Vicksburg Mississippi

Vicksburg Mississippi

We traveled to Vicksburg Mississippi especially for the Vicksburg National Military Park. But while there, we also had time for a brief exploration of the city. While we were quite disappointed by the early closing of the Old Depot museum (an old railroad station) with its film, diorama and explanation of the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy’s” ground and naval significance in the Civil War and the 47-day siege that led to its surrender, we did find a few other interesting sights. These included the:

  • Museum of Coca-Cola at the Biedenharn Candy Company. Biedenharn experimented with and pioneered the bottling of his own flavored soda water. He then approached Coca Cola, which had previously sold its sold soda only at soda fountains, to allow him to bottle it and sell it to rural areas outside Vicksburg. Based on his initial success, he pioneered the creation of a network of franchised bottlers and ended up acquiring a number of them. The restored original candy store has been turned into a museum that explains the history of Coca-Cola, provides models of the original bottling equipment and displays Coke memorabilia.

Biedenharn coca-cola museum 04Biedenharn coca-cola museum 02

  • Vicksburg Riverfront Murals, a series of 32 murals that portray the history of the city and the region he along with bronze panels that explain the history around each of the murals.

Vicksburg Riverfront Murals

Vicksburgh ARt Park at CAtfish Row

  • Anchuca Mansion, a Greek Revival building that was home to the brother of Confederate president Jefferson Davis and the spot from which Davis, recently pardoned by the Federal government, gave his final speech. While the home is open for tours, we did one better—we had dinner in the library and had a chance to explore the beautifully restored building (see our blog on Vicksburg Restaurants);

Anchuca 03

  • Walked the city to view the exterior of a number of antebellum and other historic buildings including City Hall, the Mississippi River Commission, Old Court House, McNutt Mansion and Governor McNutt Home, Duff Green Mansion and the historic commercial buildings along Washington Street, many of which were built during and shortly after Reconstruction to serve the needs of ex-slaves turned sharecroppers.

Vicksburg National Military Park

As mentioned, we came to Vicksburg to visit Vicksburg National Military Park.  Early in the war, the Confederacy controlled the entire Mississippi, from New Orleans through Aurora Illinois. This served as the south’s primary and most efficient means of transporting troops and supplies among its forts and of controlling the Western half of the country. By 1863, the Union had gained control of all but two forts. One of them was Vicksburg, which was very strategic for winning the war. Since Vicksburg is perched atop 300 foot bluffs and protected by a network of forts and several hundred cannons, it was also very secure. Jefferson Davis called it the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy”: Lincoln agreed, claiming that Vicksburg was ”the key” to Union victory.

After several failed attempts at taking the fort, and even trying to reroute the river to avoid Vicksburg, Lincoln tasked General Grant with the goal of taking Vicksburg. Grant decided that his best option rested on a very risky strategy. His plan was to march 40,000 troops around Vicksburg to the south—behind enemy lines—while simultaneously sending supply ships past Vicksburg to supply them. While the ships came under heavy cannon fire, most did get through. Grant then marched his resupplied troops back to Vicksburg where he made several assaults on Confederate strongholds. Some entailed tunneling beneath fortifications and setting off explosions to destroy the walls before assaults; others using ladders to scale steep walls. All failed.

2019-04-23 09.31.38

Grant then blockaded access to the city and settled in for a long siege, digging huge zig-zag trenches and tunnels to allow him to move troops, mortars and cannons that bombarded the city and forts for more than 2 months Residents and soldiers dug caves and generally lived in them during the daily bombardments. The sieges generally ceased at night and the Union and Confederate trenches were so close to each other that soldiers often spoke and even joked with one another.

The blockade had shut off supplies. Civilians and soldiers were on extremely low rations and some were close to starvation. Then, just as Grant was about to launch another huge charge, Confederate General Pemburton, recognizing that reinforcements would not be coming, decided that both his troops would not be able to defend the city and that casualties would be too great. He surrendered and the Union took charge of the city.

cemetary

Federal troops took control of  city, suspended civil law, demanded loyalty oaths, seized property and arrested or even banished those that did not comply. While some welcomed the Federal troops, others resented, and some challenged them. Local rule did return in 1870 and while African Americans did enter the city and establish businesses, they suffered discrimination and segregation and a loss of rights under Jim Crow laws.

The scale and difficulties of the battle were driven home in a drive through a cell phone-annotated drive through the park and especially, a tour of the USS Cairo museum. The boat was one of seven heavily armed iron-clad steamers commissioned by the Union for its brown-water Mississippi naval fleet. While it and its fellow ships inflicted considerable damage on Vicksburg, it became the first ship sunk with torpedoes, or actually, by electrically detonated mines. The ship and many of its artifacts, however, were eventually raised from the river bottom and are now on display in its own museum.

Cairo Memorial 03Cairo Memorial 06

Vicksburg Restaurants

While we were seeking out a place to eat, we happened upon Anchuca House. Tom began with a cup of the delicious tomato-based shrimp etouffee and we shared the very tasty pan-fried catfish with Creole hoppin’ john, brown butter and creamed spinach. We were less excited by the congealed shrimp and grits with pimento cheese and butter bean hummus. Wine, from the small list was 2016 Acrobat pinot gris.

We also enjoyed lunch at 10 South Rooftop Restaurant, on the tenth floor of one of the city’s tallest buildings. In addition to lovely view of the river, it also served a nice lunch. Ours consisted of an acceptable chili, a tasty but overly sweet pulled pork sandwich and a very generous and tasty shrimp and grits with creole sauce.

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