrounds the last remnant of the canal Grant tried to dig to bypass Vicksburg.

“Right now we are waiting for funds for the stabilization and restoration,” said Terry Winschel, historian at the national military park.

He said the park staff here has created several documents spelling out how much money will be needed and for what purposes, but so far there has not been any appropriation made by Congress.

The park did receive about $130,000 to begin the assessment of the needs of Pemberton Headquarters and for two new positions to begin the staffing. However, Winschel said, the park’s regular budget was cut 2 percent, so there was no money left for the new posts.

“It was a wash,” he said. “We hope we fare better in the FY ’05 budget.”

Winschel said the first step the park service needs to take is stabilization of the house with roof and foundation repairs, repointing brickwork and sealing. He said cost estimates call for a budget of about $300,000 for that work.

The next phase would be restoration, which could cost $1 million or more, depending on exactly what is done, he said. And, decisions on what will be done has not been made, including the fate of portions of the structure altered since 1863.

“The 1920s, 1930s add-on will probably be kept and used for administrative purposes,” Winschel said.

The front room will likely be redone to appear as it did during the surrender meeting. Other areas will have interpretive displays, perhaps of how Vicksburg citizens handled the siege and Reconstruction.

“This won’t be a house museum,” Winschel said.