We woke up 70-ish miles upriver knowing we had a full day ahead exploring what was once a small village, named for a Methodist minister, located on a bluff at the mouth of the Yazoo River. It was incorporated in 1825 and soon prospered as a shipping point. Shipping point equals money and merchants, hence the antebellum neighborhood we visited.
Back in the day the centerpiece of the neighborhood would have been Christ Episcopal Church, founded in 1828. Its impressive stone Gothic Revival exterior is in contrast to its simple, warm, and welcoming interior. We were hosted by the pastor who shared its proud history highlighting the use of the basement as a hospital and the fact that services were held daily during the Civil War. The organist popped in to share the history of the organ and play a couple of hymns. She finished each song with jazz hands. Pews dating to 1900, two Tiffany windows, and a recently refurbished, temperamental pump organ with 951 wood pipes are its show pieces. One of the stained glass windows has a fascinating story: it was made in memory of a prominent congregant who died from a hat pin wound. Seems the dye from her hat had arsenic in it which was transferred from the pin to her scalp when she accidentally stuck herself while securing her hat. In recognition of the generosity of the pastor and the organist for giving up part of their day on Christmas Eve, our guide presented the pastor with a cannon ball. As in heavy, real, Civil War-era canon ball.
The two homes we toured were in total contrast with one another! The first one is owned, lived in, and shown by the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis and his wife, our guides for this portion of the day. It amounts to three small mercantile-class antebellum homes cleverly combined into one. The small rooms are nicely decorated with modern and period furnishings. We were free to roam around and imagine what life was like when these modest homes were built in the 1800s.
A free black man was hired by a local cotton broker in 1856 to build a mansion for his bride. The contractor accomplished this with the assistance of his enslaved workforce. Life and entertaining on the grand scale for which the mansion was designed were short lived because the war reached Vicksburg in 1863. The owner and his wife are credited with saving the neighborhood by designating the home, now known as the Duff Green Mansion, as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers. It was a home again after the war but later served as a boy’s orphanage, the Salvation Army Headquarters, and now a bed and breakfast and event venue. The 15-foot ceilings, large rooms, grand furnishings, impressive entryway, and long porches certainly make the impression the original owners had in mind.
The most popular attraction in Vicksburg would have to be the 1,800 acre Vicksburg National Military Park. A committee of both Union and Confederate veterans established it in 1899. It boasts more than 1,400 monuments, tablets, and markers, more than any park in the National Park System. Our guide did a wonderful job of explaining the importance of and devastating losses incurred during the 47-day game-changing battle that took place here. Having sole control of the Mississippi River was vital to winning the Civil War. When the war started in 1861 the Confederate had control. As the North developed its navy the tide started to turn and at the end of the Siege of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, they had total control. This victory ended major offensives in what was then the West.
It was explained to us that the Confederate pretty much knew the Union would be heading to Vicksburg sooner or later. So, about a year out they started preparing the battlefield. We were asked to imagine the landscape now overgrown with vegetation as rolling, open spaces that soldiers from both sides would be forced to run up and down like the moving targets that they became. A few beautiful, rolling, green fields have been cleared to assist in imagining what it must have been like.
After the park was established, states were invited to design and pay for monuments honoring those who served. Illinois decided on an eye popping replica of Rome’s Pantheon. It is one quarter the size of the real deal and includes the circular opening in the domed ceiling and the sloped floor that allows rain to drain away. The forty-seven steps in the approach represent each day of the siege. Sixty bronze tablets line its interior walls, naming all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated. Ohio, by contrast, decided to place an individual monument for each of the 39 units that participated. Wisconsin decided on a 122 feet tall column with an eagle on top, bronze tablets with 9,075 names, and a relief tablet at the base of the column picture a Union and Confederate soldier with hands clasped in friendship. Maryland and Virginia, minor players in the siege, have small plaques outside what is now the park.
Besides the monuments, the park is also home to the USS Cairo, one of seven ironclad gunboats that prowled the Mississippi River and connecting shallow waterways, menacing Confederate supply lines and shore batteries. In spite of its armor plated exterior it was sunk on a cold December morning in 1862 and lay under a blanket of silt and mud until it was discovered 102 years later.
On the way back to our vessel we were offered more fun facts. For example, the average age of a Civil War soldier was 27. Civilians in Vicksburg slept in 500 caves during the siege. Cannon from battlefields were collected and stored in various locations after the war and later redistributed willy nilly to parks and memorials, meaning the 127 cannon in this park most likely did not see action here.
By dinner tonight our brains was stuffed to overflowing with all the things we had seen and learned. It was a great Christmas Eve day topped off by a wonderful meal and an invitation to watch It’s a Wonderful Life in the common area. I am not proud to say that after Dan was settled in watching the movie and Walter and Cleone were tucked away in their room I enjoyed an ice cream sundae. Not fond of chocolate ice cream, I just ate the vanilla scoop and went back to the makeshift theater and got another sundae and ate its vanilla scoop. As I was stashing my half eaten sundae dishes in an out of the way location I spotted the popcorn delivery guy and grabbed a bag on my way back to the room. A little Merry Christmas Eve splurge! No breakfast for me tomorrow.
Did you know…..
Word for the day: loess
In the 1800’s Mississippi riverbends were littered with the remains of hundreds of riverboats.
Congress passed the first federal steamboat safety regulations in
the Steamboat Act of 1838, but it was sadly unenforceable.
Coca-Cola was sold exclusively by the glass at soda fountains throughout the country until 1894
when a candy store owner in Vicksburg decided to bottle it. He was the first to do so.
He used a variety of containers until the custom Coke bottle was introduced in 1916.
Mississippi followed South Carolina becoming the second state to secede from the United States.
In Vicksburg, Jefferson Davis gave his first address as the President of the Confederate States of America.
Men owning less than 20 slaves were expected to serve in the war.
Ownership of more than 20 slaves provided an exemption to service.
We were not told what happened if you owned exactly 20.
4 thoughts on “Vicksburg, Mississippi (Christmas Eve, 2021)”
Mom, you are such a great writerâI feel link this should be an article in a magazine ð
Matt Mongeon, PMP, Technical Project Manager II
Engineering Management Office
PMP,ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA, PPO
5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
â¢ 619.266.5675 (ex. 55675) |( 619.822.4661 | â¢ email@example.com
You are such a sweetheart! Thank you.
I know Leni! My brain was on overload by dinner time!