Saturday, April 9, 2011

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Tue, April 5th - Sat, April 9th Wow, there is so much history here, so much to see. Our first day we drove thru the city cemetery where the confederate soldiers are buried, about 5,000 of them. The monument is called Soldiers Rest. They are arranged by states. This cemetery is really huge and they are still adding on to it, by dozing terraces out of surrounding hills. It is quite beautiful sprawling out over many hills and valleys. Vicksburg was founded by Rev. Newit Vick who gave 612 acres for the city and died shortly after of yellow fever. He built the first Methodist church on his plantation in 1814 and now there are 11 Methodist congregations here in a town of about 24,000, plus lots of other churches. We cruised around the historic downtown area and stopped to take a little tour thru the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. It was started in 1870 and has 34 stained glass windows, six of which were designed by Tiffany of New York. There are only five other Tiffany windows in the state. The first windows installed were given in memory of Confederate and Union dead at the battle of Vicksburg. It is believed to be one of the first such gestures of reconciliation in the South. Then we headed down to the waterfront where they have 32 murals about the history of the town painted on the levee wall. All but one were painted by the same artist since 2001.

This one shows how they used to get train cars across the Mississippi before the bridge was built in 1930. The "ferries for trains" were called tranfser boats. The inclines at Kleinstown in Vicksburg and Delta Point, Louisiana were built in 1885 with a "cradle" that could be raised or lowered with the rise and fall of the river.

On April 24, 1865 the Sultana left Vicksburg with over 2,300 Union soldiers, many of whom were former prisoners of war. Some 200 civilians were also on board, despite a legal limit of 376 people. Due to a faulty boiler, it exploded north of Memphis kiling at least 1800, the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history.

The Sprague was the largest and most powerful sternwheeler ever launched. It was 318 feet long, 61 feet wide and was built in 1901 in Dubuque, Iowa. It broke the record for towing in 1907 when it pushed the largest tow of barges handled by a steam-powered vessel, 60 units (1,125 feet long, 312 feet wide, 67,307 tons). It also broke the record for most tows lost (53,200 tons of coal). During the massive Mississippi River Flood of 1927 it rescued an estimated 20,000 people to Vicksburg. It was decomissioned in 1948 having traveled a distance equal to 40 times around the equator. It was to be scrapped, but the citizens of Vicksburg bought it and made it into a floating theater for the melodrama Gold in the Hills, a river museum and a yacht club. It was called "Big Mama" and burned in 1974 and finally sank in 1979. Gold in the Hills is still playing at another locale and is the longest running melodrama ever, according to the Guiness Book of World Records.

Behind the levee wall is this river boat and the flood markings on the wall next to it. There is a boat launch ramp here and a boat that gives historical river tours.

Just across the street is Art Park at Catfish Row, a really neat park for children with lots of walls where they can display their paintings. The playgrounds are designed to look like riverboats. A couple blocks away is the Doll & Toy Museum with over a thousand dolls, including collections of Michael Jackson, Shirley Temple, Barbies, Cabbage Patch and a Liz Taylor, Princess Diana, Elvis and Laurel & Hardy. Dolls from all over the world including Germany and France, some worth many thousands of dollars, over a million dollars inventory just for toys. There are also G.I. Joes, Tonkas, cars, trains, cowboy & Indian stuff, etc. I'm sure you recognize Rhett, Scarlett, Ashley, Melanie and Mammy. There was even a Tara Plantation doll house. I thought this horse trike was pretty neat.

We spent a half day at the Old Courthouse Museum, which is way on top of a hill about six blocks up from the river. It was closed in 1939 when the new one opened up across the street. There is a stairway on all four sides to the four entrances and a small round building at each corner of the building. They used to be for cisterns, but are now restrooms and storage. Inside is this iron staircase and an iron railing in the courtroom that were built in Ohio and shipped down the Mississippi by steam boat. There are 9 rooms of exhibits including Indian artifacts, Civil War, 1800s china, attire & furnishings, a confederate flag that was never surrendered and quilts made by slaves. Jefferson Davis launched his political career here with his first speech for a campaign that he lost. The museum curator is Bubba Bohm and he says, "There are many viewpoints about how the war affected Vicksburg. We like our version." We saw this bumper sticker on a car parked in front of the courthouse. "Fighting Terrorism since 1861" with the confederate flag. It gives you an idea how some folks still feel about the Civil War.

We camped at a casino campground just across the road from this riverboat casino. There were gun emplacements on either side of the casino with the cannons aimed toward each other. This one was Confederate, the other Union. This is part of the Military Park, but about three miles from the main part. The park was established in 1899 to commemorate the siege and defense of Vicksburg and was the fifth military park. It sprawls over 1800 acres and used to be connected, but in the late 1950s almost 13 acres were transferred to the city as a local park along Confederate Avenue and the frontage road in exchange for closing local roads that ran thru the main part of the Military Park. It also allowed for construction of I-20. The monuments along Confederate Avenue are still maintained by the National Park Service. They get over a million visitors each year to the park. I walked up here several evenings and sat on the hill to watch the sunset and the barges.

We finally got to the Vicksburg National Military Park where we spent the whole day. At the visitor's center we looked at the exhibits, watched the film and headed out on the 16 mile loop drive to see where it all happened.

There are 1,325 monuments, markers, plaques and tablets, 144 cannons, two antebellum homes, a restored gunboat (Cairo) that was the first boat sunk by a confederate torpedo from shore in 1862 and raised in 1964, and 20 miles of historical trenches and earthworks. We started out stopping to get out and read every marker, but we soon realized we would never get thru in a day. Besides it was almost 90 and humid.

During WWII when there was a great need for metal, 145 of the largest and heaviest of the cast iron tablets were melted down, with the hope that they would be replaced after the war. Costs soared and only a few were replaced. In 2008 twenty two more were replaced due to the efforts of a new support group.

Most of the battlefield is covered with trees planted in the 30s by the CCC to prevent erosion. During the war, it was mostly open like this picture. The opposing lines throughout the park are marked with red signs for the Rebs and blue for the Yanks. The signs indicate which units from which states were holding the lines an any given point. You can see the blue sign on the right side. They are very close at some points and have even crossed lines at some points. Military strategists and commanders used high bluffs, steep rugged ravines and loess soil to their advantage.

This is the Massachusetts State Memorial, the first one, placed in 1903.

This is the Illinois State Monument dedicated in 1906. It is the largest of the state monuments and was patterned after the Pantheon in Rome. It has 47 steps in memory of the 47 days Vicksburg was under seige until the surrender on July 4, 1863.

All the names of the men are engraved on the walls and some of the officers are above between the columns.

This is the Wisconsin State Monument with two of their regiment monuments out front. It was dedicated in 1911 and is 122 and a half feet tall with 34 steps. They had 9,059 men who participated and all are listed by name. On the top is a 6 foot statue of Old Abe, the bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, veteran of 42 battles and skirmishes during the Civil War. Today he is the symbol of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division.

I liked the saying on Pennsylvania's. "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."

Texas had the only one with a plant growing in it, the yucca. We sure saw a lot of those on the long, long drive across their state.

This is Mississippi's. I couldn't leave it out, since that's where we are.

"Iowa, Iowa, that's where the tall corn grows"..... and the best men, of course.

Missouri's stands right along the skirmish line between the Rebs and Yanks. Several states had men fighting on both sides, including Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

My favorite was not along the road. We had to hike down a trail to see it. It is the two presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both from Kentucky. The circle around them says "United we stand, Divided we fall." There is also a Confederate Kentucky monument at another location.

What Lincoln had to say....

What Davis had to say....

The African American Monument is a 9 foot tall bronze sculpture depicting two union soldiers of African descent from the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry and a third civilian laborer. The soldier on the left looks toward the future that he helped secure through force of arms. The civilian looks to the past and the institution of slavery that he has left behind. Between them they support a wounded comrade, representing the sacrifice in blood made by African American soldiers. Of the more than 1,300 monuments, this is the first to honor back troops, and the first tribute of its type honoring African American soldiers on any Civil War battlefield. There were 180,000 blacks in the Union Army, only allowed to join later in the war. Strange as it seems, blacks fought on both sides.

The Vicksburg National Cemetery established in 1866 is 116 acres. Of the 18,244 soldiers buried here, 12,954 are unidentified. (About 17,000 union troops, approx. 13,000 unidentified.) It is also the final resting place of veterans from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II and the Korean Conflict. It was closed to burials in 1961. Those that are unidentified have about a six inch cube with a number on top. The others are marked with a tablet type stone in alphabetically marked sections. A few have more special stones added by loved ones, as the one in this picture. While I was there, I visited with an elderly couple who had just found his grandfather's grave. He knew he had died at Vicksburg, but didn't know if his grave was identified or not, so he was very happy to have found it.

This photo was taken from the patio of the Visitor's Center which is just off I-20. A barge had hit the pylon and sunk there a couple weeks before. We came back several afternoons to watch as they tried to pull it up with cranes or ram it to sink it. When they were ramming it, the bridge started to vibrate. So they had to stop, regroup and figure out what to try next. I checked back a couple days later and nothing had changed. It was on the news tonight and they are beating on it a little bit every day, trying to break it in half.

As I sat watching the barges in the evenings, I was not surprised that they might hit the pylons.

Saturday we drove down to Port Gibson, the town that Grant said was "too beautiful to burn", and I didn't take any pictures. Can you believe it? I must have had temporary burn out or something. From there we drove part of the old Natchez Trace Parkway and stopped at the Ruins of Windsor. It was a 23 room Plantation home built in 1860 by Smith C. Daniel II for $175,000. He owned 21,000 acres in Louisiana and Mississippi and the bricks and lumber were made there on the plantation, I presume by slaves. It was one of the few homes not harmed during the war. He died just a few months after the home was finished, but his family continued to live there. It was destroyed by fire in 1890 when a guest dropped a cigarette at a party. It is surrounded by woods and is very quiet and peaceful, but kind of eerie. It was believed that all photos and drawings of it were lost in the fire, but in 1991 historians found a drawing of it in a Union soldier's diary. We also drove thru Alcorn State University where one of the buildings has the metal staircase from the Windsor.

We also stopped at Grand Gulf Military Monument, at one time a thriving port. Prosperous plantation owners even built an inland railroad line to get their crops there for shipping down the Mississippi. In 1843 they had an epidemic of yellow fever, 1853 a tornado, 1855 and 1860 floods wiping out 55 city blocks and Grant wiped out what little was left in 1863. All that's there now is an old cabin, carriage house, church and museum. This one-man submarine powered by a Model-T Ford engine was used during early prohibition to bootleg whiskey and rum from Davis Island to Vicksburg. Davis Island is where Jefferson Davis and his brother each had plantations before the war.

This chair was in the museum. It was built in 1905 with four rockers and moves in a swinging motion. The back has a picture of the Shailer Plantation where a battle was fought. On the seat is a map of the countryside from Milliken's Bend to Bruinsburg, Port Gibson, Jackson, Vicksburg and all points and roads between. The inscription on the back reads, "From William Duffer, Yank, to Mr. A.K. Shaifer, Reb, in memory of May 1st, 1863. The tack heads indicate my regiment's line of march from dawn to dusk. May God forgive, unite and bless us all". On the seat is says, "This rough hand-made chair is my own production and presented in my appreciation of your many acts of kindness to me. Respectfully, William Duffer, Company D, 24th Indiana Volunteers, to Ad.K. Shaifer, Company K, 1st Mississippi Artillery".

As we were leaving, we drove by a small group of mobile homes on raised metal frames, which I guess leaves them stranded during high water times. The trees behind them are standing in what appears to be fairly deep water already, which is probably just the norm.

Just down the road is the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, the largest boiling water reactor in the country, 1300 megawatts, whatever that means.


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