- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - A Civil War Trail in Lauderdale County will be unveiled Feb. 14 on the 150th anniversary of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s burning of Meridian.

The county’s tourism department, Visit Meridian, will host a civil war symposium prior to the unveiling, according to assistant director Stephen Martin.

“That is the day the burning began in 1864. So we thought how appropriate to unveil our trail and the markers on that day as a tie-in to its historical significance,” Martin said.

The Civil War trail will include 10 markers throughout the area displaying the historical significance of the location, he said.

The marker to be unveiled on the anniversary will be at Union Station. That area is of historical importance because of Meridian’s railroad system at the time of the Civil War, Martin said.

At that time the population of Meridian was about 400, Martin said. The city, situated on the Alabama border and with a direct line to Jackson, was of strategic importance to the Union.

With a cannon foundry in Selma, Ala., Sherman naturally wanted to disable Meridian’s three railroad systems, Martin said. The winter campaign served as a precursor to Sherman’s March to the Sea in Georgia.

The often-overlooked Mississippi campaign was the first attempt by the Union at total warfare, a strike aimed not just at military objectives but also at the will of the Southern people.

After capturing Meridian, Sherman began to destroy the railroad and storage facilities. Sherman later wrote: “For five days, 10,000 men worked hard and with a will in that work of destruction… Meridian, with its depots, storehouses, arsenals, hospitals, offices, hotels, and cantonments no longer exists.”

Martin said: “But just in 26 days, the city rebuilt. That’s just how resilient the community was.”

The work to establish the trail has been a cooperative effort of local officials.

In addition to preserving the area’s history, the focus of tourism officials is to create more something that visitors to Lauderdale County will want to see, according to Dede Mogollon, executive director of Visit Meridian.

About half the bus tour inquiries coming into the state show an interest in either the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement, Mogollon said.

“Our musical legacy, Civil War, civil rights history and outdoor recreation are the four things we have significantly identified and promoted. We rolled out our musical legacy in the fall. We’re rolling out Civil War in February,” Mogollon said. “We are anticipating rolling outdoor recreation pieces in April; and very shortly after, Civil Rights.”

It’s just part of their goal to continue to promote Meridian and Lauderdale County, Martin said.

“We are a product just like anything else,” Martin said. “We’re always trying to enhance that product and this is something that’s been needed for a long time.”

Each marker will be equipped with a QR code, which will allow smartphone users to get much more information than is available on the marker itself, Mogollon said.

One of the advantages of such a trail is that visitors do not have to take the tour during set hours. It’s a self-guided tour and those taking the tour can do it at their own pace, Mogollon said.

In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement’s Freedom Summer, a civil rights trail will be unveiled in a few months, Mogollon said, which also will have markers with QR codes. It will likely be more extensive than the Civil War trail because they are making every effort to be certain that all of the information on the trails can be verified.

“Everybody has a number of great stories to tell,” Martin said. “Being a stickler for historical accuracy, unless we can back it up and verify it - that’s why we’ve had to limit what we’ve done in terms of what we are putting out there.”

Since there are still people in Meridian who were active in the civil rights movement, it has been less difficult to find and verify accounts of that struggle, unlike some colorful but unverifiable stories of the Civil War.

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The Civil War symposium will be held on Feb. 14 in the second floor conference room of Union Station beginning at 8:30 a.m. It will end at 11:25 and the marker at Union Station will be unveiled at 11:30 a.m. For more information call 601-482-8001.

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Information from: The Meridian Star, https://www.meridianstar.com


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