Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Not All Who Wander Are Lost
June, 2019 - Mount Denali, Alaska

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Vicksburg National Military Park and Cemetery

Yesterday we visited Vicksburg, Mississippi where a major battle of the Civil War was fought. Over 20,000 people lost their lives in 1863 during the siege and defense. We've visited several Civil War National Battlefields and Military Parks on this trip. There are very many in the South.

After viewing the movie in the Visitor Center, I wondered what these soldiers would think about our country today. It seems we are very divided as a country, which is what many of them were fighting against. Made me feel sad.

Vicksburg is located on the Yazoo River near the Mississippi River and was an important port for the Confederate Army. The Confederate soldiers were positioned on the top of the hills surrounding the city, and the Union Army was pushed back again and again. Eventually, the Union surrounded the city and cut off their supplies. The South ended up surrendering as they were starving and dying of disease. The occupation of Vicksburg cut off a major supply route for the South.

There is a driving route through the park where over 1,340 monuments can be seen. Many are stone markers honoring the different infantry divisions, placed near where they fought. There are also quite a few bronze busts and statues honoring the officers. Many of the states erected large monuments honoring the soldiers from those states. There is a beautiful arch leading into the park.

Throughout the park are hundreds of stone markers like the one below honoring the infantry groups from each state. The Union states that fought here were mostly from the Midwest, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana. We saw markers for Missouri on both sides as that state was divided during the Civil War.

The park was established in 1899 and many surviving soldier's groups began erecting the monuments where they fought. States commissioned artists and sculptors to create memorials, and the first state memorial was erected in 1903. Over 95 percent of the monuments were erected by 1917. The largest, shown below, is from the state of Illinois.

Shirley House is the only surviving wartime structure in the park. During the siege it served as the Illinois 45th Infantry headquarters. It has been restored to its 1863 appearance. I loved the roses still blooming along the path.

Wisconsin had a very nice state monument.

During the Civil War, ironclad steam ships were constructed. One of them hit mines on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg on December 12, 1862. It sank in twelve minutes with no loss of life. In 1956 it was discovered resting at the bottom of the river encased in silt and mud. Extensive salvage operations allowed it to be recovered from the bottom of the river in the 1960s. It is the only remaining ironclad of its time and is now on display at Vicksburg National Military Park.  It was amazing how over 100 years later, the silt had preserved so much of the ship and the artifacts lost by the sailors. There was a small museum displaying many of those artifacts.

Vicksburg National Cemetery is the second largest national cemetery and covers over 116 acres inside of Vicksburg National Military Park. Over 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers are buried here. The Confederate soldiers are buried at a different cemetery in Vicksburg. When National Cemeteries were first established, only Union solders were buried there. There are also soldiers buried here from other wars. Burials were stopped in 1961.

Most of the soldiers are unknown. About 5,000 were identified. As you can see from the picture below, some graves have larger stones with names on them, but most of them are just small concrete posts marking an unknown grave. So many lives tragically cut short.

Many southern states did not have money after the war to erect state monuments, so some of those were erected quite a bit later than the northern ones. Their style was definitely more modern looking. Alabama erected theirs in 1951. The female figure represents the State of Alabama inspiring her Confederate defenders of Vicksburg.

After finishing at the park, we drove to downtown Vicksburg. They have a levee wall along the Yazoo River with murals painted along it. We drove past, but didn't find a parking place, so didn't stop. It reminded me of the wall in Paducah, Kentucky.

Downtown Vicksburg is the home to the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum. The restored 1890 building is where Coca-Cola was first bottled in 1894.

We've seen an interesting tree in the south with maple like leaves and spiny balls hanging from its branches. I found out its the sweet gum tree. The balls protect its seeds. Very interesting!

Whenever we travel to a new area for us, I try to remember to look at the Roadside America website for unusual or quirky things to see. One of them is a cell tower shaped like the Washington Monument along I-55 in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

Don’t wish upon a star – Reach for one!