Civil War country

Trip Start Mar 14, 2006
Trip End Mar 15, 2007

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Monday, April 24, 2006

I started heading back down highway 61 towards Vicksburg. I was a bit more inland from the river than the other day on highway 1. While I was still in Delta land, it seems the vegetation is more lush than a day or so ago. For quite a long distance I was actually traveling on top of the levee designed to hold back water in times of flood. I got off a couple of times to take pictures.

Arrived in Vicksburg about 4. It was extremely hot and humid. A bit hard to find my way around but eventually found a tourist place. I thought I needed some historical understanding of Vicksburg and she directed me to the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum. The tourist brochure tells me this houses the Gray and Blue Naval Society Collection of models and a film presentation "The Vanishing Glory". The Museum also includes a diorama of the Siege of Vicksburg and the Vicksburg story as told by civilians and soldiers letters and diaries.

The tourist brochure tells me "From the beginning of the Civil War, control of the Mississippi River south of Cairo, Ill was of vital importance to the Federal Government. Command of the waterway would allow for uninterrupted passage of Union troops and supplies into the South and have the desired effect of isolating the Sates of Texas and Arkansas and most of Louisiana - a region upon which the South depended heavily for supplies and recruits. To protect this vital lifeline, the Confederates erected fortifications at strategic points along the river. Federal navy and military force, however, fighting their way southward from Illinois and northward from the Gulf of Mexico, captured fort after fort until by late 1862 only Vicksburg, MS and Port Hudson, LA posed major obstacles to Union domination of the Mississippi".

Vicksburg sits atop a high bluff overlooking a bend in the river. It was protected by "artillery batteries along the riverfront, by a maze of swamps and bayous to the north and south and by a ring of 172 guns that guarded all land approaches to the City. In October 1862 Vicksburg became the focus of military operations for Grant, who (with a force of about 45,000) was ordered to clear the Mississippi of Confederate resistance and Pemberton, with about 50,000 widely scattered confederate troops, was expected to keep the river open."

The following notes are also taken from the tourist brochure: The Unionists attempted to overcome Vicksburg about 3 times between then and May, 1863. Grant began a siege. Batteries of artillery were established to hammer the Confederate fortifications from the land side and Porter's gunboats blasted the city from the river. With most of the men on the lines, the women and children had to take to the hills and hid in caves only coming out in brief periods of safety. For 46 days the city held out but by the end of June, Pemberton knew that he must capitulate and on July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was officially surrendered.

The surrender of Vicksburg and the defeat of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg were critical turning points in the Civil War. Although the fighting continued for another 21 months, Federal control of the Mississippi helped to ensure the survival of the Union.

The city was an occupied city for the remainder of the war and was a base for Federal operations throughout the region. The city also served as an exchange point for prisoners of war. The greatest maritime disaster in American history, the sinking by explosion, of the steamer, Sultana, with its' 1,300 released Union soldiers, occurred at about the same time as Lee and Johnston's Confederate armies surrendered and Lincoln was assassinated.

Loyalty oaths were required of all citizens in the occupied city and failure to take it resulted in arrest or banishment. Area plantations of those declared "enemies of the government" were confiscated and leased to others, known as carpetbaggers or scallywags who sought fortunes in cotton speculation. Although Mississippi was eventually re-admitted to the Union in 1870, Federal troops continued to serve as occupation forces until 1877.

Thousands of blacks poured into Vicksburg to exercise their new found freedom. Many enlisted in the Union Army; others opened their own businesses or hired themselves out to help rebuild those parts of the City that were heavily damaged during the siege. Blacks opened schools, banks and churches and entered the political arena. Many of these freedoms were; however, restricted or taken away with the return of white rule at the end of the Reconstruction period. Not until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950 - 70's was their equality established by law.

The tourist brochure concludes "Despite the harsh realities imposed by occupation and Reconstruction and by the uncertainties of freedom, Vicksburg slowly returned to normal following the surrender, as restored river commerce brought economic stability to towns along the Mississippi. Although the river changed course in 1876 and moved away from the city, its muddy water continues to shape the history of Vicksburg."

After viewing the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum and the film, I took a two hour driving tour around the National Military Park and Cemetery. The extent of the battlefield and cemetery were quite overwhelming. I started on a scenic driving tour of Historic Vicksburg; however, it started getting dark and I decided to call it a day.

I located the Super 8 in Vicksburg and got settled in there. After a bit of looking around I went to a neat restaurant called Garfield's. It is sort of a neighbourhood pub like place.
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roffatsea on

A proposed sub-title
Might one suggest 'Highway 61 Visited?'

The extent and ferocity of the 'late, Great Unpleasantness' is surely one of the things about the United States that is poorly taught in the Canadian education system. The struggle and its scars shaped so much that followed.

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