August 14-18, 2014 – Vicksburg, MS
We left Vidalia Thursday morning and headed north about 70 miles to Vicksburg, MS. We are staying at Magnolia RV Park Resort in Vicksburg. The sites here are long but very narrow so we do not have much room between rigs but they do have a big grassy dog park.
After getting set up and eating lunch we went to the Mississippi State Welcome Center where we got information about the area. It cooled off enough this evening so we could sleep with the windows open.
Friday morning we drove across town to the Vicksburg National Military Park. From the start of the Civil War control of the Mississippi River south of Cairo, IL was vitally important to the federal government. Controlling it would let Union troops and supplies pass into the South. It would isolate Texas, Arkansas, and most of Louisiana, a region crucial to the South for supplies and recruits. To protect this lifeline the Confederates built fortifications at strategic river points. But Federal naval and military forces fought southward from Illinois and northward from the Gulf of Mexico, capturing these posts. By late summer 1862, only Vicksburg, MS and Port Hudson, LA blocked Union control of the Mississippi. Vicksburg was the stronger and more important post. Starting in October 1862 Vicksburg was the focus of operations between Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton. In May of 1863 Grant drove Pemberton’s troops back into the Vicksburg fortifications and started an attack on the city. Two attacks in May were repulsed and reluctant to expend more lives trying to storm the city, Grant began a formal siege. On July 4th, after 47 days, Pemberton officially surrendered Vicksburg to Grant.
We watched a short film about the battle for Vicksburg and spent some time look at the displays in the Visitor Center. We bought an audio tour CD and guidebook and started on the 16 mile battlefield tour road. The road winds through the park and there are markers showing the different army placements (red for Confederate and blue for Union). This shows the line of the Union approach to the Confederate Third Louisiana Redan. Here the Union army dug a trench 8 feet wide, 7 feet deep, with parapet and timber loop-holed for sharpshooters.
From Battery De Golyer a battery of guns hammered the Confederate Great Redoubt. At one time as many as 22 Federal artillery pieces were positioned here.
The Shirley house is the only surviving wartime structure in the park. James and Alice Shirley were Union sympathizers and welcomed the Union troops. The house served as headquarters for the 45th Illinois Infantry whose members built hundreds of bombproof shelters around the house to protect themselves from Confederate artillery fire. We were amazed to see a picture of the house with “bomb shelters” dug into the hillside around the house.
After reading and hearing about the awful battle that surrounded this house it was nice to see the beautiful flowers along the front walkway.
Next to the Shirley House was the beautiful Illinois Memorial. Sixty bronze plaques line the interior walls displaying the names of 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign. The federal law that created Vicksburg National Military Park authorized each state that had troops at Vicksburg to build a memorial. Today there are more than 1300 monuments, markers and memorials from 28 states.
At the site of Grant’s headquarters is a monument with him atop his horse “Kangaroo” which he rode during portions of the Vicksburg Campaign.
The Alabama monument was another beautiful example of the many monuments on the park grounds.
Many of the northern states began constructing their memorials immediately after the park was established but it took decades for many southern states to achieve the level of prosperity they enjoyed before the war. As a result many of the southern state memorials were built much later than those from the northern states. The Mississippi Memorial was one of the first memorials built by a southern state.
Within the park is the USS Cairo Museum. On December 12, 1862, the USS Cairo became the first armed warship to be sunk by a mine – called a torpedo or infernal machine at the time. She was sunk in the Yazoo River while mine-clearing. The USS Cairo was an Ironclad River Gunboat of the City Class. It was equipped with thirteen guns, including three large 64-pounder Navy smoothbores. The Cairo and her six sister boats dominated the Mississippi. The Cairo was located in 1956 raised, restored, and relocated here.
This outdoor display was great – you can see how the ship was constructed and we were able to walk inside on the main deck. Some areas had the original wood and 2 ½ inch thick armor plating. Inside the small museum were thousands of artifacts that were recovered when they raised the Cairo – shoes to eating utensils to medicine bottles.
In the aftermath battle, the dead were often buried hastily in makeshift graves. At hundreds of Civil War battle sites the remains of fallen soldiers lay nearly forgotten, scattered in woods, fields and roadside ditches. National cemeteries were created in 1862 to provide a remedy, proper and honorable burials for the men who died in service. Established in 1866, Vicksburg National Cemetery holds the remains of 17,000 Union servicemen – more than any other national cemetery – and about 1,000 veterans of other US conflicts (Spanish American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean Conflict). Of the 17,000 union soldiers buried here about 13,000 are unknown.
National cemeteries were initially for Union burials only. The remains of about 3,000 Confederate veterans who died at Vicksburg lie in Cedar Hill Cemetery, in an area called “Soldiers’ Rest”.
A sign along the drive gave statistics about the battle and siege at Vicksburg: Confederate – 1413 killed, 3878 wounded, 3800 missing for a total of 9091 casualties. Federal – 1581 killed, 7554 wounded, 1007 missing for a total of 10142 casualties. Only one of the many very bloody battles fought during the Civil War. This is a beautiful park that honors all the soldiers who fought here. We spent Friday and Saturday touring the park.
After lunch on the second day, we stopped at the Old Depot Museum housed in the old train depot. This is a small museum depicting the history of war and transportation in Vicksburg. Inside is a 250 sq ft diorama of the Vicksburg Campaign with 2,300 miniature soldiers which tells the story of the 47 day siege.
This delightful museum also has 250 ship models with exhibits of tow boats and river boats, large Civil War gunboats and US Navy vessels named for people and places in Mississippi. They also have HO and N scale and O gauge model railroads which the gentleman enjoyed running for us. More than 40 original paintings of war on the river hang on the walls. We enjoyed visiting this unique museum.
We were lucky enough again tonight to be able to sleep with the windows open but the forecast is for hotter and more humid tomorrow.
We took Sunday off to stay home and relax. The temperature today was in the mid 90’s and the humidity was around 75% - the air conditioning stayed on all day and all night!
Monday we went to downtown Vicksburg and visited the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum. In the summer of 1894, a young candy merchant named Joseph A. Biedenharn took a popular fountain beverage known as Coca-Cola, put it in bottles and shipped it to the rural areas outside of Vicksburg. It was the first time Coca-Cola had been sold in bottles. The museum is in the original restored Biedenharn Candy Company buildings and features equipment of the type used to bottle the first Coca-Cola in 1894.
They also have large displays of original Coca-Cola advertising and memorabilia from 1890 to the present. We enjoyed seeing all this old Coca-Cola stuff – it brought back a lot of fond memories.
We enjoyed our time in Vicksburg, especially touring the Vicksburg National Military Park and learning more about the battle and siege of Vicksburg.