Vicksburg National Military Park, MS…
We recently had the opportunity to visit Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi, and while the cold, wet weather did dampen our visit a bit, we still thought the park was intriguing and beautiful.
Vicksburg was an important location in the Civil War; the army that controlled Vicksburg pretty much controlled the Mississippi River and it’s important role as a vital supply route for the Confederacy. Located high on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, Vicksburg had a commanding control over the ships passing beneath, all in gun range from the bluffs. Both the North and the South desperately wanted/needed to control Vicksburg, and the result was one of the bloodiest campaigns, and one of the most decisive turning points in the Civil War. Vicksburg was not an easy quest – it took her being under attack and then seige, from April of 1862 to July 4th, of 1863, before the Union could claim her as under Union control.
While we were at VNMP, we chose to stop by the main visitor’s center at the entrance to the park; this v.c. has a film about Vicksburg, an extensive gift shop, and a small museum. Of course we picked up Jr. Ranger booklets for the kids while we were here! After leaving our truck and 5er in the parking lot, we hopped in our 15 passenger van and drove the 16 mile loop through the park. The park is incredibly scenic, but we didn’t get out to explore much since it was so cold and rainy during our visit. The kids did get out at one of the big memorials (Illinois), but the rest of the time we chose to be road tourists. We had picked up a park brochure at the v.c., so we stopped at each tour marker and read about what happened at that location. The Vicksburg National Military Park, today, has over 1300 memorials placed to commemorate those that gave their lives in the battles that were fought there. I believe that there is an audio that you can buy/rent that gives a description of the events at each location along the drive, but we didn’t do that this time.
A few miles into the drive, you come upon the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. The Cairo was one of 7 iron clad gunboats that were commissioned, in 1862, by the Union, for service in the Civil War. She was in service for just 11 months before she became the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo, a first in one of the many casualties of the Civil War. The Cairo was sunk in the Yazoo River in 1863; it took her 12 minutes to submerse, and there was no loss of life. The U.S.S. Cairo lay encased in mud for over a century before being brought to the surface and re-built, using as much original materials as possible. What is left of her is now on display at the Cairo Museum, the rest being rebuilt to original specifications, and you can even walk her decks. She rests on Vicksburg NMP grounds, covered by a massive tent. Right next to her is a unique museum, built into the hillside, that houses a small museum in her honor. In the museum are hundreds of artifacts that were retrieved from the wreck when she was brought back up in the 60s, a display with a short film on the raising of the Cairo, and a small gift shop that even has USS Cairo bumper stickers (of course we got one!).
Right next to the USS Cairo museum, is the Vicksburg National Cemetery. VNC is the site of the largest burial numbers of Civil War soldiers. The cemetery contains over 17,000 graves, over 13,000 of which are unknown soldiers! The markers for the graves vary depending on whether they know who is buried there or not – headstones for those soldiers who are ID’d, and smaller, square blocks for unknown soldiers.
Did you know that a camel is buried at Vicksburg??? Yep, a Confederate mascot, Douglas the Camel, was buried at Vicksburg after being shot by Union snipers. He has his own grave stone in the Cedar Hill Cemetery!
The rest of the drive through Vicksburg was just as scenic as the first half. We wished that the weather had cooperated a bit more – we would have loved to gotten out of the van and explored the park more! When we arrived back at the main visitor’s center, the kids took their Jr. Ranger booklets in and received the badges that they had earned for learning about the park. After that, we went back out to our RV, and hit the road for more historic destinations. The parking lot at Vicksburg is big rig friendly on the off season, but do not count on having room to park your big rig there during special events or during the tourist season.
Vicksburg NMP is celebrating their Sesquicentennial this year, and will be holding several special events in April and May (2013). If you are in the area, at any time(!), consider stopping in for a visit – the scenery (like the river overlook), the memorials and the Cairo, and the cemetery, are each incredibly stops on their own, but together, they make for a can’t-miss destination!