Shirley House a history trove

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 23, 2015

The only Civil War structure remaining on the battlefield, the Shirley House, has been one of the major draws for the Vicksburg National Military Park, which took over the house 115 years ago.

The house is open during the weekends in August and September, less than 20 days per year, park guide Brian Paul said.

“Everybody seems to know that it’s open,” he said. “Traffic tends to go up a bit.”

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Irish immigrant Nicholas Gray built the house in 1831, Paul said.

“The Shirleys were the third owners of the house,” he said. “They took it over in 1851. They were upper-middle class to say the least to own a house like this back then.”

During the siege, James Shirley left to get his daughter Alice who was at boarding school in Clinton, Paul said.

“The train breaks down on the way back, so he actually has to walk all 20 miles back,” he said. “His daughter ended up not coming back with him, so it was really all for nothing.”

When Shirley returned home, he found his home had been taken over by the 45th Illinois, John Logan’s troops.

“They never really returned to the house again,” he said. “It’s a sad story to be honest. They were put into a small hut over to the side, and when that was taken over they were moved to a plantation a couple of miles away.”

Though the Shirleys owned 25 slaves, they were Union sympathizers, so the Union soldiers spared them, only taking their house and belongings, Paul said.

The home served as a headquarters for Union soldiers in 1863, and the house was last used in 1864 as a smallpox hospital.

“Not much of the structure is original anymore,” he said. “Maybe some wood inside the walls.”

Rebekah Baker was among the leaders who took the Cub Scout Pack 66 of West Monroe, La., to visit the Shirley House and the rest of the park Saturday.

“We’re trying to get them some culture and some historical perspective of our area,” she said. “We’re also trying to have more unity within our group.”

Baker said the group watched a video at the welcome center before visiting the rest of the park, including the Shirley House.

“My son (Jonah Baker) — he’s 8 — really enjoyed the artifacts,” she said. “We saw the blankets on the floor, and we talked about why they were down there.”