Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Battleground, A Cemetery and....a Boat?

One of Sid's top must-see items on this adventure was the city of Vicksburg.  Being a huge history buff, he has always wanted to see the place that played such a major role in the Civil War.  You cannot come to Vicksburg and not visit the National Military Park.

The park is easily viewed by car on a 16 mile route that roughly follows Union siege and Confederate defensive battle lines. All along the route are busts of commanders, plaques detailing individual battles and regiments, earthen forts and monuments erected after the war was over to commemorate the men who served and died.  Union plaques are blue and Confederate are red, so as you look out over the various battlefields you can envision just how close the fighting was.  Originally planned to have 1700 monuments, plaques, tablet and markers, there are currently over 1300 and it would literally take days to see, read or photograph each one.

A sampling of a very few of the monuments

The authorization to establish the park was passed in 1899, and a lot of the northern states started building them right away.  But the southern states had been harder hit, financially, and many had to wait several years before having the money to erect monuments.  Today, although I couldn't find and verification of this, it seemed to me that there were many more Union monuments than Confederate.  

There is only a single surviving structure in the park and that is the Shirley house.  Restored to its original appearance, the house was used by the Union army as a hospital. 

Front of Shirley house

Rear of Shirley house

Abandoned in 1864, the house was sold to the Federal government in 1900 by a daughter with the provision that the parents be buried on site.  Surprisingly, the government kept to the terms.

Shirley tomb

The Vicksburg National Cemetery is also on the grounds of the park and it was very moving to see.  Like any national cemetery, there are seemingly endless row of headstones (17,000 Union soldiers), some with names, but most without.
Rows and rows of graves

Known soldier

Unknown Soldier

Anonymous Soldier

When national cemeteries were established in 1867, the money allocated was allowed to be used only for burying the Union dead. This cemetery contains about 17,000 Union soldiers' remains.  Confederate soldiers were not allowed to be buried in national cemeteries and it was left to the families to reclaim the bodies of their dead.   I was really saddened to learn this and happy to know that this experience lead to many changes within our government on our treatment of American soldiers, from the wearing of dog tags to the observance of Memorial Day.

Also located within the park are the remains of an ironclad boat, the U.S.S. Cairo, notable for being the first boat ever sunk by a land mine.  She sunk in 12 minutes and, miraculously, no one died. Submerged from 1862 until 1964, it contained many wartime personal effects which can be seen in the museum.

Original timbers on the bow of the boat

Partially reconstructed, much of the original iron still exists

I know I've only skimmed the surface of what we saw, but I hope that each of you someday gets a chance to visit this national park.  The Civil War is a very important part of our history and this park does a very good job of telling its story.  The memorializing continues outside the confines of the park as well, with plaques and monuments all over the city.  

Until next time...

1 comment:

Nancy said...

You guys sure are seeing a lot of the sites. We miss you hurry up and traveling get home.