Let’s Talk About….Vicksburg, Part 3

 On this trip down the Mississippi, I carried a small notebook and scribbled notes furiously. Visiting this national park, I was especially overcome by the enormity of this battle. The notes are mine and the facts as I understood from our guide.

After the battle, some 17,000 Union dead were buried in a cemetery near the battlefield, now part of the Vicksburg National Park. We were told that the upright stones were for the identified soldiers and the “stubby flat” stones were for the 13,000 unidentified. The Confederate dead were buried in trenches.

The Vicksburg National Military Park was established on 21 February 1899 to preserve and protect the areas associated with the defense and siege of Vicksburg. The park covers over 1800 thousand acres. During the battle, the hills were stripped of trees. During the 1930s, the CCC men replanted many trees. In 1917, veterans were invited to return to the site and point out just where their units stood and fought and some 8800 showed up! Markers were placed at these designated sites.

As men came from 28 of the then 34 states, each participating state was invited to place a monument at the Park. Each state monument is planned and paid for by the state and then given to the Park to be placed. Most Union monuments were erected by World War II. The Confederate states’ monuments were placed much later (they were financially decimated remember).  Some Southern states have yet to place a monument; neither has Vermont.

Vicksburg Trivia:

I’ve read that more Americans died in the Civil War than all other American wars combined; the slaughter was that terrible.

The Confederate President was Jefferson Finis Davis….. he was the last of ten children; hence the “Finis.” His only descendant was a granddaughter.

Mary Todd Lincoln’s brother, David Todd, fought for the Confederacy.

Often the Union and Confederate lines were “merely a stone’s throw apart.”

The average age of the Civil War soldier was 27.

The northwestern part of Virginia pulled early from the Confederacy to fight for the Union; this was 18 months before West Virginia became a state in 1863.   

Kentucky and Missouri were split states…….. men from these states fought for both sides.

The Illinois monument, modeled after the Roman Pantheon, has sixty unique bronze tables lining its interior walls, naming all 36,325 Illinois soldiers. Our guide explained that it was erected in 1904 when the citizens of Illinois taxed themselves to finance the project.

The Alabama monument, placed in 1953, is the only one showing a “fighting” woman. It was meant to show the women’s support of their men during the conflict.

When Grant realized that the Confederates were filling their canteens from a certain creek, he dumped dead animals into that creek to pollute the water; it worked and caused many a Confederate to die a miserable death.

Joke:  Difference between a Confederate and Union cannon? The way it’s pointed! So quipped our tour guide.

While I did thoroughly enjoy learning the history of the Mississippi River and its connection to the Battle of Vicksburg, I certainly did realize I was treading and viewing hallowed ground when I was privileged to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park during my cruise on the Mississippi River (from St. Paul to New Orleans) in October 2022.  

Let’s Talk About….. Vicksburg, Part 1

On this trip down the Mississippi, I carried a small notebook and scribbled notes furiously. Visiting this national park, I was especially overcome by the enormity and importance of this battle. The notes are mine and the facts as I understood from our guide. 

For nearly 200 years, men have been attempting to “tame” the mighty Mississippi River but “Mother Mississippi” has slapped back most all attempts through the years. Throughout history, the Mississippi has been a vital commerce and travel “highway” draining most all the American Midwest. 

The river was of special importance during the Civil War. In 1837, Robert E. Lee was given the task of “taming” the Mississippi River. That meant he started clearing the floating trees and wrecked boats from the river. He was trying to clear a navigable channel, not clear the entire river. Lee pioneered the revetment for erosion control. This was putting “stuff” along the river bank to hold the bank. First was woven willow branches weighted with mud (today they use concrete slabs). Lee also introduced dredging.

All Mississippi River cities were originally ports for farmers to ship grain and other products. During the Civil War, the Mississippi River was all important………. For this reason it was the key to winning the Civil War.  The Union strategy was to completely surround the Confederacy (why there were two armies, the Army of Virginia and the Army in the West).  The plan for the Mississippi was to blockade all the posts and then go after the cities along the river, one by one.

Admiral David Farragut was sent upriver from New Orleans (which was Union held since April 1862) to bombard Vicksburg into submission but they would not surrender. Farragut was firing uphill and the town was firing downhill. The town did realize they would be attacked again so the troops and the townspeople began cutting trees and building up an eight-mile encircling defense for the east side, “sort of stacking Lincoln Logs,” thinking that would keep them safe. As would the bluff would keep them safe from river attacks. President Lincoln knew otherwise. 

Quoting from a National Park brochure, “Vicksburg posed the most significant remaining obstacle to complete Union control of the Mississippi.” Vicksburg had to be taken; Grant was the man for the job. New Orleans was first, April 1862; it fell in one day. Memphis was next in June 1862; again in one day. Ditto with Baton Rouge. Natchez was next and it capitulated……. Many Northerners had settled there to profit from their hundreds of plantations, so they had lots to lose during a battle. Next upriver was Vicksburg.

Vicksburg sat on the eastern side of the river atop a high bluff on a hairpin turn of the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. It was easy for Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton to fire down upon any Union river-attempt to take the city from the river (as he had repulsed Farragut). 

Memphis, east side of the river and north of  Vicksburg was a swampy delta, nearly impossible for an army to march across. So Grant couldn’t come from the North. The Confederates held Jackson (state capitol to the east of Vicksburg). Pemberton was told by President Jefferson Davis to “hold Vicksburg at all costs.” So he dug in and did his best but Vicksburg did fall in the end.