Architects hired to design $80M Civil War interpretive center in Vicksburg

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – An architectural firm has been brought on to draw up plans for a new Civil War interpretive center in Vicksburg.

Last month, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Board of Trustees approved hiring the Chicago-based firm Perkins & Will to design the $80 million to $120 million project. Work on the design phase will take approximately two years.

The firm is designing what will essentially be a new visitor’s center for the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The state is helping to pay for the project, along with the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign, and the Foundation for Mississippi History.

“The visitor center at the military park now is small and they don’t have the room or the funding, they being the National Park Service, to expand the interpretation beyond the siege,” said Megan Bankston, the Vicksburg project manager.

Bankston said the new center would not only tell the story of the Siege of Vicksburg during the summer of 1863 but also the full story of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign leading up to the city’s fall on July 4 of that year, and its impact on white and Black civilians.

“We want to find personal stories, civilian stories – stories that haven’t been told before,” she said. “The soldiers, the sailors, the Navy personnel Grant used during the campaign.”

She said the interpretive center will also tell the story of the African American troops who joined the Union Army’s ranks as U.S. forces marched through the Mississippi Valley in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation and the African American troops who were left behind after the surrender to prevent Vicksburg from falling back into Confederate hands.

“After the Emancipation Proclamation, there were almost 18,000 Black Mississippians that joined the Union Army,” Bankston said. “By the end of the Civil War… almost 10 percent [of Union troops] were African American… Ultimately, they were fighting for their freedom and they’re putting their lives on the line for that.”

Perkins & Will was chosen through a competitive process. According to its website, the firm also did work on the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Center for Coastal and Deltaic Solutions in Baton Rouge.

Design work is expected to take between 1.5 and two years to complete. Construction is expected to take another two years, with the opening slated for the summer of 2028, Bankston said.

Right now, the project is estimated to cost between $80 million and $120 million. So far, the Mississippi Legislature has allocated $16 million for the work.

Perkins & Will will be compensated based on a percentage of facility costs. MDAH and the company are expected to meet soon to begin the “program and budget alignment phase,” Bankston said.

Initial concepts for the facility were presented during April’s board of trustees meeting.

Ralph Johnson, a principal with Perkins, said he visited the Vicksburg park about a decade ago and has since read about the campaign.

“It’s a very, very interesting story of military history,” he said. “It’s also a people story as well – how the two armies manipulated the land and how the citizens of Vicksburg manipulated the land to protect themselves.”

Bankston said once it’s completed, the center should draw around 200,000 visitors a year. At that time, the National Park Service will vacate the current visitor’s center. They, along with MDAH, and the Friends of the Military Park will have a presence in the new location.

Mayor George Flaggs speaking to the media previously.
Mayor George Flaggs speaking to the media previously. (City of Vicksburg)

Mayor George Flaggs says 200,000 is a conservative number, saying attendance likely would be higher.

“What this would do, from my understanding, is tell the full story, something that’s not been told,” he said. “It will give any individual an opportunity to interpret (the Civil War) for themselves.”

“I believe it’s a game-changer for the city of Vicksburg.”

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