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Lamar House

The restored home of a Mississippi statesman offers visitors to Oxford a compelling story told against the backdrop of a divided country.
by Darlene Copp

Most Mississippi towns claim stories from the Civil War, but the most prominent are about the Siege and Battle of Corinth in the northeast and the Vicksburg Campaign in the southwest. In between these sites of major military actions is Oxford’s L.Q.C. Lamar House Museum with a rarely told story of the politics that precipitated the war and later followed it. For travelers curious about the Civil War during its current sesquicentennial observance, the Lamar House offers something vitally connected but decidedly different.

Kiosk

Restored and handsome once again, the Lamar House Museum has exhibits on the life of L.Q.C. Lamar and the Civil War. Oxford CVB photos

Statue

Landmark House
Until the installation of a professional exhibit in the Lamar House Museum in spring 2011, no place in Oxford told visitors about Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s 1862 stay in the city while planning his approach to Vicksburg, or about Union Gen. A. J. Smith’s shorter but devastating visit in 1864. That brief encounter resulted in total destruction of the courthouse and most businesses on Oxford’s square.

The rebuilding of Oxford’s courthouse square likely coincided with Mississippi’s most famous statesman building a house for his family nearby. Between 1868-70, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar was practicing law and taught as a professor of law at the University of Mississippi. He was one of only two Americans to prominently serve in all three branches of the U.S. government, including both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Fast forward to the end of the 20th century when Lamar’s modest yet handsome Greek Revival house suffered from nearly irredeemable neglect, despite its status as a National Historic Landmark since 1975. By 2008, the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation had purchased and restored the structure to its original condition, while also initiating plans for its future as a historical house museum. A grant awarded through the Preserve America Community program provided for professionally designed exhibits that today look remarkably at home.

engrossing exhibits
Adorning each of the house’s four major rooms, exhibits trace Lamar’s life from his birth into a slaveholding Georgia plantation family who surrounded him with prominent lawyers, judges, and politicians. Among them was his adventuresome uncle Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, who became the second president of the Republic of Texas.

Seeking his own fortune, the young Lamar in 1849 moved his family and slaves to Mississippi where he practiced law, taught math at the newly established University of Mississippi, and quickly made his mark in politics.

As a young Congressman, Lamar established a reputation in Washington for his impassioned rhetoric in support of slavery and, if all politics failed, secession. After President Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, Lamar resigned from Congress and wrote the articles of secession for Mississippi, the second state to secede. Next Lamar helped raise a regiment and committed himself to the Confederate States of America. Due to ill health, he fought only at the Battle of Williamsburg and then took diplomatic assignments, including one that sent him to Russia for a year.

The exhibit follows Lamar’s return home from Appomattox, Va., to a devastated Mississippi. Working through his depression at the outcome of the war, he understood that the South had to regain its national stature. When he returned to Congress in 1873, he pledged his efforts towards North-South reconciliation.

An opportunity to eulogize the ardent abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, despised in the South, threw Lamar into the national spotlight where he remained the rest of his career in Washington. Lamar’s inclusion in John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” receives special attention.

Along with unfolding the life of Lamar as slaveholder, Confederate, and American statesman, exhibits present vivid accounts of slavery, disunion, emancipation, and Mississippi’s African-American congressional leaders during Reconstruction.

Complimenting an exhibit on 19th-century oratory, three rooms include audio excerpts from Lamar’s many speeches.

One Massachusetts visitor commented on how much of the exhibit is relevant to today, adding, “There’s quite a message here, and Lamar is a good figure to tell these lessons with.” Many other visitors admire the house’s restoration, with the hall frescoes of particular interest. A four-minute video supplies details on how the house was rescued.

more of oxford
In addition to getting a crash course in Civil War era politics at the Lamar House Museum, visitors may enjoy the lively literary and arts opportunities in Oxford. Most make their way to Rowan Oak, the home of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner. At nationally famous Square Books, visiting authors regularly read and sign books. Rotating exhibits and frequent events fill the Powerhouse Community Arts and Cultural Center.

While strolling the campus of the University of Mississippi, history buffs may notice the monument to the University Greys, a company of the 11th Mississippi Infantry comprised largely of University of Mississippi students. During the Battle of Gettysburg, every member of the company was either killed or wounded. In Ventress Hall, across from the monument, Tiffany stained glass windows from 1890 depict the student soldiers.

Elsewhere on campus, a Civil Rights monument dedicated in 2006 honors James Meredith’s heroic persistence to study at the University of Mississippi.

Narrated double-decker bus tours of town and campus are on selected dates, including Sept. 7 and 14; Oct. 5 and 12; and Nov. 9, 17, and 23. Walking tour booklets always are available at city hall.

Whatever activities interest them most, all visitors end up on Oxford’s vibrant Courthouse Square with its many inviting options for shopping and dining.

Oxford events include October’s University of Mississippi homecoming, a film festival in February, and the Double Decker Arts Festival in April.

Over the course of his life, Lamar experienced many changes, not unlike Oxford, and a visit to this city not only will educate you, but entertain.

Darlene Copp is a contributor from Oxford, Miss.

Sept/Oct 2012 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

The L.Q.C. Lamar House Museum is open from 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday–Sunday. It is located in Oxford at 616 N. 14th St. For information, call (662) 513-6071.

For more information about Oxford, contact the convention and visitors bureau at (800) 758-9177 or visit www.oxfordcvb.com.

To visit Oxford, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. A list of offices to serve you is on page 5 in this issue or visit AAA.com.

Order free information about Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card,found online.


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