Tag Archives: Corinthian Columns

Port Gibson, Mississippi – Windsor Ruins

29 Oct

Twenty-Three Columns Are All That Remain of the Grand Plantation Home Windsor

The first time that I visited Windsor I turned off of Highway 61 near Lorman, Mississippi, and drove straight to the place.  On another visit I decided to go the back way from Port Gibson.  I thought I would never find the place and perhaps end up hopelessly lost.  After driving through the thick woods and all the ravines filled with kudzu it became more of a maze than a trip. If I had driven off of the narrow road and into one of those kudzu covered ravines chances are I would still be there.  If lucky, the cold weather might have knocked the leave off of the kudzu enough for someone to spot a vehicle wrapped in those tenacious vines.  In my estimation there is a chance that Jimmy Hoffa is there – someplace on the back roads, toward the Mississippi River, in a kudzu covered ravine west and south of Port Gibson.

One thing about Windsor is that it makes a person wonder why in the world it was built in the middle of nowhere.  There are places located in the middle of nowhere all over the place but not many as wondrous as Windsor.  Those large palatial columns are just standing there.  It is sort of like a story book setting.  When it was built, back in the late 1850s, it was located near the Mississippi River and near a narrow road known as the Rodney Road.   The soil in the area is loess.  That means in was brought to the location by wind.  The loess layer is very thick and the loess formation that Windsor was built on extends from Memphis down to Baton Rouge on the east side of the Mississippi River. How it got there is somewhat of a mystery.  Perhaps during the an ice age most of the fresh surface water was tied up in glaciers and westerly winds just pushed the soil westward as if it was a great dune.  In any case it does erode very fast when exposed to the rain and so the giant ravines have formed and reformed over the ages making it very difficult to traverse.  After the ice age the waters began to flow and perhaps a large stream worked its way around the loess and eventually became the Mississippi River.  The ridge tops of the loess formations are flat and fairly fertile and they make good places for winding roads and the soil is also fairly fertile so it would be possible to grow cotton in the area, however, the other side of the river is much more fertile as it was continuously replenished by yearly floods.

Well that is it for the geology of the area but to me it is a part of the story of Windsor, or at least a part of the story that I am interested in.  Those  interested in architecture will love the ruins of Windsor and those that like plantation homes can only imagine how great the home was that once stood between the columns.  Those that are interested in history will perhaps relate the land and columns back to the historical events that took place here about 150 years ago.  That is what I wish to discuss after the obligatory brief history of the home.

These Fluted Corinthian Columns Appear Almost in the Middle of Nowhere, Mississippi

Windsor was built as a plantation home for Mr. and Mrs. Smith Coffee Daniel, II.  The plantation consisted of about 2,600 acres and was completed in 1861 just in time for the War Between the States.  Twenty-nine columns were constructed of bricks, made at the site, that supported the magnificent structure.  Each Fluted Corinthian Column was 45 feet in height and was covered in mortar and plaster. The fluted columns had iron Corinthian capitals and were joined at the galleries by an ornamental iron balustrade. The completed structure was a marvel in that it contained its own school, commissary, Dr.’s office, dairy and kitchen under one roof. On top of the house was an observatory. Each of the 25 rooms had its own fireplace and the home contained indoor bathrooms with running water that was supplied by a water tank in the attic.  This was the state of the structure on the eve of the most important event in American history.

Capturing the Mississippi River strategically was the top priority of the Union, so it wasn’t long before the war came to Mississippi.  As the war continued Vicksburg became the key to victory but the Union Army was on the western side of the river.  Grant had to cross the river.  On the night of April 30, 1863,  troop ships were loaded with soldiers and a journey down the river commenced.  The first planned stop for a possible landing was Grand Gulf but the Union gunships could not silence the guns at the confederate stronghold so General Grant proceeded south to Bruinsburg. There was a road (Rodney Road) near there that could be used by troops headed east.  Thus began the largest amphibious landing of American troops in military history prior to D-Day. On April 30 and May 1, 1863, over 17,000 troops landed at Bruinsburg and headed east on the narrow and winding road.

There was still a considerable “unknown” that General Grant had to deal with and that was the location of the Confederate Army.  As the troops were landing in Bruinsburg General Sherman feigned an attack on Vicksburg and the confederate forces stayed at home.  The Union troops at Bruinsburg immediately began a hasty advance along the road that passed in front of Windsor.  Grant had to get his troops into strategic positions and capture strategic locations such as bridges quickly.  If the large confederate force at Vicksburg moved against him all could be lost.

When walking around the large columns at Windsor one hardly thinks that Union Soldiers were resting and crunching on their hardtack on the grounds.  Union forces took control of the house and when the ensuing battles with confederate troops took place the plantation was used as a hospital and the observatory became a place to observe troop movements.  Prior to this the confederates had used the observatory to monitor Union ship movements on the river and to signal confederate forces on the other side of the river.

The Original Corinthian Metal Caps Sit Atop Columns Made of Bricks That Where Manufactured On Site

Each time I visit Windsor I think about the advancing Union forces and their dash inland and the ensuing fights at Port Gibson and other locations.  General Grant went on to destroy Jackson in order to protect the rear of his army when he advanced on Vicksburg.  That turned out to be one of the most important decisions of the Civil War.  If Grant had decided to go directly to Vicksburg he would have certainly been destroyed by a waiting confederate army. Instead he protected his army by taking Jackson and then set in for a siege at Vicksburg.  Lots of history in the middle of Nowhere, Mississippi.
But try as I may to remember all of the history that is close by I have to admit that the ruins of Windsor captures my mind in a mysterious way and makes it impossible to think of troop movements and the like.  Windsor is a place unto itself –  a place to experience awe and mystery.

Windsor did not come to ruins because of the Civil War. The house survived until 1890 and hosted a number of people and events over the years.  One visitor was Mark Twain and he even used the observatory on top of the home to observe the Mississippi River.  On the 17th of February 1890 some work was being done on the house by carpenters.  There were some visitors that day and apparently one of them left behind a lighted cigar or cigarette and it fell into some wood shavings on the third floor.  The family was returning home from a trip to get the mail when they saw the flames. Windsor burned from top to bottom.

The haunting columns are all we have of the structure today.  Twenty-three of them remain.  Those columns have not only witnessed history but they have become part of history.  It is a mysterious place and is hard to comprehend.  I have taken picture after picture and can’t capture the essence of the place.  There is just too much here for the senses to take in and process at one time.  There are so many questions that can’t be answered.  If fact they can’t even be verbalized so one is left with their feelings.  You can feel the history, the architecture and the grandeur but you cannot explain it to others – it is just one of those places that impresses you and stays with you but you can’t really say why!