Vicksburg, Mississippi   Leave a comment

Day 3-4

Natchez Trace was probably a series of hunters’ paths that slowly came to form a trail from the Mississippi over the low hills into the valley of Tennessee. By 1733 the French knew the land well enough to map it and showed an Indian trail running from Natchez to the northeast. By 1785 Ohio River Valley farmers seeking markets had begun to float their crops and products down the rivers to Natchez or New Orleans. Because they sold their flatboats for lumber, returning home meant either walking or riding. The Natchez trail was the most direct. By 1810 many years of improvements made the trace an important wilderness road, the most heavily traveled in the Old Southwest. By 1820, over 20 stands were in operation providing basic food and shelter. Thieves added an element of danger, along with the swamps, floods, disease-carrying insects, and sometimes unfriendly Indians. Steamboat travel began in 1812, leaving the trace to become a peaceful forest lane.

Emerald Mound is the second largest prehistoric ceremonial mound in the United States, covering nearly 8 acres. It was used for roughly 350 years by prehistoric Native Americans, ancestors of Natchez Indians. The mound was the scene of elaborate civil processions, ceremonial dances, and intricate and solemn religious rituals where worshipers sought favor of their gods. It is believed that Emerald Mound began construction in 1250 A.D., surrounded by a deep ditch or moat, likely as a defense. Using primitive tools of wood, stone and bones, the Indians loaded the dirt into baskets or skins which they carried on their backs or their heads. It is believed that the mound was constructed in several stages. Beginning with the natural hilltop, Indians gradually transformed the hill into a flat-topped pyramid. First leveling off the hill, later adding thousands of tons of earth from near the base.

Mount Locust is one of the oldest structures still standing in an area known for historic homes. Mount Locust was started in 1780 by John Blommart. After leading a failed rebellion against the Spanish, he was jailed, forfeiting his fortune and mount Locust. His business associate, William Ferguson, purchased Mount Locust in 1784. It has been the home to five generations of Chamberlains, with the last leaving in 1944. Unfortunately, due to time constraints for us as the tailgunners, we did not get to stop here. But for anyone who can, talk to “Ranger Rick” for not only the history of this structure, but also his family.

If you are driving on The Nachez Trace, BE SURE to get off in Lorman, Mississippi, Highway 61 and visit The Old Country Store Restaurant.

Arthur Davis is the owner and makes THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN EVER!!! He uses his grandma’s recipe, operating in a 130 year old wooden structure once a popular stop for purchasing everything from cotton to work boots. Make sure you finish off your meal with their famous blackberry cobbler.

General Grant made Port Gibson, the city of churches, his first objective in his 1863 campaign to capture Vicksburg. He spared the town because it was “too beautiful to burn.” Grand homes date back to the early 1800s. There are 8 churches located on Church Street.

At one-time Grand Gulf, Mississippi was a boom town, major river port, theatre center, and strategic Confederate stronghold during the Civil War. It is virtually a ghost town today. By the mid 1800s, Grand Gulf was well established and had grown to nearly 1,000. The first of several disasters was in 1843 when an outbreak of yellow fever turned into an epidemic and claimed the lives of many of the town’s people. Barely 10 years later, a tornado ravaged Grand Gulf, but the fatal blow occurred between 1855 and 1860 when the currents of the mighty Mississippi River ate away the entire business section, a staggering total of 55 city blocks. By the time the Civil War broke out, the population was reduced to 158 people. The Civil War destroyed what was left of the town of Grand Gulf.

Just a few yards from the parking area, we could see where the Mississippi River was overflowing its banks due to heavy rain.

Rodney Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church (1868-1870) was constructed in 1868 as the once flourishing river town was declining. The church completion was in the year preceding the disastrous 1889 fire. It was moved and restored to its original condition in 1983.

Grand Gulf played one final role in the outcome of the war before passing away forever. Union General Ulysses S. Grant realized that in order to defeat the forces of the Confederacy, he would have to divide them along the Mississippi River. This required capturing the city of Vicksburg. Grant decided to cross the Mississippi downriver from Vicksburg and redirect his attack from the east. He chose to land his troops at Grand Gulf. Confederate General John Pemberton ordered General J.S. Bowen to move his troops to Grand Gulf anticipating General Grant’s move. When Grant began his attack on April 29, 1863, the Confederates were ready. After fierce fighting, the Federals retreated to the safety of the west side of the river, leaving victory to the Southerners.

The victory was short-lived. Grant quickly moved more south during the night where his victory at port Gibson left the Confederates at Grand Gulf outnumbered and they were forced to abandon their town.

While at the Grand Gulf Military Monument, we hiked up the fire tour, 67 steps. What a beautiful view of the Mississippi River.

We toured Vicksburg, Mississippi, using the same driver as we had in Vidalia. Thank you David! He did a wonderful job. Our tour guide for Vicksburg was engaging and interesting. She was born and raised in Vicksburg. Growing up, romping around on battlegrounds must have been an experience!

We began our tour with a movie at the National Military Park Visitor Center and toured all of the beautiful monuments in the Park. The soldiers dug a lot of trenches and after the North won, Grant required the trenches to be filled so that they would not be used against him. Those poor soldiers in those wool uniforms digging and fighting in the hot, humid weather. Then to be rewarded over their win with having to fill what they dug! Over the years the trenches are somewhat visible because of the erosion.

The most interesting piece of information about the Civil War was that is was called “the gentlemen’s war” BECAUSE they only fought during the “day.” At night, they could be seen drinking and trading amongst themselves, then in the morning they were shooting at each other! I find this amazing.

In the photo below, the cannon is directed at enemy lines, which is marked by the white monument in the distance.

We gathered in the Illinois monument rotunda to sing “God Bless America” where we echoed, creating a beautiful sound.

The 1863 surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, along with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, marked a Civil War turning point. For the rest of the war, Vicksburg was the regional base for Federal operations. It was also the prisoner-of-war exchange point. On April 24, 1865, over 2,300 Union soldiers released from GA and AL prisons left Vicksburg on the steamer, Sultana, headed upriver for home. Three nights later, near Memphis, the overloaded boat exploded and over 1,800 died (that’s more than the Titanic). It is America’s biggest maritime disaster, but remains a little known tragedy because of the news of Lee’s and Johnston’s Confederate surrender and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Below if a photo of a Union war ship, USS Cairo that was sunk by a mine. It sunk in 12 minutes, all 175 men escaped.

Across from the ship is the Vicksburg National Cemetery, established in 1866. Of the nearly 17,000 Union soldiers buried here, about 13,000 are unknown.

We were dropped off in Historic Downtown Vicksburg for shopping and lunch. Bill and I decided to lunch at a place called “The Juice Joint.” Small world! It is the sister restaurant of “The Old Country Store Restaurant!” What a small world. And the chicken was just as good.

Before ending our day, we toured the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum. Below is a photo of mini balls, unused and some used.

In one of the display cases a Purple Heart medal caught my eye.

It was found after Hurricane Katrina by someone looking through the debris where their home used to be. Being a Vietnam Vet himself, he could not bear to leave it there on the ground. It was found in Gulfport, Mississippi and they are hoping that someday it will be returned to its owner.

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