Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg Mississippi

At last, I am here, I am so excited. I’ve wanted to see this for years!

Maybe you don’t like history or maybe the Civil War doesn’t excite you as it does me, Vicksburg National Military Park is still something you need to see. This massive battlefield has 1325 historic markers and monuments, 2 antebellum homes, twenty miles of trenches and earthworks, and 144-gun emplacements. There is a sixteen-mile driving tour to see the battlefield. I have been to three other battlefields, New Market, Virgina which had a lot of monuments, Bentonville, North Carolina which had monuments etc. around the Harper House area and Kennesaw Mountain which just had a bunch of story boards and a couple monuments. I have never been to Gettysburg, but Momma has. She said even Gettysburg doesn’t compare with what we found here.

Memorial Arch where the driving tour begins.

How did this all get here. Well, what makes Vicksburg unique is that most of the positions of the markers were put here after the war by soldiers who were actually in the battle. They marked the position of their units, the paths of attack and the Union highwater positions while it was still fresh in their minds and before the elements had changed the landscape. Then states were invited to erect monuments to their troops in the vicinity of where they served.

Battery DeGolyer was the largest concentration of Union artillery on the siege line. It consisted of units from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. The battery contained twenty-two artillery pieces. Because of the firepower of Battery DeGolyer, Confederate General Pemberton was forced to withdraw many of his cannons allowing the Union Troops to begin tunnelling towards the Confederate lines. Now tunnelling is a loosely used term. The tunnels usually were deep trenches which were then covered with branches and stuff so the opposing forces couldn’t see the men digging and shoot them. In some instances, as you will see later, they were actual tunnels.

Battery DeGolyer

The next stop was the Shirley House and Illinois Monument. The Shirley House was in the midst of the battle as the Confederate troops retreated from the battle at the Big Black River. The house and all outbuilding were ordered to be fired and destroyed. All the outbuildings were but the soldier assigned to fire the house was shot before he could accomplish his task. Mrs. Shirley her son and their servants huddled in the fireplace corner as the battle rage past the house. Eventually Union soldiers moved them to a safe place.

Shirley House

Before we continue let’s look at why this very important battle occurred. Vicksburg was known as the fortress city. It sat above the Mississippi River on a 300 foot bluff that bristled with Confederate guns. After the fall of New Orleans and Memphis it allowed the South to continue to control the river as nothing could safely pass Vicksburg. General Ulysses Grant was given the job of taking the city.

To the north was the Yazoo River, a wide swampy stream, Haynes Bluff, and the Chickasaw Bayou. After several attempts to take the city from the north by a failed attack at Haynes Bluff, a Union disaster at Chickasaw Bayou and several failed ventures into the swamps Grant had to find another way. The Mississippi in 1863 did a very sharp 180 degree turn at Vicksburg. In essence a watercraft had to pass the city and its defenses twice with only a low-lying peninsula between ships travelling south at that point and then a direct trip past the city on the side of the bend that headed north. Grant’s first plan was to dig a canal across the peninsula just below Vicksburg. Unfortunately, the river wouldn’t co-operate as the water refused to flow into the canal at a depth that would allow the troop transports and gunboats to float through.

“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”

Mark Twain

Next Grant proposed to run gunboats and troop transports past the city and march his troops down the swampy Louisiana side of the river. This plan succeeded with the loss of only one transport. The vulnerable areas of the ships were re-enforced by piling cotton bales and haybales over them to deaden the impact of the Confederate artillery shells. Grants troops crossed the Mississippi at Bruinsburg near the Windsor Plantation, fought battles at Grand Gulf and Port Gibson and continued northeast towards Jackson. Finally, Pemberton came out of his fortifications and counter attacked at Raymond Mississippi, and Champion Hill. After being defeated at Champion Hill the Confederates slowly fell back towards Vicksburg and were finally routed at Big Black River as the Union forces chased them back into the fortifications at Vicksburg. After several attempts to breach the Vicksburg lines Grant laid siege to the surrounded city.

Abraham Lincoln saw Vicksburg as the key to the south a nickname it still uses. Jefferson Davis called it the “Lynchpin of the Confederacy”, “the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together,” 

“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.” –Abraham Lincoln

The North wanted it so they could split the south and prevent goods from flowing in from Arkansas and Texas, and they already controlled New Orleans but could only get there by sea. The south wanted it so it could control the lower Mississippi and keep the supplies coming from the West on the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

20000 Americans lost their lives at the gates of Vicksburg. This land, as is Gettysburg, is considered hallowed ground. And remarkably both battles ended in Union victory on the same day, the fourth of July in 1863. In fact, the 4th of July was not observed in Vicksburg for more than 80 years. No day off work, no fireworks, even the Post Office opened on July 4th!

Illinois Memorial

The Illinois Monument was the largest in the area. Here is a fact most people don’t know.

Although he was born and raised in Ohio Ulysses S Grant was a resident of Galena Illinois at the start of the Civil War. His father was a somewhat successful businessman and tanner/maker of leather goods and had several shops across the Midwest. He was running a tannery/leather shop for his father in Galena. Grant entered the conflict not through Ohio but as Colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He gained that high rank because he was a trained officer as he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He Graduated in 1843 served in the Mexican American War, had several postings on the west coast but quit the Army in 1854. He requested to be reinstated to the regular army at the wars outbreak, but the commanding general George McClellan refused his offer.

Grant was also married to Becky Dent of a Missouri slave holding family. The family gave the Grants a plot of land he named Hardscrabble, and a slave. Grant worked the fields alongside his slave as an unsuccessful farmer and eventually set his slave free.

At the Louisiana Redan the Union soldiers from Ohio and Illinois began a tunnel, yes, a real tunnel under the fort. The Louisiana Redan guarded the approach along the Jackson Road…..

The tunnel was completed and packed with dynamite and the Redan was blown up. Confederate troops were able to re-enforce the area and the Union soldiers could never fight their way out of the crater they had created.

3rd Louisiana Redan

Ransom’s gun path

One section of the siege line needed more support so troops under Brigadier General Thomas Ransom disassembled some artillery pieces and hand carried them through here. One soldier Private Albert Cashiers participated. 50 years after the war Cashiers was injured in an accident and doctors discovered that he was a she named Jennie Hodgers who had disguised herself as a man to fight in the war.

Looking down Graveyard Road from Stockade Redan

Sherman’s troops attacked at Stockade Redan along the Graveyard Road

tunnel towards Stockade Redan

Still visible is this section of tunnel dug into the approaches.

Now for educational purposes and because I keep using the word… A Redan is an arrow shaped protrusion in a fortification line. These were built to allow protection along different approaches instead of just one direction.

The Monuments! The states of Ohio and Iowa put one at every point their troops served, several states just put one or two large monuments.

Ohio placed a monument at the position of every division and regiment

Tennessee Monument

Wisconsin Monument

Iowa like Ohio had monuments everywhere

Louisiana Monument

Mississippi Monument

Texas Monument

There were also a lot of monuments to some of the commanding officers of both sides.

Then came the Vicksburg National Cemetery. 17000 Union Troops are buried here. Unfortunately, 13000 are unknown. It is the largest Union cemetery in the nation. Where there is a headstone, the victim is known. Otherwise just a block with a grave number marks a grave. All these men didn’t die at Vicksburg. Many were brought from surrounding areas where they had been buried in hastily dug graves as the Army continued to advance. Two Confederate soldiers are interred here one from Texas and the other from Arkansas. 5000 Confederate soldiers are buried in the Vicksburg City Cemetery known as Cedar Hill. That area is known as Soldiers Rest. These bodies were originally buried throughout Vicksburg but were re-interred here together. We never could find where to enter that cemetery although we could see it from the highway.

Why you might ask are there so many Union cemeteries with very few Confederate graves. Well, the answer is that the cemeteries were developed by the United States Army to honor its Civil War dead. Obviously, the Confederate soldier was not a part of the U.S. Army during the Civil War therefore were excluded from interment in the cemeteries.

Section of the Vicksburg National Cemetery showing headstones and the blocks marking unknown soldiers graves

Next to the cemetery was the USS Cairo. The Cairo was one of seven shallow draft Ironclads built for duty on the Mississippi and named for Cairo Illinois. While sailing in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, clearing away mines and Confederate fortifications near Haynes Bluff, The Cairo hit a mine and soon sank. It was the first ship in history to be sunk by a hand detonated mine from shore. A sister ship knocked the smokestacks off the ship so the Confederates couldn’t locate the boat and try to raise it for their use. As time went on and sailors died, and the rivers changed course the exact location of the sunken ship became lost. In 1964 the Cairo was located covered in mud and silt which actually preserved the ship and the artifacts it held.

The captain of the ship Lt. Commander Thomas Selfridge commanded a battery of cannon taken from the Ironclad. These were the only Navy personnel among the ground forces at Vicksburg.

USS Cairo

Of course, some of the ship is a reproduction but the hull, the steel and the engines are the real deal.

USS Cairo

We then went up to Fort Hill the main fort guarding the Mississippi.

View from Fort Hill

This was the view of the Mississippi in 1863. You can see the problem of sailing past Vicksburg. A ship had to sail south on the right of the picture and after rounding the bend another pass was made on the opposite side of the peninsula.

But what you are seeing is not the Mississippi today. The bend was naturally cut off the river during highwater in 1876. Today it is just a ship channel with a manmade canal to the Yazoo. Vicksburg is no longer the river town it once was. The Mississippi has re-carved its channel to the south and west over the years. Today only the southern tip of the city remains on the river.

What a great experience to visit this battlefield!

4 thoughts on “Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg Mississippi

  1. The Confederates did not have a system to collect their dead. So, they were buried haphazardly, if at all. Collecting the dead and ensuring a proper burial after a major battle was a new innovation for the time period. The Union army was one of the first to establish a formal procedure for the practice. Too, the Confederates just did not have the wagon space to engage in a major effort to collect the dead.


    1. I don’t know Tom maybe the Union soldiers buried the 5000 Confederates at Soldiers Rest since they controlled the town, and the bodies were buried everywhere.


      1. Tom have you ever read the biography of Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne? He was a recent Irish immigrant and was known as the Stonewall of the West. Guy never lost a battle until he was killed at the battle of Franklin in1864.


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