Monday, November 18, 2013

Vicksburg National Military Park

My daughter was scheduled to be inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa honors society on November 18th in Hurst, TX so I pointed the Tank west through Mississippi so I could be at this "must attend."   I-20 took me through Vicksburg, MS and afforded the opportunity to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park which commemorates the 1863 siege of Vicksburg by Union forces.  I'm a total history buff so this stop was a given.

Vicksburg's 300 ft bluffs controlled the Mississippi for the Confederacy
From the beginning of the Civil War it was obvious to both sides that navigational control of the Mississippi River was vitally important.  If the Union controlled it the Confederacy would be cut in two with Texas, Arkansas and most of Louisiana - a region crucial to the Confederates for supplies and recruits - isolated.  Set atop 300 ft bluffs overlooking the river Vicksburg was defended by riverfront artillery and a ring of forts on the land side containing 172 cannon.  President Lincoln called Vicksburg "the key".  He believed "the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket".  In May and June of 1863 Union Major General U.S. Grant marched his 50,000 troops towards Lt. General John Pemberton's 33,000 Confederate Army of Vicksburg troops.  After two of Grants initial attacks were repulsed by the Confederates he decided to conduct a siege of the city and after receiving 20,000 additional Union troops the 45 day Siege of Vicksburg began.  A good accounting of the battle can be found here:  Vicksburg Seige   .

I paid the $8.00 admission to the park on an overcast / drizzling morning and headed for the Welcome Center Museum.  The museum contains about a dozen different scenes from the battle and siege.

Museum exhibit depicting Confederate troops in their trenches.
The Park is designed to drive through providing pull off parking at important locations.  The initial road in follows the Union trench system that ran outside the Confederate trenches.  A park map provides details about the 15 tour stops so that it's feasible to conduct a self-guided tour and foregoing the commercial tour groups that are available.  Despite the rain, which kept crowds away, I stopped at least 15 times.

A US trench marker along the tour road.
There were lots of Civil War cannon set up on both sides of the battlefield. I checked out the majority.

A Confederate 30 pounder, the biggest cannon they had.
Stop 6 on the tour is Thayer's Approach.  Union troops under General John Thayer stormed up this hill before getting repulsed.

Thayer's Approach offered one of the few cleared avenues.

One of the striking terrain features of the battlefield is how densely overgrown the vast majority of the battlefield is.  You literally could not force your way forward through most of it.  That's probably why most of the direct fighting and attacks took place in the few clearings.

Confederate positions were by the white tower.
The U.S.S. Cairo Museum, a part of the Park, exhibits an actual rebuilt Union gunboat that was used to shell the city from the Mississippi.  The U.S.S. Cairo was sunk while on a mission and was raised in the 1960's and rebuilt and placed in it's museum.

You get to walk right through the inside of the Cairo.
Coinciding with the July 3, 1863 Union victory at Gettysburg the July 3 surrender of the city of Vicksburg and the 30,000 man Confederate army there marked what most historians call the turning point of the Civil War.  I really enjoyed my tour of the park despite the rain.  I seriously recommend anyone driving through the area to reserve a half day or more to tour it.

Thanks for reading!