The Yalobusha Historical Society held its regular monthly meeting January 15 in Coffeeville. Forty-four people from six counties braved the freezing temperature to hear Mark Fielder speak on “The Tunnel Project,” an indication of the interest in the legendary system of Civil War tunnels allegedly running underneath the town of Grenada. Mark and his team have launched an effort to save the tunnels through work in “The Grenada, MS Historic Tunnel Project.”
President Mike Worsham welcomed everyone, especially the speaker, his team partner, Derrick Campbell, and other visitors. Lawrence Litten spoke the opening prayer.
Mike reported on the Board meeting which was held just prior to the meeting. The Society depends on membership fees and donations for its income, but expenses have been greater than in years past, so it has become necessary to raise the membership fee to $20.00 per calendar year, starting April 1, 2009. The Board also voted to cash in a Certificate of Deposit that matures in February. Members are urged to send dues now ($15.00) to YHS, Box 258, Coffeeville, MS 3822 Two issues of THE PIONEER are ready to go to the printers and will be mailed in February. One member of the Board of Directors, Harold Jones, is hospitalized in Oxford, suffering from pneumonia. Sincere get-well wishes are sent his way, and to others who are having health problems.
Mark Fielder was born in Memphis and currently lives in Gore Springs. He is Commander of EXPEDITION AND OPERATIONS UNIT, INC., a group of adventuresome young people whose objective is to locate, map and document tunnels and if possible, save some of them for historical purposes. This would add greatly to the rich history of Grenada, and it is hoped that it could be opened for the public. They are very serious about this mission, and wish to keep this part of Grenada’s history alive for posterity. (Officers of the team are: Commander, Mark Fielder; Command Master Chief, Bruce Sebring; Communications Officer, Mary Leigh Stoker, (662-417-3956 for information) Logistics, Kirk Tyler and Navigator, Amanda Sebring.)
Mark calls himself “an adventure junkie,” another way to say “dare devil.” He has broken most of the bones in his body, some more than once. He says he is like a cat with nine lives, and has already used over half of them.
Mark has done scuba diving, sky diving, para-gliding, rock climbing, rappelling and cave exploration, rescue and recovery. He is particularly drawn to the awesome world of the underground. He had not heard of the ‘tunnel story’ until the Spring of 2008, when he was approached by Dr. David Diaigneault,, Supt . of the Grenada School System, about searching for evidence of the existence of a tunnel, or series of tunnels, in various locations around Grenada. Mark began interviewing people who had stories to tell, some of them told by people who recalled playing in a tunnel as children. Mark kept a log, and continued to talk to people. Using the information gathered, he and his team set out to locate a tunnel. They have discovered FOUR, and are still searching. Some of the tunnels are totally lined with, some with just wood, or a combination of wood and brick. The largest one, all brick so far, is 12 feet wide, 14 feet high. Mark showed pictures of artifacts found in the tunnel, including a pottery jug with the name ‘Sam B. Pipkin, Grenada’ scratched into it. It isn’t known if he was a soldier, a worker, or the potter.
One of the tunnels reportedly began at the old Bledsoe Mansion, in the area that is now Thimmes Subdivision. The Bledsoes had a brick yard, and interestingly, some of the brick bore the word “Bledsoe.” Another entrance was supposed to be just off Mound St., behind the All Saints’ House on S. Main. Lawrence Litten remembers playing in a tunnel located to the east of downtown Grenada, so the team most certainly will check that out.
Mark and the team have logged many hours in their on-the-ground foot search. They know how to find signs of a tunnel, but there are also sophisticated means of search, one being an echo locator, a machine that can tell when there is a differentiation in the soil underground. One method is done from a plane, and the team hopes to get a grant to enable them to acquire the use of such equipment.
Mark spoke of many of his past exploits in his 15 years of caving, and of his plans for the future. He and his team will continue to enjoy their unique hobbies, and especially working on the tunnel project. . The Society is very grateful to Mark and his team for their efforts in bringing history to life, and wish them the best in the future. Thanks, Mark, for a most interesting program.
The February 19 program will be brought by Society member and a very capable genealogist, Sarah Margaret Hallum of Calhoun City. The public is invited to all meetings of the Society.
POSTSCRIPT: Mark has not been able to find any mention of the tunnels in any written history of Grenada. That is no longer the case, since Dave Hovey and fellow Society member, Jimmie Pinnix, did a little exploring of their own in the Mississippi Room at the Elizabeth Jones Library in Grenada. They found scrapbooks containing copies of old newspaper articles, or excerpts, They read a report on the campaign for Vicksburg and, amazingly, a lot of information on Maj. General Alvin P. HOVEY, who commanded a large Union force in the Grenada area in late 1862. Gen. Hovey is a great-great uncle of Dave’s. They also found a piece from THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, telling of orders being given to the Union troops to empty the TUNNELS and gun emplacements, and destroy them, before departing Grenada. Mark was thrilled to get this information, and invited Dave to follow the tunnel team on its next venture. Also, Judge Jimmy McClure, of Sardis, a visitor at the meeting, expressed a desire to ‘tag along’ with them. So, Mark is ecstatic over the real interest in the tunnel legend, and is grateful to those who support the team’s efforts in this exciting project. Mark did not ask for help at the meeting, but it is evident that the group is in desperate need of funding. They have obtained the 501c3 status as a non-profit organization. Those who wish to help on this worthwhile endeavor may send tax-deductible donations to: EXPEDITION AND OPERATIONS UNIT, INC., 2487 Graysport Crossing, Gore Springs, MS 38929.
ATTENDING: Lucille Miller, Peggy Boyett, Betty Miller, Mary Floyd, Nancy Floyd, Vida Corley, Pauline Huge’s, Ruth Richmond, Hugh Bill McGuire, Sarah H. Williams, Jerry Brown, Sidney and Rachel Bolick, Charles Stribling, Bill Adams, Martha Short, Lawrence and Bettie Litten, Joy Edwards, Margaret D. Ross, Tom Moorman, John Moorman, Jimmie and Francine Pinnix, Thelma Roberts, Joy Herrron, Helen Jones, Herschel and Sarah Saucier, Dot Criss, Mark Fielder, Derrick Campbell, Janie Womble, Julia Fernandez, Dave Hovey, Jimmy McClure, Opal Wright, Pat Brooks, Mike Worsham, Sue Fly, Rina Chaney, James Person, Carl and Mae Vick.
Betty R. Miller