Standing next to the Illinois Memorial in Vicksburg National Military Park is the Shirley House, a white frame structure that is the only surviving wartime structure within the park boundaries (though numerous antebellum buildings that survived the war are present in other parts of town). The house, owned by James and Adeline Shirley, was almost destroyed by Confederate soldiers in mid May 1863 as the Rebel defensive lines in Vicksburg were being set up and Union troops were closing in. Other buildings on the Shirley’s property were burned down as the Confederates cleared obstructions from in front of their lines, but the soldier who was to set fire to the house was killed before he was able to do so.
As the Federals moved in, the Shirley House (called the white house by the soldiers) became the headquarters of the 45th Illinois Infantry, and the soldiers dug in and created bombproof shelters to protect themselves from Confederate artillery fire. Though the house was damaged during the siege, it was not destroyed, which is remarkable considering it’s just a few hundred yards from the Third Louisiana Redan, a highly fortified position along the Confederate lines named for its defenders, the 3rd Louisiana Infantry.
During the siege, Union troops dug a trench from the Shirley House to the outside of the Third Louisiana Redan, and then tunneled under the fortification. They placed 2200 pounds of black powder in the tunnel and detonated it on June 25th. Union troops, led by the 45th Illinois. rushed into the redan, and were met by Confederate fire. Fighting continued into the next day before the Federals withdrew. A second attempt at blowing up the redan was made on July 1st, but it was not followed by an infantry attack. Confederate forces at Vicksburg surrendered on July 4th.
The house was used by the army as a smallpox hospital before being abandoned in 1864. The Shirley family did not return to the house, which had been damaged and was uninhabitable. It fell into ruin, but after the establishment of Vicksburg National Military Park in 1899, the Federal Government became interested in buying the house and associated land for the military park. The Shirley family, who still owned the property, sold it to the government in 1900. It has undergone several restorations and renovations since that time.