Nov 11, 2013

Scenes from Vicksburg National Military Park

Somehow, I thought it was appropriate to save this post for Veterans Day.  Last summer, the Young Curmudgeon and I chose to extend our vacation a day to stop in Vicksburg, Miss., specifically to tour the Vicksburg National Military Park.  I thought the idea of touring the park was especially fitting with this year marking the 150th anniversary of the battle which, coinciding with the Battle of Gettysburg, turned the tide of the Civil War for the United States. 

The idea of visiting Vicksburg also brought me back to my youth when I had the opportunity to visit Gettysburg on a school-sponsored spring break trip. Even as a kid in junior high school, the memories of seeing the battlefield in a glorious and ominous morning mist are some I will never forget.  And, when the Young Curmudgeon and I toured Vicksburg on a steamy July afternoon, I felt some of the same senses of reverence, awe, and appreciation for the history that took place on the site. 

I also got the sense, as with Gettysburg, that the spirits of those who died on the battlefield are still here –with a park this size, even during the busy summer tourism season, there are quite a few spots where you can find yourself very alone except for the presence of the past.     

Vicksburg National Military Park quite literally wraps around the northern and eastern boundaries of the city, encompassing the hills where General Ulysses S. Grant’s 47-day siege of the city took place. We drove the park over four hours one afternoon and really didn't do it justice.  You really should allow an entire day at the least to see the entire battlefield, national cemetery and U.S.S. Cairo Museum. 

Our first stop, ironically, was one of the three detached “units” on the southern edge of town.  As we drove toward downtown Vicksburg, we quite literally stumbled upon the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River known as Louisiana Circle. Looks like the ideal position from which to pick off Union gunboats.   

The climb is harder than it looks. 

View from Louisiana Circle

Today, instead of Union boats, you can take out the nearby casino.
Later that afternoon, we drove the full park.  The one-way road takes you counterclockwise through 16 miles of breathtaking scenery – steep hills and dense foliage – to more than a dozen key stops within the park.  Along the way, more than 1,300 monuments and markers pay tribute to the battle and the soldiers who fought here.  My words don’t do them justice, so just take a look …

Your standard CR-V photobomb

Of the monuments, perhaps the one we were most impressed with (maybe it’s in recognition of our home state) was the Illinois Memorial.  It certainly is one of the largest in the park.  I later found out it has 47 steps, one for every day of the city’s siege. 

Coming up to the Illinois Memorial

The Young Curmudgeon is impressed ... and out of breath from climbing stairs.   
The state seal on the floor of the Illinois Memorial 

Inside the Illinois Memorial
The other section of the park that has stayed with me is Thayer's Approach.  It just symbolizes to me the insanity of war.  Here’s why:  Imagine being ordered to take this hill and over power the Confederate soldiers entrenched at the top of it. 

Now, here’s the Confederates’ view:    

Yeah, I like the Confederates’ odds here.  It’s no wonder the Union army eventually dug around it. 

Another stop you should allow significant time for is the U.S.S. Cairo Museum.

It’s a restored Union gunboat that was sunk by a Confederate mine in the Yazoo River.  Make sure you time your visit for a ranger-led orientation in and around the ship.  This was easily one of the highlights of the day for the Young Curmudgeon.  Trust me, if he were blogging about this, you’d see a lot more pictures.    

Between visiting the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Miss., and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans this summer, the Young Curmudgeon and I immersed ourselves in quite a lot of military history this summer.  And it makes me realize how important historical sites like these are for forever preserving the legacy of those who paid the highest price for our country.  

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