As the Hardeman County seat, Bolivar was occupied by Union troops early in the Civil War. Four of the Union Army’s key players — Generals Grant, William T. Sherman, John A. Logan, and James B. McPherson — chose the house of a prominent lawyer and banker, Judge Austin Miller, to serve as their headquarters. Built in 1849 with bricks handmade by slaves, this elegant Georgian-style home is known today as Magnolia Manor, a bed-and-breakfast operated by Elaine Cox and a featured site on this year’s living history tour.
“This house is such a treasure, and I wanted to be able to share it with visitors and let them know the importance of Magnolia Manor to the Civil War,” says Cox, who bought the house in 1981 and has since worked tirelessly to restore it as authentically as possible. “Decisions were made here that directed the course of the war, and if someone doesn’t preserve this history, future generations will never know about it.”
“When we brought the tour back last year, we could tell people missed it,” says Grubbs. “This year, we wanted to add an extra element with the living history aspect, so we’re mainly including homes and churches that were standing in 1862. We wanted to tell all these stories at the places where they actually happened.”
More than 100 buildings in Bolivar alone are on the National Register of Historic Places, along with a number of others throughout the county. Many of the homes reflect the prosperity of pre-Civil War Hardeman County, which was a major trading center due to its location on the navigable waters of the Hatchie River. During the heyday of the riverboat and before the rise of railroads, early historians forecast that Bolivar would be the second-largest city in West Tennessee, surpassed only by Memphis. From 1825 until the early 1890s, Bolivar was the center of the region’s river trade.
Ten historic homes and structures that existed in 1862 will be part of the tour, along with the present-day Hardeman County Courthouse, built in 1869, and the court square’s Confederate Monument, erected in 1873 as the first carved memorial to the Confederate dead. At each site, costumed re-enactors will relate what life was like during the war and tell stories about real events that occurred there.
“There’s a lot of history here in Bolivar, and many people don’t realize it,” says Dianne Mumford, tour chairman. “And it’s all real. We don’t have to make any of this up.”
As a fundraising project of the Hardeman County chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA), the home tour has been staged on a regular basis for many years, says local APTA President Joy Grubbs. Though organizers took a couple of years off, the event returned last year and was met with plenty of support and interest from local residents, she adds.
Though not a decisive Union victory, with about 500 killed on each side, the Battle of Davis Bridge was the final leg in the largely successful Union incursion into the Deep South known as the Corinth Campaign, which started with Shiloh in April 1862 and is considered the beginning of the end of the war’s western theater.
Though it sounds like an excerpt from an American history book, the story of this and other true Civil War adventures will come to life when local preservationists stage “Reliving 1862 in Historic Bolivar: A Civil War Spring Tour of Homes and Historic Sites” on Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1. Organizers say the interactive, living-history tour will give visitors a glimpse inside the town’s buildings and events from the year that proved to be a turning point in the Civil War and a milestone in the history of Hardeman County.
Ready to greet visitors to Bolivar’s Spring Tour of Homes and Historic Sites are Elaine Cox, owner of the 1849-built Magnolia Manor, and Herbert Wood, a Civil War historian and re-enactor.
The “distinct boom of cannons” could be heard in Bolivar, some 25 miles away from the battle that was brewing at Davis Bridge on the Hatchie River near Pocahontas.
The date was Oct. 5, 1862, and Hardeman County would soon become the site of the second-largest battle, next only to Shiloh, fought in West Tennessee during the Civil War.
Union troops had already occupied Bolivar, and U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant ordered his soldiers to move behind the Hatchie River, capture Davis Bridge, and trap the Confederate soldiers who were retreating from their defeat at the battle of Corinth, Miss. Even though the Union troops eventually wrested control of the bridge, most of the Confederates, who were familiar with the area, successfully crossed the river and eluded capture.