The War Years

No. 3

The Greek Revival style house was built in 1857 by Hamilton Mask, one of the true founders of the city. It was Hamilton and his brother-in-law Houston Mitchell who surveyed the property around the crossroads and purchased the land from the owners, William and Hannah Lesley.

We don’t know who the architect was but the contractor for the house was Martin Siegrist, the Swiss carpenter who came to Corinth to build the Corona Female Academy.

Hamilton owned the home for a brief three years and sold it to Burnett B. Wilkerson in April, 1860 for the sum of $7,000. Wilkerson had the title for a few months and in October sold the property to William Simonton who held the deed throughout the war years.

This is not to say that William Simonton (sometimes spelled Simongton) was living in the house for those twelve years. Information on Mr. Simonton is pretty thin but it would appear he “refugeed” or headed south very early in the war. He moved the family to Okolona where William set up shop as a retail dealer. William never returned to his Corinth home.

In a way it was a shame that William didn’t stay in the Verandah House because it became a hub of military activity and a “who’s who” of generals took up residency in his absence. Just think of who he might have met!

The first to make the house his headquarters was Confederate Major General Braxton Bragg. The general was not only a corps commander in the Army of the Mississippi; he was also the army’s chief-of-staff. He was an important guy.

On the night of April 2nd a telegram arrived in Corinth with details of a Union troop movement in Tennessee. The message threatened an imminent Union offensive against Corinth. This telegram made its way from one general to the other and eventually made its way to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, the army commander.

Johnston, with telegram in hand, walked with Colonel Thomas Jordan to visit Bragg at the Verandah House. They arrived only to be informed Bragg had already turned in for the night. “He received us in dishabille,” recalled Jordan, a polite way of saying Bragg was still in his pajamas.

It was here in the Verandah House that the decision was made to put the Confederate army in motion toward the destiny that awaited on Shiloh Hill.

When the defeated Confederate army returned to Corinth, Bragg returned to his headquarters on the corner of Jackson and Child Streets. He remained the sole occupant until mid-April when Major General Earl Van Dorn arrived in town with his Army of the West. The two generals became roommates in Mr. Simonton’s house until the Confederates abandoned the city at the end of May.

A short time after Braxton and Earl moved out, Major General Henry W. Halleck moved in. Known to his men as “Old Brains,” Halleck had been maintaining his headquarters in a tent on the east side of town and was so busy he did not change his lodging until the 6th of June. The tent had been located just north of the Driver House located on the modern Minor Street. Henry soon organized his headquarters in the Verandah House while General Grant set up shop across the street in the home of Houston Mitchell.

Halleck was not destined to stay in Corinth long, however, and soon he received orders to report for a new assignment in Washington, D.C. From this point the historic record says the house was unoccupied but this isn’t entirely true. There is a great photo of the house taken in August, 1862 and it is obvious the place is anything but vacant. There are tents in the yard, a flag fluttering at the gate and a bored guard standing in the middle of Jackson Street.

A new tenant, Brigadier General Grenville Dodge, moved into the Verandah House during the fall of 1862. Dodge was hoping to get a job leading one of Grant’s divisions in the campaign against Vicksburg but was instead sent to Corinth, “because he knew I would stay, which was an indication to me that he expected me to stay no matter what force came against me.”

No force ever did come against Dodge at Corinth, perhaps because he made the place darn near impregnable. If the Union soldiers felt good about their victory during the battle of Corinth, Dodge would not allow them to rest on their laurels or their duffs. Form his headquarters in the Verandah House he oversaw a massive construction project around the city.

“We connected the principal batteries that had been constructed before the battle of Corinth and drew in all the lines and built additional forts on all sides of the town, inclosing the storehouses and the railroad station and made a very strong fortification.”

Another building project which Dodge directed was the construction of the Contraband Camp on Phillips Creek. The camp was an enormous success and runaway slaves flocked to Corinth and the lure of freedom. In addition, these newly freed men were given the opportunity to enlist in the United States Army.

There had been much talk of allowing the contrabands to join the army. General Dodge actually jumped the gun and began recruiting without official permission to do so. What he did was create an armed body of former slaves to serve as a security force at the Contraband Camp.

On May 10, 1863, Major General Lorenzo Thomas, the adjutant general of the army, came to Corinth on a tour of the Mississippi Valley. Thomas was drumming up support for the enlistment of black soldiers and one of his duties was to gauge the support of white troops for the idea.

A large contingent of soldiers were assembled it the yard of the Verandah House, their muskets stacked neatly nearby. General Thomas spoke from a covered platform next to the house and talked for forty-five minutes to the troops lined up in the sun.

Thomas need not have worried; the white soldiers were just fine with the idea of black soldiers wearing the blue uniform. His mission was a resounding success.

In January of 1864 the Union occupation of Corinth came to an end and the army pulled out and moved to Memphis. Confederate troops returned to the city, primarily cavalry under Gen. Nathan B. Forrest. The number of troops varied from a few hundred to a few thousand depending on operations in the local area.

The largest number of Confederate troops came in early January of 1865 following the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Nashville. General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee retreated from that bloody field and the path led trough Corinth.

Hood took up residence in the Verandah House for about six days. He was ensuring his wounded and his supplies were sent down the tracks to Tupelo before the army marched south as well. On their last day in town the army set fire to another famous Corinth structure, the Tishomingo Hotel. The iconic hotel was torched to deny the enemy the use of the supplies that, unable to be hauled away, were left in the building and burned.

The end of the war found the Verandah House empty once again. It doesn’t appear that William Simonton ever returned to his home, though the business Simonton & Company seems to have prospered in Okolona. In 1872 the house was sold to Rosabel Bates the wife of H.C. Bates for the sum of $4,000.

The house was passed through a number of families including the Curlees, the Fields, the Huggins, the Prices, the Clancys and the Curlees again.

More on the post war years to come…

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