Friday, April 14, 2017

Thieves make off with wood from Port Gibson, Ms., house, leave outrage in their wake

Courtesy of Ms. Department of Archives and History

Preservationists, Civil War devotees and others are outraged about vandalism at a house that saw the opening shots of the 1863 Battle of Port Gibson in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History said thieves made off with four wooden support beams and damaged interior flooring and walls at the A.K. Shaifer House in Claiborne County.

“This was clearly theft. Unlike most acts of vandalism, this took planning and some effort,” Jim Woodrick, director of the department’s historic preservation staff, told the Picket on Thursday. “We can only assume that the thieves were looking to sell or reuse the original architectural features from the house. Some of the floor joists were, indeed, quite lengthy.”

One report put some of them up to 20 feet long.

The Port Gibson Heritage Trust Battlefield Committee offered a $5,000 reward and the local sheriff's department was notified.

The Shaifer House had its moment in history on April 30, 1863, when forces under Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant approached Port Gibson during its famed march on Vicksburg.
A Confederate general checked on pickets in the home’s area. A marker on the site says: “The general found Mrs. A.K. Shaifer and the ladies of the house frantically piling their household effects on a wagon.” A crash of musket fire sent the women fleeing.

The home served as a hospital and headquarters during the battle, which ended in a Federal victory and an opening to Vicksburg, which fell two months later.

Officials said the damage was found on April 1; it likely occurred in the preceding week. Woodrick said emergency repairs have been made  to stabilize the floor and other features. The property has been temporarily closed.

“The repair of the Shaifer House is a top priority,” said MDAH director Katie Blount in a statement. “We are consulting with state legislators, local governments, the Port Gibson Heritage Trust, other state agencies and the National Park Service to ensure the house is preserved for future generations.”

National Park Service photo

The home, which was restored a decade ago, did not have regular security, Woodrick said. Officials are working with agencies and volunteers to improve protection.

The Shaifer House was built by A.K. and Elizabeth Shaifer beginning in 1826. The Port Gibson battlefield is a National Historic Landmark and the Shaifer House is a Mississippi Landmark, officials said.

Woodrick called the crime “horrendous” and social media commenters voiced their displeasure. The website Preservation in Mississippi referred to the act as “bold thievery” and an article was headlined, “Let’s nail the thieves who did this to the Shaifer House.”

A Facebook page listing the reward said a chain indicated the vandals used a vehicle to carry off the structural beams. It asked for tips that might lead to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.

“Hopefully, this will bring some much-needed attention to the plight of our historic resources and encourage people to get involved in local preservation efforts,” said Woodrick. “Certainly, there's been outrage among my Civil War brethren.”

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