Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Vicksburg National Military Park - NPS Unit #61

In 2008 we visited Grant's Canal located in Delta, Louisiana in order to log a virtual geocache I needed to complete the Louisiana Delorme Challenge. This geocaching challenge requires you to find a cache on every page of the Delorme Atlas for a particular state. It is a fun way to explore parts of the state you would otherwise never reach. I knew at the time that this was a very small part of Vicksburg National Military Park but we didn't have time to visit the rest that day. In 1862 and 1863 the Union was trying desperately to seize control of the Mississippi River from the Confederates. Vicksburg with its high cliffs was nearly impossible to assault from the water so General U.S. Grant attempted to dig a canal through a bend in the river and thus bypass Vicksburg. After months of digging the dam holding back the river broke and the earthworks were flooded, the entire project was a failure.

Fastforward to 2011: We were on our way from Midland, TX to Tuscaloosa, AL to celebrate the 4th of July with family when we stopped at the rest area on the banks of the Mississippi River in Vicksburg. Navy Circle is just beside the rest area and was one of the anchor points of the Confederate defenses of the city. I was milling through pamphlets and saw that there were all kind of events going on in the NMP due to it being: The anniversary of the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg (July 3), a Holiday weekend, the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, and the 25th Anniversary of the National Parks Passport Program. Although we didn't have time that day, I made it a goal to stop on our way home the following weekend.

On our return trip through Vicksburg we stopped at the very nice Visitor Center and Interpretive Museum where there are some reconstructions of the Civil War camps. Today they had reenactors in full uniform performing a variety of activities. After watching for a few minutes in the sweltering heat I made my way into the Visitor Center and walked through the displays and gift shop. Then we took the 16 mile park drive in our wonderfully air conditioned car. Agriculture from Reconstruction has changed the landscape a good bit but driving through the rolling hills and gullys you can see how suited the terrain was for a battlefield. I found myself picturing the best places to position cannon and infantry like a real-life game of Risk.

We visited the Shirley House which is the only original structure still in place and stopped at the USS Cairo Museum to see the only surviving Ironclad ship from the war that sank in the river when it hit a primitive Confederate torpedo (mine). The museum perserves a lot of artifacts recovered from the Cairo and is in my opinion even better than the museum in the main Visitor Center. Then we briefly drove through the Cemetery and returned back to the front of the park. I plan to return to Vicksburg in the winter when we travel home for Christmas, the weather should make it more tolerable to explore the outdoor areas more thoroughly then. But I feel we got a good feel of the park in our time spent here on this trip.

The Shirley House

Map of Vicksburg: Areas visited are circled red.