The Siege of Vicksburg
you may know by now, I'm a closet
historian (yes, I'm fascinated by the
history of closets). I'm also a big Civil War buff and I never take a trip
around the East without visiting as many Civil War battlefields as I can get
to. In fact, sometimes my trips around the East resemble mad scrambles
from one Civil War park to another in a crazy "connect-the-dots"
manner. One place that I had never been to, though, was Vicksburg,
Mississippi, the site of one of the most important conflicts of the war.
Civil War tune, The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.
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During the early years
of the Civil War, General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union troops in the
west, tried to cut the Confederacy in half by securing the entire Mississippi
River. He was making good progress until, in the spring of 1863, he reached
Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the river.
April of 1863, he had been trying for a month to figure out a way to dislodge
the Rebel defenders there. He finally landed his Union troops south of
town, then circled back and besieged the city and its inhabitants for 47 days
before it fell. The Confederate troops surrendered on July 3, 1863, the
same day, ironically, that the Confederates also lost at Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, a thousand miles away. These two losses sealed the fate of
the Confederacy, although the war would drag on for two more years.
While driving north on
the Natchez Trace Parkway, I looked on a map and realized that Vicksburg was
only an hour away, so I hopped off the Parkway and headed west. After
getting refueled in Vicksburg, my first stop was the National Park Service's
impressive Visitor Center, then I spent about an hour driving along the 16-mile
long tour road, while passing countless Union and Confederate fortifications and
entrenchments. The Battle of Vicksburg was one of the greatest sieges in
American history, and the citizens here had to endure some amazing
hardships. When Grant won here, he was a hero to the Union cause and was
soon tapped by Abraham Lincoln to lead the troops to final victory in Virginia.
As I discovered, the
city of Vicksburg today is a little frayed around the edges, something like Natchez,
and had definitely seen better times. However, the National Military Park,
which is run by the National Park Service, was fascinating and I could've easily
spent all day here, reading what seemed like about a million plaques and
monuments (it honestly does seem like a million, even to this diehard Civil War
buff). More information about the Battle of Vicksburg is available from
the National Park Service's Vicksburg
left: These are Union cannon at the siege line in Vicksburg.
There are over 150 emplaced cannon in this park.
center: Here are some Union trenches at Vicksburg. Unfortunately, the
vegetation has grown so much at this battlefield that it's hard to imagine what
it must have looked like during the siege. But if you like reading plaques,
Vicksburg is your place! There are exactly 1,325 military monuments here... and I
must have read about half of them.
right: About 40 years ago, the sunken Union gunboat Cairo was
extracted from the mud of the Yazoo River and is now being restored. That's a
person in the lower left corner for scale.
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