Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg via Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable
by Meshea Crysup, RHV, RHV Books, & Civil War Bloggers & More Network
Part 1 (Grant & Lee at Appomattox)
I must confess, when I was told the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable was being formed, I had no idea what it was—it did not matter! Someone in Vicksburg was doing something to educate and re-engage locals in our rich history and further the concept of “History as Industry” for what should be our very own little-historical-gold-mine! I was IN! Both feet! I am one hundred percent thrilled to be a member and happy to share my Roundtable Experiences with you. It is a fantastic way of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
For those of you as in the dark as I was, a Civil War Roundtable does not require a round table! In fact, I suppose we would not have to have a table at all! Seriously, it is a group of history buffs who get together to listen to speakers such as authors, reenactors, etc. and who plan and/or attend historical events. It is educational, social, fun, and a wonderful way to keep the truth of our history alive. In a town as rich in history as Vicksburg, I see it as almost a civic duty to be involved! It is so hard to believe that from the mid 1960’s until last October (2016), Vicksburg did not have an active Civil War Roundtable! The “Key to the South”—without a Civil War Roundtable—Unthinkable!
Thanks to Corey Rickrode, of Baer House Inn, and his association with Curt Fields, and several of our local battlefield guides—Morgan Gates, David Maggio, Michael Logue, and Joyce Hill to name a few—the lack of a Civil War Roundtable has been rectified! We are still relatively small. We are still struggling to raise funds to pay speakers. Many of us are donating time, talents, and dollars to the cause, and happy to do so. I must say, May’s meeting drove home just why such an organization matters and makes a meaningful difference!
~Meshea Crysup, RHV, RHV Books,
& Civil War Bloggers & More Network
Part 1 (Grant & Lee at Appomattox)
We had two wonderful speakers from Kansas City, Randal L. Durbin (General Grant) and Lane Smith (General Lee) who reenacted “Grant and Lee at Appomattox. (Their info is included at the end of this blog, and I highly recommend them!) Lane—General Lee—told a story at the very end. He has been doing General Lee a good while now. In fact, the pair had done this particular program about thirty-five times as of last night. There is a point where he asks for his horse to be brought to him. Well, all reenactors strive to be as historically accurate as possible, but he always just asked that the “orderly” bring Traveler to him. Not anymore! Here, in Vicksburg, he found out that the “orderly” was named Turner. In fact, he not only knows the man’s name, but he has an entire book about the man to read!
It just so happens that one of our first speakers, Al Arnold, authored said book. (Info on Al and his book will also be at the end of this post. I highly recommend Al Arnold as a speaker as well!) Lane/General Lee was thrilled to have this new—to him—piece of information to incorporate into his presentation. In fact, he was to speak, as General Lee, at an event the next week, and he was anxious to share his “new find” with that group. No doubt, he will continue to be as enthusiastic and include it from now on.
I do not want to “ruin the story” for anyone, but “Turner” was an African American, and proud to have served, not just one, but two civil war generals. He went on to live a long life, sharing his personal story right up until the end. Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable is honored to have been a part of leading Lane/General Lee to that information, connecting him to Al Arnold’s wonderful book and the story of Turner—Robert E. Lee’s Orderly, and to contributing to the accuracy and authenticity of future presentations.
Dual Citizenship by Morgan Gates
I am a patriotic American and proud of it. I am Born in the USA, just like Bruce Springsteen! I am American made in 1958, that makes me “a classic”! I am however a citizen of another country as well and I love that country as well and I visit it quite often. There are many American citizens that hold dual citizenship (United States and Great Britain for example). Does that mean they love one country more than another? Not necessarily. Many of us routinely love equally. Our children being a prime example. I have twin daughters both are beautiful (like their mother) both are smart (like their father 😊) as much as they are alike they are different yet I love them the same. Just like I love my two daughters, I love my two countries! Yet when I display the flag of my other country it is somehow considered controversial by some. Perhaps because they were once at war with each other a long time ago but then again, the U.S. and Great Britain were at war once upon a time (actually twice upon a time). But if I put a Union Jack on my truck I doubt it would raise many eyebrows.
I’m sure you have figured out by now that my second country is the Old South. As a lover of history and a man who regularly teaches others about the history of the Old South, I feel a special kinship with this bygone era. I am not alone in this sentiment I meet people nearly every day from far flung corners of the world that see the south both then and now as a special place. Yet both Memphis and New Orleans are removing (or trying to) reminders of the Old South and my home state, Mississippi, is routinely criticized by the mouthpieces of the left and the timid for displaying a Confederate Battle Flag (it was never the national flag of the Confederacy and was only used as battle flag by a handful of units) in its state flag. By the same token no one seems to mind that Texas is still using the “Lone Star” (a symbol of its time as an independent republic) in its flag or California its Bear (again a symbol of independence), so why are the so called Confederate emblems such a problem for some? Let’s examine a few arguments against them.
We remember the suffering and sacrifice of those (U.S.) Americans who served each year on Memorial Day, May 29th this year, but what of my brave soldiers of the Confederacy (My second country – which exists only in memory today) should they be forgotten because they lost? Remember, by all common sense of the day, we should have lost the American Revolution! No, their sacrifice is no less because they lost and they too have a Memorial Day, Monday April 24th is Confederate Memorial Day this year in Mississippi (it varies somewhat elsewhere 4/26 is most common) so I ask all citizens of the Old South to take a moment this week and remember the sacrifices of those men of another century, many of whom were our ancestors biologically or culturally, who stood in defiance and defense and lost! Their sacrifice being no less because of it. You see you too can have dual citizenship, loving one does not mean you love the other less.
A statement of my personal belief: I refuse to be told by the un-informed to forget or deny my heritage! I believe it was a tragedy that the Civil War happened but it did. I believe in my heart that we are better off today because the South did not prevail but I have the advantage of 152 years of hindsight.
In Defense of a Bed Bug by Morgan Gates
This is not an original story, but rather another little gem plucked from the trash bin of history, told in my own way of course. If you mentioned the name Seargent Prentiss in the Antebellum period almost any educated man of the day would have immediately known who you spoke of. Yet today he is largely forgotten.
Seargent Smith Prentiss was a famous lawyer, politician and orator in the early history of Mississippi. When he died at the early age of 41 it was said that the nation mourned. Very few men can be called legends in their own time. This man was. He was one of the wealthiest men in the wealthiest portion of the United States in his day. He was a politician of national reputation even though he served only one term in a national office and he was called one of the best orators of his day by Daniel Webster who was widely considered the best orator in American history. It was said he seldom spoke from prepared notes, speaking extemporaneously and quite eloquently. Seargent Prentiss was born in Maine but he moved to Natchez in the 1820’s where he became a lawyer. He moved to Vicksburg in 1832 where he practiced law and became involved in a legal disputed with some of Newitt Vick’s (Vicksburg’s founder) heirs that dragged on for years.
Like any lawyer, Prentiss often traveled for his work. Our story takes place in a small country inn, its exact location has been lost to history. Prentiss’ travel partner was awakened in the middle of the night by the bite of a bed bug. The partner quickly lit a candle and rifled through the bed covers until he found the felonious bug and using the butt of his pistol was about to administer a bit of summery justice. At the last minute, Prentiss launched into an off the cuff defense argument. The execution was stayed while the eloquent defense continued. The other guests awakened by the commotion listened in as well. Soon an impromptu court was convened and the tiny insect got a proper trial complete with due process and one of the finest legal minds of the day was his defense lawyer. Perhaps even more amazing –from our point of view at least--- all this was done pro bono! Prentiss’ defense is so convincing that in the end the bed bug was acquitted of all charges and released from custody!
Amazing you say, maybe not so much…You see this was not the first nor would it be the last time a good lawyer got one of societies’ parasites off the hook!
The Faith of our Fathers by Morgan Gates
It is Easter Sunday as I write this blog; therefore, I think it appropriate to say a few words about the Christian faith and how it sustained those who came before us. If that offends you, then you probably shouldn’t be reading my blogs anyway.
The Faith of Our Fathers is the name of an old English hymn sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches. It deals with having faith in times of trouble. Our country was founded on faith, a fact that many today have forgotten, or in some cases, are actively trying to erase. This was not the case for our forefathers. One of the first things the early pioneers built in a new place was their church, and sometime the church is the last thing still standing in the ruins of a former town.
I dare say that without faith we would not be here today. Why else would a man pack his family into a leaky wooden ship, not much bigger than a greyhound bus, with 130 other people, and spend over two months crossing the stormy Atlantic? How else could a man strike off into an unknown wilderness, with little more than an ax and a musket, to build a new life knowing that there was no guarantee of success, and that both he and his family might die in that wilderness?
Even more to the point is that this is not the story of one man, or even a dozen, but untold thousands of pioneers that have repeated this same pattern, over and over again, over a span of hundreds of years, each time new lands opened up.
Without faith, how could a few ragtag farmers, lead by a few backwater intellectuals, rise up against the most powerful empire in the world and fight them to a point that they allowed some of their most valuable overseas real estate to go its separate way? Not only did that unlikely event transpire, it set the stage for a movement that would transform the world.
That same faith allowed these “backwater intellectuals”, that we now revere as our founding fathers, to establish a Republic-- an extremely risky type of government (There had not been a successful republic in over 1800 years at the time of our nation’s founding. To prove the risk, note that when the French people attempt to do likewise a few years later, it ended in disaster). To help protect this fragile form of government the Bill of Rights was added to the American Constitution. The very first of which is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Some people today have tried to twist the meaning of this amendment from its original meaning of; freedom from government intervention in religion, into freedom from religion but that was clearly not the intention of those who penned it! Yes, that makes me a “Strict Constructionist”!
Ok now let’s confront the 800-pound gorilla in the room! I write quite a lot about the Civil War, in which the southern states, including my own, tried to leave this country that I have been waxing eloquent about. How do I reconcile this with “The Waah”? That’s easy. You see, my 3rd great grandfather, John Morgan Gates, was one of those “axe and musket” pioneers that came to Mississippi shortly after it opened as a territory. The Confederate constitution was copied almost word for word for the U.S. constitution and many Confederate leaders thought they were the true sons of the founding fathers. They too you see had faith.
Even with their faith, the southern founding fathers lost, so was their faith was pointless? No! Faith, you see, is no guarantee of success. In this day of money back guarantees and litigation if the doctor (or whatever) doesn’t work, we expect results; however, what God wills to succeed or fail is not man’s to see. Faith is what makes us step outside our comfort zone, to take a chance, to risk all on a roll of the dice of fate with the chance for a better life, and even if that fails, a better world awaits, because of the one who we have faith in. It is on Easter Sunday that we remember why we can have that faith.
The Caves of Vicksburg By Morgan Gates
If you do much reading about the Vicksburg Campaign you will eventually come across a reference to “the caves” that the population retreated into to survive the forty seven day bombardment of the city. It is an item of immense curiosity to visitors to the city and I am often asked; where are the caves? The short answer is, there are no caves. What! You reply, I have read references to them and have seen pictures, but again the short, and brutally correct, answer is; there are no caves in Vicksburg! That concludes or blog entry for today thanks for reading….
You knew I wasn’t going to leave it at that, though didn’t you? Cause what fun is a short answer? My wife sometimes asks me if I can explain something in 25 words or less… the answer is usually no!
A cave by definition is a: large underground chamber of natural origin! Caves typically occur in rock strata, most often in limestone and are usually formed by the action of water over millions of years. Caves can also be formed along sea coasts by the action of waves and by lava in volcanically active areas. None of these geological processes apply to Vicksburg. No active volcanos anywhere in this region. We are almost 200 miles from the sea and the hills of Vicksburg are not made of rock!
Anyone who has visited Vicksburg has been impressed by the ruggedness of the terrain surrounding the city. Our hills are not mountains, not even close, their peaks are measured in hundreds of feet not thousands, it is the steepness of the slopes that is so mind boggling, if you were to hike through the forest—say on the “Al Scheller Nature Trail” that winds through the Vicksburg National Military Park you might encounter a decline of 60 degrees and then be confronted by an even steeper upward slope where a rope has been tied off to a tree at the top to help you ascend. In fact 90 degree slopes are not uncommon. Even more impressive is these slopes are made of dirt!
What? Dirt you say? Everybody knows dirt will not hold a 90-degree cut.
And you are right, most of the time. Most soil types will begin to slide at any angle above 45 degrees. But not loess soils. Loess is a very fine wind borne particle, deposited by a series of ancient dust storms as the last ice age was ending. It is very light, very fine, and very irregular in shape; therefore, it sort of locks together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It will erode in the rain quite readily and some of the steeper bluff faces were caused by erosion but it is also quite fertile so vegetation grows thickly and protects it. The bluffs today were formed by the actions of the wind and water. The caves of Vicksburg however were not.
In the spring of 1862 when Flag Officer David Farragut first began dropping shells on Vicksburg from the river. A large community bomb shelter adequate for about 200 people had been dug into the bluffs near Glass Bayou and some citizens sheltered there but in the long term it was simply easier to largely evacuate the portion of the city closest to the river. Farragut’s big guns had only limited elevation and they did not have the range to fly much farther that the first line of ridges on which the city was built. Many people simply moved in with friends and relatives living east of Vicksburg.
The following spring -1863- Union Major General U.S. Grant swung east of the city and closed off the eastern escape route. Meanwhile Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet towed seven mortar barges to Vicksburg, and parked them just out of the range of the Confederate guns, soon they began lobbing 220 pound exploding shells on a high trajectory into the city. Unlike the direct fire artillery of the day, these tremendous shells dropped almost straight down from high altitude. This time no part of Vicksburg was safe and the people sought shelter underground. Here again geography came to the aid of Vicksburg, the steepness of the bluffs meant the citizens of the town did not have to dig down but straight back into the bluffs. Soon almost every steep bluff face in and around Vicksburg was riddled with holes. Digging these holes became a thriving cottage industry and the wealthy citizens of Vicksburg began to buy sell and trade these expedient shelters.
The use of earthen shelters against “bombs” –exploding artillery shells—dates back to at least 1833, but they were commonly called a “bomb proof” in military circles. The word “bomb shelter” is not used until about 1895. So, what did the civilians of Vicksburg in 1863 call their bomb proofs? Emma Balfour, the noted diarist of the Siege, reports that at one point Confederate Lt. General Pemberton asked her if she had provided herself with a “rathole” but this was perhaps a too indelicate a term for a polite Victorian society. The bomb shelters of Civil War Vicksburg were commonly called “caves” after the natural formations they so closely resembled. By the time, Vicksburg surrendered it was so covered up with holes the Union occupiers of the city said it resembled nothing so much as a large prairie dog town!
After July 4th 1863 Vicksburg settled down to a relatively peaceful if not pleasant military occupation. Martial law was declared, and first Grant then a whole parade of Union Generals ruled over the city. Cotton production resumed, now supporting the Union economy, and life returns to a modicum of normalcy. The economy starts humming and people are anxious to put the nightmare behind them. Many caves within the city limits are filled in during the occupation, as the city grew others fell to progress, by the turn of the 20th century most of them were gone. Somewhere around 1900 a cave collapsed and killed several children, this prompted a city ordinance that required the remaining caves within the city limits to be eliminated. When I was growing up there were only two surviving examples and they were in remote and largely inaccessible areas. One of those succumbed to the elements a decade or more ago, and after a couple of particularly rainy winters I heard rumors that the last one had fallen in. So, a couple of winters back while the poison Ivy and kudzu was still dormant I went exploring and confirmed that it too had fallen in, so I can say with confidence “There are no caves (left) in Vicksburg”!
P.S. (award yourself a brownie point if you know what PS means by the way) if you Google Vicksburg’s Caves one of the first pictures you will see is the ridge behind the Shirly House during the war. The shelters pictured there are not caves they are “Shebangs” but that’s a blog for another day!
*Before someone asks in the comments, due possible liability issues and respect for private property I will not disclose the location of the ruins of this cave!
The Return of a Legend: by Morgan Gates
Meshea likes to list “all the pies she has her fingers in” on her blog posts. This is all well and good although I suspect she will have to kick off her shoes and start sticking toes in as well pretty soon. Me, I’m not so big into listing all the things I’m involved in, though I have quite a few. One I am going to crow about today is my association with the Old Courthouse Museum, one of the preeminent landmarks of Vicksburg and home of the Warren County Historical Society. I am on the Advisory Board for the Old Courthouse and therefore I am proud to say I am associated with a man who is living legend in the Vicksburg/Warren Area. Gordon Cotton, the former curator, is a noted author of all thing historic in and around this town. I’m pretty sure even he does not know how many books and articles he has written about life in and around this area from the first settlers right down to modern times. God himself only knows how many lives this man has touched in a positive way. Gordon is no spring chicken anymore he just celebrated his 81st birthday, but his mind is still sharp and he still works part time at the museum a couple of days a week. Gordon has been largely retired from writing for quite a while but in honor of Mississippi’s Bicentennial of Statehood this year he has agreed to return to the type writer (he doesn’t “do” computers) to write a series about early Warren County residents. The stories have been electronically translated by Jordan Rushing a OCH staff member and a budding historian himself and I am proud to help share these stories via Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg. Today’s installment has to do with some of this county’s very first inhabitants and the earliest European visitors to this area. So click the link above and Enjoy!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg Co-Founder, Historic/Haunted Vicksburg, Historian, Author, Old Courthouse Museum Advisory Board, Blah, Blah, Blah!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg: Gold in the Hills
By Meshea Crysup
Founder of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg & RHV Books
Civil War Bloggers, Authors, Photographers, Speakers, and More Network
There is more to rediscover in Vicksburg than our civil-war-related history. For example, there is a play that holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ “longest running show” status. Gold in the Hills has played every year since March of 1936, and it is RIGHT HERE in Vicksburg! Who knew???
Well, obviously, a lot of people must know about this play or it would not just keep going, and going, and going…
But, as it often goes in any town, locals are often not as aware of the “jewels in their midst”, or they are aware, but take it for granted because it has “always been here”. For this reason, not only do I want to be sure people outside of our area know about Gold in the Hills, but I think it is important to bring it back to the minds of locals as well! (This is my goal with all aspects of history we are “rediscovering” and blogging about!)
A Bit of History
Gold in the Hills began on March 28, 1936. It was started to fill the need for evening entertainment during Pilgrimage. Vicksburg’s “Pilgrimage” has come and gone a few times since then, but the show has remained! In spite of changing venues a few times, a fire consuming where the show was held as well as costumes, props, etc., and the fickleness of human nature, the show has gone on! (Click here for more info.)
About the Play
(Full disclosure: This is an excerpt from Vicksburg Theater Guild’s Website below. I wanted to get the info “straight from the horse’s mouth!)
Fun for the whole family. Sing the old songs! Cheer the hero! Boo the villain! Presented yearly since 1936, Gold in the Hills features a relentless hero, a winsome heroine, a ruthless villain, beautiful can-can dancers, and the wilder side of city life in the infamous New York Bowery.
Become a part of history when you witness the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest-running show, playing every year since March 1936!
… who stole John Dalton’s gold locket?
… what did Murgatroyd discover in the hills?
… is John Dalton really penniless?
… where DID Lizzie leave her fascinator?
… what is the dead sister’s secret?
How do you get in on the fun and find the answers to all these questions?
Friday & Saturday, March 24-25, 31, & April 1, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, April 7-8, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, June 2-3, 9-10, 16-17, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12, $6 children (12 & under)
Buying Tickets at the Box Office
Tickets are available at the Box Office starting one hour before curtain time for Main Stage shows and 30 minutes before curtain for Gold in the Hills and Fairy Tale Theatre.
We do not take reservations, and we offer open seating.
We accept Visa, Mastercard, cash, and personal checks.
Buying Tickets Online (Click here/Link included!)
Tickets for main-stage plays are available for purchase online! Fast and convenient, plus you can print your ticket at home and avoid the line at the box office!
Remember, just because it has always been here—or so it seems—jewels like this do go away if they are not supported locally. This is a really big deal folks! If you are planning a trip to Vicksburg, go see it! If you are a visitor in the area right now, go see it! If you are from the Vicksburg area, go see it—even if you have seen it before! (All live performances vary and the experience will always be a little—maybe even a lot—different!) If you are from the Vicksburg area with guests in town, all y’all go see it!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
“The City Tour”
by Meshea Crysup
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg and RHV Books
Civil War Bloggers, Authors, Photographers, Speakers Network
Read all the way to the end, past the Historic Vicksburg Tours Meme, for a VISUAL BONUS!
One casual drive through the downtown part of “The City” of Vicksburg sparked my historic curiosity. There is so much to take in, much of which is obvious, but even more that is not.
There are old homes, old businesses, and old homes that are now businesses. Not only are their stories fascinating, but their architecture is as well! (Do not even get me started on those who do not think that architecture of old homes and buildings is relevant to a historical tour!) There are also churches, museums, the fire house, the depot, the various monuments, statues, etc. scattered throughout the city, the flood wall, and so much more.
As with all historic places, however, everything is not lined up in a row so you can go from one to the next easily. Some are, of course, especially if you are into “walking around downtown”. When Momma would visit, she and I would go exploring and shopping. We enjoyed it and there was a good bit to see along with some awesome lunch options.
There is so much more to the City of Vicksburg, however, than we were seeing with our approach. I found excellent tourism guides, booklets, etc., thus it was not difficult to find out about all the other places to see, but I was left with actually finding them as well. Even living here, I do not have the time to put into figuring all of this out for myself, nor do I want to have to. If I were on vacation, I certainly would not want to. Well if you are into Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, we have good news: You do not have to!
How do I suggest Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg: “The City”?
Historic Vicksburg Driving and Walking Tours!
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, this is owned and operated by my “Partner in Time”, Morgan Gates. That does not change the fact that I was here over two years before I discovered Historic Vicksburg in a meaningful way and this is how I finally did it! I am not playing favorites either, because this is the only comprehensive tour business in Vicksburg! That is ok though because Historic Vicksburg Driving and Walking Tours truly covers it all!
Vicksburg is not an easy city to walk around because of all the big hills one has to go up, down, and of course, back up. Historic Vicksburg’s Driving Tour is my personal pick, in part, for this reason! Whichever tour option you choose, however, you will get more than you paid for or expected. You will not just have an old house or building pointed out to you, be told its name, perhaps its age and who lived there, then move along. Morgan puts his all into these tours, just like he does with his Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Walk and Haunted Vicksburg Driving Tour. He “weaves the story of Vicksburg” into the tour, including its varied architectural styles, the family connections from one site to the other, the family connections with well-known, non-Vicksburg citizens, the financial situation, the industrial trends of the time, the prevalent religious and morality viewpoints of the era, and more. Historic Vicksburg City Tours will provide you with a comprehensive, educational, and interesting “big picture” view—pun intended—of the various areas of the historic city while also, as only Morgan Gates can, leaving you with an intimidate knowledge of—perhaps even feeling a bit like you know—those who lived, dreamed, and built here before.
For those of you who just cannot make the trip to Vicksburg at this time, I am proud to be able to include this as an option to hold you over until you can join us!
Keep scrolling down for VISUAL BONUS!
A Photographical City Tour of Historic Vicksburg
Via the incomparable talent of Janie Fortenberry
Thank you, Janie, for making me feel welcomed here, always being willing to help and encourage me, and sharing your wonderful talent to further the cause of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Ever grateful and in awe
Have You Seen the Elephant?
By Morgan Gates
Historic and Haunted Vicksburg
While this is not a truly Vicksburg-specific term, you can be quite sure that by the end of the Civil War everybody in and anywhere near Vicksburg had “Seen the Elephant”. Now quite a few of our readers know exactly what I mean by this, but, for the benefit of those who do not, allow me to elaborate.
Anybody who has seen “The King and I” knows that the King of Siam (later known as Burma and now Myanmar) did indeed offer the President of the United States a stock of Elephants, but Old Abe did in fact politely decline. A bit less well known is that the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, had in the past experimented with exotic animals. When he was the U.S. Secretary of War, under President Franklin Pierce, he had imported a number of Dromedary Camels from Arabia to help explore the desert southwest, and at least one survivor of that herd was at Vicksburg (blog for another day). Did Davis instead receive the rejected shipment? Unfortunately, no he did not. It might be fun to have imagined Grant's advance up the Rodney Road, in the wee hours of May 1st, being met by a column of War Elephants though. But no, there were no war elephants on either side, I’m afraid. The pachyderm witnessed by so many during the late unpleasantness was of a more metaphorical kind. To “See the Elephant” was a 19th century euphuism for seeing combat.
By 1861, the Revolution, was in the history books, the War of 1812--except for Jackson’s heroic victory in New Orleans-- was also too far away in time and place to have much impact. Only the short and glorious Mexican-American War was part of living memory of that time. Both sides were absolutely sure this war--the Civil War-- would also be short and glorious. Young men on each side were eager to dangle their toes in this pool of bloody glory and perhaps to come back with their own “Red Badge of Courage” and, more importantly, with bragging rights of their own. They had no idea of the tidal wave of blood that would wash over their generation. In these early days of the war, this euphuism seems almost innocent and naïve to us with the 20/20 hindsight of history.
No one is quite sure where the term comes from, and it seems to have been around for a long time by the Civil War, but one popular American story to explain the phrase is this:
There once was an old farmer who lived outside a small city. He had lived on his farm his entire life, and he made a good living selling his produce in the nearby city. The farmer was a fine old man, but, he had never had the opportunity to travel and see much of the world, so to satisfied his curiosity he read extensively. Whenever he went to the city to sell his goods, he would always come home with several new books and he would spend the long winter evenings traveling in his mind to faraway places. He had become quite fascinated with the elephant. The old farmer knew all about horses and cows and pigs and chickens, and the animals of the surrounding forests, but he found the enormous pachyderm hard to imagine.
One day, the old farmer was heading into town with a load of produce for the local market. His farm wagon was piled high with the fruits of his labors. Unknown to him, the circus was coming to the small city that day. As he neared the city, he rounded a bend in the road and came face to face with the circus parade being lead, of course, by the circus elephants. The famers old horse panicked at the sight and bolted from the road. The wagon over turned, the old farmer was tossed into the brambles, and all his produce was scattered and ruined. Some bystanders rushed to his aid. He emerged from the brambles battered and bleeding but with a huge smile on his face! The bystanders eagerly asked him if he was alright and he exclaimed, “Oh yes, I am just fine for I have seen the elephant”!
Where Have all the Plantations Gone?
By Morgan Gates, Historic &Haunted Vicksburg
I was in the Old Depot Museum the other day and a lady from Texas was in the museum. She asked one of the docents if there were any plantations nearby. The docent, knowing that I conduct city tours, referred the question to me. I listed a number of beautiful tour homes in Vicksburg, but told her, “No – there are no plantations left in Vicksburg/Warren County." Our Texas visitor was looking for an “attraction” that was representative of the Old South, of course, and there a few of those around, but not here.
In the strictest sense of the word, there are still working plantations in this county. A plantation, you see, is simply a large farm, and there are plenty of those still around and some still use the word “plantation” in their name. I knew however that she was not looking for the latest John Deere 4wd tractor, or high tech combine harvesters, huge chicken barns or even long rows of soybeans and corn, all of which can be found just a short drive outside the city.
Once upon a time Warren County was once teaming with the traditional cotton plantations of the old south. In fact, most of the community names and quite a few of the county roads are named thus because they once were part of or went to a plantation. I live on a road named Mount Alban because it went to a plantation of the same name. I used to go hunting in a part of this county named Oak Ridge. You guessed it: a plantation. So just what did happen to the plantations of the Vicksburg/Warren County area particularly and the Old South in general?
Many people who had been plantation owners were ruined by the War. The planter economy, much like the modern business world, was heavily debt dependent. The tools and materials of cotton production were bought on credit and paid off at harvest. While demand for cotton boomed and the land was at peace, this worked, most of the time. Planters did go bust however, even in the antebellum period.
The war of course interrupted the steady market for cotton. The Union burned plantations, confiscated cotton, and freed the labor force. Still, not every plantation burned and the demand for cotton remained high after the war. In fact, the area around Vicksburg became a Union enclave after the siege and cotton production quickly resumed. You see cotton was 60% of the AMERICAN economy before the war! The North needed cotton, so much they were willing to make a deal: The citizens of Vicksburg that were willing to sign the loyalty oath could go right back to the cotton trade where they had made all their money before the war.
Not everything was “hunky dory” post siege of course. Some of the plantation owners were still fighting in the war or had been killed, but the Union was happy to bring unscrupulous carpet baggers down to take over their interest, so still, the economy began rolling again.
The problem was the labor force: Who was going to do the planting and picking? The Union thought hiring the former slaves –freedmen-- was the answer, but many freedmen didn’t want to go back to the fields. (Can you blame them?) Some did go back as contract laborers, often to be swindled by unscrupulous carpet baggers. Contract labor turned out to be a less than ideal situation. North of Vicksburg, in the years following the war, efforts were made to recruit both Chinese and Italian immigrants to pick cotton, but this did not work out either. The solution became renting the land out in manageable parcels to small farmers without land of their own. Freedmen or poor white famers would rent a 40 or 50 acre plots, and grow enough cotton to support their families. The rent was paid and supplies purchased with cotton after the harvest. This effectively redistributed the wealth. The plantation owner (former Confederate or former Northerner) still made a crop and was still a wealthy man; although, not as wealthy as the antebellum planter. The smaller farmer also had a marketable crop but not the wealth of the planter. The small farmer did business with local merchants, where the antebellum planter did business with New Orleans.
The merchants of Vicksburg became the wealthy magnates of the post war south. They were the ones doing business with New Orleans now and building the post war mansions. (For an excellent example of post-war elegance, visit the Baer House Inn !)
The Cotton Kingdom did manage to briefly reestablish itself post war, but never with the wealth and grandeur of its antebellum glory days. Land was sold off to pay taxes. The army worm appeared on the scene in the late 19th century, Great Britain began cultivating cotton in India, and in the early 20th century, the appearance of the boll weevil dethroned king cotton. By the 1930’s, to quote the band Alabama, “somebody told us Wall Street fell, but we were so poor we couldn’t tell!” The next thirty years changed not only the South, but the whole country. The Great Depression, World War II, and the Civil Rights movement, created the world we live in today.
The post WW II era saw the rise of industrialization and urban migration, share cropping quickly died out with the rise of mechanization, and the “planters” of today grow a tremendous variety of crops from pine trees to sweet potatoes. You can of course still see vast fields of cotton as you drive down U.S. 61, or many other southern highway, but you are just as likely to see, corn or soybeans or even winter wheat.
So, what happened to the plantations? Life happened!
Vicksburg as a Pilgrimage Site?
By Morgan Gates, Historic & Haunted Vicksburg
Well , first of all, let me categorically state that we are not literally comparing Vicksburg to Mecca, Jerusalem, or any other Holy site!
Meshea and I write our blogs separately. I never know exactly what she is going to write about and she never knows what I am going to write about. Heck, most times, I don’t know what I am going to write about until it starts flowing. This is one of those occasions!
Last week when Meshea compared Vicksburg and Mecca, I laughed when I first read it. Then I fired off a comment to her saying, “I don’t know-- maybe we could get people to come to Vicksburg and gather around the Old Courthouse and whistle Dixie?” (Islamic Pilgrims gather around the Kaaba Stone and pray in Mecca in case you didn’t know). When she revisited the phrase this week it started me thinking maybe she had a point!
I grew up with the word Pilgrimage meaning viewing beautiful old homes. I am a member of the Baptist Church, the most UN-Liturgical of all the Christian Churches, so the religious meaning was pretty much lost on me. Meshea is Catholic, putting her at the other end of the Christian spectrum. (Yes, we have some interesting religious discussions as well). Yet this world is full of religions and many people “worship” things that are not at all supernatural (money, cars, sports, to name a few) so let’s take another look at that comparison. Merriam Webster’s fourth definition of religion seems to strike close to what we are talking about:
Definition of religion #4 (from Merriam Webster online)
4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
Definition of pilgrimage
1: a journey of a pilgrim; especially: one to a shrine or a sacred place
No matter what the politically correct crowd of today thinks, the Civil War was about much more than slavery. The vast majority of Southerners were not slave owners--that was the realm of the moneyed elite. The ordinary man saw himself as protecting home and hearth, just as we would today if our homes and families were threatened. The people of the South, during the Civil War, thought they were on the right side of the argument. You can read it in their own words, over and over again. In their opinion, the Southern people were quietly minding their own business when they were brutally attacked by a cruel pillaging Army of blue clad Visigoths that killed and burned their away across the peaceful verdant land, destroying farms and families and a way of life. Eighteen percent of the fighting age men of the South died in the war--a way of life ended forever.
For the next decade, the South was under military occupation (Just like post WW2 Germany and Japan). The South went from being the richest to the poorest part of the country, from being the envy of the north to being the butt of its jokes.
The people of the South picked up the pieces, buried their dead, and began to put their lives back together. They reinvented themselves, but what of the memories of the dead children, husbands and fathers, not to mention the way of life, that were sacrificed to this failed war for independence? --They lost! Forget them! -- Of course not! Just as we today do not forget our war dead, the people of the South did not either. They set up their own cemeteries and memorial days and remembered their own heroes--they were no less noble because they failed. The narrative of the “Lost Cause” was born, often called the “Myth” of the Lost Cause by the P.C. crowd (I wonder if they will call the USA the “Myth of the Land of the Free” when they finally bring us down?)
As time passes, it is human nature for our reverence for honored civilizations and figures from the past to take on larger than life status. Rome fell in 476 A.D. and it still influences us today. The reputed wisdom of Ben Franklin has pushed right up there with Socrates since his time! Elvis has become a demi-god to his devotees. So, in a way, Meshea is right: A Southern Pilgrimage is, in a way, akin to a religious pilgrimage. To walk among these restored relics of a bygone era is in fact a religious experience. If the Lost Cause has become a quasi-religion, then certainly brave Vicksburg was the tragic hero of this tale of woe-- the Hector to Grant’s Achilles, where the cause was really lost! So, come and walk among our temples to the cult of The Lost Cause. You will be glad you did.
Below images are linked to www.VicksburgPilgrimage.com for complete info on tour options, pricing, dates, times, etc.
by Meshea Crysup, Founder RHV
& VP Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable
As you gathered in Part 1 of this blog series, Vicksburg vs. Mecca kept coming to mind every time I heard the word “pilgrimage”. However, the rest of “The South” embraced the concept long ago, so I became determined to ditch my previous preconceptions about the term. Once I did that, wow…
Vicksburg—“The South” in general—is the PERFECT place for a “Pilgrimage”! The entire town is on hallowed ground!
The Vicksburg National Military Park contains a good deal of the “battlefield”, but like most similar places, the “battlefield” was actually the whole town and then some. Just coming to stand where brave souls who loved their country, on both sides, fought and died, is reason enough to embark on a Vicksburg Pilgrimage! You will be moved, inspired, renewed, and gain perspective and understanding of this nation’s great—and at times tragic—history. But there is more still!
The old homes stand as testament to a time when life was formality and grandeur were the norm. They are definitely worth seeing! Not just the tour homes, but also the ones that are Bed & Breakfasts now and/or restaurants.
Great, historic figures have called Vicksburg “home”. Some were famous, some were not—but they are all very interesting to learn about. Most of moved on to their final rest, but a few… Well, I am not exactly sure what I think about such things, but the Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Walk is very popular for some reason!
The Mighty Mississippi always leaves one in awe, but when seen taken in from the bluffs of Vicksburg—well there is nothing else like it!
We also have beautiful flowers, trees, landscapes—many at their peak for Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage!
We also have performances honoring the past but worthy of the time of those with modern sensibilities as well! Reenactors “in character”, live Blues bands and artists, local theater productions, just to name a few!
Now that I have taken a fresh look at the notion, I am convinced “Pilgrimage” is indeed a very appropriate term for any trip that involves history. Not just religious history, or history as solemn as the Civil War: Music, architecture, culture, and yes, the Civil War, are all excellent reasons to "pilgrimage to" Vicksburg, anytime. We hope you can join us for our special “Pilgrimage” dates, however, to maximize on tour opportunities. If you cannot, or if you just run out of time before taking it all in, you are always welcome to visit Vicksburg and join us, literally, in Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Below is Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage info from our website as well as the website link and other event links! See the homes, take some historical and haunted tours, listen to some Blues, have a great meal, take in a play... Come Rediscover Historic Vicksburg! (Click on pictures to be taken to the websites or fb pages.)
Matthew Phelps, Hard Luck Pioneer by Morgan Gates
The part of the world I call home, Warren County Mississippi --the County in which Vicksburg is located-- has been in existence since 1809. That of course is a mere political classification, for mankind has called this area home long before that. Native Americans have lived here for at least 12,000 years. First as archaic hunter gatherers, then in increasingly organized “nations” culminating in the Mississippians who lived here when Hernando DeSoto became the first European to see the Mississippi River around 1540. European diseases left behind by the early explorers ended the Mississippian Period before the next European visitor, Robert LaSalle, visited in 1682.
The French establish an outpost along the Yazoo River—the northern boundary of the county-- as early as 1698. This outpost named Fort St. Pierre existed until it was abandoned after an Indian massacre in 1729. After the French and Indian War ended in 1763 the British took over all French possessions in the New World. This area became British West Florida. On the west side of the River the land belonged to Spain which also controlled New Orleans. The British took over the old French Fort Rosalie (now within the city of Natchez, but Natchez as a city did not yet exist) rebuilt it and started encouraging British subjects to populate this new colony of British West Florida. The original 13 colonies are by now becoming somewhat crowded. The best lands of the coastal plains have long been occupied, newer immigrants from Britain or others seeking to better themselves had already begun to slip over the Appalachians in search of new lands, angering the Indians and causing them the join the French in the recently concluded hostilities. To pacify the Native Americans Britain banned any further settlement west of those mountains, as an alternative they offered free land in the new West Florida Colony. Enter Matthew Phelps!
Matthew Phelps lead a hard luck life it seemed but this early pioneer of what would become Warren County, pushed ahead nonetheless. Born in Connecticut, he was orphaned at age eight, and spent the rest of his childhood making the rounds of various relatives. His father had left him a small estate, a house and £150 but by the time he married at age twenty his relatives had mostly spent it all the money. He sold the house and moved to Norfolk VA. and there opened a store, doing well enough to support his family for a while, but as the family grew his fortunes declined. After speaking to several people planning a move to the new West Florida Colony, he traveled to the area alone to stake his claim before returning for his family. By the time, he returned trouble was beginning to brew in the lead up to the Revolution and he decided to not risk the trip, initially he headed toward Vermont, but changed his mind before arriving and instead booked passage to West Florida (Mississippi). Travel up river was a long and arduous journey before the steamboat and as they were ascending the Mississippi river his wife and baby died of fever. Even further up the river the boat capsized in a whirlpool and his two sons drown. He arrived at his stake on the Big Black River -then called by its Choctaw name Loosa Chitto alone and penniless. Matthew Phelps was no quitter however he is quoted as saying “something about the precariousness of life brings out the honor in the human character” he borrowed livestock, seeds and tools from neighbors and produced enough surplus to pay by his debt after the first season. Misfortune is not through with Matthew however by 1778 the American Revolution had come to West Florida. James Willing’s Raid, the British Blockade of New Orleans and finally Spanish intervention, made life along the Loosa Chitto untenable. Phelps gave up his freehold, joined the Army and left the raw frontier behind. After the war he returned to Vermont and remarried. Here the story of our hard luck pioneer ended, apparently, his luck changed for the better, for in 1802, “Captain” Phelps published a memoir of his life and adventures along the Loosa Chitto. A testimony to the strength of character required to be a pioneer in the early days of life along the Mississippi.
Information for this article came from Becoming Southern by Christopher Morris Oxford University Press 1995.
A Particularly Bad Idea
by Morgan Gates, Historic & Haunted Vicksburg
Vicksburg has experienced more artillery bombardment than any other city on the North American continent. The U.S. Navy launched hundreds of shells into the city throughout the spring and summer of 1862. The three-day battle at Chickasaw Bayou contributed even more to the accumulating total. Then the siege began. From May 18th to the cease fire on the afternoon of July 3rd, a virtual cast iron rain fell on the city, from both the U.S. Navy and the Union Army. A Confederate soldier camped on the banks of the Pearl River, 40 miles east of Vicksburg, recorded in his diary that he could hear the bombardment of the city. A commenter on my blog site told me that people in Winston County Mississippi, 100 miles away, could hear it as well! Most of these shells were of the exploding variety and they did their dirty work with varying amounts of success, but in some cases, the fuses did not work as intended, and a shell that was supposed to explode at a predetermined point in the sky, instead buried itself deep in the ground. With the passage of time the wind and rain erased all surface evidence of its existence.
The war ended and slowly things began to return to normal. Tennant farming “share-cropping” replaced the slave labor of the antebellum days and the big plantation owners became “landlords” collecting the rent in cotton. Thousands of new small farms, 40 acres and a mule, sprung up across the land. The cycle of the seasons continued –sowing, cultivation, harvest—much as it had for the last 12,000 years. Relics of the war worked their way to the surface from time to time. Ragged fragments of cast iron, from the huge mortar shells or solid shot, designed to punch holes in buildings or men, were harmless enough, and more than one family had a “family cannon ball” or two around the house gathering dust on a shelf, or acting as a doorstop. Occasionally an unexploded shell would turn up! Dud shells were, and still are, potentially very dangerous. The black powder mix in these shells is composed of charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate) all occur naturally in nature. Combined in the right proportions they make an explosive mixture, that can be ignited with a tiny spark. When wet, they are inert, but they don’t break down with age, so as soon as they dry, they are again deadly, whether they are five years old or 154 years old. The old timers knew the difference. They were fairly easy to identify, and they did not keep the exploding ones around. There was no bomb squad to call in those days, so the best practice was to carefully rebury them in a safe area (far from your house or field) or to drop them in a river or stream, so they would remain forever wet and harmless.
There is an old story oft repeated in this area of a farmer, that was perhaps “not the sharpest tack in the box”, who plowed up a particularly well preserved example of a “Parrot” shell (a long narrow shell fired from a rifled cannon) and decided to make good use of his prize by using it as an andiron in his fireplace. OOPS! That’s right it was not a solid shot, but an exploding shell! Well it being plowing time he got away with it for several months, but the first cool day of fall when he kindled a fire in the hearth, BOOM!
The story ends there, no mention is made of the farmer’s fate, I like to think that he survived, battered and bruised perhaps, but wiser for his effort! For it is said that sometimes God watches over babies and fools!
We here at RDHV appreciate all of you who read us via Facebook; however, it helps us even more if you would take a moment to sign up to follow us directly from our website, rediscoveringhistoicvicksburg.com. This will give you first access to our newest posts, special events, and our upcoming RDHV books series. Thanks!
I thought I understood what a "pilgrimage" was...
noun: pilgrimage; plural noun: pilgrimages
1. a pilgrim's journey.
synonyms:religious journey, religious expedition, hajj, crusade, mission
"an annual pilgrimage to the Holy City"
Pilgrimage...Southern-style, of Course!
One of the first things Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable President, Corey Rickrode, brought up when we met was helping with “Pilgrimage”. I did not “jump all over that” because, frankly, I had no idea what he was talking about! While touting the historic significance of Vicksburg to the world with more enthusiasm than some wish to endure is “my thing”, even I was at a loss as to how I could sell the notion of Vicksburg as a “pilgrimage destination”. We are not Mecca!
So, you guessed it: I asked Morgan Gates, my “Partner-in-Time”, and Kim Steen, Realtor Extraordinaire, and they explained that Pilgrimage, in the sense Corey was speaking of, refers to when local historic homes are opened up for people to see, visit, etc. I remember telling them, still at a loss for the usage of such a “solemn” term as “Pilgrimage”, that where I came from, we called that “historic home tours”.
I did end up helping with Vicksburg Fall Pilgrimage, but honestly I was still wondering why we were not calling it “Vicksburg Fall Tour of Homes”. My concern, at least in large part, was unfounded. Apparently, nearly every town in the Antebellum South has a “Pilgrimage” or two a year. Everyone “down here” knew exactly what we meant by “Vicksburg Fall Pilgrimage”.
I am currently helping with Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage. My contribution is to do as much social media blitzing for them as I can. Basically I spread the word on facebook and twitter about the dates, the homes involved, and that details, tour options, pricing, etc. are available at the website www.VicksburgPilgrimage.com .
Over the next few blog posts, I am going to discuss what I am Rediscovering about Historic Vicksburg while getting ready for Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage. I am also going to share with you how my thinking has evolved and why I now firmly believe Vicksburg is the PERFECT place for a “pilgrimage”—in every sense of the word!
I would also love to hear your Vicksburg Pilgrimage stories, if you remember them from the past. I would also love to see pictures from your "pilgrimages of old"!
If you have not experienced Vicksburg Pilgrimage—or Vicksburg itself—spring is a great time to do so! ~Meshea (email@example.com)
Fighting on The Wrong Side! By Morgan Gates
Everybody knows the basic premise of the Civil War, the North versus the South, everybody north of the Mason-Dixon Line is Union/Yankee everybody south of the line is Confederate/Rebel, right? Wrong! I am afraid it is a bit more complicated than that. Remember the 2016 Mathew McConoughey movie The Free State of Jones about the group of Confederate deserters that form a resistance movement against the Confederate Government? That’s based (loosely) on real events that occurred right here in Mississippi. Less well advertised today is the fact that both southern Illinois and Indiana had active secessionist movements! Yep! History, just like people who make it, can get complicated. So, let’s take a couple of relatively well know Civil War Generals as case studies, in this complexity of both history and the men who made it. Both of these men have several things in common. Both men were West Point trained career soldiers, both began their careers as artillery officers, both had credible reputations as soldiers, prior to the Civil War, both men had encounters with U S Grant, that altered the arcs of their career, both men had family difficulties because of their loyalty. and both men had a connection with Vicksburg.
Our first Civil War General is, of course, John C. Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg. Pemberton was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania of a prominent Philadelphia family. Pemberton graduated from West Point in 1833 and was assigned to an artillery unit. He served in the Seminole Wars, and in the Mexican-American War where he received a brevet Captain’s rank for gallant conduct. After the Mexican-American War he married a woman from Virginia and served in various posts around the south. He became acquainted with the southern people and when war came he decided to throw his hat in with them. He was a competent if not spectacular Confederate officer, but could never overcome lingering suspicions about his loyalty. After a stubborn defense of Vicksburg for six and a half weeks in the face of an opponent vastly superior in number, armament and resources, he is able to negotiate generous surrender terms for his beleaguered men by surrendering on Independence Day. Instead of being honored for holding out so long against overwhelming odds, he becomes the scapegoat for the loss of the “Key to the River”. Some, due to his northern birth, immediately assume that he sold Vicksburg out. Pemberton will bravely soldier on until the end of the war but, the loss of Vicksburg cements lack of loyalty in many minds and he is blamed for the loss. His reputation will never recover.
Our second General is George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga. Thomas was born of a slave holding family in Virginia. In 1831 as a teenager his family had to hide out in the woods during Nat Turner’s 1831 Slave Rebellion. This rampage which resulted in the murder of as many as 65 slave owners inspired widespread fear of insurrection among most, but young George took away a different lesson. After the rebellion was crushed, he became convinced that slavery was a vile institution.
Thomas was appointed to West Point at a young age and he graduated in 1840, and he also served in an artillery unit in the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican American War. When Virginia seceded from the Union, Thomas decided to stay loyal to the Union even though many of his southern born peers were going over to the Confederacy. It was said that when George refused to come south, his sisters marked his name from the family bible and began telling people he had died. Thomas was a solid if not flamboyant officer, and rose steadily in rank, but was often passed over because of suspicion of his loyalty due to his Southern birth, it was said that when considering promotions, the oft repeated refrain was “Let the Virginian wait”.
After the bloody battle at Shiloh in the Spring of 1862, General Henry Halleck, angry at his upstart subordinate U.S. Grant, reorganized the Army of The Tennessee, taking Grant off the battle line and effectively pigeonholed him, by assigning him no duties. Much of Grant’s former command was reassigned to Thomas. Though no fault of Thomas’ many historians think that Grant never forgot that insult and Thomas’ later career suffered as a result. Thomas’ stubborn defense at Chickamauga, effectively holding the line and winning the day for the Union, should have finally put to rest his loyalty issues. If not, certainly bold action at Chattanooga would have but it is not until his bloody repulse of Hood at Nashville that he finally promoted to Major General. His comment on finally receiving top rank was “while better late than never—I earned this at Chickamauga”. He continued to serve in the U.S. Army post war and continued to have to defend his reputation, in fact he actually died while on duty in San Francisco, in the act of writing a response to an article criticizing his war time actions. Post war George Thomas’ brother Nathan lived in Vicksburg and he visited him here (see my blog post Collateral Damage). Can we take any lessons from this? If we can then they may be: #1 When the going gets tough is may be best to stick with your family. and #2 Don’t make U.S. Grant angry!
Better late than Never? by Morgan Gates
Ever have one of those mornings when everything is going wrong? The alarm didn’t go off, you grab coffee and burnt toast and rush out to your car, only to discover you (wife, teenager, brother-in-law, insert your usual suspects here) has left the car on empty and you now must stop for gas. You get behind the school bus, there is a wreck on the highway and traffic is backed up etc. etc. You finally get to work and there stands the boss! You sheepishly say better late than never! It happens to everyone once in a while and if, you are like me, it embarrassing and you strive not to let it happen again. Some people however don’t seem to share our sense of urgency. To them what we perceive as a must do goal, does not seem that important. Often it seems these “I’ll get to it eventually people, cause more frustration than actual damage”, often but not always. In truth, these frustrations are not unique to our modern world, they have happened throughout history. In the Vicksburg Campaign our man with the “better late than never” attitude was General Joseph E. Johnson!
I sure anyone reading this blog is enough of a history buff to understand that the Campaign ended with a 47-day siege of Vicksburg. From May 19th to July 4th the city was surrounded and bombarded from land and water. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy had lived in Vicksburg before the War and understood the importance of Vicksburg to the Southern cause. Davis had ordered Lt. General John C. Pemberton to hold the city at all cost. The problem was that Pemberton was not just in charge of Vicksburg but the entire state of Mississippi and eastern Louisiana as well, and was desperately short of the manpower, firepower and supplies to properly defend such a vast area. After his forces failed to counter Grant’s river crossing thirty miles south of Vicksburg, he moved his headquarters from the state capital at Jackson to the fortress city. Grant’s daring and unconventional tactics thwarted Pemberton’s efforts to stop his approach and finally Pemberton had to go to his fallback positon inside the bulwarks of the Gibraltar of the south. Pemberton, ever the good soldier had steadily reported his status to his superiors, Joseph E Johnson in Tennessee and President Davis in Richmond Virginia. Realizing that Pemberton will need rescue, Davis orders Johnson to Jackson Mississippi and starts curry combing the Confederacy for spare troops to create the “Army of the Relief”. Johnson’s failure to come to Vicksburg’s aid is a subject of debate among historians to this day.
Union General U. S. Grant had excellent intelligence, in the form of sympathetic southern railroad men and telegraph operators organized by Grenville Dodge (fun fact: Dodge City of Old West fame was named for him). He knew where Johnson was and knew he had a swelling army, and he made plans accordingly. Grant was being supplied via the Mississippi River, a supply line the Rebels could not challenge. Union General Henry Halleck, Chief General of the Union Army at the time was no fan of Grant, but despite his misgivings he realized that, the frumpy little general that not follow the rules, was on the verge of capturing “The Key” to the Mississippi River, and he sent Grant the reinforcements he requested. The Union forces surrounding the city more than doubled as the siege progressed, almost half of those men were facing EAST! In a ring of fortifications – that was called the exterior Line- stretching from the Yazoo River to the Big Black that rivaled the Confederate works in front of Vicksburg.
Johnson seemed ambivalent about Vicksburg. Almost as soon as he had gotten off the train at Jackson, he telegraphed Davis that “he was too late”, Pemberton who had orders from the president himself to hold Vicksburg, was badgered by Johnson to abandon the city and save his army. Once besieged Pemberton constantly (as long as he can get messages out at least) implored Johnson to come. Johnson in his return messages lead Pemberton to believe that he was indeed coming and never actually admitted he was not until after communications had been cut off. Both the Confederate Secretary of War and President Davis were constantly urging Johnson to move. Yet he sat comfortably ensconced in the little town of Canton Mississippi until the city was near capitulation. Johnson finally moved toward Vicksburg at the end of June, he arrived at the Big Black River –15 miles east of the besieged city-- on July 1st only to find his path blocked by the Union Exterior Line, other than a few cavalry probes Johnson never even crossed the Big Black! By mid-day July 3rd Pemberton has begun surrender negotiations. Grant had by this time detached Sherman - his pit bull - from his 15th corps duties and placed him over a sizable “Army of Maneuver” when Grant gave the command “sic ‘em” Sherman chased Johnson first to Jackson and then out of the state.
Why Joe delayed so long is an open subject to this day, and Johnson does have his admirers and defenders, including Grant and Sherman, I however, am not one of them. Some of his defenders point out that the concept of fixed defenses has today been proven faulty and Joe saw this “ahead of his time”! To me that is an inadequate defense considering the loss of Vicksburg effectively cut the South in half. The most generous excuse I can give him is he perhaps was suffering from what is today know as PTSD, he had nearly died of wounds received in front of Richmond early in the War. On the low side, theories advanced by some include:
We here at RDHV appreciate all of you who read us via Facebook; however, it helps us even more if you would take a moment to sign up to follow us directly from our website, rediscoveringhistoicvicksburg.com this will give you first access to our newest posts, special events and our upcoming RDHV books series. Thanks!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
Making “New” History
by Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Preserving and remembering history is certainly an important and worthy pursuit in life, especially in a town as rich in history as Vicksburg. LIVING, however, is not a static or reflective action—it is dynamic. Rediscovering History and BUILDING UPON it—that is what keeps a community relevant, vibrant, fresh, and growing.
As previously shared, I was excited to move to Vicksburg, a town of such historic significance. I am now very proud and honored to be a part of the process of helping local people, people around our country, and even around the world, Rediscover Historic Vicksburg. However, it is not just about “seeing” historic places or “hearing” historic stories. Almost daily, there is something new in the historic air here in Vicksburg!
Historic homes are becoming more and more utilized, and the “Bed & Breakfast” is not just for sleeping and eating anymore! You may experience dinner theater productions, a book signing, a meeting (such as Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable), a music video production, a mini-shopping-mall featuring local artists and merchants, a “Breakfast with the Generals (Civil War, of course)… Frankly, I am not sure what they will come up with next, but I cannot wait to find out!
The historic homes or buildings that are now places to eat are also places to listen to music, sing karaoke, hold a meeting or party, or attend a wine, beer, or cocktail tasting. You may also attend a Blue’s Luncheon with local food being served and local musicians entertaining you. You may be greeted, given information, conducted on a tour, or even entertained with stories by someone “in character”—perhaps even a general or a general’s wife!
In Vicksburg, we are dining on rooftops of historic buildings (10 South), while watching the sunset, a Mardi Gras parade, a local homecoming parade, or listening to music…and more!
We also have places such as the Warren County Old Court House Museum which is not just a place to tour or purchase souvenirs! You can also attend a Christmas Ball that commemorates and re-enacts the beginning of the Siege of Vicksburg or you can experience a “Night at the Museum” or a flea market!
During a weekend in Vicksburg, you can take a tour--Historic, Haunted, or both!—enjoy learning about our local history and perhaps discover a local spirit that is just not ready to leave. You can choose to visit a home that is always open for tours, or you might come during Vicksburg Pilgrimage for even more home tour options! You can experience authentic Blues, “eat, drink, and be merry”, and never have to venture out of the historic part of town!
Whatever you chose to do, we believe you will want to return again and again, because, the deeper we delve into our history, the more ways we are finding to share it! Ironically, while Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, new memories are being made, new traditions are being born, and “new” history is being made!
Mr. President Your Bear is Ready!
by Morgan Gates, Historic & Haunted Vicksburg
Vicksburg is no stranger to the men who have held the highest office in the land. Quite a few presidents of the United States have walked our streets, and, if you add to the list future and former presidents, it is even more lengthy. Andrew Jackson and Zachery Taylor were a few of the earliest. It is very likely that Abraham Lincoln did so as well while on one of his flatboat trips downriver in his youth. Ulysses S. Grant “of course”, William McKinley, and Dwight Eisenhower. In that list of incredible men of impressive credentials, my personal favorite is Theodore Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. He was the quintessential American male specimen. Tough but fair, he hated corruption and stood up for the common man. He was a graduate of Harvard and a published author, but he was also a cowboy who owned and worked on cattle ranches. He was an amateur boxer and police commissioner of New York City –so if you ever wondered why Tom Selleck on “Blue Bloods” has T.R. ‘s portrait on the wall, that’s why. Although he never served in the Navy, he was considered an authority on Naval issues. He wrote The Naval War of 1812 which was considered a seminal work in that field. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley. He gained fame in the Spanish-American War with his group of volunteers, known as the Rough Riders, and their charge up San Juan Hill! Retuning to politics he was elected Governor of New York where his straight-shooting reformist attitudes alienated the political insiders of the day and they sought a way to get rid of him. They decided to sideline him by making him Vice President of the United States (a prestigious but powerless position), but in 1901, an assassin’s bullet catapulted him into the Presidency. He loved America and was instrumental in putting us on the road toward becoming a world power. He created the U.S.’s first world class Navy during his administration. He also started digging the Panama Canal and created many new National Parks. But all work and no play makes Teddy a dull boy, so when T.R. had some time off, he loved to hunt. This passion brought him to Vicksburg in 1902.
In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt disembarked the Steamboat “Belle of the Bends” at the Vicksburg waterfront. He had come to Mississippi at the invitation of the Mississippi’s Governor, Andrew Longino. Their destination was Onward Plantation, about 25 miles north of Vicksburg. When the distinguished party reached that spot, they were introduced to their guide for the hunt. Only the best would do for the President’s hunt. Their guide was probably the most accomplished bear hunter in North America. This man had killed more bear than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone combined. His name was Holt Collier.
Holt Collier was a native Mississippian, born in 1846, as a slave. At an early age, Holt’s master had put him in charge of his hunting dogs and later gave him responsibility for keeping the slave population of the plantation well fed with meat. He killed his first bear at 10 years old. During the Civil war, he fought as a Confederate Cavalryman (Yes Virginia, there were Black Confederates--I hope I didn’t burst any bubbles with that statement). After the war, he went west and worked as a Cowboy for short time before returning to Mississippi. By the time he guided for the President, he was 56.
During the hunt, everybody in the party had received a chance to shoot a Bear except T.R. so Holt rode out alone one evening with just his hunting dogs. The dogs soon picked up the scent and the chase was on. Dogs used to hunt dangerous game, like bear, are trained to surround the animal and keep it in place by lunging and retreating just out of the bears reach, thus keeping it in place until the hunters arrive. Just as Holt rides up, the bear gets lucky and catches one of the dogs with its massive paw, killing it instantly. Angry at the loss of his dog, Holt jumps from his saddle and clubs the bear senseless, lassos it, and ties it to a tree. Moments later, he brings the President up and there is the bear, still dazed and confused and tied to a tree. "Here is you bear Mr. President shoot it!"
Roosevelt, the consummate sportsman, of course refuses to shoot the helpless bear.
The press corps, which even in those days followed the President everywhere, soon flashes the story across the nation. A political cartoonist up North redraws the scene, but not with an angry male bear, but with a cute little cub tied to a tree. A toy maker in New York gets the idea to make a stuffed bear and calls it a “Teddy Bear”!
To think it all started right here in Vicksburg!
If you enjoy our posts, please sign up to receive them in your email!
Also, please share them with your friends, like us on facebook and Twitter, and join us in Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Also, consider joining us at the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable!
That Shifty Old River by Morgan Gates
I do appreciate all the interest that my last post (A Tale of Two Cannon) has generated. I would like to thank all those who want to help me “find” Whistling Dick. It has also occurred to me that many people do not appreciate the complex dynamics of the Mississippi River.
Most people in the world have a river somewhere in their lives. Perhaps it is a quiet little waterway suitable for swimming and fishing, or perhaps it is a busy industrial waterway. Man, has lived alongside and made use of rivers from the very beginning. In America’s earliest days’ cities grew up along the rivers, they powered the mills and acted as highways of commerce. We also know that even the most sedate water way can unleash destructive energy in the form of floods. We don’t really think much about them otherwise, they’ve always been there and if you’ve seen one you have pretty much seen them all, right!
WRONG! Unless you, like me have grown up practically on the banks of Old Man River, you don’t know my River! The Mississippi, or at least the lower Mississippi, should almost be in a class by itself, Mega River perhaps –Ok, Ok, it could share it with the Amazon and maybe the Nile—but no more! Even the upper Mississippi, which by all rights ought to be considered a separate river, can’t compare. All rivers, are dynamic, and ever changing creatures (that’s right creatures) that are in most senses of the word alive. They move, reproduce, eat, and they have very different personalities. The river you threw a fishing line into on Sunday will not be the same river you cross on your way to work Monday morning. We look at the mountains and the forest and know that, in at least the brief span of our individual lives they will change very little, and we sometimes make the mistake that rivers do likewise but that is wrong. The water you looked at yesterday is gone -- and the river of today is a new one. Now in your mind’s eye replace your placid little fishing river with the Mississippi!
On an average day at Vicksburg 4.5 million gallons of water per second flow past Vicksburg! To put that in perspective that is 53 Olympic sized swimming pools per second and that’s just its water! In its currents the Mississippi suspends, and ultimately discharges, 470, 000 cubic feet of soil per second (that’s at the mouth so just a little less here). That’s a lot of dirt, to put that into perspective, it took the Colorado River something on the order of 6 million years to cut the Grand Canyon. If we could make the Mississippi suddenly dump all its suspended sediment it would be enough soil to fill up the Grand Canyon in just over a year*! If on its most basic level a river is a ditch with water running through it, then the Mississippi is that but with its own fleet of backhoes and dump trucks! Bottom line the Mississippi River can move, if it decides it doesn’t like the neighborhood it can leave**! It has done so on many occasions to towns along its course, like Rodney and Grand Gulf and Vicksburg!-- Wait! Vicksburg! Yes Vicksburg.
Many people who visit Vicksburg go down to Levee Street to see our beautiful flood wall murals, and when they venture beyond the flood gates they are surprised that the Mississippi is so “small” directly in front of old Vicksburg. The reason of course is, the body of water beyond the flood wall IS NOT THE MISSISSIPPI, it is the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Now wait you say, I thought Vicksburg was a Mississippi River Town? I respond, it is! What, now I’m confused you say. Don’t worry let me explain.
When the Reverend Newitt Vick laid out Vicksburg it was indeed “on” the Mississippi River. The original city was only about eight blocks square, and it was located entirely on a large “meander bend” in the Mississippi that came down from the north turned and flowed almost due north again until it reached a line of bluffs the early settlers called The Walnut Hills, it then turned 180 degrees due south and continued to the sea, this left a point of land—a peninsula—known as DeSoto point directly across the River form the city . The River was still there during the siege but then in April 1876 the River took a walk. The trip was not an overnight decision, but once it made up its mind it completed the trip pretty much overnight. The current in the River had been eating away at the base of DeSoto point for years. During the War Grant, had attempted to deliberately cause the River to shift by digging a canal across the base of the peninsula but Old Man River would have none of that nonsense. When the River did shift, it did so almost a mile to the north of Grant’s Canal. The Mississippi’s backhoes had dug a new channel in one night, and the people of Vicksburg woke up the next morning to discover the River had abandoned them –it was not a surprise, they knew it was coming, but they couldn’t stop it. The old channel without the current immediately started silting in—the River’s dump trucks! A river city without a river is in real danger of extinction, the city fathers immediately purchased land two miles south of the city limits and established a new river port but the outside bend of the Mississippi is the worst place for a port facility because of the strong currents. What was really needed was a navigable body of water back in front of the old city. That was accomplished about 26 years later when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo, a navigable tributary of the Mississippi, from its natural course into a canal that diverted it into the old bed of the Mississippi, and thus saved Vicksburg. The city migrated south toward the Mississippi throughout the Nineteenth and into the Twentieth Century and now once again fronts on the Mississippi. Vicksburg is today a city of two rivers the Yazoo on the north and the Mississippi, once again, on the south. Today the Corps of Engineers does an admirable job of taming the Rivers wanderlust, at least so far—cross your finger that the river doesn’t get too restless in the future, because the River is getting really tired of New Orleans lately.
So back to the opening paragraph, and those brave individuals that want to help me go look for the lost cannon. It could be anywhere along a 4 mile stretch of River and/or land it could be over 100 feet down under a swamp or even parts of the modern city of Vicksburg. Or it could be buried 30 or 40 feet down in the river bed under the modern bend in the, River some of the most dangerous currents in the world! So, thank you for you offers my friends, but I think I’ll pass.
We here at RDHV appreciate all of you who read us via Facebook; however, it helps us even more if you would take a moment to sign up to follow us directly from our website, rediscoveringhistoicvicksburg.com this will give you first access to our newest posts, special events and our upcoming RDHV books series. Thanks!
Photo Google Earth Screen Shot of Vicksburg and its two rivers
*If you are a hydrological engineer, don’t start splitting hairs with me if my hasty math is a little off, I’m making a point.
** All rivers can do this but the Mississippi does it so much better!
A Tale of Two Cannon by Morgan Gates
On a hill in southern Vicksburg sits and a formidable piece of artillery, it is a British 7.5 inch Blakely rifled cannon, that was once a part of Vicksburg’s defensive arsenal. This tremendous gun’s breech was banded with wrought iron to strengthen it, it’s cast iron barrel was 124 inches long and it was able to loft a 150-pound shell. It was affectionally known to its crews as the “Widow Blakely” as she was the only one of her kind in Vicksburg.
The Civil War has been called the first modern war, for so many things that personify modern war first appeared on the stage in this bloody conflict. Speed of transportation, and communication, had made great leaps forward, as had the range accuracy and power of the weapons. A 12 pounder Napoleon fieldpiece can put a hole in modern an armored personnel carrier of the modern era (it has been done with replica of those guns). A three-inch ordinance rifle –another fieldpiece—could put all its rounds in 30’’ circle at a mile, the 30-pound Parrot Rifle (the American equivalent of the Blakely) could throw a shell four miles. Don’t let the name fool you this was no meek old lady “The Widow” was a widow maker!
On the night of April 22 1863 as additional transports made a second run past the guns of Vicksburg. A shell prematurely detonated in the Widow’s barrel blowing the last two feet off. The Confederates chiseled the ragged breech smooth, and the Widow Blakely continued to give good service, through the end of the siege; although, at a slightly shorter range.
Enter our second gun, the more mysterious of the two, “Whistling Dick” was a rifled banded 18 pounder by all accounts. This in itself is curious, in that 18 pounder is not a common designation for Civil War era cannon. The old prewar standards for smooth bore cannon were 6, 12, 24, 32 etc. Rifled cannon, a new invention in the 1860’s, complicated the field even more. They were sometimes referred to by their bore diameter 3”,9”, 11” other times by weight of projectile 10#, 20#, 64# etc. finally, to totally confuse things, smooth bores were converted to rifles. I suspect “Whistling Dick” was one of the latter. The gun’s name came from the peculiar whistling sound its shells made as they flew through the air. If you think about it this gun must have made a truly unique sound, for there were hundreds of shells whizzing through the skies around Vicksburg at that time. A certain mythos grew up around Whistling Dick, some claimed it was the gun that sank the Ironclad USS Cincinnati, and when the Union Army at last marched into Vicksburg, they began to search among the many surrendered Confederate cannon for this particular gun. When they finally located the gun, they sent it north as a souvenir, it sat on the Campus of U.S. Military Academy at West Point for over 90 years, and then one day they sent it back to Vicksburg. For you see they did not have the right gun, the gun that sat on the West Point Campus for over nine decades was not “Whistling Dick” it was “The Widow Blakely” they had the wrong gun. What became of the notorious noisy cannon, the night before the surrender, the gun crew quietly rowed the gun out on to the moonless darkness of the Mississippi and tipped it over the side into the deepest part of the main channel. Once safely back ashore they made a solemn vow to never tell a soul. They would surrender, but Whistling Dick never would. Finally, many decades later the last survivor revealed the truth on his death bed.
Today the Widow Blakely frowns once more from the heights ready to protect Vicksburg once more if it is ever attacked by a hostile towboat, or river excursion passenger liner, and what of Whistling Dick? His whereabouts are unknown to this day. The last unbowed Confederate still lurks somewhere in the murky depths.
One Panther’s Bad Day by Morgan Gates
The old panther crept quietly along the limb of the huge old oak tree, he was hungry he hadn’t made a significant kill in several days. His world was changing in ways he didn’t understand. He was getting old and he knew it. Younger more aggressive panthers had begun moving into his range, and his hunting grounds were not as large as they once were. This was the balance of nature and on some level, he understood this. Once he had been the young aggressive male, he vaguely remembered the day when he had killed the old cat that used to dominate this range of forest, but he was not that far along yet he still had plenty of fight left in him, and he would likely hold most of his range for several more summers before he was vanquished. His real problem was that the woods themselves were changing, great openings had suddenly appeared in several places around the forest. Last summer he could travel from one end of his range to the other without touching the ground except when he pounced down from above on a young deer or turkey. Game had always been so abundant, deer, turkey, bear, racoon, and possum as well, although he rarely bothered with racoon and possum, unless he was just bored and looking for something to play with, the adult bears were too big and dangerous, but every once in a while, he thought of snatching a young cub and quickly retreating to a high tree -- it would have been quite a challenge. Right now, he would be willing to try just about anything.
It was the noisy one’s fault, they looked like the forest people that occasionally wandered through his range but they did not act or smell like them. He did not bother the forest people and they did not bother him, they did not stay long in his forest and they were really a little too big for him anyway. The noisy ones were the problem, they were cutting down the trees and hunting the deer and turkey with their thundering sticks, and making it harder for him to find a good meal. The noisy ones were too big just as the big deer and bear were, but some of their young were just about the right size. He had been watching the small herd of young ones for several minutes now, biding his time. The adults were far away in the clearing, he had never tasted their flesh, but he was hungry, hungrier than he ever remembered being. Just then a young male broke from the herd and ran out ahead a short distance, the panther made his move. In a blur of motion, he leapt from the tree. He struck at the young male’s throat as was his habit, he sought to crush the windpipe with his mighty jaws and suffocate the creature in the way of his kind. But this was no deer, the throat was short and stubby and the creature’s limbs lashed and flailed about in a way no young deer could, and the herd, it did not silently scatter away as a deer herd would. They made horrible screeching noises and ran toward the adults in the clearing! He began dragging his prey way but had to stop and slash at its limbs that kept flailing at his face. His bite had been clumsy and not well placed, the creature did not quickly lose consciousness, he was unfamiliar with this new prey but he would do better next time. Loud noises came from the clearing, what was this bellowing sound? Then he remembered, he had heard it before, the noisy ones used this sound to call their dogs in from a hunt. He slowed to look back, the prey was nearly still now, soon he heard the sound of the dogs. He knew the dogs, they were like the wolves, they hunted on the ground. The noisy ones used them to run down the deer, if they caught him on the ground they could hurt him, he started looking for a way to get his kill up in the tree. He climbed atop a fallen log dragging his prey. The dogs were closing fast and he could hear the noisy ones running behind them. What sort of prey was this? They were like the bears they defended their young, fear gripped his heart, as hungry as he was he released his grasp on the prey and leap into a tree.
Rebecca, and the other ladies looked up from their quilting as she heard the children screaming and running toward them. The men were out in the field rolling logs in, to build their cabin. Here on the frontier the settlers helped each other out. The new Mississippi Territory was fertile land with great promise. But before corn and cotton could be planted, the primeval forest had to be cleared and proper shelter had to be constructed. For the wilderness was dangerous land full of wild animals, and potentially hostile Indians. ----A big yellow dog jumped out of a tree and dragged John Bedford away, the children cried. Rebecca knew in an instant that this was no dog but a deadly panther, they had heard its unearthly cry in the woods for the last several evenings. She snatched up her husband’s hunting horn and blew and alarm. The men and dogs converged on the camp, in moments. The men experienced woodsmen and hunters all, quickly picked up the trail and they soon found young John Bedford in a pile of leaves covered in blood. Tears welled in the eyes of the father as he lifted the still and bloody body from the forest floor. Then he heard the child draw a ragged breath, John Bedford was somehow still alive. They rushed the child back to the camp where the women cared for him. As the men and dogs went in pursuit of the killer cat, and before the sun had set the hungry panther was dead!
John Bedford had been quite possibly the luckiest, five-year-old boy in the Mississippi Territory that day, his wounds were largely superficial, he would survive, and grow to manhood, as all little boys should do. Lucky indeed, for the cat’s jaws should have closed on his windpipe like a vise quickly bringing unconsciousness and death, yet the cat had almost missed its mark! One of his fangs actually penetrated the boy’s windpipe, effectively performing a tracheotomy, and allowing in just enough air that the boy survived. That old cat was just having a really bad day it seemed, or perhaps God was just not yet through with young John Bedford, he still had work to do it seems. At least that is what I like to think! For you see the little boy was John Bedford Gates my fourth great-grandfather, and if that cat’s aim had been better I would have never been born.
The basic facts of this story was taken out of " A History of Simpson County" By Bee King Compiled by Frances B. Krechel. She gave credit to Collins Gates for telling her the story. He was a grandson of John Bedford Gates.
Momma was in town visiting.
My friend, real estate agent-extraordinaire, Kim Steen, and I were trying to make sure she had a great time.
And it was October—PERFECT!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
Haunted Vicksburg’s Walking Tour
By Meshea Crysup, RHV
I had lived in Vicksburg nearly two years and had yet to take any type of historic tours when I joined Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable and met Morgan Gates. It was quickly apparent that he was not just a guide at the military park—he was a “storyteller” in every sense of the word. I was not surprised, therefore, when I found out that he ran Historic Vicksburg as well as Haunted Vicksburg, which are both tour-based businesses. Once we concluded we wanted to take a “haunted tour”, I knew just who to contact!
Morgan and I did exchange a couple of emails or texts, but basically, I just went to his website, www.hauntedvicksburg.com , read about the tour options, and we picked one! We opted for the walking tour, but there was also a riding tour option. We were able to pay for the tour online using a debit or credit card. I simply kept a screenshot of the confirmation, “just in case”.
We met up with behind the Old Court House Museum at the appointed time. Morgan, his wife, Gwen, and another guide were waiting for us. Before long, our group showed itself to be much larger than I had expected. In addition to our forty-five, it just so happened that a local paranormal group was joining us also! Exciting indeed!
Morgan introduced himself, told us a bit about what to expect, and introduced the paranormal leader and crew. They had gadgets that were used to detect ghosts! Morgan had a small PA system so we could all hear him. I was not sure about the paranormal gadgets, but Morgan was very visible and could be heard well by all of us.
Morgan led the way around the streets and sidewalks of Historic—and Haunted?—Vicksburg, taking time to make sure everyone kept up and heard the stories. He was also happy to answer questions. As large as the group was, I do not think anyone felt like they were being left out or left behind. The tour lasted about an hour and a half. Just as Momma (Seventy years old), Kim (I am not saying!), and I (Fifty-one years old, with Fibromyalgia) were starting to get tired, it was wrapping up. We all three felt it was “just the right” length and we certainly got our money’s worth!
Morgan is constantly seeking out new haunted tales to keep the tour fresh, but some of the stories and places are just too good for him to drop, so I am not going to let any “black-cats-out-of-the-bag”. I will say, however, that the stories were indeed filled with the “unusual and bizarre”, entertaining, and interesting. Doubly so if you were as interested in Vicksburg’s history as you were its ghosts!
While the paranormal group was very excited about all the “readings and sounds” on their gadgets, I, personally, did not see or hear a ghost. Momma, Kim, and I did have a very good time. In fact, I plan to take the tour again! I am not alone in this however. Frequently Haunted Vicksburg has return business. Do not just take my word, or go by the fact that I, as well as many others, want to take the tour more than once. If you check out the usual travel sites online, you will find that Haunted Vicksburg’s tour is consistently the highest rated tour in Vicksburg! It is certainly one of the most exciting ways to Rediscover Historic--Haunted?—Vicksburg!
A Tip of the Hat to Old Starkville by Morgan Gates
My wife and I just returned from a little winter vacation. A few days in Savannah Georgia, yes, I eat, drink, and sleep history even on vacation. The first leg of the trip took us to Starkville Mississippi to drop off the fur baby -- a sixty pound Pitt/Dane mix that thinks he is my lap dog -- with my daughter. Of course, we made time to visit with her and her young man for a couple of hours, dinner at a nice restaurant a late movie, we then spent the night in her spare bedroom and were up and off to an early start the next morning. Starkville is home to Mississippi State University (Go Dawgs) and has a surprising number of amenities for such a small city because of this. We ate breakfast at an excellent local diner on main street the next morning and as we made our way to the highway, my lovely wife asked me if anything of historical significance had occurred in Starkville – she’s good like that, she knows the best way to get me talking is to ask me a history question. I replied not much, it was originally known as Boardtown, but the name was changed to Starkville in honor of a Revolutionary War hero, the University’s first president had been a former Civil War General, Oh and Grierson’s Raid had passed through Starkville. About that time, we passed the historical marker for the raid in front of the local Walgreen’s Pharmacy. That’s when it hit me, here we were one hundred and sixty-seven road miles from home and we were looking at a marker related to Vicksburg! Grierson’s Raid, ordered by U.S. Grant, was part of the Vicksburg Campaign! ---- You were beginning to wonder how I was going to bring this back around to Vicksburg weren’t you?
At the beginning of the Civil War the Confederacy owned the cavalry field, Southern Gentlemen were born and bred to the saddle, and most Southern Cavalrymen brought their own horses to the war. The Confederate Cavalry Generals – J.E.B. Stewart, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Earl Van Dorn, etc. – were legends in their own time. But the Union boys were good at playing “catch-up”! Colonel Benjamin Grierson, was not “born to the saddle” this former music teacher did not even like horses before the War, but apparently, he had overcome that shortcoming by April of 1863.
In April of 1863 Grant is moving his men down the West side of the Mississippi through the thick swamps of Northeast Louisiana. It is a slow process and it will take almost a month to move the army between Milliken’s Bend and Disharoon a distance of about 40 miles “as the crow flies” plenty of time for Pemberton to mass his army to oppose the planned crossing. Had Pemberton done so it would have been a bloody mess – think Omaha Beach, 81 years too soon! Grant has numbers but Pemberton has Geography, so Grant uses his numerical superiority to appear to be everywhere at once, by launching diversionary operations to keep Pemberton off balance and guessing as to his true intentions. The most audacious of these diversions was Grierson’s Raid.
On April 17th 1863, the day after the U.S. Navy ran the guns of Vicksburg, Grierson left LaGrange Tennessee at the head of a column of 1700 horse soldiers and several pieces of light artillery. For the next 16 days, they rode rough shod over lightly defended eastern Mississippi destroying railroads and tearing down telegraph wires and generally raising hell. The raid was largely successful because it faced no serious opposition, the bulk of Pemberton’s cavalry and his star horseman Nathan Bedford Forrest had been ordered to Tennessee by Pemberton’s superiors and infantry could not move quickly enough to counter a fast-moving horseman. Grierson rode into Union occupied Baton Rouge on May 2nd with only minimal casualties. --- but let’s get back to that marker in front of the Walgreen’s – On April 21st Grierson’s men rode into the little village and captured a wagon load of hats that they believed were destined for the Confederate Army. They promptly distributed the hats to the local slaves, and left town in a cloud of dust riding south. The next day the local newspaper castigated the men of Starkville for allowing this to happen. – I’m not really sure what the editor though they could have done to stop it. The Editorial concludes with the statement:
“All we can say is that we now have the best hatted slaves in the Confederacy!”
Pulled Pork Turneth Away Wrath By Morgan Gates
History is perhaps the most aptly named subject, for what is it but a collection of stories His -stories and Her-stories all glued to together in a shimmering web of time and place. Some are heroic, others tragic, or romantic, or scary, or funny, but we all have stories. A few of us have stories that will long outlast us, but for most of us our stories will not long survive our demise. Occasionally those of us who like to dumpster dive the past come across one of these discarded gems. I came across a couple of good stories lately while researching the 46th Mississippi Infantry in which my great great grandfather served.
Private Abner James Wilkes served in the 46th Mississippi Infantry alongside F.P. Gates, my ancestor, although in a different company. He was from Blountsville a small community that is today, the town of Prentiss about 75 miles southeast of Vicksburg and about 35 miles from the community of my Great-great grandfather. Some times after the war he wrote a brief account of his wartime experiences. Entitled A Short History of My Life in The Late War Between the North and The South about 1957 it was transcribed. Abner Wilkes was a master of brevity apparently for the account of three years of war including almost every major campaign in the western theater only takes up about twenty typed, double spaced pages. There are however several adventures worth retelling here.
After the fall of Atlanta as the Southern army is moving north toward Tennessee rations are short, it seems they always were among the Confederate Army. Abner and his friend Kit decide to do a bit of foraging. They slipped away from camp one evening and soon located a young pig, killed it dressed it and started back to camp. Here we must pause in our narrative to explain a few nuances of the time and place of this instant. This young pig was not a wild animal but the property of a southern farmer. A valuable commodity destined to stock the famers larder, or be sold for cash to purchase necessities of life. Neither food nor hard currency were as easily come by in those days as they are now. Livestock theft was a serious offence, in fact the infamous Hatfield & McCoy feud was allegedly begun by an incident just such as this. Nor were these two men Sherman’s Bummers, who so liberally liberated the provisions and property of southern civilians during the war. These were southern boys, and they had just committed a serious breach of military regulations, exigencies of the day being what they may. They tried of course to move as carefully as possible back to camp, but stealth is not easily accomplished with 100 or so of pounds of fresh pork slung over your shoulder. Just as they made it back to camp they were caught red handed, literally since this was a fresh kill, by the Brigade Commander General C.W. Sears. Who shouts out “Halt you Johnnies and give account of yourselves” hearing out their story General Sears’ next words must have been both puzzling and terrifying. He told them to return to their camp but to appear at his tent that night at 9 p.m. at which time he intended to have them shot. Their sole consolation was that at least they would die with full bellies. The Confederate army at this time is desperately short of all the necessities of life so the two “dead men walking” eat their final meal on a plate of freshly peeled pine bark. Once properly satiated, the two men discover they still have a good bit of meat left and Wilkes has a bright Idea, he piles another bark plate high with fresh pulled pork, slips over to the General’s tent and sets the still steaming plate on Sear’s table, then quietly retreats to the shadows to watch. The old man turns to see the mouthwatering treat, and partakes with gusto, thus becoming an accessory after the fact. The appointed hour of execution comes and goes without event and Abner Wilkes and his partner in crime will live to fight another day. In his brief memoir, Wilkes sums up the event by stating “so my friends if you ever find yourself about to be shot, just find yourself some fat pork and all will be alright”! But where you might ask is justice for the poor farmer deprived of his property, well we will just write that one off as another sacrifice in the cause of the noble south!
Information for the above article was extracted from a document in the files of the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg MS. The document is a typed copy of a hand-written manuscript written by Abner Wilkes who served in the 46th MS infantry during the Civil War and passed on to his heirs. It was typed in the format in which saw it around 1957, by Retired Rear Admiral Ivan E. Bass.