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Published: September 17th 2013
Most Campers Were Using Two Spaces
Magnolia RV Park Resort - Vicksburg MS
The drive from Natchez MS to Vicksburg MS on US 61 is designated as a scenic route for the entire 72 miles. With the exception of a short segment passing through Port Gibson MS, the entire route also is a four-lane divided highway with very few side road intersections. The drive on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 took a little over an hour, was very relaxing and held no surprises. I arrived at Plantation RV Park a couple of miles before reaching Vicksburg. The park is quiet, clean, and the sites are level but without shade and quite cramped. The owner (I suppose) told me I could park my truck in the adjacent RV space – even though that was a violation of the printed park rules. It seemed he had assigned every other RV space to this end as it would have been VERY cramped to fit my truck and 28’ travel trailer onto one space.
By the time I had completed setting up, the temperatures hovered in the mid-90s so I went to the air conditioned Vicksburg National Military Park Visitor Center to talk to the Park Rangers, look at the displays and watch the introductory movie. The Siege
of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863) was the final major military action in the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War.
After crossing the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg, Union Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his Army of the Tennessee won battles at Port Gibson and Raymond and then captured Jackson, the Mississippi state capital, on May 14, 1863. Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton withdrew his Confederate Army of Vicksburg westward, but his attempts to stop Grant’s advance at Champion Hill and Big Black River Bridge were unsuccessful. Pemberton knew that the Union forces under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman were preparing to flank him from the north. He had no choice but to withdraw to the well-fortified city of Vicksburg or be outflanked.
When major assaults against the Confederate fortifications around Vicksburg on May 19 and 22 were repulsed with heavy Union casualties, Grant decided to besiege the city. Beginning on May 25, 1863, Pemberton’s resupply lifeline was severed. With no reinforcements, supplies nearly gone, and after holding out for more than forty days, the garrison finally surrendered on July 4. This action (combined with the surrender of Port Hudson on July 9) yielded
control of the Mississippi River to the Union forces which would hold it for the duration of the war. The Confederate surrender following the siege at Vicksburg is sometimes considered the turning point of the war, particularly when combined with Gen. Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg the previous day.
Thursday morning found me getting an early start to beat the heat as much as possible. I had purchased the Battlefield Tour Audio CD the previous day. Generally, I have found them helpful in understanding the troop movements on the battlefield, but the true beauty of the CD is the “in their own words” embellishments taken from the diaries and letters penned by the participants. The battlefield tour begins in Union territory where both state and unit monuments dot the landscape. Some are elaborate while others are simple. The Illinois monument is the largest and lists all the organizations that participated as well as the names of all the members of those organizations.
The inscriptions on many of the monuments are poignant. Many applaud the principles of the men who fought the war – Pennsylvania: “Here brothers fought for their principles, here heroes died for their country and
a united people will forever cherish the precious legacy of their noble manhood." Many of the border states acknowledge the dilemma of its sons – Missouri: “To commemorate and perpetuate the heroic services, the unselfish devotion to duty and the exalted patriotism of the Missouri soldiers Union and Confederate who were engaged in the campaign siege and defense of Vicksburg." The Kansas monument is composed of three circles and is footed by a granite tablet that explains: the bottom circle is complete - symbolizing the united nation before the war; the middle circle is broken - symbolizing a nation divided; and the top circle is again complete - symbolizing a nation reunited.
Since I had planned a short day because of the (correctly) predicted temperatures, I decided to cry uncle and return on Friday to wander around the Vicksburg National Cemetery for some photographs of the headstones and to visit the USS Cairo Museum. I have come to believe there is something pumped into the air near the entrance to our national cemeteries. Each time I visit one of these hallowed landmarks, I am filled with a sense of reverence and overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude.
Getting To Know The Rank And File
Vicksburg National Cemetery - Vicksburg MS
national cemeteries were created after the Civil War, and a law was passed by Congress to establish and protect the national cemeteries in 1867. As is the case with most of the older sections of the Civil War-era cemeteries, markers identifying the graves of an “Unknown Confederate Soldier” or an “Unknown Union Soldier” saturate the landscape. One wonders if their families ever learned of their fate or if simply, “Johnny went off to war and never came home.” Did he meet a girl and get married? Did he meet a new business partner and become successful? Was he killed in the war? Is he still alive but knows nothing of his past because of shell shock? How difficult it must have been when communication was so challenging.
The USS Cairo Museum was somewhat of a surprise because I knew very little of naval activity during the Civil War. The USS Cairo and her six sister ships were built in 1861 in less than 100 days by James Eads and Co. of Mound City IL. She served with the Army's Western Gunboat Flotilla until she and her sisters were transferred to the Navy in October 1862. The mission of the
river gunboats was to patrol the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and their tributaries. On December 12, 1862, while clearing mines from the Mississippi River in preparation for an attack on Haines Bluff MS, Cairo struck a torpedo detonated by Confederate soldiers hidden along the river bank. She sank in just 12 minutes but suffered no casualties.
The exact location of the ship’s wreckage was forgotten in time, members of the crew had died and the carcass was covered with sediment carried by the flowing river. Ironically, the mud and silt actually protected the ship from corrosion and biological degradation. Referencing Civil War maps, Edwin C. Bearss of Vicksburg National Military Park doggedly searched for the lost ship with metal detectors and finally found her in 1956. With support from the State of Mississippi and local authorities, the gunboat was recovered from the bottom of the river. I found both the artifacts and the story of the salvage of the USS Cairo extremely interesting. In spite of the fact that flash indoor photography is not allowed and that the (understandably) dim light makes non-flash photography almost futile, I must place the USS Cairo Museum on my “must see” list while
A Very Classy Lady Still
Old Courthouse Museum - Vicksburg MS
visiting Vicksburg. The facility makes Vicksburg National Military Park unique among the Civil War sites I have visited.
I next made my way to the (air conditioned) Old Courthouse Museum in downtown Vicksburg. Former offices of the likes of the Tax Assessor and Recorder now serve the museum as exhibit rooms. Officials have done a very nice job of working within the existing limitations to create an interesting presentation of numerous artifacts representing a variety of subjects. Of course, there is significant coverage given to Jefferson Davis, including his favorite chair and other artifacts from his local plantation, Brierfield. As a victim of war, flood and fire (both accidental and intentional at the hands of the Union Army), no original structures remain at Brierfield Plantation, and the land is privately owned.
While Vicksburg was under siege, J.M. Swords continued printing "The Daily Citizen." As the siege persisted and newsprint became scarce, Swords printed several issues on the back side of wallpaper. One of the few remaining original copies of the periodical is on display. Another interesting factoid I learned is that four of Mary Todd Lincoln's brothers as well as eleven of her cousins served in the Confederate
The 1903 Vicksburg Police Department
Old Courthouse Museum - Vicksburg MS
Army and three of her sisters married Confederate officers. Silver platters and china, miniature soldiers, flags and weapons, musical instruments, evening gowns, a high wheeler bicycle and a kitchen furnished with numerous tools of the trade are some of the artifacts on display. The courtroom, which was in use until 1939, has been preserved intact and has an interesting, ornate judges' dais.
I found one placard in the slavery exhibit particularly gut-wrenching and tried to envision my future through the glasses of a slave, any slave, young, old, man, woman - quoting "a local lady," Kate Stone: "...my first recollection is of pity for the Negroes and desire to help them. Even under the best owners, it was a hard, hard life; to toil six days out of seven, week after week, month after month, year after year, as long as life lasted; to be absolutely under the control of someone until the last breath was drawn; to win but the bare necessities of life, no hope of more, no matter how hard the work, how long the toil; and to know that nothing could change your lot. Obedience, revolt, submission, prayers - all were in vain." Her family
owned about 150 slaves.
This locally-oriented museum definitely is interesting, but, unfortunately, I must admit that many of the artifacts can be found elsewhere and that fact lowers its "must see" value. If you have a couple of extra hours, you probably would enjoy using them here.
Saturday, August 10, 2013 found me stepping out of the tourist mainstream for a day. I started by driving south to the Grand Gulf Military State Park in Grand Gulf MS. After the fall of Baton Rouge LA and Natchez MS in the spring of 1862, Vicksburg remained the sole Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River. As long as the Confederates held Vicksburg, Union control of that supply artery was stymied. Gen. Grant's plan, as I described at the beginning of this blog, was to cross the Mississippi River south of Vicksburg, captured Jackson and then launch a land-based assault on Vicksburg. The battle at Port Gibson on April 29, 1863 was, indeed, a Confederate victory but served merely to delay by several hours Jackson's crossing of the river and subsequent capture of Jackson.
The park is a 104-acre site that includes the remnants of Forts Wade and Cobun, various
A One-Man Submarine – Definitely Unique!
Grand Gulf Military Park - Port Gibson MS
gun emplacements and trenches, an old cemetery, an observation tower and several buildings. Numerous artifacts are on display in the main museum and several wagons, a one-man submarine and firefighting equipment are on display in the outbuildings. This attraction is interesting and is worthy of a visit by those seriously interested in Civil War history but would not make a "must see" list for the average tourist.
My second stop of the day was the Windsor Ruins in Lorman MS. Smith Coffee Daniell II, who was born in Mississippi in 1826, was the son of an Indian fighter turned farmer and landowner who married his cousin (Hmmm!) Catherine Freeland (1830–1903) by whom he had seven children. Hmmm! Only Smith II and two of his siblings survived into adulthood. Hmmm! Basic construction of the house was done by slave labor. The bricks used in the 45 foot columns were made in a kiln across the road from the house. The columns were then covered with mortar and plaster. At one time, Windsor Plantation covered 2,600 acres. The mansion cost over four million 2013 dollars to build and was completed in 1861. Daniell II, however, lived in the home only a
few weeks before he died at the age of 34. Hmmm!
During the Civil War, Windsor was used by both Union and Confederate troops. The home survived the war and continued to be used for social gatherings in the area. Mark Twain stayed at the Windsor and is said to have used the roof observatory to watch traffic on the Mississippi River. On February 17, 1890, a fire started on the 3rd floor around 3 PM. The family had gone into town to pick up the mail and, upon their return, saw flames shooting through the shingled roof. The fire burned from top to bottom making it impossible to extinguish, and the house was completely destroyed in the conflagration. The only remnants today are 23 haunting columns and the wrought-iron stairs which is now used down the road at the Alcorn State University chapel. Windsor's ruins have appeared in several motion pictures.
Since the original plans and all of the Daniell's family photographs and drawings were destroyed in the fire, the actual appearance of the mansion has been mostly conjecture; however, in 1991, a drawing by a Union soldier was discovered that had been composed while his unit
Art By The Children In Their Park
Art Park At Catfish Row - Vicksburg MS
was encamped on the grounds of the home. Should you make the drive to Windsor's ruins? Would you make the drive to Stonehenge? At least one knows how these artifacts came to be! I thought it was pretty darn cool and the drive was quite enjoyable.
After leaving the ruins, I continued the drive south to Natchez MS. A central theme of my journey north was to enjoy the Natchez Trace Parkway. Because my drive from Natchez to Vicksburg didn’t follow the Trace, I had to: 1) skip that portion of the Trace, 2) pull the Pilgrim to Jackson and then a considerable number of extra miles to Vicksburg or 3) return to Natchez with only the truck and drive the Trace without the Pilgrim in tow. Since I had attractions to visit south of Vicksburg, I chose the latter. After I complete driving the Trace, I’m going to make a separate blog entry about the Parkway instead of reviewing the segments piecemeal.
Sunday morning found me taking advantage of the photographic solitude I typically find at those times. The Vicksburg Waterfront Park and Murals met my expectations. Art Park at Catfish Row is a series of concrete
A Bevy Of Murals Adorn The Floodwall
Vicksburg Waterfront Murals - Vicksburg MS
walls with inserts that have been painted or tiled by area children. The scenes depict a plethora of subjects and images. There is an area where fountain-like streams shower down on the children so they can cool off on a hot summer day, a nearby playground and benches where the custodians can relax. What a great community asset!
Located on the floodwall across the street from the park is a series of 32 murals which depict various scenes from the history of the City of Vicksburg and the State of Mississippi. Each mural is accompanied by a plaque with a description of the scene portrayed by the artist. What a great way to gain some insight into local history. There is one mural that honors Governor and Mrs. Kirk Fordice which I found quite interesting – he was the first Republican to become the Governor of Mississippi in 118 years when he took office in 1991. Oh, how times change! Rather than describing the art, I’ll provide a large selection of my photos at the end of the blog with the mural title as the descriptor. You’ll have to excuse the mid-morning shadows cast by the power lines and
Art – Not Merely A Coca-Cola Syrup Dispenser
Biedenharn Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia - Vicksburg MS
power poles in some of the photos.
I next went to two of the Vicksburg National Military Park Detached Units. Louisiana Circle and Navy Circle are two of the locations where Confederate cannon were positioned to fire upon Union vessels that might try to pass by Vicksburg. Interestingly, exactly that tactic was Grant’s plan as a prelude to launching his march to Jackson; and, obviously, the cannon failed to prevent the maneuver. Other than the fact that both sites offer excellent vistas of the Mississippi River, neither is an earthshattering attraction.
Monday morning found me setting out for downtown Vicksburg to the Biedenharn Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia. In 1886, J.S. Pemberton formulated Coca-Cola in Atlanta GA, but the drink was only available at soda fountains. In 1890, a Coca-Cola salesman left a five-gallon keg of syrup with Joseph A. Biedenharn, a young candy merchant. Coca-Cola sold well at Biedenharn's soda fountain, and in the summer of 1894 Biedenharn developed a way to bottle Coca-Cola so he could easily transport it for distribution outside the city. Vicksburg is the home of bottled Coca-Cola.
The museum has many pieces of vintage bottling equipment on display including the filler table,
Numerous Well-Done Models
The Old Depot Museum - Vicksburg MS
the carbonator, the gas generator and the bottle washer. Also on display is an 1896 Ceramic Syrup Dispenser, a metal-lined picnic basket used to transport the bottles of Coca-Cola, wooden kegs used to transport the syrup, a plethora of advertising paraphernalia, early bottles, cases and vending machines as well as a wide variety of vintage photographs. The attraction is interesting and makes my recommended list, but it is a “must see” only for Coca-Cola nerds.
My next stop was The Old Depot Museum which is housed in the historic train depot adjacent to the waterfront murals. The museum is nice but unremarkable with a focus on anti-bellum and Civil War activities on the Mississippi River. There are a number of very nice models of steamboats and ironclads as well as a model train layout. The cornerstone is a diorama of the Siege of Vicksburg that is quite well done given the constraints of taking a single slice from such a epic campaign. If time constraints prohibit visiting two museums and the visitor wants an experience with a narrow focus such as steamboats, this attraction surpasses the Old Courthouse Museum; however, if a broader experience is desired, the Old Courthouse
A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words
Poverty Point National Monument - Pioneer LA
Museum wins my vote.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 found me westbound on I-20 and back in Louisiana for one stop that piqued my interest, a scenic drive and one oh-by-the-way, as-long-as-I’m-in-the area stop. I arrived at the latter first - Poverty Point National Monument in Pioneer LA. Poverty Point is an archaeological site that is interesting and quite different from anything I have previously seen.
The 910-acre site comprises several earthworks and mounds built between 1650 and 700 BCE, and, like most prehistoric archaeological sites I have visited, archaeologists have not been able to determine the original purposes of Poverty Point, although they have proposed that it might have been a settlement, a trading center, and/or a ceremonial religious complex. It is believed the culture extended across the Mississippi Delta for as much as 100 miles.
The focus of the monument is six concentric, half-circle curving earthworks located in the center of the site. The diameter of the outside ridge is approximately three-quarters of a mile, while that of the innermost ridge is about three-eighths of a mile. Each of the ridge earthworks is about three feet high today, but archaeologists believe they were once five feet
high and have been worn down over time. Each is separated from one another by a flat corridor of earth. Poverty Point was not constructed in a singular effort, but appears to have been built over a period of centuries or even millennia. Interesting and very unique.
The drive from Poverty Point to the Louisiana State Cotton Museum in Lake Providence LA took only a few minutes. Like other Louisiana State Museums I have visited, this museum is focused - just as the name implies. This cotton museum is much different than the Frogmore Cotton Plantation & Gins in Frogmore LA which I visited during my stay in Natchez MS. I feel the Frogmore facility represents more of an “at this moment in time on this plantation” point of view whereas the Louisiana State Cotton Museum summarizes the evolution of cotton farming and processing from a more general perspective. Another difference is that the Louisiana State Cotton Museum is a self-guided tour; however, most of the displays and artifacts are well-documented and narrative placards provide a nice learning experience. One just needs to activate the eyeballs instead of the ears. I found the museum an interesting stop on a
scenic drive through northeastern Louisiana, but it’s probably is too far off the beaten path for most travelers.
I drove into Lake Providence LA for a peek at their nice little community before heading north on scenic US 65 into southeast Arkansas. When I reached US 82, I turned east and crossed the Mississippi River before turning south on another scenic highway, MS 1, towards Vicksburg. The weather was great, the roads were in good condition (for the most part), I saw a couple of interesting attractions and had a very good final day in Vicksburg.
Vicksburg is a nice blue-collar community. It is relatively easy to navigate, clean for the most part and full of Civil War and Mississippi River history. I stayed for a week which would be overdoing it for the city proper, but my heat-shortened days at the in-town attractions and my two days of regional sightseeing filled the week. Anybody interested in United States or Civil War history needs to make Vicksburg a “must see” city.
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