Supper on the Mississippi
By David Maggio
Editor's note: Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg welcomes David Maggio as a contributing writer, see his bio on the "our writers" page or RDHV.com; this is his first essay.
Coming up on Thursday, September 27, the United Way of West Central Mississippi is sponsoring “Super on the ‘Sip" i.e., the Old Mississippi River Bridge. According to their literature, over 15 restaurants will be lined along the bridge ready to serve you along with seating for you to enjoy the food and sunset with family and friends. Live music will dance through the air. What an amazing event to attend; this is the first time I of which I am aware of this happening, but more importantly, the proceeds will be used by our local United Way.
As many of you know, there has been an effort for years to open the old bridge to pedestrian foot traffic as a tourist destination and as an exercise pathway for local and visitors. Unless you are over 55, most of the people in and around Vicksburg have never been across the bridge in a car, let alone walking across the bridge. If you participated in the Over the River Run, your concentration is about running and not stopping to enjoy the view. So, this event will afford you a unique opportunity to view the river from a totally different perspective. Save the date.
However, for me, it is a little different. For two summers in the early 1970’s, I worked on the new Mississippi River Bridge, earning money to help pay for my first semester of the year at Mississippi State. When I started in the summer of 1971, the only part completed on the bridge was the structure steel – the 12” wide I-Beams that would later be the supports for the concrete. To get from place to place on the bridge, you walked on that beam, with nothing below me but air and opportunity. On our lunch break, after eating, each person that wanted to try, put a dollar in the hat, and the person that could throw a ¾” flat washer from the new bridge across and through the old bridge, without hitting any obstructions, won the pot. Of course, it had to be timed perfectly according to the traffic on the old bridge, but I paid for a few books that way.
So, on the 27th, if you see me eying the new bridge with a washer in my hand, just put a dollar in the pot and give it a shot.
For more information on Supper on the ‘Sip go to http://www.unitedwayvicksburg.org/sip
Night at the Museum Vicksburg Edition
By Morgan Gates
Night at the Museum was the name of a Ben Stiller Movie released in 2006. If you are not familiar with this fantasy/comedy Ben Stiller is a newly hired night watchman at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who discovers that a magical Egyptian artifact causes the museum’s exhibits to come to life at night!
I’m sure we have all had our own imaginary versions of this movie play out in our heads, what if I could go back, what if they could come forward, how fantastic that would be. Of course, enchanted artifacts and time portals don’t really exist, but the next best thing is to watch a living history portrayal. It’s better really because we have air conditioning and refreshments!
On September 14th and 15th you will have the opportunity to see history come to life at the Old Courthouse Museum’s Night at the Museum presentation!
This years format: you will be comfortably seated in the historic old Courtroom, at 7PM the program begins. You will be treated to a series of vignettes as each 5-10 minutes long.
This year’s character portrayals:
Emma Balfour, the wife of a local Doctor, she was an eye witness to the events in Vicksburg during the siege.
Teddy Roosevelt, The President, he came to Vicksburg on a hunting trip and inadvertently inspired the world’s most beloved toy!
T.P Leathers, a famous Riverboat Pilot and his daughter Blanche the first female Riverboat Pilot
Kitty Foote, in a time when most African-Americans were considered property, she was a well-respected Free Woman of Color and a much sought after Mid Wife!
After the program: tour the Museum at your leisure.
For more information or to purchase tickets call the Old Courthouse Museum at 601-636-0741
Not My President
By Morgan Gates
Editors note: Please read to the end before passing judgment
A scene from an Episcopal prayer service, in Vicksburg Mississippi the Rector leads the congregation in prayer:
O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favor to behold and bless thy servant THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A murmur runs through the congregation, there is a tension in the room, most are too polite to speak it, but the thoughts running through their minds are almost audible. Oh My God, did he really just pray for God to bless that awful man? He is not my President! The only reason he is in charge of us is due to outside meddling!
There are also members of the local government and law enforcement in the congregation that day as well. They can see the discontent in the crowd; they wonder if a violent protest is about to break out right here in this church service. Churches have often been hotbeds of political dissent. One of them wonders if he should summon back up immediately. Another thinks “what is wrong with these people, can’t they at least respect the office if not the man?” Then several of the leading ladies of the congregation storm out the back door in protest! The tension breaks the officials breath a sigh of relief.
The protest described above was not a protest against Donald Trump, it was against Abraham Lincoln, and it occurred in a prayer service in Christ Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve in 1863! On December 24th, 1863 Vicksburg had been an occupied city for six months! Martial law was in effect; Blue coated troops patrolled the streets! The previous rector of the church the Reverend W.W. Lord and ardent Confederate had departed the City after the surrender. Another man now filled the pulpit. Quite a few of the Union occupiers were of the Episcopal denomination and attended services at the church regularly, and it was at their insistence that he pulled out the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and led the congregation that particular prayer on that particular day. The Prayer for the President of the United States was not something new, but it had been modified to read the Prayer for the President of the Confederate States by most southerners since succession! The protesting ladies did not get off “scot free” however, they were identified by the Union officials and banned from the city for the duration of the war! It was said that the Union officials discovered that: The Men of Vicksburg had surrendered, but the women had not!
Leaving Something Behind!
by Morgan Gates
Nobody passes through this world without leaving something behind. Maybe something good, maybe something bad, perhaps neither good nor bad but something that will be just another piece of that great cosmic puzzle we call life. Of course, we immediately call to mind the great men and women of history. Alexander, Julius Cesar, Elizabeth I, George Washington, Madame Curie, etc. but many more have made significant contributions, most will remain forever anonymous. The prehistoric cave painters at Lascaux in France, or the first man to figure out how to work with iron for example. But we all leave something behind. Perhaps it is nothing more than a bit of genetic material, like that blonde-haired blue-eyed child that pops up in dark complexion families from time to time, or that fellow who scratches his name somewhere just because he's bored. Well, let me introduce to a man in that last category.
Private Henry Ashbaugh of the 45th Illinois was one such man. He was an ordinary man from an ordinary little village in western Illinois. An ordinary man caught up in a very UN - ordinary time in history. Mustered in on Christmas Eve of 1861 and out on December 23 of 1864. He followed Grant to Fort Donaldson, Shiloh, and on to Vicksburg. He was part of the famous Lead Mine Regiment, likely he participated in the Assault of May 22nd, it was this regiment that was dug into the hill behind the Shirly House and constructed of Logan’s Approach. They assaulted the crater at Third Louisiana Redan and when the city surrendered it was the 45th that unfurled the stars and stripe once more for the courthouse clock tower. We know few details about his life, perhaps someone does, but these details are not readily googled as they would be for U.S. Grant or other famous names from the Civil War. So why do we discuss him today? Because sometime after the digging and fighting and heroic deeds were done Private Ashbaugh was likely pulling guard duty at that the Warren County Courthouse and in a moment of boredom scratched his name in the soft slate that floors the west portico of the Old Warren County Courthouse, and that evidence of his presence is still visible 155 years later. We all leave something behind.
On September 14 & 15 The Old Courthouse Museum will present Night at the Museum a living history portrayal of historic figures form Vicksburg's past private Henry Ashbaugh will be one of the characters portrayed
You Ain’t Worth the Whiskey!
By Morgan Gates
I’ve been reading the 19th century classic Life Along the Mississippi by Mark Twain. If you’re not familiar with this book Mark Twain a.k.a. Samuel Clemens was a renowned author and famous humorist of that era. Much of the first half of the book recounts his adventures as a young Mississippi riverboat pilot in training in the antebellum period. Leaving the profession at the outbreak of the Civil War he returns some twenty years later as a writer and finds the river and the cities along it much changed. The book although based on fact is full of hyperbole and exaggeration, it is first and foremost a book designed to entertain, and Twain’s famously dry wit translates surprisingly well even today.
As he travels from Saint Louis to New Orleans, he recounts his observations and conversations with people along the way. Of course, he visits Vicksburg in this voyage and records his observations and conversations. So, allow me to recount a story of a conversation he had with a Vicksburg citizen, the conversation allegedly happened some twenty years after the siege:
“…we had church Sundays, not many there along at first but by and by pretty good turnouts. I’ve seen service stop a minute and everybody sit quiet. No voice heard, pretty funeral like, then even more so because of the awful boom and crash going on outside and overhead and pretty soon when a body could be heard service would go on again… coming out of church one Sunday we had an accident, the only one that happened around me on a Sunday. I was just having a hearty handshake with a friend I haven't seen for a while and said drop into our cave tonight after bombardment, we got hold of a pint of prime whisky… I was gonna say you know but a shell interrupted. A chunk of it cut the mans arm off and left It dangling in my hand… and you know the thing that is gonna stick the longest in my memory and outlast everything else little and big I reckon… the mean thought I had then, it was “the whisky is saved” and don’t ya know it was kind of excusable because it was as scarce as diamonds and we had only just that little never had another taste during the siege…”
Now keep in mind the by his own words Mark Twain was not a man to let the truth get in the way of a good story but this story syncs quite well with historical accounts of life in Vicksburg that awful summer. So, until next time keep your friends close and your whiskey closer!
Life Along the Mississippi by Mark Twain available from Audio Books published by Mission Audio.
Everybody Knows That...
By Morgan Gates
(Yes I know it's been a while since I posted an article, but it's summertime and the living easy right? Wrong things have been quite busy in fact. So here is a quick post based on an article in the Vicksburg Post 7/29/18 by writer Terri Cowart Frazier...)
Everybody knows that during the Civil War the Union wore blue and the Confederates grey, right? Not necessarily, In fact in the Western Theatre, very few rank and file soldiers would have worn grey. Butternut, a brown to light tan color made from natural materials, was much more common and more often than not his uniform was not an actual uniform at all, but simple homespun clothing. Minutiae like that are starting to slip away into the cracks of time as the study of history is becoming unfashionable.
An example of this is a work of art recently completed by Vicksburg's own nationally known artist H. C. Porter. The first in a series commemorating the Civil War. She began with a photo that she had been told was of a Confederate soldier because he was dressed in grey. But something about the details of the photo bothered her and, she did some research and low and behold her confederate turned out to be a member of the New York State Militia! It seems that at the beginning of the War this Militia dressed in grey! Kudos to you H.C. Porter! So the next time you think, everybody knows that, think twice!
In in the summer of 1862, almost a year before the Siege began the Union Navy was attempting to bombard the City of Vicksburg into submission. In Late July The Confederate Ironclad Arkansas came out of the Yazoo River and caught the fleet by surprise, inflicting serious damage to the Union Fleet. Likely this attack contributed to the Navy's decision to pull out shortly there after. The Arkansas survived but a number of it's crew died in the fight, the Arkansas KIA are buried in Vicksburg's Confederate Cemetery. My friend Bryan Skipworth wrote the following verses to honor the memory of these brave men.
The 156th Anniversary of the Confederate Ironclad Ram Arkansas
By Bryan Skipworth
O hark do you hear the cannon’s faint roar as it rumbles and echoes from the far distant shore
Will full steam raised we begin this trip 75 miles down the Yazoo to the might Mississip
This is a story of a few hundred men and a mighty gunboat who would sacrifice all to keep her afloat
Gallantry and bravery are what come to mind, heroes are mad of lesser men this day and time
Let’s talk about the officers brown Stevens, Gimball, Barbot, Wharton, Gift and Read
They took 150 volunteers from the Army the Navy could not supply all theyed need
July 15 ‘62 these men would man this warship like the most experienced of the day
And after the first day of battles twelve men would find their grave
It is estimated that 300 federal cannon were waiting to sink the Arkansas that day
And an estimated 20,000 had gathered on the hills of Vicksburg to cheer her along the way
July 22 ‘62 Just a week later Union Gunboats would attack in the early morning light
And six more men from the Arkansas would be lost in this great fight
While docked at Vicksburg resting and having repairs made, five more wounded would be laid in their grave
There are too many brave men to name them all but while serving the Confederacy in her hull this these did fall
Gilmore, Hodges, Perry, Harter, Heaton and Lang, Cusick, Thornell, Lewis, Dunn, Rankin and Kane
Johnson, O’Sullivan, Flores, Thomure, Minton, and Dills, Snider Blankenship, Woodward, Madden and Shields
Now let’s talk of this might ship of war made of iron and wood
Her keel was laid in Memphis October ‘61 and in April ‘62 she was moved to Greenwood
In May ‘62 Lieutenant Isaac Newton Brown took command and towed her to the naval yard at Yazoo city to finish the navy plan
In five short weeks the men had her fitted with timber and guns
And had her ready to steam down the river the Union blockade to run
She measured 165 feet long and 35 feet wide rusty rail iron covered oak timbers down both her side
With her cast iron beak, she displaced 800 tons and drew 12 feet of water
With twin screw propulsion each engine 900 hp pushed her at 9 knots per hour
She was armed with 10 big cannon rifled and smoothbore, stopping this warship would prove to be a chore.
Her orders were to destroy all Union ships along the way, and steam in quick defense of the Harbor of Mobile Bay.
Instead she was scuttled August 6 ‘62, on the way to defend Baton Rouge.
This mighty Ironclad Ram had done all the damage she could do.
Now just as we began but before we are gone, we will end this short story with and old folk song,
“tis the Barque that has triumph’d single handed, alone, and ran through the gauntlet, one hundred to one!”
The Town That Did Not Celebrate Independence Day
By Morgan Gates
Two hundred and forty-two years ago, one of those interesting little quirks in history transpired when a ragtag army led by a group of backwater intellectuals and a Virginia tobacco farmer fought the world’s greatest superpower to a standstill, and won its independence. As if that were not enough they then proceeded to establish a type of government that had not existed in the world since 27 BC, and they made it work! Even more impressive it started a movement that eventually toppled the great monarchies of Europe. If that is not a cause to celebrate I'm not sure what is! Yet there was a time that is still within the memory of living men when Vicksburg did not celebrate July 4th!
Independence Day is celebrated nationwide with parades and picnics and celebrations. Hearts are filled with pride, stomachs with good food, and streets with happy children. Vicksburg, too, was filled on July 4, 1863 … its beds were filled with wounded and sick men, the fields around the city were filled with thousands of shallow graves, and the streets were filled with Union occupation troops as the siege ends with the city's surrender. For the first time in 47 days, the skies over Vicksburg are not filled with fireworks of a very real and deadly sort! There was not much to celebrate that July 4, 863one hundred and fifty-five years ago, and for a long time, thereafter the shadow of the siege cast a pall over the Glorious fourth! Believe it or not, in those days families actually sat around and talked to each other, so the memory of that terrible war did not fade as quickly as it might today.
Vicksburg was (and is) a thriving city and people from other parts of the country and world continued to settle here, so there were Independence Day celebrations in and around Vicksburg in the years after the War, but they tended to smaller private celebrations. In the South "we've always done it that way" or its converse "we've never done it that way" tend to be powerful forces so soon enough it simply became the custom! The years rolled by, the century turned, and soon we had another great war – it seems every century has its great war—and Americans from both North and South pulled together and made great sacrifices to fight not one but two great enemies in World War II. When that war ended its memory too cast a shadow –of a different kind! In 1947 General Dwight D Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied troops in the European Theater visited Vicksburg ---on July 4th of all days --- and the town turned out with a FIREWORKS display and a PARADE! It was said in 1947 Vicksburg REJOINED THE UNION!
Today, however, Vicksburg does July 4th right with a sunset street party in historic downtown Vicksburg that concludes with a giant fireworks celebration, but what of that other July 4th? We are going to commemorate it as well as we reenact the surrender with Breakfast with Generals, come join us and
HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!
A Walk after Dark
by Morgan Gates
For the last several weeks as a run up to our July 3/4 Vicksburg Civil War Symposium/ Breakfast with the Generals I have been exploring Lt. General John C. Pemberton, Vicksburg's Confederate Commander. Volumes have been written about U.S. Grant (justifiably so, his is one of the great stories of the 19th Century) and his Lieutenants. but the man who opposed him has been little more that a cardboard cutout. Derided as incompetent and scapegoated for the loss of Vicksburg by historians, comparatively little has been written about him, yet he was in many way a much more typical professional soldier of his day than Grant was. The following is a historical fiction piece I wrote for my book "The Long Road Home" where I try to imagine what was going throgh Pemberton's head the night before he decided to surrender Vicksburg.
July 1863, Vicksburg: Lt. General John C. Pemberton stood on the front gallery of his Headquarters as the sun touched the horizon. His tall, lank frame cut an imposing figure. The platform soared a good twelve feet above street level, an observer looking up from Crawford Street below might have easily mistaken him for a statue. One of the gods of old, carved from marble! Perhaps, a 19th-century incarnation of Aries, the Greek god of War silhouetted as he was by the blood-red setting sun. The deadly missiles rising from the mortar barges behind him, and the surrounding carnage of war just enhanced the image! A god of War, indeed. He was a tall man, five foot ten and one-half inches, with a deep penetrating gaze, his eyes were so dark brown that they appeared black. His coffee-colored hair and lush, full beard were streaked with white, a premature graying that belied his forty-eight years. His dress uniform was immaculate, as always, the brass buttons caught a glint of the setting sun. A faint evening breeze rustled the tail of his sash, and it fluttered, ever so slightly. This air of regality was something he actively cultivated. It was good for morale, the men needed to see their leader as something more than just a man, they needed to see him as an unflappable a heroic figure. He desperately wished right now it was true.
He knew the classics well; he could read both Greek and Latin! Oh, to be able to pull off some supernatural feat right now. To be able to magically slay the hydra of the Union Army and Navy that beset Vicksburg, to be able to call down the thunderbolts like Zeus, or just conjure up Perseus' Helm of Darkness, to enable his army to slip by unseen and escape. What a foolish daydream, he thought to himself, he was a West Point officer, a trained soldier, he dealt in facts—in facts and formations, firepower, and fortifications. Besides, if there was a god of war at Vicksburg, it was that slovenly little Grant, out on the siege line throwing “his” thunderbolts into the city!
As he stood alone on the gallery, a once proud city lay in ruins around him—he had seen it before, he and his army had been trapped here for weeks. Now, he needed to see it again. He had a decision to make, the hardest decision of his life, the decision that would be the one pivotal decision of his life: he was afraid. He mused on how one man's entire life could be summed up in one sentence! A man of his station in life, of his experience, and it all came down to one sentence, no not even one sentence—only one word! The rest of the sentence had been written for him already! He desperately wished that sentence would read:
------John C. Pemberton, the man who saved Vicksburg! -
But in his heart, he knew even that one word had been written for him:
------John C. Pemberton, the man who lost Vicksburg -----
His only choice now was how to end it! He needed to think; he needed to be alone, he needed to take one last, good look at the city. He would go out, and he would go out alone! His aides had begged him not to expose himself needlessly, but he had dismissed them, he briefly considered the thought that if he were killed by a shell fragment or a sharpshooter, it would spare him the shame, but no, that was a coward's wish, and John C. Pemberton was no coward! He remembered an incident from early in his career. He had placed a particularly quarrelsome soldier on report for failure to salute. The soldier came to his quarters several days later, bearing a loaded horse pistol, with the full intention of killing him. He had single-handedly disarmed and subdued this large and powerful man! No, he may be many things, but he was no coward.
He decided not to call for his horse. His groom, a young slave boy named Andy, had found a reasonably safe spot to stable the animal in a ravine nearby, as safe as anyone or anything could be in this beleaguered city. He walked quickly down the steep flight of steps to the street, and began walking. He strode quickly through the streets of Vicksburg in the growing darkness. He did not mind walking, although the horse was almost as much part of the officer's uniform as was the sword. He thought back to the time in the War with Mexico, when the written order was given for the junior officers to dismount and march alongside the men. Most of the young West Pointers were soon so footsore they could not keep up, and the order was orally rescinded, and everyone quickly remounted except himself. When he was asked why, he stated that a written order should only be rescinded by another written order, and marched on! That was his life: order, discipline, honor, bravery. He had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong! He was of Quaker stock, though his family had parted from the strict principles of the Quaker faith long before his birth. West Point had agreed with him, the hierarchy, the chain of command. This made sense to him, he had embraced it, put his full faith in it, and it had let him down. His world, as he knew it, was coming unraveled!
He was walking down a street where the road cut into an embankment, bluffs they were called. These bluffs—they were why he was here—high ground, along the Mississippi River. Vicksburg was unusual for a river town. He thought back to his time in New Orleans, that city set right on the river, surrounded by swampland. His father, a close friend of Andrew Jackson, had shared stories of Old Hickory's campaigns, especially the Battle of New Orleans—how a backwoods lawyer and self-taught soldier had turned back men who had just defeated Napoleon. This victory surprised the whole world, and the old world now knew that the new republic was not to be trifled with.
Holding the high ground was perhaps the most basic of military principles—hold the high ground. Napoleon knew it, Caesar knew it, Alexander knew It, and he knew it! When he had first looked down at the mighty river from these bluffs, he knew that this was the single, most important point in the Confederacy! President Davis had told him that Vicksburg must be held at all costs, and he agreed wholeheartedly. What heady days those had been. At West Point, he had pored over the tactics of Bonaparte! He had spent the Mexican War looking over the shoulders of those dynamic leaders. He had even worked briefly with Lee around Charleston early in this war, though that moment had been spoiled by the narrowmindedness of the South Carolinians who could not accept that a man of the north could be truly on their side. This should have been his time, given the command of the Department of Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana, at the rank of Lieutenant General, this would be his moment in the sun! He found the department in disorder, and with his administrative skills he soon had made great strides forward. But, it was never enough, too few resources coupled with conflicting political realities limited his success. He needed to commandeer the few railroad assets available in order to properly supply and fortify his strongholds on the river, but they were needed for cotton, the lifeblood of the Confederacy. He needed heavy guns, but there were never enough! If that was not enough, then came Johnston! Vicksburg should have become his career's finest hour. Instead, it had become its de facto end!
It was full dark now; he paused outside the entrance to a "rathole" one of the hundreds of shelters dug into the bluffs, that the citizens called "caves"! Inside he heard a little girl crying, as her mother attempted to comfort her. He thought of his own family; he was so glad that "Patty" and his children were not here, that would have been unbearable. Some of his officers had brought their wives with them to Vicksburg. Patty had wanted to come, but he had insisted that she and the children stay behind. He thought how he would dearly love to feel her tender embrace right now, but he thanked God that she was safely in Alabama now! It was her influence that had galvanized his resolution to come south. He had spent much time among the people of the south, time in Florida, fighting the Seminoles, postings in New Orleans, and of course, in Virginia. He loved Virginia- such a beautiful state- home of Washington, and Jefferson, and of course, Patty. He had loved Virginia though, even before he met Patty. Before his father died, he had seriously considered buying land in Warrenton, Virginia. He had corresponded with his dear mother in Philadelphia about the beauty and fertility of the land, and Patty's family lived in Norfolk, in southern Virginia: it was her home, and in many ways, he felt it was his as well! When the first shots were fired on Fort Sumpter, he was still in the U.S. Army, and his Artillery Unit was assigned to guard the Potomac! He was torn between his sense of duty, and the feelings in his heart. He was a house divided; he could not stand! He was a man of duty and honor, but he was just as much a man of love, love for his family, for his beautiful wife, and his adopted home! He was sworn to protect the United States, but his family was in Virginia—would he be ordered to turn his cannon on his own family? What man would obey that order, what man could obey that order? When Patty wrote, imploring him to come South, the decision was made, he did, and he did so with his whole heart, he was not a man of half measures, he was all in or all out!
A mortar shell rumbled by particularly close, and he stepped up against the embankment. It exploded just after it passed over his head, but the momentum of the huge shell carried it past him without harm. He was an artilleryman by training; he had a good understanding of the "King of Battle," it could be a tool of great devastation against a regular army in the field. He had seen this in Mexico, but in Florida, against the Seminole, it had been less effective in inflicting casualties, though it did inspire terror. That was its main role in Vicksburg! The heavy river mortars and Parrot Rifles on the siege line kept up an almost continuous fire into the city, but the gunners were firing blindly, causing a good deal of property damage, but inflicting few civilian casualties. Even out on the line, more of his men fell to sharpshooters and fever than artillery. Still, the constant thundering noise, and rain of shrapnel grated on the nerves, making rest near impossible, wearing both soldier and civilian down to a nub of nerves. The next round rumbled by at a respectable distance, and his walk continued.
He was approaching a large Italianate mansion that was serving as one of the hospitals for his surgeons. The sentry at the front door snapped to attention as he walked up, --“At ease private,” he said --, as he smartly returned the salute. That boy cannot possibly be more than sixteen years old, he thought as he walked in. One of the nurses on duty greeted him as he entered. He walked around and said a few words of encouragement to some of the men who were awake. A young officer—he couldn't recall his name—was sitting up in bed as he walked up. The officer attempted to salute; his right arm had been amputated above the elbow.
–“Don't worry, son, some of the best soldiers I know are missing an arm, and the ladies will think no less of you for it,” --- the nurse gave him a report on the men suffering from dysentery, she told that Dr. Harris had administered mercury and lead purgatives, but few were showing signs of improvement. He wondered to himself if it was not wiser to stay away from doctors when sick. – “Tell Doctor Harris to consult with Dr. Balfour—He's not Army, but I understand he had some successes treating a cholera epidemic here in town a few years ago. “
His walk continued, there were few people on the street—most had retreated to the relative safety of the "caves," but there were some. It was easier to move around after dark; you could not be spotted from the batteries across the river. One of those batteries had fired on a gathering at Saint Paul's Catholic Church recently. Firing on the House of God! To think of a commander giving that order, this man was indeed, no gentleman! He stood near the river bank, making sure to stay in the shadows of a ruined building. It was a clear night, the moon had not yet risen, but a sharp-eyed man could see quite a bit, once the eyes had properly adjusted—no point in tempting fate. A few soldiers were dipping water from the river, filling hogshead barrels, in the back of a freight wagon! The streams running through the city had been contaminated by the Yankees. The carcasses of army mules had been placed in the headwaters; it was no longer fit to drink. The civilians drank from their cisterns, underground rainwater storage pits, but there were not enough cisterns for his thirsty men! He walked on.
He came to the base of a large hill overlooking the river, the people of Vicksburg called it Sky Parlor Hill. He stood on its crest; the city and surrounding area spread out below him like a panorama. There was some danger standing here, but it would have taken a truly astounding marksman to pick him off from this distance on this moonless night. Overhead, millions of stars painted the ceiling of the world in a vista that shamed even Michelangelo! Below him, the City of Vicksburg huddled in a blanket of darkness, no lanterns burned in its windows, for fear of attracting the deadly attention of Union gun crews. Off to the east, he could see the glow of thousands of campfires; Grant's enormous army ringed the city like a colossal iron shackle. To the west, he could see the dark silhouettes of the Union fleet, most were dark and quiet as the crews stretched out on bedrolls and hammocks and caught a few hours rest. It was a deceptively calm scene; he knew that aboard each gunboat, there was a night watch, and stokers kept the fires hot so the ship could spring to life at a moment’s notice. He had considered trying to evacuate his army via the west, but had finally realized it was a pipe dream, even if he had had enough boats available to ferry his men across the mighty river, escape was impossible. Just then, he witnessed a volcanic eruption from one of the mortar barges anchored behind the spit of land, DeSoto Point, that formed the bend of the river. A moment later, the thunderous report reached his ears, and he watched as the deadly missile climbed slowly upward, at its apogee it looked almost like a shooting star. It seemed to hang suspended in mid-air for the slightest moment, then it began its deadly dive earthward. He said a silent prayer that it would take no more lives. He heard the dull thud it made as it struck the ground on the other side of the city, and then the muffled explosion. Good, he thought, mother earth had swallowed this meteorite and absorbed the worst of its destruction deep in her breast.
He looked away to the east once more. Where was General Johnston and the Army of Relief, why had he not come? His mind returned to the previous fall, when he took command of this department, the promotion to Lieutenant General. He reported directly to Davis and the War Department, heady days indeed. He had won decisive victories against Grant in December, then inexplicably, Johnston, had been inserted into his chain of command—had Davis lost confidence for some reason? He was a soldier, however, and did his best to work with his new commander. Pemberton had worked closely with Johnston early in the war and had, at that time, considered him a friend, but he had been anything but since his assignment to the west. Despite constant reassurances that he was coming to lift the siege, he had not yet arrived! There had been no word from him in weeks. At the beginning of the siege, he had been able to dispatch a messenger from time to time. One man on foot in the dark of night could slip by the pickets at first, but now the line had tightened to the point that none could come or go. He could but wonder at what was going on in Johnston's mind. Johnston had earlier removed the bulk of his cavalry to Tennessee—this had left him almost blind to Grant's movements toward Vicksburg. He had been ordered by the president to hold Vicksburg at all costs, but Johnston had repeatedly insisted that Pemberton come out and combine their armies against Grant. Did he not know that there were significant enemy forces on the river and to the west? If he had marched out in toto, they might have defeated Grant, and still lost Vicksburg! He did not need a courier to deliver the message that Johnston put little value on holding Vicksburg!
His men had fought bravely and withstood the grueling conditions of the siege for weeks, but he knew they were at the very end of their endurance. He had begun this ordeal with only 29,500 men, far too few to man the extensive lines surrounding the city. He had lost so many at Bakers Creek and Big Black River. Now, according to his officers, far less than half that number remained—so many dead, so many sick or wounded! Those still at their posts were so emaciated by short rations and their confinement to the trenches, they were hardly a viable fighting force. Dissention was spreading, a letter allegedly from the men had arrived at his Headquarters recently, urging him to surrender the army before they starved. He had reason to doubt its veracity, but still, if some were thinking that, soon, all would. The letter did not matter; Grant was planning another assault against the city any day now. The Union saps were right at the parapets of the defensive line, and the mines were being charged. Tomorrow or the next, a week at most, massive explosions would breach his defenses, and the end would come in fire and fury. His decision was made, as if he had any real choice! His only choice was to attempt to negotiate an honorable surrender for his beleaguered men! General Bowen of his command had known Grant in the Old Army; he would give Bowen the task to open a discussion for terms of surrender at first light! He turned and descended the hill, heading back to his quarters and perhaps a few hours of uneasy sleep.
John C. Pemberton did indeed go down in history as “The man who lost Vicksburg,” and it is only recently that historians are beginning to understand that the appellation should read: “The Man who was scapegoated for the loss of Vicksburg”! While his walk is fictional, many of his musing are historical fact, pulled from many sources.
If you enjoyed this piece there is a link on our homepage to buy it online and It is for sale at Loreli Books in Vicksburg. There will be a book signing at Loreli Books the afternoon of July 4th, I will join several other authors there, come join us.
Trolling History (A Rant)
By Morgan Gates
I am not a troll, but I like to go trolling, and I have never been guilty of trolling…
A Troll: a mythical, cave-dwelling being depicted in folklore as either a giant or a dwarf, typically having a very ugly appearance.
To Troll: to fish for or in with a moving line, working the line up or down with a rod, as in fishing for pike, or trailing the line behind a slow-moving boat.
Trolling: making random unsolicited and/or controversial comments on various internet forums with the intent to provoke an emotional or knee-jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument
English, I have been told is one of the hardest languages for a no native speaker to learn for just the reason cited above. One word with many meanings depending on context. I am a rather big and hairy fellow, and with a size 14 shoe I have been accused of being Bigfoot, but I don't live in a cave or under a bridge, and I am most certainly not mythical, so I am not a troll. When I was a kid my family had a johnboat with a trolling motor on it, and it was fun to go fishing, but today I enjoy fishing for historical tidbits much more. Trolling in its modern meaning is new to me. You see I'm one of those ancient ones who remember a time before the internet! I remember when snail mail was the only mail! I remember when phones were attached to the wall and dialing them sounded like shook..di di di da! Amazing but true! Back when if you wanted to say something snarky of mean to a stranger you had to walk up to him and say it to his face, and you would likely have been punched in the nose! But now through the miracle of technology, you can do it from the privacy and safety of your living room. Who says technology has not made the world a better place.
Ok…I’m through ranting now (maybe). As you know, we've been working hard lately on 2018 Breakfast with the Generals / Vicksburg Civil War Symposium and my last several posts have been in connection with this event. By the way, the proceeds of this event go to support The Old Courthouse Museum and the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable, and of course we are trying to help Vicksburg get some of the historical recognition it deserves as the true turning point of the Civil War. Everybody participating is doing this at their own expense. Some of the participants are coming from as far away as Pennsylvania, local B&B's and Hotels are chipping in by offering our out of town participants deep discounts. This is a community effort; this is Vicksburg rising! This is a good thing.
Enter the trolls…I don't know who first came up with the name troll for nasty internet comments, but it is apt. In its original meaning Trolls were malevolent creatures who dwelt in dark hidden places (the only light coming from their laptop monitors) and struck unwary travelers who were minding their own business. Though inherently evil the troll was not very bright (don't have to be very smart to spout men comments) and could be outsmarted or outmaneuvered by the wary traveler who was on his guard. As I said an apt description.
So, I recently reposted my becoming John C. Pemberton essays from last year. They are about my attempt to understand Grant’s opponent at Vicksburg and in many ways the most difficult character to understand in the melodrama that was Vicksburg 155 years ago. Everybody wants to be the winner, and a surprising number of people like to play a villain, but Pemberton was neither just a man of his day caught up in an extraordinary moment of history. So, I share these around to various Civil War related Facebook pages, and there are quite a few around. For the most part, the responses are good, but then the trolls emerge from under the bridges. Now admittedly nobody has really gotten vulgar (the woman who said if I wanted to become Pemberton I needed to cut my balls off, got close though) another fellow says I don’t look anything like him (Robert Duvall who played Robert E. Lee in Gods and Generals didn’t either) but that’s not the point, I am portraying him not trying to pass for him (duh)!
Ok so maybe I wasn’t through ranting yet, but I am now… so make your plans to come to Vicksburg this July 4th and check us out, Curt Fields who portrays U.S. Grant is world class as is Dean Cass as William T. Sherman. There will be many more as both Union and Confederates and ladies in period attire as well. It will be fun, it will be educational, and it is all for a worthy cause. If you are a troll, just go fishing that day.
Becoming John C. Pemberton: Part 2
By Morgan Gates
In our last episode: John has followed his heart south and become embroiled in the nation’s most tragic conflict. Thinking himself among friends, he finds himself betrayed on every side and fighting for his very survival against a relentless and overwhelming foe. Can he survive? Will Pattie still be waiting for him? Let’s find out…
Okay, sorry I couldn’t resist!
Last time we learned that John C. Pemberton was a good solid soldier. A man with a good deal of military experience, a clean record and had had a good deal of opportunity to learn from the best. He was generally well-liked by his superiors. History remembers him as one of the biggest losers of the war. So, what happened?
Criticisms of Pemberton included lack of combat experience, too much reliance on "councils of war," and a failure to act decisively to counter Grant’s moves toward Vicksburg. So, let’s break these down.
Combat experience: If you mean leading large units in traditional battles using the Napoleonic tactics that were the rule of the day in the early to mid-nineteenth century, then yes you are correct. But you must remember that the same can be said for almost all of his contemporaries. Since the end of the Mexican-American War 14 years before, the United States had seen no such action, and those who had done so were, for the most part, were gone or too old to lead another war. Grant had seen some small unit action but had not made the high-level decisions of a senior officer in Mexico. Pemberton, as an adjutant, had looked over the shoulders of those who had. He had also seen small-scale action in Florida against the Seminoles before the war in Mexico and was a member of the Utah Expedition against the Mormons in 1857. Pemberton often served as a staff member to those who were in command, and as such he was in an excellent position as an "apprentice” of sorts and thus was no stranger to the demands of high-level command.
Grant had no pre-Civil War command experience! He had resigned his Captains Commission in 1853, shortly after receiving it, and returned to civilian life. Prior to Vicksburg, Grant had experienced a baptism of fire in 1862 with a decisive win at Fort Donaldson, and a bloody nail-biter at Shiloh. It could; however, be strongly argued that in both cases luck played a much more significant role in these victories than skill, but as Napoleon once said: "I would rather have a general who was lucky than a good one."
Councils of war: are seen by some as a sign of lack of confidence, this may in part be true, several of his recent experiences would have been enough to rock any man's confidence. On the other hand, the same could have been said of Grant after Shiloh, as he sat with no duties as another man led his army. Grant even contemplated resigning again, but Sherman talked him out of it. On the other hand, one of the tenants of good leadership is to hire good people and let them do their jobs, and even the Bible endorses the concept of listening to wise counsel in Proverbs 12:15.
Failure to act decisively: Other criticisms leveled against Pemberton have to do with his failure to stop Grant’s crossing of the Mississippi on April 30/May 1 and his subsequent, and unprecedented, 19th-century Blitzkrieg approach to Vicksburg. The reply to this is that Pemberton did not have the manpower, the reconnaissance (cavalry) or the transportation assets, to counter Grant's movements and he knew it! His pleas for the return of his cavalry (from Tennessee where Johnson had ordered it) and reinforcements fell on deaf ears.
Pemberton’s performance at the Battle of Champion Hill is perhaps his most damning failure and a debacle it was, but as with most great disasters, a whole series of failures occurred in quick succession. Contradictory directions from his President and his immediate commander. A break down in the chain of command that delayed his move from Bovina due to inadequate supplies. Not to mention, a lack of good reconnaissance, due to lack of sufficient cavalry. Top this off with Loring's insubordination, and ultimate abandonment of the Army of Mississippi upon the retreat had left Pemberton badly shaken before during and after the battle. Still, he managed to extract the army back to Vicksburg.
Once besieged there was little he, or anyone else, could do but hold on and wait for help to arrive. The ultimate failure of Johnson to act decisively was Vicksburg’s, Pemberton’s, and, ultimately the Confederacy’s doom. The political fallout from the loss of Vicksburg is compounded by a lingering prejudice among the people of the south against Pemberton's northern birth, and he becomes the scapegoat for the loss in the minds of many. Post War Johnson attempts to deflect any tarnish from his own reputation by blaming the loss on Pemberton in his memoirs, rubbing salt into the wound so to speak.
Pemberton by all objective standards was a good solid military man, who understood the military world of the day (pre-war), at any other point in history he would have been remembered as a successful, if not imaginative, career officer. He lived; however, in a time when the rules of war were being torn up and rewritten. His opponent was considered to be very unmilitary in bearing and actions by many of his contemporaries. He did; however, have a good bit of experience in things not working as planned and coping on the fly, and in the chaotic world of the Civil War, this proved to be a positive asset.
He fell into Pattie’s arms, his spirit broken, his reputation in tatters, she softly whispered “I love you no matter what comes” together they turned to face an uncertain future! THE END!
Breakfast with the Generals & Civil War Symposium
July 3rd & 4th 2018
Tuesday July 3rd 7:00 P.M. – Old Courthouse Museum (1008 Cherry St) - $15
Civil War Symposium: what did Vicksburg really mean to the War? This symposium will examine how important Vicksburg was in the ultimate federal victory over the Confederacy
For more information or to purchase tickets contact the Old Courthouse Museum 601-636-0741/ firstname.lastname@example.org OR the Baer House 601-883-1525 / email@example.com
Proceeds will benefit the Old Courthouse and the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable
Wednesday July 4th 8:30 – 10:00 A.M. – Baer House Inn (1117 Grove St.) - $15
Breakfast with the Generals: an all you can eat breakfast buffet with Civil War Generals Grant Pemberton and others. Photo opportunities, Q&A session, children’s crafts.
Wednesday July 4th 11:00 A.M. – (Old Courthouse Museum – 1008 Grove St.) - Free
Reenactment of the surrender at the Old Courthouse Museum – Free
Generals Grant and Pemberton discuss the terms of surrender – Photo opportunities and Q&A
For more information or to purchase tickets contact the Old Courthouse Museum 601-636-0741/ firstname.lastname@example.org OR the Baer House 601-883-1525 / email@example.com
Wednesday July 4th 1:00 – Book signing at Lorelei Books 1103 Washington Street
Wednesday July 4th 2:00- 4:00 P.M. – McRaven House – ticketed event
Galivanting with the Generals: Living history with lectures and demonstrations from historians in period costumes. Family friendly event with games and activities for children.
For more information contact McRaven Tour Home 601-501-1336 firstname.lastname@example.org
Becoming John C. Pemberton
by Morgan Gates
July 4th 2018 will be our second "Breakfast with the Generals" program at the Baer House Inn and Old Courthouse Museum (see last weeks post for more information) so this is a repost from last summer, about my journey to portraying the man who became the scapegoat for the loss of Vicksburg.
Sometimes last summer my friend Cory Rickrode, asked me to portray Lt. General John C. Pemberton for the Vicksburg’s first annual Breakfast with the Generals --which took place on July 4th, 2017. This was something I had never considered doing before, but it sounded like fun, so I said why not! I am a historian and a storyteller, but I had not, at that time at least, done much reenacting. I have portrayed Dr. William Balfour, host of the annual Confederate Ball, a fundraiser put on by the Old Courthouse Museum each December, for several years but this was a small somewhat one-dimensional role. To do this role justice, I had to attempt to crawl inside Pemberton's head. Fortunately, I have had previous experience crawling inside heads, I am a retired public-school principal who spent much of his career trying to figure out what made troubled children tick and I had a good role model in Dr. Curt Fields of Memphis who has been portraying U. S. Grant for years. So, I dug in and started studying the Defender of Vicksburg!
The first thing I discovered is, there is not a great deal of information out there about Pemberton. Losers don’t make as good a story as winners I suppose. The second thing I discovered is that Pemberton at the time got a really bad rap! The superficial “picture” of the commander of Vicksburg is that he was (A) incompetent or (B) if not incompetent, then, at least, in way over his head! I am now convinced that neither allegation is true, let’s explore this some more over the next several posts, shall we?
Pemberton and Grant were in many ways very different men, but they also had very many things in common. Then again, don’t we all? First, the commonalities, Both, were born in the north, Pemberton in Pennsylvania and Grant in Ohio. Both were West Pointers, both struggled in some subjects and excelled in others, both had graduated just below the halfway point in their respective classes. Both had aspired to be engineers but wound up serving in other branches of the Army. Both served in Mexico in the same division, and they had met during that earlier war. Both had “Seen the Elephant." Both had served in far-flung frontier outposts and detested them. Both had fallen in love and married girls with southern roots.
The differences, Pemberton was from an upper-class Philadelphia family, Grant middle-class small town Ohio. Pemberton embraced life at West-Point and was quite social, and very much a lady's man. Grant less so, and somewhat kept to himself. Pemberton did well in language but struggled with math. Grant was just the opposite. Pemberton after West Point was assigned to the Artillery Grant to Infantry. Pemberton who was older spent many years in postings in the south and grew quite fond of the people of the south. Grant spent much less time in the south. In Mexico, Pemberton attained the brevet rank of Major. Grant was a brevet Lieutenant. Pemberton served in the U.S. Army right up to the day he resigned his commission to join the Confederacy. Grant resigned his commission in 1853 and spent a number of years in civilian life – rather unsuccessfully-- before rejoining after the Civil War began.
The two men had a lot more in common that than we might at first realize, and up until the spring of 1863, John C. Pemberton had in most aspects been the much more successful of the two! To put it in modern terms, if you had no prior knowledge of either man and their resumes (ca.1862) were placed on your desk, you would have very likely hired John C. Pemberton, and consigned Ulysses S. Grant’s to “File 13”! So where did it go wrong for General Pemberton? Let’s talk more next time……………
In lieu of a post this week I thought I would share with you some information about the the activities around our July 4th events that we are calling"
Breakfast with the Generals
& Vicksburg Civil War Symposium
July 3rd & 4th
» Tuesday, July 3, 2018 – 7:00 p.m. – Old Courthouse Museum - $15.00
Civil War Symposium: Vicksburg: what did it really mean for the war?
The 4th of July 1863 was momentous in the prosecution of the war, with Lee in retreat, defeated in his second attempt to take the war to northern soil, and Pemberton surrendering Vicksburg to Grant; opening the Mississippi River for the federal war effort from source to mouth and splitting the confederacy in half. Gettysburg got most of the headlines, overshadowing what happened at Vicksburg, as the eastern theater activities always did. The intent to minimize the Vicksburg victory was not intentional but was, nevertheless, the resulting effect. This symposium will examine the question of how important Vicksburg was in the ultimate federal victory over the confederacy.
For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Old Courthouse Museum (601) 636-0741 / email@example.com OR the Baer House (601) 883-1525 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Proceeds will benefit the Old Courthouse Museum and the Vicksburg Civil War Round Table.
« Wednesday, July 4, 2018 – 8:30 – 10:00 a.m. – Baer House Inn - $15.00 adults / $7.50 children under 12
Breakfast With the Generals: Enjoy all you can eat breakfast buffet with Civil War Generals Grant, Pemberton and others. Vicksburg was the key to the south. Come find out why and learn other interesting facts about the siege and surrender of Vicksburg.
Photo opportunities, question & answer session, book signings, children’s crafts.
For more information contact the Baer House Inn: (601) 883-1525 / email@example.com
A portion of proceeds will benefit the Vicksburg Civil War Round Table.
» Wednesday, July 4, 2018 – 11:00 a.m. – Old Courthouse Museum – Free
Reenactment of surrender: Living history event for the entire family. Watch from the majestic courtroom of the Old Courthouse Museum as Generals Grant and Pemberton discuss the terms of the surrender of Vicksburg.
Followed by photo opportunities and question & answer sessions with the Generals on the grounds of the Old Courthouse.
For more information, contact the Old Courthouse Museum (601) 636-0741 / firstname.lastname@example.org OR The Baer House 601) 883-1525 / email@example.com
« Wednesday, July 4, 2018 – 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. – McRaven House – Ticketed Event
Gallivanting with the Generals: Living history with lectures and demonstrations from historians in period costume. Family-friendly event with interactive activities. Confederate soldiers, children’s games and activities. Have fun and learn with Jefferson Davis, General Pemberton, Emma Balfour and others.
For more information contact McRaven Tour Home: (601) 501-1336 / firstname.lastname@example.org
A Castle on a Hill
by Morgan Gates
Let’s take an imaginary drive through Vicksburg, shall we? We’ll start at the Old Courthouse Museum. This iconic landmark is one of the most familiar in Vicksburg. In fact I like to call it Vicksburg’s “Eiffel Tower”. Let’s drive south two blocks on Cherry Street (named for the tree) until it intersects with Clay Street (named for Henry Clay). Here we will turn right and descend the hill two blocks until we reach the intersection of Clay and Walnut Streets (the tree again). To our right is the Old Hotel Vicksburg, completed July 4th 1929, sixty-six years after the end of the Siege and approximately three months before the beginning of the Great Depression. It was the tallest building between Memphis and New Orleans at the time; however, this is not our destination today. Turn left and drive up the hill, and in one block, you will pass between the 1903 Beaux Arts City Hall and the 1894 Romanesque Mississippi River Commission building. Keep going. Oh, we seem to be running out of beautiful buildings--a parking garage, the public library (built in the 1970’s, need I say more), and Central Fire Station. Walnut Street ends at its intersection with Madison Street (named for the president). Stop, we have arrived! What, you say! There is nothing here! Yes there is! Its right in front of you--the big hill!
Rising up over your head is a large hill, covered in Kudzu, topped with a few shabby houses and a very large radio tower. What’s so special about this hill you ask? Ok, here is a clue. Turn right and, about half way down the block, there is a small side street that runs up the hill. You see it, right behind the liquor store? Notice the street sign--it says “Castle Alley”!
There is something undeniably romantic about a castle on a hill. So many beloved tales, both old and new, contain a castle. Castles summon images King Arthur and Knights of old slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. Disney has made untold fortunes in an empire built around a “Magic Castle”. Many epic adventures like “Lord of the Rings” feature castles. Yes, there is something about the castle that captures the imagination and that fascination is not particularly new.
In our recent series on Fortress Vicksburg, we discussed how the City of Vicksburg has been called a fortress, but it was not a castle! The rich planters of the Antebellum south knew well the romance of the age of chivalry and in many cases identified with the “Cavalier” attitude of these days gone by. They even built houses that they felt were modernized (in there day) versions of palaces. Sturdy brick homes were given the even more permanent look of stone masonry by skilled artisans who applied coats of stucco for a “faux” stone appearance.
There was however one actual castle in Vicksburg. Sometime about 1840, banker Thomas E. Robins built a replica of a medieval castle on a high hill, just south of what would have been the southern city limits (mid-town today). He imported hexagonal bricks from England especially for this purpose. It had four towers and was even surrounded by a moat. It changed hands in 1852, and again in 1859, and was owned by a lawyer named Burwell, who had recently moved to Vicksburg from Virginia.
The Castle survived the siege, but not the occupation. After the city fell, it became a Union stronghold on the river. Grant’s battle-hardened troops were too valuable to be left sitting in garrison duty, so they were peeled off and sent on to other hotspots. A much smaller garrison of less experienced soldiers were left to guard the city. The old siege trenches were filled in and the defensive line around the city was shortened to only five miles. To strengthen the line, several batteries of “heavy artillery” were emplaced on the landward approaches to the city. The castle occupied a high hill in an ideal position to anchor this southern approach to Vicksburg. Though the home resembled a military fortress, it was in fact, not a suitable military strong point in 1863-4. It was torn down and replaced by earthen revetments mounting heavy siege guns.
The hill on which the castle set has undergone many transformations in the over 150 years that have passed since its demise. It is still known locally as “Castle Hill” but the only real reminder that Vicksburg’s most unique home once topped this promontory is that little green street sign behind the liquor store!
The Long Road to Vicksburg
By Morgan Gates
The Vicksburg National Military Park is a huge beautiful monument to the most complex campaign of the Civil War. It encompasses one thousand eight hundred and fifty acres the tour road is 16 miles long and along the way are over 1500 markers that run the gamut from modest to magnificent! But it only tells the end of the story! Before Grant could assault and besiege the city, he had to get to it, and that was no mean feat. Involving (warning run-on sentence ahead) building a supply road through many miles of swamp, a daring night run past the batteries on the bluffs, a major and ultimately unsuccessful naval bombardment of Confederate batteries 25 air miles south of Vicksburg, a fortuitous piece of information from a run away slave, the largest amphibious landing prior to WWII, five major battles fought and won in what could only be described as a 19th Century Blitzkrieg while crossing a huge army through almost 200 miles of enemy territory and the capture and destruction of only the second southern state capital to fall during the war (whew). All of this occurred far from the manicured grounds and artistic masterpieces of the VNMP. I occasionally am called upon to guide true Civil War buffs as they retrace Grant's spring break road trip. I just completed one this weekend with three gentlemen from Seattle.
The day starts early 8 a.m. is best, I usually meet them at their hotel I like to bring maps and charts, and I begin by explaining the enormous task confronted by Grant and the previous efforts that had already failed. Then we hit the road; our next stop is the ghost town of Grand Gulf, there is not much left an old long abandoned store, an old church that has been all but reclaimed by the forest and the land. It was once a thriving town of 80 blocks and a thousand people, up to 20 steamboats a week once docked there. But yellow fever and a massive tornado devastated the city, and then the Mississippi came to town washing away fifty blocks. Only a handful of people were left when the Union Navy burned it in 1862. The Confederates built two forts there to guard Vicksburg’s underbelly Fort Wade and Fort Coburn. The Confederate bastions successfully resisted the Navy’s best and forced Grant to move South and cross at Bruinsburg. Bruinsburg was once a thriving community as well as Andrew Jackson once owned a store there. Period references refer to substantial brick homes in the neighborhood, but alas it no longer exists. Our next stop is the Shaifer House on the Port Gibson battlefield it is not much different than it was in 1863 and the land is nearly untouched. The maps come out, and we hear, in our mind, the echoes of the guns of that long ago battle in the middle of a pastoral wilderness. We pass through Port Gibson, The City to Beautiful to Burn, a quick stop to snap a photo of the Presbyterian Church with its gold-plated finger pointing toward heaven. We follow the Old Port Gibson Road northeast, this road was known as the Natchez Trace in Mississippi’s territorial days, following Grant’s push toward the railroad. Grant is taking a mighty gamble with this maneuver, foraging his sustenance from the land with only scant supply lines essentially disobeying his orders to dig in at Grand Gulf and send aid to General Banks near Port Hudson. Grant follows his gut instincts, and they do not let him down. Lunch on the road at H. D. Gibbs Grocery in the little town of Learned, Google Maps doesn’t know where this place is. Then on to Raymond Battlefield where a Confederate Brigade goes against one of Grant’s corps and lives to tell the story because of a meteorological phenomenon. Champion Hill is next That Hill of Death Whose Guns Rang the death Knell for Richmond! Finally Battle of Big Black River Bridge that last barrier between Grant and his ultimate destiny. While not quite as exhausting as Grant’s March it is quite a whirlwind tour, wear your sneakers, not flipflops and long pants, not shorts. Bring the SUV, not the sports car. Bring plenty of water and come see us sometime.
Son of a Gun!
By Morgan Gates
Son of a gun, I’m famous -Well not quite, but I did have a role in a movie a couple of days ago. I was contacted by a fellow who was making a small independent movie titled “Son of a Gun” based on a Civil War era story. He wanted me to portray Pemberton surrendering Vicksburg. It was a short no lines bit part, which mainly involved me staring intently at the actor depicting grant before stiffly accepting a proffered handshake. I'm told it would be a flashback scene remembered by one of the main characters. In final edit, It will probably last about 20 -30 seconds, but hey, I was in a movie! Son of a Gun!
You son of a gun! – Have you ever wondered about some of the commonly used phrases that have become part of the English language, but on closer examination make no sense at all? In some cases, the actual origin of the phrase has been clouded and almost lost in the mist of time. Son of a gun is one of these that are old enough that the exact origin is unknown. Some believe that it is a variant of the even older, and more self-explanatory “son of a b_ _ ch” but most of those who delve deeply into the more arcane mysteries of the English language have a bit more refined story. The best case for the origin of this phrase was the unofficial but often tolerated practice of women coming aboard 18th Century British warships while they were in port. Nick Slope writing for BBC History recounts this account of a British sailor of the day:
With the women came drink and what with the drink and the women the ship's discipline came to a stop. The men and women drank and quarreled between the guns. The decks were allowed to become dirty. Drunken women were continually coming up to insult the officers, or to lodge some complaint. Sometimes the women ran aloft to wave their petticoats to the flagship'.
Any child born of such an encounter would have had a very questionable paternal bloodline, needless to say, and became known as simply “A son of a gun”!
A Real Son of a Gun? Back now to our normal period of time, The Civil War. An interesting story (the one the movie is based on) was related in 1874 by one Dr. LeGrand G. Capers of Vicksburg writing for the American Medical Weekly. Allegedly during the Battle of Raymond, May 12th, 1863, which was part of the Vicksburg Campaign, a Minie Ball struck a young lady who was watching the battle unfold from the porch of her nearby home. The bullet lodged in her reproductive organ. The wound was not fatal as the round was nearly spent by the time it reached her, but by incredible coincident, the projectile had passed through the left testicle of a young Confederate soldier first. Dr. Capers an army surgeon treated both patients who recovered nicely. Dr. Capers was called on again by the young woman sometime later as she discovered that she was pregnant! Dr. Capers delivered a healthy baby that was allegedly the result of a long distance artificial insemination via Minie Ball! Dr. Capers introduced the couple who married and had several more children via the normal method! So, was this and actual case of a literal “son of a gun”? Sadly, no for the report was just a joke! Despite the suspect name of LeGrand Caper (i.e., “the grand caper”), Doctor Caper was real, but the story was related to him by another, and he submitted it as a farce. Perhaps a child did arise from the meeting of a young soldier and an and innocent lass, but it was of a decidedly normal process and the yarn concocted to preserve a young girl's honor. For in Dr. Capers on words "an accident may happen in even the most well-regulated families."
Oh, by the way if you don’t catch “Son of a Gun” in your local theater you can see an reenactment of the surrender of Vicksburg at our Breakfast with the Generals on July 4th, 2018 at the Baer House Inn 1117 Grove Street and the Old Courthouse Museum 1008 Cherry Street – More information soon
It's too soon to say when and where the movie will be shown, but as I find out more, I'll share it here. See you next time You Old Son of a Gun! Note it's scheduled for release early 2019 and will be shown in the Vicksburg Port Gibson area
The Last Voyage of the Sultana
By Morgan Gates
An anniversary of a great American disaster quietly passed recently, no flags flew at half-mast because of it, no moments of silence were observed, no orator solemnly intoned the names of the lost, and I doubt that any of the national media outlets even mentioned it. Don’t feel too bad, for few people of the era in which it happened knew much about it either! In fact, if I asked you to name three or four historic American disasters just off the top of your head, chances are it wouldn't be on your list even today. Just for fun let's try it… 9/11, The Challenger, Pearl Harbor Day, The Hindenburg maybe even The Titanic … bet you didn’t list the Sultana!
One hundred fifty-three years ago the steamboat Sultana exploded and burned in the middle of the flood-swollen Mississippi River in the middle of the night. To this day nobody is quite sure how many people died that night, but the estimates range between 1192 to 1547, the higher total would be more than perished aboard The Titanic 48 years later. To add injury to insult most of the victims were recently released POW on their way home after release. Well, what does this have to do with Vicksburg you ask? The Sultana had begun its fateful journey In Vicksburg only a few days before. The fate of the Sultana and Vicksburg it seems, were inextricably linked in more ways than one, however.
The City of Vicksburg, the key to regaining control of the Mississippi River, had resisted the best efforts of both the Union Navy and Army for over a year and finally fell to the second longest siege in U.S. Military History on July 4th, 1863. The Confederate Commander was brought to negotiation by 47 days of privation and near continual bombardment as terms of surrender he demanded parole for his beleaguered men. Grant who had earned the nickname Unconditional Surrender Grant at Fort Donelson initially refused, to which his opponent replied, “You will bury many more of your men before I unconditionally surrender Vicksburg!” Grant, who likely was just “negotiating from a position of strength” realized the impracticality of processing the tremendous Vicksburg garrison into POW camps relented and allowed the parole*. Still, he must have questioned this decision especially after he discovered that many of the same men who he had paroled at Vicksburg were captured again at Chattanooga. On April 17th, 1864 Grant, now the chief Union General, ended all parole! Neither side was prepared for the vast influx of POW that ensued, but the South was in especially dire straights for by this time in the war they were having trouble feeding their own people. The hastily constructed Andersonville Prison in Georgia was an especially nightmarish combination of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and exposure. By the spring of 1865 a limited amount of parole had resumed and even before the War was officially over the South had started paroling prisoners at Andersonville and Cahaba to Federal authorities at Vicksburg. A parole camp was established just outside Vicksburg, and emaciated walking scarecrows that had been prisoners were housed and cared for until transportation north could be arranged.
Enter the Sultana! The steamboat had been headed down river spreading the news of Lincoln's assassination along with its regular passenger and freight duties. On a stopover at Vicksburg the federal quartermaster offered the financially strapped captain a deal he could not afford to turn down, on his upriver leg he would load 1400 former POW aboard the Sultana for the princely sum of $5 per soldier and $10 per officer for a small kickback! The Sultana had been designed to house only 376, but Wartime exigences had caused such cautions to be dispensed with before. Upon her return trip, one of the Sultana's four boilers sprang a leak a potentially deadly problem, but a proper repair at Vicksburg would have meant the Captain would have missed this financial windfall, so he opted for a quick patch up job instead. The next day, not 1400 but almost 2000 former POW were loaded aboard the Sultana. The doomed ship backed away from the docks at Vicksburg on the night of April 24th with 2, 125 people aboard and heading upriver fighting a strong spring floodwater swollen current. At about 2 a.m. on the night of April 27th, the boilers exploded in mid-river the loss of life that night was perhaps the greatest maritime disaster in American history! But coming on the heels of the assassination of Lincoln and the unimaginable losses of the bloodiest war in American history this tragedy hardly stirred a ripple in the peoples conscious, for America had absorbed about all the bad news it could at that time, and few people know about this tragic incident even today. But you do now dear reader. Until next time, never forget the past for it is the ladder to tomorrow!
* Lacking a means for dealing with large numbers of captured troops early in the war, the U.S. and Confederate governments relied on the traditional European system of parole and exchange of prisoners. The terms called for prisoners to give their word not to take up arms against their captors until they were formally exchanged for an enemy captive of equal rank. Parole was supposed to take place within 10 days of capture. Generally, it was granted within a few days, especially after a major battle where thousands of troops were involved. Sometimes parolees went home to await notice of their exchange; sometimes they waited near their commands until the paperwork was processed. (civilwarhome.com)
The Yankees Are Coming -- Again!
By Morgan Gates
One hundred fifty-five years ago Vicksburg was the center of world attention. Earlier in the year, President Lincoln was making daily walks to the telegraph office to check on the progress of Grant's attempts to bypass Vicksburg. By April Grant himself had given up on these efforts and given his 13th Corps commander the task of building a road through the swamps down the west side of the Mississippi. On the moonless night of April 16th, 1863, a fleet of Navy Ironclads and Army transports had run the guns of Vicksburg. The Army of The Tennessee was in the process of moving south of the City to attempt a crossing of the Mississippi. Everybody knew the Yankees were coming! This July 4th, 2018 they will be coming – again!
The first Annual Vicksburg Civil War Symposium will be your chance to meet these legendary men of American History portrayed by the nations best living historians scheduled to appear are:
Major General Ulysses S. Grant (Curt Fields) – The commander of the Army of The Tennessee that besieged Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863 Grant was one of the most Iconic generals in American History. His is the classic American story, rising from humble beginnings and surviving a string of professional setbacks that would have humbled a lesser man. The surrender of Vicksburg sets him on a path into the history books as the man who won the war. If that was not enough, he served two terms as President and his memoirs became one the bestsellers of the 19th century.
Major General William T. Sherman (Dean Cass Jr.) – The man who made Georgia howl did his dress rehearsal in Mississippi, transforming Jackson Mississippi into Chimney Ville. Sherman was Grant’s best friend and right hand man. At Vicksburg he commanded the 15th corps he attacked Vicksburg in the winter of 1862 at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and again on May 19th and 22nd 1863.
Major General James McPherson (Scott Thomas) – promoted to Major General at Corinth for bravery he was Grant’s 17th Corps Commander at Vicksburg he fought the Battle of Raymond and anchored Grant’s center during the siege. His stellar performance caused him to rocket up the ranks, he was killed in action in 1864 the highest ranking Union officer to die in the war.
Major General Henry Halleck (Richard Weil) – Grant’s immediate superior during the Vicksburg Campaign. His relationship with Grant was somewhat rocky during the early part of the war.
Major General Henry Slocum (David Bonham) – A hero of the Battle of Gettysburg he was the military commander of Vicksburg in the summer of 1864.
Brigadier General Rufus Ingalls (Mike Trapasso) – while not a key player in the Vicksburg Campaign Rufus Ingalls was a key player in the Civil War as a whole. He was the chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac in the summer of 1862 and in the summer of 1864 Lt. General U.S. Grant made him quartermaster of the entire Federal Army.
---Oh, the Confederacy will be well represented as well, but more on that later
By Morgan Gates
Before U.S. Grant made plans to capture Vicksburg he first made plans to simply by-pass it! This was an old and valid plan of action. Since time immemorial military bastions, be they walled cities in ancient times, Medieval castles, or Civil War river fortifications, were only as effective as the choke points they controlled. If they could be by-passed, they were rendered useless.
In the winter of 1863 there were three separate projects on going to by-pass Fortress Vicksburg. The most well known was Grant’s Canal. It had been begun the summer before by Brigadier General Thomas Williams. Between June 27- and July 24 his brigade of men from, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan tried to dig a ditch across the base of DeSoto Point just west of the city -- OMG what was he thinking! The Confederates didn’t have to lift a finger, Col. Summer handled that campaign all by himself. Disease and heat exhaustion took care of the Northern soldiers, and they impressed slaves to continue the work but to no avail. Work was abandoned ad the soldiers pulled out with Farragut’s naval withdrawal.
Grant’s men took up the task again in January. In Grants opinion it at least kept the men busy and in shape. This time it was Old Man River himself who took a dim view of the work. A sudden river rise flooded and nearly backfilled the canal, until two steam dredges were brought in, but Confederate artillery drove them off, and work was abandoned once more. Thirteen years later when the Mississippi decided it was read to change its course it did so a mile north of Grant’s Canal. A small segment of Grant’s canal still exists under the I-20 bridge today.
The second attempt was the Duckport Canal. In the 19th century the land immediately west of Vicksburg was mostly swamp interspersed with cotton fields, the land was crisscrossed with a number of small waterways know as bayous - small sluggish rivers typically found in marshy areas. The idea was to dig a canal of about two miles length that would connect the Mississippi (several miles NW of Vicksburg) with the headwaters of Walnut Bayou, which emptied into the Mississippi about 15 miles south of the city. This was a long shot and even Grant admitted it, but he gave the OK to begin work on it anyway. The Bayou was shallow and clogged with trees, but by mid April they were able to get four steam dredges into the canal but in early May the Mississippi began to drop, and two dredges and 20 barges were marooned, work on the canal stopped.
The most audacious attempt was the Lake Providence Canal. Lake Providence is an oxbow lake about 45 airline miles above Vicksburg. a canal was dug to connect Lake Providence to the levee that separated it from the Mississippi. The levee would then be blown allowing flood water from the Mississippi to enter the lake flooding it to a depth sufficient that it would allow riverboat passage from the lake to Bayou Macon, then through various connecting waterways all the way to the Red River, over 200 miles of torturous tree clogged waterway that would have required extensive tree removal and dredging to be and effective by-pass. The levee was blown, and Lake Providence flooded but it was not until March 23 that the waters were high enough for work to begin. By this time Grant had decided to move his troops overland and cross the Mississippi and engage Vicksburg and he ordered work stopped.
Unintended consequences: The work at Lake Providence stopped, but the levee breech and canal to the lake caused extensive flooding in eastern Louisiana, this actually helped shield Grant’s movements along the west bank, not that he had much to worry about from that sector as Kilby Smith the CSA commander on the west bank had his hands full elsewhere. Unmentioned in the annals of history is the catastrophic flooding of countless small farms and plantations in this area. But there was another unintended consequence that did not happen, only by the Grace of God! Vicksburg is home today to the Mississippi River Commission a cooperative effort of Government/Civilian assets that has spent decades studying the flow of the Mississippi and all its related waterways in order to control the damaging potential of floods and enhance navigation. In a recent presentation to our Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable a retired engineer dropped a real bomb of information into our laps. If the river flood levels had been just a little bit higher that fateful spring of 1863, the levee breech at Lake Providence might have done much more that flood eastern Louisiana, it might have permanently changed the course of the Mississippi River leaving not only Vicksburg bypassed but every river city south of Lake Providence as well! Maybe U.S. Grant himself said it best in the opening of his Memoir “Man proposed but God disposes”!
Cooking with J.M. Swords
By Morgan Gates
I suppose civilized man has always depended on some version of social media. Long before Facebook and Twitter news both real and fake circulated via whatever media was available. Perhaps town criers and town gossips being the oldest. The invention of the movable type printing press in the in the 1400’s revolutionized the social media world in a way unmatched until the present day’s internet. Books once rare and the province of the very wealthy were now widely available. The next evolution of this information revolution was the newspaper in 1605. That is a single current-affairs series regularly published at intervals short enough for readers to keep abreast of incoming news! For 400 years newspapers ruled the roost of social media. Full of Notable Events Sports and Weather (NEWS) they kept people current on matters both great and small. Some of the most popular of the short but enjoyable features common in “papers” were both social events and recipes.
Nineteenth-century Vicksburg as a thriving community had several newspapers. One was the Daily Citizen published by J. M. Swords. Swords continued publishing throughout the Siege of Vicksburg despite hardships such as running out of proper newsprint and substituting wallpaper. In its July 2nd edition, The Citizen records one such social event with at least a suggestion of a recipe:
…poor defunct Thomas (and old cat of the neighborhood) was prepared not for the grave but for the pot, and several friends invited to partake of a "nice rabbit." As a matter of course, no one would wound the feelings of another, especially in these times, by refusing a cordial invitation to dinner, and the guest aided in consuming the poor animal with relish that did honor to their epicurean tastes. The “sold” assured the meat was delicious and that “pussy” must look out for their safety.
There is no mention of just how hapless old Thomas was prepared for the pot in this article, however, at the very end of this edition of the Daily Citizen there is a “late edition edit” added July 4th by Union troops who had recently entered the city.
Two days bring about great changes the banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg… The Citizen lives to see it. For the last time it appears on wallpaper. No more shall it eulogize the luxury of mule meat and fricassee kitten—urge southern warriors to such diet nevermore…
Until next time Bon Appetit from your friends a Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Our History runs Deep—Literally by Morgan Gates
Vicksburg is most famous for its role in the Civil War of course, but much more happened around Vicksburg than just the turning point of this terrible war. This area is as rich in history as its soil is fertile! Both before and after the war.
Not long ago I had a conversation with a local relic hunter. He had brought in some recently unearthed artifacts and was looking for some information on his finds. Before we go any further let me assure you that these relics WERE NOT found on the battlefield! Relic hunting within any military park is illegal! He was hunting on land owned by his family, many miles from the battlefield, but there were more Union soldiers in and around Vicksburg/Warren County in 1863, than the current population of the city and county combined! So, artifacts can be, and routinely are, found throughout this area.
The objects he had were apparently from the 19th century but seemed to be post war civilian and perhaps connected to an early leader of the post war African- American community whose grave he found on the property. The struggles of the African-American community after the war are yet another layer of the deep history around Vicksburg. Prewar slave laborers knew only their work. They had never dealt with the aspects of daily life that most men took for granted --making a living, finding a place to live, supporting themselves and their families, etc. Post war, they were thrust suddenly into the cold cruel world with very little to no preparation--they had to start from scratch! Over the next few generations they were excluded from white society by racist policies, so they built a society within a society. They built their own communities within the larger white communities, with their own churches, stores etc. They survived and, in many cases, thrived in spite of the forces working against them. The first African- American woman in America to earn a PhD lived in Vicksburg!
Another object he found upon digging even deeper was a stone arrow head in nearly perfect condition. The arrowhead likely was of Choctaw origin, meaning it could have been no more recent than 1830 and likely significantly older. The majority of the Southeastern tribes were removed to what is today Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, yet another layer of history!
Let’s delve even deeper, shall we? I am a member of the Historic Vicksburg Advisory Committee, and one of the many projects we are working on is the tricentennial commemoration of Fort Saint Pierre. Established in 1719, this French outpost on the Yazoo River –inside the boundaries of present Warren County – was bigger than the French settlement called New Orleans in 1720. The Fort was built on the site of and even older French Mission dating to 1698.
Deeper yet we dig, Mississippi has a newly established series of road side markers that designate the locations of Native American mounds. These mounds predate even the Choctaw. They are mostly associated with the Mississippian Culture which dates back as far as 800 A.D., but many may be even older than that.
So if you are a lover of history, come on down, for our history runs deep.
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The Second Book of Morgan
By Morgan Gates
Part of the upbringing of any good Southern Gentleman is that "One does not brag on himself" a gentleman's reputation should speak for itself! Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in today. In today's world, everyone is tooting their own horns so loudly that such gentlemanly manners no longer apply, I am afraid. So please forgive me Momma and whoever the Patron Saint of Good Manners may be as I announce the publication of my second book. The Long Road Home is a collection of seven Historic Fiction short stories; all are based on actual historical events, all are set in or have some connection to Vicksburg and or Mississippi. All are of the Civil War, or earlier and all involve struggles to survive in one way or another, and inevitably to go home."
I am a storyteller and historian by trade nowadays. Notice I put storyteller first, because if you can't catch a person's attention, then you aren't really transferring any significant amount of information. I've read – or at least tried to read – too many books in the history genre that read like a dictionary or even worse the so and so begat so and so sections of the Bible, and that is a shame! History is, or should be, entertaining! It is after all the story of us! Long before anyone figured out how to draw some abstract symbols on a clay tablet or animal skin and call it a word, people passed their history down by telling stories. Around the campfires, each night the old man (or woman) of the village would tell of some great hero or a catastrophic fight for survival, and knowledge and wisdom were passed on to another generation. That is in essence what I do on my tours, both daytime historic tours and night time ghost tours, ghost tours are really little more than dressed up historical tours (Oops! Maybe I shouldn't have said that, don't tell anyone OK?) Stories on a tour are by necessity rather short "soundbites" is the modern catchphrase I believe. Sometimes; however, the story begs for a more detailed telling. Alternately sometimes you have just a fragment of a story, incomplete, in some way but enough to suggest a more complete version.
Enter writing a Book! A decade ago, when I first started giving historical tours, if you had whipped out your crystal ball and told me I would one day write a book, I would have laughed at you. Yet as time when by I came across those stories that needed more telling than just a short blurb on a dark sidewalk. Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Tours are my bread and butter, so it was natural that my book would be a companion to that tour. It was a long time coming, a story here, a story there, a few false starts a brick wall or two, but with a little help, OK a lot of help, from my partner in time Meshea, my book “A Walk on the Darkside” was published last year. I'm pretty proud of my book, and it sells pretty well on the tours and in bookstores in Vicksburg (Don't worry Stephen King you have nothing to fear). This book had kept my creative juices flowing during many an offseason, but now that it was in print "what next"? WARNING: THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT WRITING CAN BE ADDICTIVE! I began casting about for my next project. Several topics were started and abandoned… Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Harry is getting his first wand and is told … “The wand chooses you Mr. Potter” well apparently that applies to books as well.
Well book two chose me, and things came together much more quickly this time, the first time is always the hardest they say! In truth bits and pieces of this book have been circulating in my head for quite some time as well, but when I put pen to paper (ok fingers to keyboard) this time the word flowed out more readily. So, what is book two you ask? More Ghost Stories, nope not this time! Historical Fiction is my genre this go round!
I have come across a number of fragments of stories, stories not in and of themselves whole! Around these stories, I have woven a fictional whole.
Now that I’ve made my plug, allow me to humbly request that you consider buying a copy of my new book, if you have ever taken one of my tours or regularly follow this blog, I think you will enjoy it. I have included a link below where it can be purchased directly from Lulu, and it should be soon available from other venues in Vicksburg. Thanks, and may your road home be short and your struggles few!
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He’s been working on the Railroad…
By Morgan Gates
As the Union Armies marched across the South, one of their favorite practices was the destroy the Confederacy's rail lines. The American Civil War was the first significant conflict in which railroads had played a major role. Steam-powered transportation via rail was relatively new in the world in the 1860’s, the first public steam railway in the world, had been opened in England only 35 years before. Railroads had however proved invaluable to the war effort of both sides, able to move troops and supplies at previously unheard-of speeds, using imperishable, easily obtainable and readily stockpiled fuels (mostly wood in the south) its main weakness was its fixed tracks. The Union was, of course, quick to recognize this and it became standard practice to destroy southern railways. Putting the rails out of service was easy enough, pry the tacks from their wooden ties and trains could no longer run on them. The problem was how to put them out of service long term? Wooden ties could be burned, but the iron rails were a bit more durable. Remember, this was well before the advent of light but powerful explosives, or even cutting torches. Serviceable wooden ties could be hewn from the nearest woodlot and the rails re lain, especially in an area where slave labor was employed. The rails had to be made useless somehow. The answer was to melt them. The ties were piled up and made into a bonfire the rails lay across them, and when they became red hot they could be bent, the most effective method was to use a handy tree to act a center point to ensure a good angle was applied. Please note: this method would not work with modern steel rails as their melting point is too high. At the time the rails were made of rather poor-quality iron which can become malleable at temperatures as low as 700 degrees. I do not know whose idea this was the first time it was done, but rails bent by such a method became known as "Sherman Neckties" as his men practiced this widely during the Atlanta Campaign. Atlanta, however, was not the first pace it was practiced, it was also done in Mississippi in 1963 and early 1864. In one of the displays in the new Mississippi History Museum in Jackson, there is a severely bent rail, an example of Sherman's handiwork in Mississippi, proof that he was tying his neckties here long before he traveled to Georgia and beyond.
Want to know more about Sherman in Mississippi? Come to the Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4 2018.
That Other Burg
By Morgan Gates
The American Civil War was the seminal conflict of American History, only the American Revolution that created our country was more important. No American War before or after can compare. Even World War II, massive and bloody as it was could not compare. For it was not fought on our soil and, heaven forbid, it had not worked out the way it did, The United States itself was not in any real sense in danger of conquest. The American Civil War was, in fact, significant on a worldwide scale. Remember since "the shot heard round the world" America had exerted a genuine Ideological influence on the rest of the world. What would have been the effect on the rest of the world if the "The Great Social Experiment" that was the USA had failed only "Four Score and Seven Years" after its inception?
Please remember dear fellow student of history, that a Union victory was not a foregone conclusion especially in the first two years of the War. A string of Confederate victories in 1862 had soured the northern population's opinion of the War. The Republicans had lost control of Congress in the mid-term elections, and the Democrats were agitating to end the War with a peace treaty and bring the boys home and stop the carnage. But in the summer of 1863, a significant Union victory turned the tides of war and public opinion. What was that victory GETTYSBURG you shout! Not so fast I answer… let's consider the facts.
Gettysburg is without a doubt a great battle, the nearly mythical invincibility of Lee lain open to the light of day, he was indeed just a man after all. The incredible losses of the day were unequaled in Western Hemispheric History to this day. But What if Lee had won? Lee would have still had to withdraw and head south again, sooner or later.
No, I would have to argue that the most important Union victory in the bloody Year of 1863, was at THE OTHER BURG! Vicksburg! Union operations against Vicksburg had been in progress since shortly after the fall of New Orleans. U.S. Grant’s operations to capture Vicksburg had been in progress since the winter of 1862. Grant was a stubborn as a mule and tenacious as a bulldog. Handed defeat after defeat by Confederate forces and mother nature. He conducts a series of operations so audacious that even his best friend William T. Sherman is flabbergasted by them! A nighttime run by the U.S. Navy (Grant's idea) past the formidable guns of Vicksburg. An amphibious landing unequaled until D-Day. A 19th-century Blitzkrieg across central Mississippi without a substantial supply line. Two nearly bold if unsuccessful assaults across impossible terrain and a 47-day siege in the heat of a Mississippi summer. This is the turning point Victory of the summer of 1863.
Had Vicksburg held and Lee lost, I think we would be living in a very different world today. Had Vicksburg fallen and Lee won, I doubt if the South could have still won. For the loss of Vicksburg was not just a loss of one town, it was the loss of the Mississippi River, and with it the Trans-Mississippi! So the next time you hear someone tell you that Gettysburg was the turning point of the War, just smile and politely nod your head for you know the truth. It was not Gettysburg but that other burg, VICKSBURG!
Want to learn more about Vicksburg and the War? Make plans now to attend the first annual Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4.
Lets take a walk along the new Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trail!
This is the Temporary trail head on Washington Street, when the Farmers Market stalls across the street are completed it will be moved over there. Wow this trail is pretty extensive, maybe we better just pick one today and come back later to finish the rest.
Yes, Vicksburg has some hills, but it's nothing we can't handle, plus it's great exercise.
Look, that's a Mississippi Blues Trail marker! Vicksburg has a lot more to it than the Civil War. Who knew?
"The Mississippi Barbecue Company will opening soon in this old building! Great Food served in unique historic buildings, with great views! What's not to like!
Look at this cool old house being restored on Grove Street.
Here is the next marker, it's about the Jewish community in Vicksburg.
These are some of the people who contributed to these markers. Oh, I've herd of this guy, I here he really knows his stuff!
This is the Bazsinsky House to day, it's a beautiful place!
This is where the HAUNTED VICKSBURG GHOST TOUR starts! On the corner of Monroe and Grove, on Friday and Saturday nights! I hear it is really good, we should take it one night!
The Old Courthouse Museum, if walls could talk! We have to go there before we leave!
Look at these old pictures of Vicksburg, what a different perspective.
You can rent this historic house as an Air B&B complete with butler and cook if you can afford it!
Vicksburg columns, newspapers printed on wallpaper, more fun facts
The Luckett Compound, we would have missed this if it weren't on the trail.
Lots of beautiful churches in this city!
Wow, there is so much to see here, and that was only one trail! We need to come back soon!
If you would like a GUIDED TOUR of this remarkable city, along this trail or any other or if you are not up to walking, and would like a driving tour, shoot me and email at email@example.com