John C. Pemberton's Headquarters

James N.

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The Willis-Cowan House

For the very first time in the half-century I have been visiting Vicksburg, I finally got to see the inside of this fine old home. Back in the 1960's, it was owned by the Sisters of Mercy order whose convent was then in a Gothic structure across the street and was being utilitized by them as a school, topped with a wooden cross. Later in the 1970's it was sold and became a bed-and-breakfast. Finally it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1990's, but due to budget shortfalls seemed continually "awaiting restoration". Because this is the sesquicentennial of the Vicksburg siege and surrender, the house is currently open on a very limited basis, offering my first look inside.

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Originally built 1835 - 36 by William Bobb, the house selected as headquarters of Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton was by then called "Mrs Willis' House". Situated on high ground near the end of Crawford Street, it was far enough from the Mississippi that it saw only occasional shelling during the various bombardmants in 1862 and 1863 that marked the campaign and siege of Vicksburg.

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The general and his staff took over the lower level of the house for office and possibly living space, Mrs. Willis retiring to an upstairs bedroom. This room to the right of the front entryway served as Pemberton's office; it was here he held conferences with his subordinates, including the one that decided upon the surrender of the city.

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Through these windows Pemberton could watch the bombardment of part of the city. The current color scheme of the interior likely reflects, as do the electric light sconces and chandeliers, the house's use as a bed-and-breakfast in the latter quarter of the Twentierh Century.

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The hallway leading from the front parlor ( Pemberton's office ) includes a circular stairway leading to the upstairs bedrooms, now used as office space.

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Above and below, a view of the stairway and another showing the modern chandelier at its top.
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From its location next to what once was the back porch ( now an enclosed modern kitchen ) along with its built-in cabinetry, this room likely was originally the dining room. The wartime kitchen was, as usual in the South, in a separate outbuilding behind the main house.

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This room directly across from Pemberton's office may have been living quarters, but was more likely additional office space for members of his staff.

In another separate thread I will detail some of the neighboring Antebellum sites along Crawford Street.
 

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Thanks very much James for the peek inside. I've only got to see it from the outside and always thought it'd be so cool to see what it looked like on the inside.
 

James N.

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Thanks very much James for the peek inside. I've only got to see it from the outside and always thought it'd be so cool to see what it looked like on the inside.
My feelings exactly over the past half-century! One problem I had in documenting the interior were several HUGE display panels of a travelling exhibit about the war and emancipation that can be seen in some of my photos, notably the hallway. It was impossible to shoot the full width of any interior and therefore necessary to concentrate on smaller areas like window frames and fireplaces. I think these accomplish the overall effect I was trying for, though.

I had a very rewarding visit of over an hour with two lady park rangers who answered a lot of my questions about the house and its use as a headquarters. Unfortunately, they said budget constraints would again close it following last weekend when I visited, though the off-limits second floor will still be used for office space. Before his recent retirement Vicksburg Park Historian Terry Winschel had his office there.
 

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