Vicksburg is an historic American city, located on a high bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi River across from Louisiana. We arrived there by 7.00 am this morning and were moored at the dock before breakfast.
The town was originally built by French colonists in 1719, in an area occupied by the Natchez Indians. It was named as Vicksburg in 1825 after the Methodist missionary Newitt Vick. In the American Civil War, it was a key Confederate river-port, and the battle and siege here became the turning-point of the war. The city is home to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Our first tour of the day took us to two buildings that existed before the civil war (America’s Antebellum period). The first was to the Christ Episcopal Church. The church sits on a quiet spot at the corner of Main and Locust streets and looks pretty much the same it may have looked in 1863 after the surrender of Vicksburg by Gen. John C. Pemberton to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. Like many buildings in the city, it sustained damage from Grant’s artillery and Admiral David Dixon Porter’s gunboats on the Mississippi River.
An event which may seem ludicrous today, but was serious at the time, occurred at the Christmas service in 1863. The church service was well attended by Union soldiers and the minister was very conscious of the fact. As a traditional part of the Episcopal church service, a prayer is offered for the President of the United States. During the civil war, the ministers in the Confederate states modified this part of the service so that they prayed for the President of the Confederate States of America While the civil war was still not over in 1863, under the conditions existing in Vicksburg and the church at that time, the minister prayed for the President of the United States instead of the President of the Confederate States. Several ladies of the congregation made a pointed exit from the church when this change in the service was noted and the commanding general of the Union troops noted the exit as well. The next day the offending ladies were ordered to leave the city by the offended General who banned them from the area for an extended length of time.
Our second visit was to the Antebellum house of a man named Duff Green. It was built in 1856 by him, a local cotton broker, for his bride, with the purpose of entertaining in the grand antebellum lifestyle. That life was short lived by the Green family when war reached Vicksburg in 1863. However, Duff Green is credited with saving his neighbourhood including the adjoining Christ Episcopal Church by designating the home as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. It then became a grand soldier’s rest home, then a private home again, then a boy’s orphanage and finally the Salvation Army Headquarters for over fifty years. It is one of only a few houses of its age in Vicksburg.
The town also has a few other surprising features. One of its early industries was the National Biscuit Factory that evolved into the Nabisco organisation.
Down by the river is another flood wall with painted murals. The local people conferred with the town of Paducah and created something similar to the one that we saw there a few days ago.
One of the murals shows the work of Mr Joseph Biedenham who had a confectionary shop in the main street. He is credited, in the summer of 1894, with having first bottled the soda fountain drink, Coca-Cola at his wholesale candy company. As he expanded this business, he created a model of bottling-distributor franchises and built his company through this state, as well as Louisiana and Texas.
The big attraction in Vicksburg is the National Park where the memorial to one of the great, and mot decisive battles of the civil war was fought. In the summer of 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee converged on Vicksburg on the Mississippi River, aiming to capture it and thereby gaining control of the Mississippi River.
The confederates had constructed a series of defensive trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes in a 7-mile ring surrounding the city. Grant’s army surrounded them and outnumbered the confederates by two to one. Wasting no time, Grant initially launched two major assaults but soon realised that his losses would be enormous. Instead, he began a siege that eventually forced the confederate general to surrender.
The number involved in this battle were astonishing. 110,00 soldiers took part in this campaign – 77,000 in the Union army and 33,000 Confederates. The union forces suffered 4,910 casualties while the confederates suffered 32,363.
Throughout the battlefield are many memorials. Some mark the positions of various units and others are quite grand monuments erected by the various state governments as memorials to their forces.
A museum in the National Park houses the remains of the ‘Cairo’ – one of the iron-clad gun boats used by the Union forces. Six of these boats attacked Vicksburg from the river with their cannons causing considerable destruction.
Near the entrance to the Park is the National Cemetery. It extends for 116 acres and holds the remains of 17,000 civil war soldiers – many of them unknown. Confederate dead were not allowed to be buried in this cemetery as they were considered to be traitors by the winning Union forces. Confederate dead from the Vicksburg campaign were originally buried behind Confederate lines but have now been re-interred in the Vicksburg City Cemetery in an area called “Soldiers’ Rest.” Approximately 5,000 Confederates have been re-interred there, of which 1,600 are identified.