Memorial to former slaves who fought at Vicksburg.
Memorial to the former slaves who fought at Vicksburg.

Vicksburg National Military Park

Field review by the editors.

Vicksburg, Mississippi

The thing to remember about sieges is that they tend to be a slog for everyone concerned. Unlike a one-day, cinematic Civil War clash, the 1863 battle at Vicksburg was occasionally bloody but mostly methodical, ending in a 47-day siege that starved the Confederates into surrender.

Moment of death.
Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman dies with flair.

That interminable pace is one you will remember as you snake your way along the Vicksburg National Military Park's 16-mile-long, one-lane, one-way tour road, often behind other visitors driving very slowly. What could be a 40-minute trip can take three hours, especially for those using the mobile phone tour or the in-car CD (complete with narration, Civil War music, and sound effects) available in the Visitor Center gift shop.

Vicksburg is like a Civil War safari park. Instead of, "To your left, the water buffalo," it's, "To your right, a sharpshooter killed Confederate General Garrott."

The park is also one of the most "monumented" pieces of real estate in the world. The statues and memorials began appearing soon after Vicksburg was established as a park in 1899, and they're still being built. An estimated 1,340 monuments dot the landscape, not counting those that have been lost, or stolen, or were melted for their scrap metal during World War II. If you want to see every monument in Vicksburg National Military Park, pack a tent.

USS Cairo.
The USS Cairo: a Civil War ironclad sunk in mud for over 100 years.

(100,000 troops fought at Vicksburg, but none of the park's abundant statues and memorials commemorate Vicksburg's two most interesting soldiers: James Strong and Albert Cashier, who were in fact Almeda Hart and Jennie Hodgers, women disguised as men.)

Vicksburg National Military Park
On a clear day you might be able to see Wisconsin from the top of the Wisconsin Monument.

After a stop at the Visitor Center (we recommend the "Cave Life" exhibit that shows how Vicksburg residents lived underground to avoid cannon fire) it's onto the monumentpalooza of the tour road. Some of the memorials are clearly better than others. At the Wisconsin Monument, a Yankee stands next to his dying horse, ready to blow away the Rebel who shot him. The Illinois Monument is modeled on the Pantheon of ancient Rome; the Mississippi Monument is a crazy tower of architectural styles ("Look at me!") that rises 76 feet into the air. The Alabama Memorial features the womanly Spirit of Alabama surrounded by an apparent "last stand" of Confederates, all with ropes tied around their ankles to keep the vermin out of their pants.

A quieter approach is taken at the African-American Monument, one of the more recent (2004) additions to the park. It's a tribute to the former slaves who fought at Vicksburg, and lacks any sensational or neoclassical imagery. Aside from the uniforms, it could be a memorial to the Vietnam War, with three grunts staggering out of the jungle to an evacuation dust-off.

Grave of Ole Douglas the Camel.
"Ole Douglas" the Confederate Camel is buried outside the Park with his Rebel pals.

The melodramatic statue of Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman is meant to impress, showing him at the moment he was killed by Union shrapnel. It was paid for by Tilghman's two sons, who had become wealthy post-war Yankee businessmen, and perhaps felt bad that they later dug their dad's body out of the hallowed "Soldiers' Rest" in Vicksburg City Cemetery (gravesite of the Confederate Camel) and reburied him in New York City.

In contrast, Confederate General Martin Green has only a small plaque to mark his death spot at Vicksburg (He may have lacked guilty, wealthy children). Green was shot dead just after he'd bragged to his troops, "A bullet has not yet been molded that will kill me."

A popular stop within the park is the USS Cairo, a genuine Civil War ironclad that was sunk just north of Vicksburg by a Confederate mine. It sat in the Yazoo River mud for over a hundred years before it was hauled to the surface and placed next to the park's cemetery, beneath a giant tent. Visitors can walk its decks, study its explosion hole, marvel at its Steampunk machinery, and then tour an accompanying museum of salvaged artifacts, including a bottle of pepper sauce that the museum claims was still edible when it was opened.

Abe Lincoln and Jefferson Davis agree to disagree.
"Meet me on that inconspicuous bull's eye." Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis, Presidents and equals.

Our favorite memorial at Vicksburg is one of the last along the tour road: the Kentucky Monument, which stages a fictitious meeting between a bronze Abraham Lincoln, President of the U.S., and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy (Both had been born in Kentucky). Unlike the park's other statues, these two stand at ground level, so visitors can express themselves by taking snapshots either embracing or mocking their chosen Civil War leader.

Roadside Presidents
Roadside Presidents App for iPhone. Find this attraction and more: museums, birthplaces, graves of the Chief Execs, first ladies, pets, assassins and wannabes. Prez bios and oddball trivia. Available on the App Store.

Vicksburg National Military Park

Address:
Union Ave., Vicksburg, MS
Directions:
I-20 exit 4-B. Drive west on US Hwy 80 a quarter-mile to the park entrance, on the right.
Hours:
Daily 8-5 (Call to verify)
Phone:
601-636-0583
Admission:
$8 per car
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Fake Ironclad on a HillFake Ironclad on a Hill, Vicksburg, MS - < 1 mi.
Abe and Jeff: Presidents and EqualsAbe and Jeff: Presidents and Equals, Vicksburg, MS - < 1 mi.
Grave of the Confederate CamelGrave of the Confederate Camel, Vicksburg, MS - 2 mi.
In the region:
Miracle Baby Bullet and Sash of Presidents, Vicksburg, MS - 2 mi.

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September 21, 2019

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