The sweet wife and I took a vacation recently. It was her birthday wish to head to the beach, her happy place! So we did, driving way east, driving through Alabama, where I proudly wore my Texas A&M cap, thankfully without incident! We had a great time, but alas, it was time to return to East Texas.
Before heading home, we visited the Naval Aviation Museum and the tallest operational lighthouse in the nation. Both are located in Pensacola Beach, Fla. The Pensacola Lighthouse has been a navigation aid in the nation’s first port settlement since 1859.
After leaving the Emerald Coast, we took the route along Interstate 20 West, stopping in Vicksburg, Miss. to spend the night.
In recent years, we passed through the historic city many times without stopping.
Vicksburg, of course, is a modern city, but retains, and emphasizes, it’s history that is connected to the Civil War and the Vicksburg Siege.
The late Paul Harvey often called this the “Uncivil War.” It has been controversial for more than a hundred years, but it is a part of our history.
The sweet wife and I just wanted to see a part of the area that was one of the key elements of the Civil War. Much of the actual battlegrounds have been preserved in Vicksburg’s Military Park.
“On May 25, 1863 to July 4, 1863, Major General Ulysses Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, cutting off supplies and travel to the city for 47 days,” according to actual documents in the Old Courthouse Museum.
Confederate General John Pemberton, short on food, water and losing men daily, finally surrendered his troops, ending the siege. General Grant, and Union troops, raised the Stars and Stripes on July 4, 1863 on the grounds of the Old Courthouse.
There is so much to see in Vicksburg, including the Cedar Hill Cemetery, representing more than 150 years of Vicksburg history. The cemetery contains the graves of more than 5,000 soldiers who died during the siege.
The USS Cairo, sunk in 1862 in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg when struck by two underwater torpedoes, was under water in 12 minutes. The Union gunboat was restored and is now on display in Vicksburg’s Military Park.
Tourists can visit the Coca Cola Museum where Coke was first bottled, according to the brochures published by the Convention and Visitors Bureau. There is the Old Depot Museum and the Anshe Chesed Cemetery, located near Military Park, dates back to 1864. A fortification was built at this site by the Confederacy and on May 19, 1863, was the site of fierce fighting. The first African American Methodist Episcopal Church in Mississippi was organized in Vicksburg in 1875. The church building still stands and is available for visits by appointment.
Unable to visit all of the sites, we settled on touring the Old Court House Museum. The building, first constructed in 1858, was used as the courthouse for the county seat of Warren County until 1948. A new building was occupied for county business and the old courthouse was converted to a museum. And what a museum it is.
I enjoy history and especially when the history includes artifacts actually used by those people who were, and are, a part of our past. The Old Courthouse has two floors filled with Civil War artifacts and items used by the North and South during the long battle.
An 1862 flag, rescued from the battlefield, is on display in an environment designed to preserve the 157 year old cloth. The building is full of uniforms and weapons used by the soldiers; cannon balls of all sizes along with home made bombs and grenades (disarmed) found on the battle fields so many years ago.
The residents of Vicksburg, during the siege, were driven out of their homes and many lived in caves in the area. Many of their tools used for survival are displayed in the museum.
The museum stands on the highest hill overlooking Vicksburg and at one time dominated the skyline of the city. It is still impressive and an important part of the city’s history as well as the present day pride of Vicksburg citizens.
The CVB labels Vicksburg, the “Key to the South!” I don’t know about that, but it does retain a touch of the old south while thriving in modern day United States of America.
Ronnie Morrison is a former Henderson Daily News sports editor who is now a freelance writer and occasional contributor.