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Today is September 24, 2019

Mississippi Seen

Come relive history at Shaifer House

Come relive history at Shaifer House

The small monument beside the driveway at Shaifer House marks where the first shot was fired in the Battle of Port Gibson. The structure was probably safer during the Civil War than it has been since then due to vandals. A living history event on April 21 will give us the chance to visit it. Photo: Walt Grayson

The old gravel road out in front of the Shaifer House west of Port Gibson on the Port Gibson Battlefield is the same road that Union Gen. Grant’s troops marched down after crossing the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg. They were on their way eventually to lay siege to Vicksburg during the Civil War.

About midnight on April 30, 1863, the women in the house were frantically packing a wagon to get into Port Gibson before the Union army got there. Confederate Gen. Green was in the front yard trying to assure the ladies that nothing would happen before daylight.

About that time came a crash of rifle fire as Union bullets peppered the side of the house and the wagon. With those shots the Battle of Port Gibson was underway. Those shots also were the opening volley in the Vicksburg Campaign.

Recently, some Americorps Volunteers along with people from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) were cleaning up the site of Old Magnolia Church, about a half-mile down the road from Shaifer house. The church was Gen. Green’s headquarters while awaiting those Union troops heading in his direction that night 155 years ago. The building has been gone for many decades.

The cleanup at the church site as well as around Shaifer House is preparation for a living history day coming up Saturday, April 21. Several diverse groups of reenactors plan to be there. The idea of a living history day is to take us back in time so we can catch a glimpse of how things really were way back then.

Shaifer House is the only original structure still standing on the part of the battlefield that was here at the time of the Civil War. All the others, like Magnolia Church, have passed away with time. Shaifer House would have gone the same way had it not been for several attempts to restore it and protect it.

I first visited Shaifer House over a quarter-century ago after one of those major renovations. MDAH directed it. There have been many attempts to protect the house since then, including having a caretaker live on premises in a mobile home out back. None of the ideas have worked out very well. The winding road through the steep bluffs washes out in heavy rains. Sometimes it is impassable until the county crew can grade it again.

The house has been vandalized many times over the years. Afterward comes an eventual restoration, another of which is currently in progress. That is partly why the living history day has been set up, to make people aware of the tenuous situation in which the house exists. It is a last witness to history, history that directly dictated how we live today. And no one wants the house itself to become history.

MDAH owns the house today. There are plans for Shaifer House and part of the Port Gibson Battlefield, as well as the Raymond and Champion Hill battlefields, to come under the auspices of the Vicksburg National Military Park. That move would offer a greater degree of protection than these sites have today. But only the idea of that takeover has been tossed about. There is no real plan in the works for it to actually happen.

Meanwhile, the collective “we” will have to be the caretakers and watch dogs over our existing history sites. The living history day later this month will give us an idea of how important that history is.

Walt Grayson is the host of “Mississippi Roads” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting television, and the author of two “Looking Around Mississippi” books and “Oh! That Reminds Me: More Mississippi Homegrown Stories.” Contact Grayson at

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