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Vicksburg National Military Park

December 6, 2012

Mississippi – Sunday, December 2

This morning I headed south toward Vicksburg – driving through the very flat land of the Mississippi Delta. There were lots of big, plowed fields, and I’m guessing they’re rice fields. As I approached Vicksburg though, the land quickly became hilly. I was headed for Vicksburg National Military Park, which will be the 4th military park I’ve visited. They seem to be ideal for walking – one lane roads with very light traffic (most are set up for pedestrians in addition to vehicles) and rolling hills (good cover for battles), and sometimes monuments and old cannons and all to look at too. Vicksburg NMP is not only a military park, but has also turned into a park with a lot of art – 1300 sculptures, monuments, plaques, etc. There’s literally something around every bend. I learned that the civil war battle at Vicksburg is right up there with Gettysburg in terms of pivotal Civil War battles. Nearly every state that was part of the country back then had soldiers in this battle – 100,000 of them. Tula and I did all of our 8 miles of walking in this park, and admired many of the Union monuments. When this land became part if the national park system in the early 1900s, each state that had soldoers in the civil war battle was given permission to build a monument to memorialize their efforts. The Union states were quick to build huge, often elaborate, monuments (and often several smaller ones too)and they were placed in strategic areas in the park. This is a place where the soldiers who actually fought in the Civil War came back in the early 1900s to mark battle locations, so the actual history of advances and retreats is more comprehensive than many battle sites, and it’s very easy to see the Union and Confederate lines.

It was a very warm day (it hit 80) and I did my walking in roughly 3 mile chunks. After walking through a lot of the Union side of the park, I followed the road to the Confederate side. There was a very different feel to the park here – fewer monuments and much less elaborate. Then I read a sign that described the northern states jumped right on the opportunity to build (and perhaps try to out-do each other?!?) their monuments, but the southern states were so depleted of all resources that many of them had to wait a good 10 years or more to start work on their monuments. And by then architectural styles and work had changed, so the Confederate side is quite different from the Union side. Another site to see at the park was the USS Cairo museum – ironclad gunboats were favored in battles in the Mississippi River because they could be used in relatively shallow water and were effective in transporting soldiers, weapons and supplies. None of these gunboats survived…except for one that was raised out of the Mississippi mud 100 years after it sank, and it is now on display in the park. It isn’t quite intact, but it’s now preserved in a framework that allows visitors to walk inside part of the ship, and to try to imagine what it must have been like on the river. Lots of artifacts are in the museum – the boat sank quickly and although no lives were lost, everything else was until the wreck was discovered.

There is also a civil war national cemetery on the grounds, and Tula and I walked all around that too. There were quite a few plaques placed in different parts of the cemetery with pretty verse:
On fame’s eternal camping ground,
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

Back at the main visitor center, I watched a good video of the battle and 6 week siege of the town, and the whole day was a wonderful educational experience as well as a good walking opportunity. Part of what all the memorials want to convey is not only recognition for those who served, but hopes that brothers, families, neighbors and friends will never again pick up arms against each other. The visitor center had a donation box with a sign explaining donations would be used for educational purposes, and there’s lots of lessons to be learned here, and I made my donation-of-the-day here. It’s a wonderful national park, with lots to see and learn.

By this time, I had spent nearly the whole day at the national park, and thought I would drive into the town of Vicksburg itself. It was getting dark, but again, there were all kinds of people out and about down by the river. The Christmas Train had pulled into the train station, and the engine and all 6 cars were decorated with hundreds and hundreds of lights and there was a huge long line of people waiting to walk through the train. I asked a couple people what was inside the train, and they told me the different cars were full of really good Christmas displays, and well worth the wait. But, I’d been on my feet most of the day, and opted for a quick mile walk through the decorated Main Street instead before calling it a day.
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