March 11, 2006
This morning I drove an hour north of Tupelo to the town of Corinth where I met my older brother Andy for a self-guided Civil War tour. To begin with, I am a Civil War buff and Andy had been on several tours of the Corinth-Iuka-Shiloh battlefields so when I climbed into his SUV, I wasn’t surprised to see that he had several books, a large map and two folders of information about the sites we would be visiting. Before today, I had a hazy knowledge that there was a battle in Corinth, but I had no idea how crucial it was. During the early 1860s, there was only one place in the South where a major E-W railroad and a major N-S railroad intersected. That place was the tiny hamlet of Corinth, Mississippi. In early 1862 the Union generals determined that there were two places they had to capture if they wanted to win the war–Richmond and Corinth. Thus a few weeks after Shiloh (April 6-7), a Union force of over 120,000 soldiers laid siege to Corinth with 80,000 Confederate soldiers. That meant that 200,000 soldiers were congregated around a village that was basically a dot on the map. The Confederates eventually evacuated the town (May 29-30), leaving it to the Federal army. In October they failed in an attempt to win it back after a bloody battle.
Andy and I visited several key sites, including the very peaceful National Cemetery in Corinth. Later we drove into Tennessee, tracing the path taken by General Van Dorn’s retreating Confederates. We drove through some of the most desolate and remote countryside I have ever seen. Finally we stopped and tramped through the boggy woods to find the site of Davis Bridge. The map, while helpful, does not convey how difficult it must have been for armies to maneuver through the mud, thick forests, and twisting vines just to get to the rickety wooden bridge over the Hatchie River. The site is so remote that it looks today exactly as it must have looked in October 1862.
Yesterday Andy sent me an email saying that we ought to have some “slugburgers” for lunch. The term describes a kind of deep-fried hamburger without much meat. The sandwich originated in the Depression when meat was scarce. Cooks would take a little beef or a touch of pork and add corn meal or lard or potato flakes or soy bean paste plus some seasoning. The resulting patty was pounded thin, deep-fried, and served in a hamburger bun with lettuce, onions and pickles. Andy took me to Borrum’s Drug Store, across the street from the Corinth courthouse. Established in 1869 by a former Confederate surgeon, the drug store has been continuously operated by the same family. Suffice it to say that the decor was suitably dated. Andy said it probably looked exactly like this fifty years ago. A friendly waitress asked, “Would y’all like some menus?” Yes, but we couldn’t find slugburgers listed. Not to worry, she said, she had one yesterday and it was very good. So I ordered a slugburger, French Fries, a glass of water and a glass of sweet tea. She couldn’t believe that I had never eaten a slugburger. Evidently lots of Corinth restaurants serve them because she went on to say that Borrum’s slugburgers were better than the ones at another local establishment. And that led to a conversation with a friendly older couple at an adjoining table. The woman was a Corinth native who sang the praises of the slugburger. When our meal arrived, the slugburger turned out to be a thin, deep-fried patty that looked like what we used to call “mystery meat” in high school. But it tasted very good. I read somewhere that you should always order two, which I didn’t do, but there isn’t as much to a slugburger as a regular hamburger so I recommend to all my readers that you start with two whenever you visit Corinth. When I asked about the ingredients, the waitress said they use a pinch of pork with some filling that includes soy bean paste. They make the patties at night, freeze them, then deep-fry them the next day.
The waitress said that there is a big “Slugburger Festival” in July. They have carnival rides, games, lots of entertainment, and slugburgers galore. Sounds like something I would enjoy.