Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Vicksburg: a Sight to See

Last weekend, my husband and I traveled to Vicksburg to see the battlefield. It is impressive to say the least. Interestingly, the paved roadway through the park is lined with majestic monuments and busts of long forgotten heroes. On the west side of the park is a spectacular view of the Yazoo River, and it’s easy to visualize the strategies used by Generals Grant and Pemberton. But the highlight of the battlefield, in my opinion, is the ironclad gunboat, the U.S.S. Cairo.

In 1862, the U.S.S. Cairo was hit by Confederate underwater torpedoes, now called mines, and sank in twelve minutes into the Yazoo. Everyone aboard jumped ship and survived. After discovery was made of its whereabouts in 1964, the gunboat was brought back to the surface, and many of the artifacts inside survived the test of time. This is due to the fact that silt on the river bottom preserved the ship’s contents, as well as the skeleton of the vessel itself. The restored ironclad is now on display at the park, alongside a museum housing its artifacts.

The park ranger informed us that in the 1930’s, the government came up with the not-so-brilliant idea of planting trees alongside the roadway. Now the trees have grown into a scrubby, overgrown mess, and the NPS is deciding whether it should mow the trees down, which obscure sight of the battlefield. The visitors center is informative, with an old movie from (my guess) the 60’s describing the event, as well as dioramas depicting soldiers during the siege, a cave inhabited by Vicksburg citizens, and freedmen fighting for the North. The scene is poignant, and left me with mixed emotions. Within the park, Union soldiers are buried in the National Cemetery, as was the way with battles won by the North. The Confederates are buried in the old Vicksburg cemetery, which is located, sadly enough, on Lover’s Lane.

The town of Vicksburg is marvelous, but in terrible disrepair. The historic downtown district, which brags an old-time apothecary, as well as the Coca Cola Museum (the soft drink started distribution here), is full of empty storefronts and loiterers. However, the old antebellum houses and churches are fascinating. Vicksburg is on its way, pulling itself up from the depths of terrible oppression that it suffered over 145 years ago. Unfortunately, it still has a long way to go.

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