Six new pieces join Battlefield Museum collection

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 16, 2009

Another large piece of Viksburg history was preserved in a small way Friday — at least in a physical sense — as Jackson resident and hobbyist Robin Burr delivered a 1/87 scale model of Pemberton’s Headquarters to the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum.

“It really doesn’t require any patience, which people never believe when I tell them,” said Burr, who spent eight months of his leisure time constructing the model of the Crawford Street home that Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton used as his headquarters during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg. “If it’s something you love, it’s not a battle or a test of your patience at all.”

Also known as the Willis-Cowan House, the Pemberton’s Headquarters scale model is the third donation to the museum by Burr. He first was a scale replica of the Vicksburg National Military Park’s Shirley House — which now sits prominently in the heart of the museum’s sprawling Vicksburg battlefield diorama — and last October delivered a model of the famous Old Court House, which took him a year to complete.

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Burr’s donation is one of six new acquisitions on display at the museum on North Frontage Road, which boasts the world’s largest collection of Civil War gunboat models and the only miniature layout of the Vicksburg battlefield.   

“A museum is alive, and you have to keep it growing or it becomes stale,” said owner-curator Lamar Roberts, who opened the facility in 1993 and is working to establish a transportation museum downtown, at the Levee Street Depot. 

Other new acquisitions include five model vessels, including scale replicas of the Col. Lamb and Pacific ships that Roberts said are valued at approximately $16,000. They were donated by Fred Nagel of Sarasota, Fla., who Roberts said contacted him and suggested the donation. Three other models of the U.S.S. Kearsarge, Robert E. Lee and Vicksburg were created and donated by Dave Denway of Vicksburg. The additions bring the museum’s total display of ship models to 250, in addition to the 250-square-foot battlefield diorama with 2,300 tiny Confederate and Union soldiers, 39 original paintings by Albuquerque, N.M.-artist Herb Mott and other items.

Roberts first opened the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum on Clay Street. After operating in two other sites on Washington Street, he moved to his current location on North Frontage Road near the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2004.

“These donations are technically made to the Vicksburg Transportation Museum (being planned at the depot), and are on loan to this museum until it opens,” said Roberts, who plans to operate both museums and transfer some of the model ships to the new museum.

An architect is working on designing the transportation museum, which is being funded in part with a $1.65 million grand from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, three community agencies — the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Vicksburg Main Street Program — are working out an agreement to share office spaces on the second and third floors of the 102-year-old, city-owned building. The museum is to be on the ground floor of the depot. 

An analyst for Pruet Oil Company in Jackson by day, Burr has long dabbled with scale trains and other models. Although he is interested in Civil War history, he said it was a personal challenge, more than anything, that led him to make his first scale model for Roberts’ museum after a visit last year.

“I saw the model they had of the Shirley House, and I just thought I might be able to do a better one,” he said.

Pemberton made the decision to surrender Vicksburg to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in July 1863 at his headquarters in the city. A private residence before, during and for many years after the war, it was purchased for federal preservation in 2003 and is now managed by the VNMP. The toughest part of building the model of the home, said Burr, were the tiny stairs leading to the home’s porch.

“In that little staircase there are 42 tiny pieces, and putting that together about wore me down,” Burr laughed. “That almost did me in.” 

Burr obtained building plans from VNMP Historian Terry Winschel to help him accurately build both his first and latest model. Roberts said the hope is that Burr, himself and other donors can build enough models of Vicksburg buildings to create an entire scale model of the city during the Civil War. Burr said he plans to start working on a scale model of the Martha Vick House on Grove Street immediately — however, he doesn’t have any building plans to aid him this time around.

“I’m actually going to change into my grubby clothes as soon as I leave here and go out there to take some measurements,” he said.


Contact Steve Sanoski at