1300 monuments – and I think I saw everyone of them (and loved every minute of it). My visit to Vicksburg National Military Park was awesome. The weather even cooperated – it didn’t break 90 while I was touring. I started at the Visitor Center, checked out the exhibits, grabbed a CD and tour book, and hit the road. 4 hours later, I didn’t have enough!
The first thing I realized about Vicksburg was how different it was from Shiloh. Both are beautiful, but the topography is as different as night and day. There isn’t a single flat spot on the battlefield, which played into the battle tremendously. It’s interesting that Grant was the commander at both battles. I don’t think he gets much credit for being able to succeed on different types venues of war.
The park is gorgeous this time of year. It didn’t look as wooded back in 1863, but it was thick and lush. The driving tour takes you up and down, around winding roads, and near every essential spot on the battlefield.
One of my favorite spots on the battlefield was the Illinois monument (even though I am downright allergic to all things Illinois). My young historian Caroline B and her parents sent me there with a mission – to find the name of her great great great grandfather on the wall of 36,000+ Illinois men who served at Vicksburg. Finding the name was fun for the thrill of the chase, but it also gave me a disjointed link to the battle. I will have to begin some research on my own ancestors’ role in the Civil War … and then go follow in their footsteps.
While the vista of the battlefield is amazing from all of the open areas, my favorite aspect were the monuments from each state. I felt strangely at home touring the Wisconsin monument (yup, it’s official, I’m a Wisconsinite – but I still love my Detroit teams). The Kentucky monument is way too cool – Lincoln and Davis standing next to each other.
The museum and exhibit on the U.S. Cairo is something that I wasn’t expecting. I knew it was there, but I had no idea about how basically cool it would be to see the skeleton of a huge Union ironclad gunboat preserved and presented under an enormous canopy. It has to be seen to be appreciated.
Of course, I also was humbled by the numbers involved, especially at the National Cemetery. Only the Union soldiers are interred there, and there are 13,000 unknown men. Keeping in mind that the number only reflects probably half of the casualties … wow.
The battlefield lives up to the overall importance of Vicksburg as the key to the war, the Gibraltar of the Mississippi, the turning point of the conflict, and the hallowed ground for the thousands engaged. It's a must see.