Belhaven Neighborhood, Fortification Street, and the Civil War in our Front Yard

Belhaven College is located in a wonderful neighborhood – also called Belhaven (which I point out often, was named after the College, not the other way around.)  But they grew up around us over the past 125 years, and now this historic neighborhood circles our campus.  They are great neighbors and we work hard to be good neighbors too.

One of the projects they have undertaken, is to enrich a major street bordering our neighborhood – Fortification Street. It will someday soon be filled with shops, restaurants, and great places for students and residents.  The Saturday Belhaven Market on Fortification has built a loyal following already.

The process of improving our neighborhood is overwhelming and takes great patience to work with all the governmental agencies involved, and I applaud Virgi Lindsay and the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Association who have worked so hard to bring about such good change for us all.

But I never drive onto Fortification street without remembering it was a critical high point of ground in defending Jackson during the Civil War.  If you’ve never read the history, it is fascinating — and while I wouldn’t recommend students quote Wikipedia in a term paper, here is the history from that web site…..notice the last line. (see the map of the battle)

Despite its small population, during the Civil War, Jackson became a strategic center of manufacturing for the Confederate States of America. In 1863, during the campaign which ended in the capture of Vicksburg, Union forces captured Jackson during two battles—once before the fall of Vicksburg and once after the fall of Vicksburg.

On May 13, 1863, Union forces won the first Battle of Jackson, forcing Confederate forces to flee northward towards Canton. Subsequently, on May 15, 1863, Union troops under the command of William Tecumseh Sherman burned and looted key facilities in city of Jackson, a strategic manufacturing and railroad center for the Confederacy. After driving the Confederate forces out of Jackson, Union forces turned west once again and engaged the Vicksburg defenders at the Battle of Champion Hill in nearby Edwards. The siege of Vicksburg began soon after the Union victory at Champion Hill. Confederate forces began to reassemble in Jackson in preparation for an attempt to break through the Union lines surrounding Vicksburg and end the siege there. The Confederate forces in Jackson built defensive fortifications encircling the city while preparing to march west to Vicksburg.

Confederate forces marched out of Jackson to break the siege of Vicksburg in early July 1863. However, unknown to them, Vicksburg had already surrendered on July 4, 1863. General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched General Sherman to meet the Confederate forces heading west from Jackson. Upon learning that Vicksburg had already surrendered, the Confederates retreated back into Jackson, thus beginning the Siege of Jackson, which lasted for approximately one week. Union forces encircled the city and began an artillery bombardment. One of the Union artillery emplacements still remains intact on the grounds of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Another Federal position is still intact on the campus of Millsaps College. One of the Confederate Generals defending Jackson was former United States Vice President John C. Breckenridge.

On July 16, 1863, Confederate forces slipped out of Jackson during the night and retreated across the Pearl River. Union forces completely burned the city after its capture this second time, and the city earned the nickname “Chimneyville” because only the chimneys of houses were left standing. The northern line of Confederate defenses in Jackson during the siege was located along a road near downtown Jackson, now known as Fortification Street.

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