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FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN CORINTH, MS

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN CORINTH, MS

Whenever I am traveling through the South, I always try to get Corinth, MS on the travel schedule. The folks at First Presbyterian Church in Corinth are great people and I always enjoy being with them. I am particularly fond of Pastor Don Elliott. Don has been Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Corinth, since August, 1985. His heart for missions has kept a bright flame burning within the congregation for outreach and Kingdom building, both locally and especially internationally. Whenever I am in town for a visit, church Elder Dr. Pat provides great overnight accommodations in his garage apartment. But not just for me. He and his wife, Suzanne, have dedicated themselves to mission work and are excellent hosts to any visiting missionaries at First Presbyterian, Corinth. The refrigerator in the apartment is covered with photos and greetings from around the world from people that they have hosted.

CORINTH

corinth-crossroads-todayThe city of Corinth, Miss., was founded in 1853 as Cross City because it was located at the junction of the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads. The early town’s newspaper editor, W.E. Gibson, suggested the name of Corinth, taken from Corinth, Greece that also served as a crossroads. Of course for those of us that are Biblically inclined, we know Corinth as a mission field for Paul.

By 1860, the community had grown to a population of more than 2,500. It is located in the northeast corner of Mississippi near the Tennessee border, 22 miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing, on the Tennessee River. Because of being in the junction of the two railroads, Corinth became of strategic importance to the Confederacy during the Civil War. It also became an objective to the Union forces.

After the battle of Corinth (see below) the Union occupied Corinth for the next 15 months, using it as a base for raiding northern Mississippi, Alabama and southern Tennessee. The Union troops left Corinth on January 25, 1864. The Confederates returned, but it was too late. The South had not built a locomotive since 1861 and could not use what had once been a critically important rail line. The only cars moving on the patched-together tracks were pulled by mules.

Just on the outskirts of Corinth is the Corinth Interpretive Center. In this museum and history center you can discover the history of Corinth with all the details of the nearby battles and the repercussions of the war on Corinth. The 15,000 square foot facility features interactive exhibits, a multi-media presentation of the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Corinth.

In the years since the Civil War, Corinth has grown into a small city of almost 15,000, but the general landscape has changed little. There are numerous historical markers peppered throughout the city which makes driving and walking tours very enjoyable and informative. In 2014 Corinth, Mississippi was ranked as the top 16th Main Street and in 2015 Best Choice Reviews gave Corinth the designation of being one of the 50 Best Towns in America.

THE BIRTH OF TWO CHURCHES

FPC Corinth First BldgAs related on the church website by Janet Krohn, FPC Church Historian, the history of the First Presbyterian Church, Corinth, began with the settling of Cross City. Before the city was three years old, two separate Presbyterian Churches were formed. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was founded in 1857, and a building was erected on Cruise Street just east of Madison Street. The First Presbyterian Church, founded in 1858, first had a building on the southwest corner of Franklin and Linden Streets.

Neither church had much time to grow or even record much history before the Civil War made its way into Southern Tennessee and Northern Mississippi. After Fort Sumter was fired upon in April of 1861 to start the war, the first major battle to take place was in (West) Virginia. Other 1861 battles like Manassas, Bull Run, Port Royal, and Wilson’s Creek were in far-away places like Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri and in the Indian Territories.

The war began to come closer to Mississippi in February 1862, when a Union army under Ulysses S. Grant won impressive victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in northwestern Tennessee. But still a great deal of the fighting was being done in far-away Virginia and Maryland. Then the news became much worse as multiple Union armies were moving south toward Mississippi, intent on capturing the vital Confederate railroad crossing at Corinth. The war was about to explode in Mississippi itself. And in April of 1862 the war was suddenly upon them with the Battle of Shiloh (only 22 miles north of Corinth) and then the battles in and around Corinth itself.

THE WAR WAS UPON THEM

The war first came to the proximity of Corinth at the Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. The two-day battle of Shiloh, the costliest in American history up to that time, resulted in the defeat of the Confederate army and frustration of Johnston’s plans to prevent the two Union armies in Tennessee from joining together. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing); Grant’s army bore the brunt of the fighting over the two days, with casualties of 1,513 killed, 6,601 wounded, and 2,830 missing or captured. Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). The dead included the Confederate army’s commander, Albert Sidney Johnston. (stats from Wikipedia) Tragically the two days of fighting at Shiloh alone produced more casualties than all the combined previous wars of the United States.

Battle of ShilohThe battle of Shiloh was, as noted, a very bloody and costly battle for both sides. There are many accounts of the battle, some conflicting as to the surprise of the Confederate attack, details about the Hornet’s Nest, the legend of a drummer boy, and the tale of the Bloody Pond. Nevertheless, there is no question that the battle was a turning point in the war. Interestingly, when Johnston began his march north from Corinth to engage the Union forces, he was held up two days because of rain and muddy roads. It is curious to imagine if he had not been delayed in his approach, Grant’s army would have been even more unprepared and the battle might have been over before the reinforcements arrived. Considering that among the commanding generals for the Union forces were Grant and Sherman, the rest of the war might have gone differently if either or both of these two men had been killed or captured. Well, that’s all conjecture I know but an interesting thought!

The following section was obtained from http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/shiloh.htm. For an interesting account of the battle visit the website and read the story from Henry Morgan Stanley. Henry Morton Stanley earned fame in 1872 for his discovery of Dr. David Livingstone in the interior of Africa. Ten years earlier, the 21-year-old Stanley had enlisted in the Confederate Army and on April 6, 1862 he found himself preparing for battle at Shiloh.

In April 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant’s army was encamped along the Tennessee River just north of the Mississippi border; poised to strike a blow into the heartland of the South. Grant had been at this location for about a month, awaiting the arrival of additional troops under General Buell before he began his march southward. Twenty miles to the south, in Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston ordered his troops northward with the plan of attacking Grant before Buell arrived. The stage was set for one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles.

On the morning of April 6, Johnston’s force surprised Grant in an attack that slowly pushed the Union troops back from the high ground they occupied towards the Tennessee River. Fighting was fierce. Many of the Union troops fled to the rear upon the initial Confederate assault and by afternoon General Johnston was confident that victory was within his grasp. However, Union resistance stiffened. Fighting around the white-washed Shiloh Church was particularly vicious. In a wooded thicket the Confederates labeled “the Hornets’ Nest” the Northern troops struggled for nearly six hours before finally surrendering. The Union soldiers stalled the Confederate onslaught by exchanging their precious lives for time in which reinforcements could arrive. With nightfall, fighting subsided. Grant’s forces were pinned against the Tennessee River but the exhausted Confederates were short of their goal of complete victory.

One casualty of the afternoon’s combat was General Johnston who lost his life while directing his troops from the front lines. His death severely affected the Confederate’s morale and their belief in victory.

Buell’s reinforcements finally arrived during the night as did forces under General William H. Wallace, strengthening the Union lines with 22,500 fresh troops. With the break of dawn, Grant attacked, pushing the exhausted Confederates steadily back until they finally began a retreat in the early afternoon that left the field to the Union forces.

For another excellent analysis of the battle from historian Timothy B. Smith, go to http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/shiloh/shiloh-history-articles/battle-of-shiloh-shattering.html. Dr. Timothy B. Smith, a former NPS ranger at Shiloh, teaches history at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is the author of numerous books on the battles of Corinth and Shiloh.

A visit to the battlegrounds of Shiloh is worth the trip. Congress established Shiloh National Military Park in 1894, making it the third oldest battlefield in the National Park system. Originally under the War Department, Shiloh predated the National Park Service by 22 years. The park is beautifully maintained and the two-day battle is well-marked with event markers often next to each other, one telling the tale of the Confederate advancement on day one and the other telling the tale of the Union counter-advance on day two.

CAM00042Among the many ironies of the battle is that its name was taken from a small chink-and-mortar Methodist chapel on the battlefield that had been christened after the Hebrew expression for “Place of Peace.” The building itself was hardly better than a respectable Tennessee corncrib, but it was a house of God and gave its name to the first of the great battles of the Civil War. The original church building did not survive the battle. The present-day structure (see photo) is a reconstruction erected in 2003 on the historical site by the Tennessee Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.

THE WAR CAME TO THE STREETS OF CORINTH

From Wikipedia we learn that the Siege of Corinth (also known as the First Battle of Corinth) was a Civil War battle fought from April 29 to May 30, 1862, in Corinth. The town was a strategic point at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The siege ended as the Confederates withdrew. The Union forces under Ulysses Grant took control and made it the base for his operations to seize control of the Mississippi River Valley, and especially the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.

The Second Battle of Corinth was fought October 3–4, 1862, in Corinth. For the second time in the Iuka-Corinth Campaign, Union Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans defeated a Confederate army, this time one under Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn.

After the Battle of Iuka, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price marched his army to meet with Van Dorn’s. The combined force, under the command of the more senior Van Dorn, moved in the direction of Corinth, a critical rail junction in northern Mississippi, hoping to disrupt Union lines of communications and then sweep into Middle Tennessee. The fighting began on October 3 as the Confederates pushed the Federal army from the rifle pits originally constructed by the Confederates for the Siege of Corinth. The Confederates exploited a gap in the Union line and continued to press the Union troops until they fell back to an inner line of fortifications.

On the second day of battle, the Confederates moved forward to meet heavy Union artillery fire, storming Battery Powell and Battery Robinett, where desperate hand-to-hand fighting occurred. A brief incursion into the town of Corinth was repulsed. After a Federal counterattack recaptured Battery Powell, Van Dorn ordered a general retreat. Rosecrans did not pursue immediately and the Confederates escaped destruction.

Another important feature of Corinth is what is known as the Corinth Contraband Camp. Early in the war, Gen. Benjamin Butler had to decide what to do with three slaves in Virginia that had fled their slavery and sought refuge with the Union forces. The general refused to return them to their “owner,” instead labeling them as “contrabands of war.” After the Union had secured Corinth, many African-Americans who fled Southern plantations and farms seeking freedom and protection, found the Union-occupied Corinth to be a secure location. They gathered in the Corinth Contraband Camp. Initially housed in army tents no longer considered serviceable for Union troops, the freedmen were soon set to work downing trees and clearing land on which to build cabins and lay out streets, which were named for Union generals. Eventually the freedmen also built a four-room school, a commissary, a hospital, a church and an office. The entire camp was divided into wards, complete with ward masters and a police force. Union General Granville Dodge began to enlist these freedmen as teamsters, cooks and laborers. He actively recruited male refugees, armed them and placed them in charge of security. Dodge’s administrative efforts led to the formation of the 1st Alabama Regiment of African Descent, consisting of approximately 1,000 men. The camp was short-lived as plans for the Union army winter campaign moved away from Corinth. Although considered by many as a “model” for post-slavery reconstruction, the camp was ordered to relocate to Memphis and the progress was decimated in the transition.

THE CHURCH LIVES ON…WELL, ONE OF THEM

Continuing the church history related by Janet Krohn, most records of both the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church were lost during the Civil War, but each church reorganized as soon as possible following the war. The Cumberland Church sold their building to the City of Corinth for a public school and built a new building on Fillmore Street and changed its name to “Fillmore Street Presbyterian Church.” In 1894 First Church built a modern church building on the northeast corner of Franklin and Foote Streets, which was occupied by that fellowship for about sixty-five years.

The membership of First Presbyterian continued to grow, and the building near the courthouse was in need of major repairs. In 1949 the church purchased, for $11,500, land on Shiloh Road for a future building.

Through the years the two Presbyterian churches of Corinth had worked in harmony, sharing summer services, revivals, Bible Schools, and local missions. In 1950 a proposal was made to unite the two churches. However, the presbytery of the Presbyterian Church, United States of America under which the Fillmore Street church operated, refused the merger. Nevertheless, about three-fourths of the membership of that church moved their letters to First Presbyterian Church in 1951. The beautiful little church on Fillmore Street continued to lose members until it was finally dissolved and the property was sold to the First United Methodist Church in 1976.

Immediately following the merger of the two church bodies, Dr. Bernard Munger was called as pastor for First Presbyterian, and a monumental building program was undertaken. In 1952 the education building and fellowship hall were completed. The entire $60,000 was paid in a few short years, and the sanctuary portion of the building was completed in 1957, costing $170,000. In 1996 the education wing was enlarged to accommodate more classrooms to be used by both the Sunday school and the day school.

RECENT HISTORY

Grievances arose with the Presbyterian Church USA including their policy of ordination of homosexuals in some local churches and presbyteries and issues of Trinitarian theology expressed in a 2006 document titled “The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing,” known widely as “the Trinity Paper.” First Presbyterian, Corinth formally requested dismissal from the PC(USA).

A special, seven-member administrative commission for the Presbytery determined that “reconciliation was not possible, and therefore began the work of negotiating a settlement …” The settlement agreement was “approved by voice vote without vocal opposition or objection.”

Following eighteen months of prayer and discernment, the congregation of First Presbyterian voted overwhelmingly in favor of dissolving their association with the Presbyterian Church USA, on December 23, 2007. In February 2008 the Presbytery of St. Andrew (PCUSA) dismissed them with their property and they came to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. As part of the settlement, the church paid $150,000 to the Presbytery.

Pastor Don Elliott said that he and his congregation were “relieved to be reaching the end of a 20-month time of crisis and struggle.” He added that he’s “thankful to the presbytery for their peaceful conclusion,” and that the church was “eager to move forward, proclaiming the Gospel and being involved in mission.”

A CHURCH FOR THE KINGDOM

Today the church’s mission is “To glorify and worship God by seeking and following His will through prayer, love, faithfulness, and witnessing; radiating from the individual, to the family, to the church, to the community, and to the world.” They really live-up to that mission statement being involved in community efforts with a food pantry, meals for the needy, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, crisis pregnancy, Habitat for humanity and care for troubled and orphaned children…just to name a few. Of course what I am thrilled about is their incredible involvement in international mission work in both financial support and direct participation. Their website lists 28 missionary teams that they support and encourage in all parts of the world. Many of those missionaries are EPC World Outreach associates, including me. Their recent congregational mission trips include Guatemala and Mexico with plans for another trip to Guatemala this month where they will be building houses and helping with a feeding program for poor children.

Their worship service is at 10:45 on Sunday morning. If you are in Corinth to visit the city or the historical battlegrounds at Shiloh, be sure to plan to worship with them. Their church is located at 919 Shiloh Road. You will find their congregation inviting, the sermon inspirational and the fellowship warm.

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