The Iron Furnace
Hundreds of Union prisoners were interned here during the summer of 1862. Treated reasonably and guarded lightly, few tried to escape in anticipation of being exchanged, as was common practice early in the war. They were kept in a wood stockade located on the west side of Front Street, slightly south of where you stand. Adjoining the stockade on the north was a separate enclosure housing Union sympathizers, bridge burners and accused informants. They were held captive in a poorly ventilated store or warehouse. During July and August the interior of the prison was so hot the survivors called it "The Iron Furnace." Those prisoners were heavily guarded and severely treated while awaiting trial by a military court. Many of those who were found guilty were sentenced to death and forced to dig their own graves. These prisoners were shot by a firing squad or hanged from a gallows. Some still remain near this site lying in unmarked graves lost to time, One of the prisoners, Reverend John H. Aughey, escaped two days before his scheduled execution, He wrote a book after the war entitled "Tupelo," recounting the escape and his experience in "The Iron Furnace."
In 1858, when local construction on the M&O railroad began, businessmen
in the surrounding area disassembled their businesses and moved them to Tupelo. By the time the war was underway, six or seven clapboard structures had been thrown up where the row of buildings stands today on the west side of Front Street. Included were a storehouse, one or two stores, two saloons and two hotels named the Ledbetter House and the Robertson House. The businesses initially catered to railroad workers, but when the soldiers arrived, the saloons quickly turned rowdy and the hotels became brothels The hotels were two stories with approximately six small rooms on the second floor. They
contained a small bed, wash stand, bowl, pitcher of water and a straight backed chair. Streets were muddy and foul-smelling from horses and mules. A temporary depot with a loading platform stood next to the railroad tracks. All were burned to the ground when Union troops withdrew from town following the Battle of Tupelo on July 14-15, 1864.