Vicksburg, Mississippi is about four and a half hours from NAC on the Mississippi River. It was a key site during the Civil War for control of the river. The Union wanted to control the river to maintain supply routes up the river and to divide the Confederate states. The confederacy wanted to deny the supply lines to the northern states and the Union.
Most think of the Civil War as something that happened back east or down south. There were significant parts of the war fought “out west” as it was along the Mississippi River.
We stayed at a casino campground. It was inexpensive and convenient. And the Casino had a great cafe for lunch. We followed the driving route through town. Unfortunately not much to look at. Downtown was trying to revive itself but there were a lot of empty storefronts.
There were Confederate cannon emplacements all along the river to guard against ships going upstream and to protect Vicksburg.
Vicksburg National Military Park
We have been to the Gettysburg National Military Park. The parks are similar in they have a driving route around the battlefield area. These roads pass monuments dedicated to the various battalions from all of the different states involved on both sides. Many of these battalions were fairly small, maybe less than 100 men led by a local guy who got a commission in the army. And his militia battalion became part of one army or the other. At Vicksburg there were more than 100 militias from Illinois for example.
All of the monuments were along the Union or Confederate lines. You can see the line of them in this picture. The cannon aren’t the ones that were actually there but very similar. This whole row was cannon emplacements. The entire area is rugged hills. At the time of the siege most of these hills were bare with some areas devoted to small farms.
The Confederate army had fixed positions for their cannon mostly to protect the city. The Union cannon placements were much more mobile and adjustable to re-aim as needed. Confederate cannon fire was quickly returned from several positions as the Union artillery changed their firing direction. This was tough on the fixed Confederate positions.
These Union cannon positions were firing at the Confederate lines where the spire in the distance was located. It is less than 300 yards away. In one location a Union Artillery unit dismantled their cannons and hauled them over rugged terrain to a ridge overlooking the Confederate lines only 100 yards away.
The Shirley House is the only structure in the battlefield to survive the 47 day siege from March 29 to July 4, 1863 of Vicksburg. It has been restored to like it was at the time (with some modern add-ons like gutters and electricity).
With the Confederate positions more fixed and the Union more mobile it was mostly a matter of time before injuries and running out of food, medical supplies, ammunition and resources led the Confederate General Pemberton to surrender to the Union’s General Ulysses S. Grant on July 4, 1863.
This happened at the same time as the defeat of the Confederate Armies under Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, PA, July 1-3, 1863.
These were critical events that shaped the remaining time of the Civil War.
After the Siege
Federal troops remained in Vicksburg for almost 14 years after the siege ended. It remains largely a sense of perspective if it was occupation or reconstruction. Certainly Vicksburg, largely destroyed by constant bombardment, was rebuilt. With time civil liberties were restored and many freed former slaves moved to Vicksburg to start new lives. While there were efforts to improve schools, housing, food sources and legal aide for all of the poor southern people there is ample evidence to show African Americans were burdened with Jim Crow laws and many other disadvantages that were finally outlawed by the Civil Rights Acts of 1964. And yet even today many of those disadvantage remain in the deep south.
The Union commissioned a fleet of eight river going iron-clad gunboats. These so-called City Class boats were built in 1861 by James Eads and were all named after cities. These were wooden flat bottomed boats with iron cladding. Powered by steam engines the 512 ton, 175 ft long and 52 ft wide barges could manage a top speed of 4 knots. Her crew of 251 enlisted men and officers manned the boilers and the 14 cannons of various sizes. The biggest were 8″ smoothbore cannons.
The USS Cairo was the lead ship in the class and arrived south of Vicksburg in April of 1862. It led supply boats to the north of the city and with seven other Union gun boats engaged and defeated eight Confederate gunboats.
It returned to patrolling the Mississippi River and on December 12, 1862 while on a mission north of Vicksburg on the Yazoo River to destroy Confederate Batteries and remove obstructions in the river it was sunk by two torpedos (an underwater mine) electrically detonated by volunteers on the river bank. A huge hole was torn in the hull and it sank in fairly shallow water and mud in just minutes. There were no casualties. It sat there and sunk in the mud and silt until it was gone.
In 1956 it was discovered by using recollections of where it was and a simple magnetic compass. It was almost entirely buried in silt and mud which preserved much of the artifacts. A long process of salvage recovered small pieces one at a time until the hull remained. It was a difficult but successful operation to recover the hull in pieces. It has all been moved down to a restoration display in the Military Park under a large fabric structure.
You can get a pretty good idea of what it looked like. A new framework holds the old hull in place.
The massive hole where the torpedoes exploded is easy to see.
Much of the iron clad armor survived and was recovered.
The curved part of the upper structure near the front was actually covered with sections of railroad rail. They used what they had.
They were able to recover parts from the bow to the stern, even parts of the boilers and paddlewheel.
It was an interesting stop. Natchez is not far south of Vicksburg and is worth a visit next time we are this way.
It is time for the beach. Our next stop for a month.
More to come, Much Love,
Roger and Susan