Although many people have heard of the famous battlefield of Gettysburg, few realize that another turning point in the American Civil War was happening at the same time, in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The siege that had rocked the citizens for months finally came to a grueling end on July 4th, 1863, just one day after the Battle of Gettysburg ended. If you are a Civil War enthusiast or just a fan of the enigmatic beauty of the “Deep South,” Vicksburg is a great choice for a vacation. The biggest attraction is Vicksburg National Military Park, which should certainly satisfy any historian’s lust for the past.
What exactly happened in 1863? When Union forces attacked, all became chaos. Many of the citizens of Vicksburg, hungry and afraid, found themselves with barely enough protection from the elements; many became ill and died, or perished from starvation. This great, proud Southern city witnessed much death and heartache. If you’re interested in going back in time to 1863, Vicksburg National Military Park is the place to start. Before leaving, you might want to do some research on the monuments and memorials you will be seeing; many Civil War buffs like to know the history behind the regiments whose monuments are standing in the park. Consider taking papers or pamphlets along, and telling the rest of the family about what you are seeing as you go along.
You can’t visit the park without noticing the Illinois State Memorial; it is a huge, mausoleum-like building with all the marble solemnity of an ancient Roman tomb. I find it interesting to note that this Union regimental monument was built using Georgia rock. The Illinois memorial names those who fought for the state; their names can be found on plaques located throughout the monument. You’ll also want to look for the Texas State Memorial; finished just four decades ago, it almost looks like an ancient plaza, with steps and standing columns. It was made of granite, and the statues of Southern soldiers are particularly worth a photo stop.
If you still haven’t had your fill of Civil War history, you might want to drop by the Vicksburg National Cemetery to get a sense of the lives that were taken during the war. Sadly, thousands of Union men buried here have no form of identification and remain nameless. If you walk through the cemetery you will be struck by the countless tiny white stones, marching across the manicured grass. A monument here and there reminds visitors of what happened at or near a particular spot. You may notice that Vicksburg’s National Cemetery gate resembles that of Gettysburg National Cemetery. Of course, Southern soldiers are buried in Vicksburg also, at a place called Soldiers’ Rest.
If you like gunboats or anything pertaining to the water, you should love the U.S.S. Cairo museum. For years after its sinking, the Cairo stayed put on the bottom of the river until it was rescued, partially destroyed, and rescued again by determined workers. The bare bones of the boat can still be seen; it’s a skeleton of its former self, but still a great piece of history. The museum also showcases interesting items that are worth a look.
Many homes have survived from the Victorian era to show us what life was like for wealthy citizens before the siege began. One of these homes is called Anchuca Mansion. The oldest part of the house came about in 1830, but other additions were built in the next decade. The siege does not appear to have harmed this handsome old mansion, and it stands tall as a reminder of Vicksburg’s past. Anchuca Mansion is also an inn. For the right price, you can pass the time in Vicksburg from a wonderfully detailed Victorian suite. You’ll recognize the house by its huge white front columns and delicate balcony jutting from the second floor.
Another beautiful Victorian home is the Balfour house, constructed before the Civil War. This is truly the kind of house that comes to mind when you think “antebellum.” It is a multi-story brick home with white trim and stately white balconies. During the siege of Vicksburg, the home belonged to the wealthy Balfour family; if you look carefully, you can still see evidence of the siege by the chips in the walls. Planters Hall, built in 1834, is known for its fancy decorated entrance and black wrought-iron second story balcony. Cobb House, constructed in the early 1860s, may not have the architectural uniqueness of many of Vicksburg’s homes, but it does have significance; it was a war barracks, taken over by General Slocum. Originally, it was a religious school known as St. Catherine’s.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer