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Iluminating Corinth

A Mississippi town remembers its Civil War history by lighting 12,000 luminaries each November.

by Debi Lander

This Saturday, the city of Corinth, Mississippi, will recall its history with the staging of the Grand Illumination: the fourth annual lighting of 12,000 luminaries on the battlefield and throughout historic downtown venues. Hundreds of volunteers will assemble to light candles in honor of the men, from both the South and North, who lost their lives during the Siege and Battle of Corinth in 1862.

Rows and rows of flickering candlelight resembling tombstones will materialize across the poignant landscape like a haunting sunset view of Arlington Cemetery. The Illumination and events throughout the weekend associated with it have been named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society. On both Saturday and Sunday, attendees can visit with living history enactors who will camp and give demonstrations at the Civil War Interpretive Center. Cannons will also be fired at different intervals throughout the day on Saturday and once on Sunday afternoon.

A special, and surprising, guest, former zookeeper and Texan Doug Baum, will be the highlight of the weekend when he arrives with a camel to re-enact the part of Old Douglas, the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry. How a 2,000-pound camel came to see action in the War Between the States begs a wisp of whimsy, but remains grounded on Mississippi’s hallowed battlefields.

When the Civil War broke out, the U.S. had acquired a Camel Corps, which was stationed in Texas. Apparently, a soldier simply snuck off in the night with a dromedary named Old Douglas. Doug Baum (having thoroughly researched the subject and available throughout the weekend to answer questions about camels in the U.S. Military Camel Corps and the Confederacy) believes the soldier headed home to Mississippi – a feat that surely turned more than a few heads.

Somehow, the two made the lengthy trip and Old Douglas was given to Colonel W. H. Moore by 1st Lt. William Hargrove. Moore then assigned Douglas to carry the instruments and supplies of the 43rd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regimental Band. Douglas participated in the Battle of Iuka and the 1862 Battle of Corinth.

In addition to celebrating the presence of Old Douglas, Corinth’s downtown merchants will host open houses on Saturday and offer complimentary carriage rides. Walking tours highlighting antebellum homes and the historic railroad crossing will also be provided throughout the day by costumed guides.

Stop by the Railroad Museum and see Corinth’s famous, and still active, rail crossing of both the North to South and East to West lines. The battle that erupted on October 3, 1863, was fought to gain control over this vital crossing. For sleepy little Corinth with a Civil War-era population of 400,  the reality of 12,000 Union and Confederate soldiers lost in a single day was inconceivable; for it to be occupied by Yankee troops for a year and a half was astonishing.

Today, Corinth stands as a modern community of about 15,000, but clings to its rural roots and engenders a strong sense of place. Girl and Boy Scout troops, local civic clubs and interested citizens work with the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the National Park Service to present the Grand Illumination each year. The heartbreaking sight makes one stop and ponder the great losses our country endured.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War unfolds, numerous stories from the battlefields are emerging: stories of bayonets and bravery, cavalry and civilians, generals and Johnny Reb, but the chronicles recount only one tale of a Confederate camel – Old Douglas, who served his country well. Visit Corinth to learn his story, feel the ghostly presence of the past and enjoy a lovely small town in the Deep South.

The Grand Illumination will take place November 12-13 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. On Saturday, open houses and carriage rides will be available from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Luminaries will be lit at dusk. The event is free. For a complete schedule of events, contact the Corinth Area Convention & Visitors Bureau at 1-800-748-9048 or www.CorinthCivilWar.com.

If You Go
Corinth is just 15 minutes from the Tennessee and Alabama borders, a one-hour drive from Memphis and three hour-drive from Nashville. The town boasts 16 National Historic Landmarks, a Dinner Bell restaurant, one of the few remaining with Southern fare served family-style on a lazy susan, and the famous Abe’s Grill, where burgers are served on parchment paper and sweet tea in Mason jars.

Debi Lander is a travel journalist and photographer living in Jacksonville, Florida. She writes the food blog ByLanderSea and has written for Islands, Fox News, AOL Travel, Business Jet Traveler and Automotive Traveler. She attended the Grand Illumination last year, took the photos for this article, and ate at Abe’s Grill.  

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