Local citizens took the initiative in 1993 to preserve the artifacts of Claude Gentry 's log cabin museum and preserve and interpret the battlefield where Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest defeated Union troops on June 10, 1864. They saw their goal come to fruition when the Brice's Crossroads Visitors and Interpretive Center held its dedication and grand opening on August 14, 1998.
"Because of the efforts of the Brice's Crossroads Museum Commission and the Battlefield Commission, the interpretation and preservation of Brice's Crossroads has become a reality," said Edwina Carpenter, Curator of the center.
The opening ceremony included speakers such as Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Tim Ford, Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Elbert Hilliard and Vice Chairman of the Association for Preservation of Civil War Sites, Paul Bryant.
The 2700 sq. ft. facility, offers restroom and refreshment area as well as a large parking lot that accommodates RV's. In addition to the artifacts which are featured in the permanent exhibit throughout the center, flags representing the 15 states who had soldiers fight at Brice's Crossroads and the United States flag representing the 54th and 59th Colored troops, are part of a flag exhibit located at the rear of the center. The center also includes a 22-minute video that interprets the battle, and a bookstore-gift shop that offers period gifts and resource material about the civil war.
The Brice's Crossroads Museum Commission was created in 1993 by the Baldwyn Board of Aldermen. A few local citizens took the initiative to try and preserve the artifacts that had been collected by the late Claude Gentry and displayed in his log cabin museum on Highway 145 in Baldwyn. After Gentry's death in 1992, his grandson, Jeff Roberson donated Mr. Claude's museum and its contents to the City of Baldwyn. The Board of Aldermen appointed the museum commission to help move ahead with plans to preserve the donation. The group hoped its efforts would secure a part of their local history that is connected to one of the most significant battles in the Civil War. After securing a grant from the State Department of Education in the amount of $250,000, the commission began plans for building a new center located on Grisham Street.
CREATE Foundation donated $5,000 for the planning and design work of the architects. With the help of Cowan Hunter, who had experience in interpretation and with visitor's centers, the commission set out to build a new center and possibly refurbish and re-locate the old museum.
"The log cabin museum could not be saved, but many of the artifacts in the exhibits here at the center came from Mr. Claude's museum. We also have an exhibit dedicated to Mr. Claude's legacy," Carpenter said.
The large exhibit area includes artifacts and replicas that interpret the Battle of Brice's Crossroads. Flip cards ask questions of the visitor, based on information included in the text of the exhibit. An interactive exhibit located in the diorama in the middle of the room plays eight bugle calls from Civil War times. On the wall near an exhibit about the soldier's outfit and gear, visitors can feel of a gum blanket or raincoat, much like the one worn by the soldiers that fought at Brice's Crossroads on that hot, muggy day in June 1864. The mannequin, depicting one of Forrest's men, is very lifelike and wears the attire of a Confederate soldier.
A professional exhibit designer, Jon Jager, of the Designing Eye in Martinsville, VA, designed the exhibits. The exhibits were funded and administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Center Historian Cowan Hunter was project coordinator for the exhibit and Curator Edwina Carpenter was project administrator.
The 20-minute audio visual program narrated with an introduction by famed Civil War author and historian Shelby Foote of Memphis, Tenn., helps orient the visitor about the battle and those who played important roles in the conflict. An audiotape featuring a 20-minute driving tour of the battlefield is now available.
"Visitors will want to include a trip to the battlefield, which is located five miles west of the center on Highway 370 west as part of their visit. Phase One of the development of trails and signage is complete. The 836 acres purchased for preservation is open to the public," added Carpenter.
Funding for the AV room and equipment was provided by a grant from the Frank Stubbs Charitable Fund. Another real boost to the center's exhibits was a grant in the amount of $50,000 from the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Center for the purpose of an outdoor, lighted flag exhibit. The flags represent ten northern states and five southern states that had soldiers fight at Brice's Crossroads, and the U. S. flag which was carried by the U.S. Colored Troops. This exhibit will have visibility from the road and hopefully, entice visitors to stop by.
Mayor Robert Coggins and the City Board of Aldermen provided money from the city budget to pay for operational expenses..
Donations have come from the Lee County Board of Supervisors to help in construction costs and many other civic organizations, companies and individuals have made tremendous contributions to this project.
Center Curator Edwina Carpenter said, "Our volunteer corp has begun work and I am very excited to have many local people excited about our center. They are willing to serve as ambassadors for our city and our battlefield.”
Center hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 -5 and closed Monday.
Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children under 12 years of age.
For more information, call the center at (662) 365-3969 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.