Vicksburg National Military Park Vicksburg, Miss. Visited: February 17, 2005 NPS Site Visited: 157 of 353 NPS Website; Local Website
WHAT IS IT? Site of Union Army’s May 18, 1863 to July 4, 1863 siege. The South’s surrender of Vicksburg gave the Union forces complete control of the Mississippi River.
BEAUTY (4/10) Vicksburg NMP is shaped like the number 7 and contains over 1,700 acres. This shape follows the city’s high ground, contains miles of Confederate and Union earthworks and is generally narrow. The Park’s svelte character accentuates the innumerable Civil War Monuments. The remembrances are everywhere ranging from the grandiose neo-classical excess of the Illinois Memorial, replete with an open sunroof and a gold-plated eagle, to the subtle wrought iron intertwined circles of the Kansas Monument.
The most impressive monument to the Battle is actual U.S.S. Cairo ironclad gunboat, sunk in one of Grant’s preemptive raids in December of 1862 and dredged up from the bottom of the Mississippi River in the 1960’s. The boat sits under a huge white canopy fully intact, looking much as it did just prior to its demise. Displays in the nearby museum showcase items found during the salvage.
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (9/10) The Confederate forces surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, just a day after the Southern defeat over 1,000 miles to the northeast at Gettysburg. These are often considered the two most important battles of the Civil War.
While the Northern victory at Gettysburg was a turning point in the eastern theater of battle, their triumph in the west at Vicksburg was a fait accompli. The War’s western turning point had occurred a year and a half prior at Fort Donelson. Since then Grant had methodically pushed down the rivers into the South scoring many decisive victories.
Vicksburg was the last Southern stronghold in the west. Perched along a narrow stretch of the Mississippi, it was dubbed the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy”. After a few failed amphibious assaults, Grant bypassed Vicksburg, landing south of the town and defeating the Rebels at Port Gibson on May 1.
The Federals marched eastward to Jackson, Miss. taking the town on May 14, and then proceeded back to Vicksburg where they would besiege the town four days later. For 46 days, Grant bombarded the city with constant cannon fire. Town residents and Confederate soldiers built underground shelters and were reduced to eating rodents; neither food nor artillery could break the Northern lines.
Without any means of retaliation and further survival, the South’s capitulation occurred on the 4th of July, Independence Day; a holiday that many Mississippians had refused to celebrate until World War II because it coincided with Vicksburg.
CROWDS (6/10) The Park is viewed primarily via a 16-mile auto tour route. The road is winding and isolated from Vicksburg proper. Parking might get tight along the route during the Park’s busier seasons, but we had no problem viewing whichever monuments we desired; there are enough for everyone.
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (4/5) The Vicksburg NMP entrance is located just off Exit 4 of Interstate 20. From every direction the route to the Battlefield is well marked. Vicksburg is a modestly sized located 45 minutes west from the State Capitol, Jackson, along Interstate 20.
CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5) The bookstore carries at least four books titled Vicksburg that ALSO have “siege” in the title. They are Vicksburg: Southern Stories of the Siege; Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege; Vicksburg: Southern City Under Siege and Vicksburg: A City Under Siege. There are plenty more books regarding the battle itself including the Confederate Roll of Honor which is just a listing of every Southern soldier who died here and the intriguingly titled My Cave Life in Vicksburg.
There is a section of books about Civil War Generals, many of whom did not even fight here and a section about Women and the Civil War. It is all here. If you have been desiring a frosted and embossed Vicksburg NMP Christmas tree ornament, you know where to come.
COSTS (3/5) Entry is $5 per car or free with your National Parks Pass.
RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5) They were there but many of our questions were left either unanswered or accompanied with a reference to where we could find a response. We probably would have been better off asking one of the many Civil War buffs touring the grounds.
TOURS/CLASSES (4/10) The introductory film is old, long and not so good. Since the Battle was not a traditional battle, the film tells the story with many abstract conceits. The camera zooms in and out of a man painting watercolors of the Mississippi while the viewer is asked to become the steadfast old river meandering its way into the Gulf. We wished we had meandered our way out of the theater. The film taught us nothing.
The auto tour is nice and the short explanations on the Park pamphlet help to fill in what exactly happened during the fight. The Museum holds original objects and does a much better job than the film in explaining Vicksburg especially in its detailing of the horrors endured by the besieged Southerners.
The U.S.S. Cairo Museum, located halfway through the driving tour near the National Cemetery, is a must-see. The personal objects, the ship itself and the salvaging method are fascinating.
FUN (5/10) Your amount of fun at Vicksburg NMP is directly proportional to your interest in the Civil War. Kids might have fun at the U.S.S. Cairo but the rest of the auto tour is bound to be a snoozer. There are not any hiking trails through the Park, but we did see a few people walking along the auto tour road. We enjoyed Vicksburg NMP mostly because of Vicksburg's charming downtown. Before, during and after the auto tour we sipped excellent, strong black coffee laced with a tad of Southern Pecan flavoring at the Chocolate Derby on Washington Street.
WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (6/10) History places Vicksburg alongside Gettysburg as seminal American moments. Does visiting the Site add anything more to your understanding of the siege? Of course. Even though the Mississippi River has completely changed its course, the high ground remains as it was in 1863, complete with lines of cannons. Even though old town center has been rebuilt, one can only imagine the streets lined with antebellum mansions.
USA-C2C.com is an independent website, not affiliated in any way with the National Park Service, the National Parks Foundation or any of their partners.