Located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Old Warren County Courthouse Museum preserves the city’s Warren County Courthouse building, which served as an emblem of Confederate resistance during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, a seminal battle of the American Civil War.
The area that now encompasses Vicksburg, Mississippi was the traditional home of the Natchez indigenous tribe, which inhabited territory along the Mississippi River at the time of European arrival to North America. Early French colonists established Fort Saint Pierre near the present site of the city in 1719, but following the Natchez War, the area was reclaimed by the Choctaw Nation for several more decades until the signing of the Treaty of Fort Adams in 1801.
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Following a brief period of Spanish military occupation, the area was ceded to the United States and named Walnut Hills. A village area was incorporated in 1825, named Vicksburg in honor of local Methodist minister Newitt Vick.
Construction on Vicksburg’s Warren County Courthouse, colloquially referred to as the Old County Courthouse, was begun in the summer of 1858 on one of the highest bluffs surrounding the city. Designed by Rodney, Mississippi architectural firm Weldon Brothers, the courthouse took five years to complete at a cost of $100,000. During the American Civil War, Vicksburg was a primary target for the Union Army, which held the city captive during a 47-day siege in 1863. Throughout the course of the siege, the Courthouse served as a symbol of resistance for the Confederate Army due to its impenetrable high altitude position, only sustaining one major hit by Union forces during the course of the 47-day campaign. Despite resistance, the city was ceded to Union forces on July 4, marking a major turning point in the Union’s campaign in the Western Theater.
Following the war, a number of high-profile war trials were conducted at the courthouse, including the 1867 trial of freed slave Holt Collier, who was acquitted of murder charges in the name of defending his former master. After the construction of a new county courthouse facility in 1939, the building faced the threat of demolition, but in 1947, newly-elected Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society president Eva Whitaker Davis embarked on a campaign to preserve the building as a living history museum. The museum opened to the public in June of the following year, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.
Today, the museum is owned and operated by the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society, open to the public for guided and self-guided tours. As a nonprofit organization, the Historical Society maintains the courthouse and its museum exhibits solely through public donations. The two-story courthouse building is considered a major architectural accomplishment of its period, named as one of the top 20 outstanding American courthouses by the American Institute of Architects. The building’s original iron doors, shutters, stairways, and railings have been preserved, along with its four-portico entrance flanked by 30-foot ionic columns. A four-faced clock tower, originally designed in 1859 by local jeweler Maxmillian Kuner, was fully restored in 2013 by Cincinnati’s Verdin Company, with salvaged components of Kuner’s original work placed on display within the museum’s Americana Room.
Inside the museum, Civil-War-era memorabilia is displayed, including a Confederate flag never surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg. Antebellum clothing is showcased, including a tie worn by Confederate President Jefferson Davis during his inauguration. Thousands of notable antique items with connections to American and Confederate history are also held within the museum’s collection, such as the trophy antlers won in an 1870 steamboat race by General Robert E. Lee and a preserved teddy bear presented as a gift by President Theodore Roosevelt. An Eva W. Davis Memorial also commemorates the late Historical Society president and her preservation work.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Docent-led group tours are available for groups of 10 or more, including tours for elementary and secondary students tailored to incorporate Mississippi curriculum standards. Reservations for tour groups must be made in advance by telephone or email. The museum’s McCardle Research Library, which contains more than 1,400 volumes pertaining to Vicksburg military and social history, may also be used by students and independent researchers by appointment.
A number of family-friendly public special events are held at the courthouse throughout the year, including a semiannual Spring Flea Market in April and October showcasing more than 200 antique and craft vendor booths. In May, a Sacred Harp Sing presents traditional shape note singing. On the second Saturday in December, an Old Court House Confederate Christmas Ball offers period-appropriate holiday dancing, dinner, and social activities.
1008 Cherry St, Vicksburg, MS 39183, Phone: 601-636-0741