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/ email@example.com OR the Baer House 601-883-1525 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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/ email@example.com OR the Baer House 601-883-1525 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 / firstname.lastname@example.org OR the Baer House (601) 883-1525 / email@example.com
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 / firstname.lastname@example.org
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 / email@example.com OR The Baer House 601) 883-1525 / firstname.lastname@example.org
« 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 / email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Sitting on the Stockade Redan
by Morgan Gates
A storm raged in my mind today, life-changing events swirl in my near future. Not bad things, mind you, good in fact, but still, life-changing! Change, especially significant changes can be exciting, but also somewhat frightening! So I did what I often do when in need time to think and clear my head, I went for a walk in the Vicksburg National Military Park. (Those of us who live in Vicksburg can purchase an annual pass for a quite reasonable sum, which allows unlimited access to the park road and there are several places where access to the tour road is available to pedestrians and bicyclist.)
From where I parked my truck, my dog, and I walked just over a mile to the Stockade Redan before retracing our steps. It was a perfect day for a walk. The sky was a cloudless blue that you could really only see in winter in Mississippi. I have often said that as the landscape around here turns bleak and gray, it is almost as if Mother Nature makes up for it by painting the skies in vivid hues. The temperature was also just right—60 degrees with a light wind. Sometimes winter can be the best season in the South. Despite the pleasant weather, the Park was almost empty and entirely peaceful. We stopped at the Stockade Redan and sat on the peak of the fort for a few minutes.
I'm sure anyone who reads this blog regularly knows of the profound events that happened in that place, but in brief review: The Vicksburg Campaign was the actual turning point of that deadly war. More so than Gettysburg, for though many more men died in that Pennsylvania field, the loss of Vicksburg severed the Confederacy in half! In sight of where I sat, Sherman's 15th Corps charged into the teeth of death. The 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment took 43 % casualties including George Washington’s Grandnephew. A few days later, the Forlorn Hope led a charge that piled bodies so deep it blocked the Graveyard Road that I had just walked down. Later in the siege, Henry Clay's Grandson died defending another fort less than a mile to my right, and less than a mile to my left my own Great-great Grandfather hunkered in a trench for 47 days.
On this day no smoke obscured the view, the roar of cannon and musket were replaced by the whisper of the wind. The ominous muzzle of Union cannon stared at me across the ravine, but no death and destruction had issued from them within the living memory of man. Black Vultures circled high in the sky by while their distant ancestors may have feasted on human flesh. These carrion birds would likely sup on nothing more gruesome than road-killed armadillo.
Do spirits still haunt this battlefield? Some say they do. Certainly there still a few forgotten bones buried somewhere in the ravine below. But today only memories, visual images pulled from the pages of history books, people the landscape below.
These images remind me that this place where I sit in peace today was once a place of bloody carnage where lives were sacrificed so that the nation we know today could exist.
My dog grows restless. He wants to move on, to smell the deer cropping and trace the path of other woods' creatures that have passed this way. I get up and we start back the way we came.
Info From the National Park Service website:
What is the Stockade Redan?
Stockade Redan was constructed to protect the Graveyard Road approach to Vicksburg. The fortification was given its name because of the wall, or 'stockade,' of poplar logs built across the Graveyard Road. The redan was attacked twice, on May 19 and 22, and each time the Confederate garrison successfully repulsed the Federal soldiers.
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg at the Cottonwood Public House
by Meshea Crysup, RHV
The building is historic—and I will blog about that when I get more of that history from the owner—but the place is modern and like nothing else in Vicksburg! Our historic area has stepped up and into exactly what young people are looking for in a community. One can live in The Lofts, lunch at 10 South or Roca, and then when evening comes, walk on down and unwind at the Cottonwood Public House!
Craft Beers, which are all the rage!
Craft Cocktails, YUM!
Craft Pizzas cooked in a firebrick oven!
The menu is “foodie heaven”.
The atmosphere is “old meets new”, “inside meets outside”, and “traditional meets modern”! Exposed brick walls, wide open space, a very L.O.N.G. bar, seating that will open onto the sidewalk when the weather is warmer, tall tables, short tables, a sofa, a dart board, and, of course, let us not forget that THEY BREW BEER! (Well, they will be soon! Zack Erickson, the brewer, promised that we will talk so I can blog all about that as soon as the beer is brewing!)
If you are looking for an interesting way to spend an evening or a new place to call “your place”, check out The Cottonwood Public House, 1309 Washington Street! The epitome of reclaimed-downtown chic, it is certainly a modern way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
in the Spring
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Spring will be here before we know it, therefore it is not too early to start planning daytrips, weekends, long weekends, or even week-long Spring vacations. Vicksburg is certainly well into planning an exciting season for those of you who want to come Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018
The dates for Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018 are March 22-April 8, on Thursday-Sunday of each week.
Pilgrimage is more than just afternoon tours of historic homes, churches, etc. It is also special events and unique educational and entertainment opportunities designed to introduce you to all that Historic Vicksburg has to offer. Of course, Civil War history is thoroughly covered, but the Antebellum Era is about more than war. Plus, Vicksburg’s history goes back long before the war and much has happened since. Pilgrimage has something for everyone!
One unique feature of Vicksburg Pilgrimages is that you are not merely buying a venue tour ticket, handed a map, and sent on your way! All afternoon venue tours are conducted by Historic & Haunted Vicksburg Tours owner/operator, Morgan Gates. While he drives you from one stop to the next in his comfortable tour van, Morgan entertains and educates you with a Vicksburg City Tour. Your Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018 ticket will also get you discounts at many businesses and for many events being held in Historic Vicksburg. Therefore, your Pilgrimage ticket purchase is actually a very valuable tool and a great deal!
What businesses and events?
Vicksburg has many interesting shops, galleries, antique stores, boutiques, a coffee shop, a bakery, a bookstore, museums, a new self-guided walking tour, the Riverfront Murals, Catfish Row Children’s Art Park, and unique dining options, several with live musical entertainment in the evenings. Much of this is within walking distance of one another. While not yet complete, the list of businesses offering discounts on purchases is growing daily! As far as events, how do afternoon teas, ghost hunts and/or tours, book signings, trivia nights, wine, beer, and cocktail tastings, the Genius World Book of Records longest running play: Gold in the Hills, and an Antebellum Ball sound? Those are a few of the things in the works!
Rest & Relax in the Midst of History
Any trip to Vicksburg, but especially during Pilgrimage, is enhanced by staying at one of our may Bed & Breakfast locations. The history of the homes, the period furnishings, the gardens or courtyards, and of course the Southern Hospitality—defiantly the best way to have a superior and relaxing lodging experience!
More to Come!
Over the next few weeks, as details are finalized, I will be keeping you informed and providing you with contact information, ticket information, etc. I will also re-share the blogs I have already done on historic tour homes, tours, etc., as well as bringing you new blogs about those I have not yet covered! Of course, the goal is to whet your appetite, peak your curiosity, and lure you to our 2018 Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage! If you cannot make it at that time however, it will all serve as a great guide for when you can join us, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
in the Winter
While Vicksburg, Mississippi is certainly in “The South”, our winter weather is unpredictable. We may have temperatures in the 70’s one day and in the 20’s the next! We even get some snow! I am honored to share pics from Vicksburg National Military Park that my friend, Licensed Battlefield Guide, B.B. Ingle, recently sent to me! (Thank you B.B.!)
~Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
The morning of December 8th, 2017, I awoke to find several text messages from my friend, BB Ingle. An occasional text about Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable is not unusual, but over a half-a-dozen at around 7 am—well that was! If you are familiar with “The South” at all, however, you will understand what B.B. was so excited about!
What is there to do in Vicksburg in the winter?
Well, to be honest, if it snows, not a lot, lol! We truly pretty much shut down the whole state of Mississippi! Thankfully, that does not happen very often! So, check out the weather forecast, just in case, then go ahead and plan a trip to Vicksburg!
Obviously, Vicksburg National Military is open year around, baring the federal government shutting down. Vicksburg also has many tour homes which are open or available upon appointment. There are also museums, historic churches, art galleries, a book store, guided tours, walking tours, unique dining experiences, riverfront murals, an art park, historic cemeteries, unique stores and shops, live music, trivia, wine, beer, and cocktail tastings, and more! My list is far from exhaustive. Below are links to websites with complete lists and details.
Historic Vicksburg Tours
Haunted Vicksburg Tours
Old Court House Museum
McRaven Tour Home
Baer House Inn
Duff Green Mansion
As you can see, Historic Vicksburg has much to offer, even in the winter! In fact, if heat, humidity, and mosquitos are not for you, winter might be the best time for you to plan on Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Seriously folks, winter really is a GREAT TIME
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
History Has a Home
By Morgan Gates
I was finally able to get over to the new Mississippi History Museum this weekend, so I thought I would venture a few miles to the east of Vicksburg and write a blog or two about this long-awaited building.
The new Mississippi History Museum in Jackson, opened in December, to coincide with Mississippi’s Bicentennial. It has been a long time coming but it is was worth the wait. Mississippi is arguably one of the most historic states in the Union at the state has no shortage of excellent museums, including among others, the Old Court House Museum and the Lower Mississippi Valley Museum in Vicksburg. The Elvis's Birthplace Museum in Tupelo, Beauvoir in Biloxi, B.B. King in Indianola, The Agricultural Museum in Jackson and many more both large and small. Each interprets a different slice of Mississippi's diverse and rich history. The Central Museum, the one that tells Mississippi's history as a whole, however, has been missing piece of the puzzle for more than a decade.
Our story of homeless artifacts begins in the late summer of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina barreled ashore on the “Landmass between New Orleans and Mobile” as one national media weatherperson phrased it, that we otherwise know as the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The storm made landfall about 150 miles south by southeast of Jackson. Your average garden variety hurricane is usually little more than a gusty rainstorm by the time they are that far inland, but our girl Katrina! She reached Jackson while still at hurricane at strength. And she ripped much of the copper sheathing from the roof of the Museum’s previous home, the Old Capitol Building. Causing the artifacts removal to safe storage until repairs could be made. With much of the southern half of the state in ruins, it took a while for repairs to be made.
The old Mississippi State Capitol building, which served from 1839 – 1903 is a historical artifact in and of itself, so when restoration funds became available in 2006, it was decided that this Grand Old Dame would better serve to tell her own story! When she reopened in 2009, she did just that. One Vicksburg connection in the Old Capitol Museum; on the wall in the old Governor's office are the names of every man who served in that role during the building's tenure, the first name is Alexander Gallatin McNutt of Vicksburg! The Old Capitol is now a great new addition to Mississippi's interpretive history, but still, no building was available to tell the whole story. So, a brand-new construction began to rise right behind the Old Capitol to house and expand upon the artifacts of the Mississippi History collection. Coupled with the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum housed in the same building but with its own wing, two for the price of one so to speak, the Museum is now open, and Mississippi's history once more has a home! Go check it out some time. http://www.mmh.mdah.ms.gov/
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A Prayer for the President
By Morgan Gates
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!
By Morgan Gates
'Tis the Christmas season, and all are scurrying about finishing up their shopping and having Holiday get-togethers and such, so the postings have been a bit lean here lately, our apologies! So here is a little tidbit, for you, a bit out on the edge of our usual genre perhaps, but interesting none the less.
The most famous Christmas Ghost story is, of course, Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" – You know it well, Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future! But did you know that Christmas was once as associated with Ghost Stories as Halloween? (See the link to the article in Smithsonian Magazine below)
The tradition long predates Dickens it seems, but the Puritans did not much like it so it never really "crossed the pond" so to speak. Dickens' work gave Christmastide ghost story a brief burst of life in the new world in the 19th century, but eventually, it was the Halloween tradition brought west by Scottish immigrants that became the scary holiday!
But I digress! Yes, Christmas was once a time of Peace on Earth, goodwill toward man and Fear of Hell and damnation! Almost lost among the black Friday sales and Jolly old elves and reindeer, is Santa’s dark alter ego, Krampus! Almost lost, until Hollywood disinterred him a couple of years ago that is, the Krampus story originates in alpine regions of German and Austria. The figure is somewhat demonic in appearance, often described as a smallish hunched over figure with horns. He would deliver bundles of birch branches to beat bad children with and a sack or pack in which he would carry particularly bad children off to never be seen again! Que the shivers!
Ok, so what does this have to do with Vicksburg? Well, there were many immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from these Germanic lands in the south. When I was growing up, I was taught not that Santa brought misbehaving children "switches" not lumps of coal! Finally, a story from my father's childhood! When he was a child he was taught that a "boogeyman" called "Sack-a-Billy" traveled all around the land and he would put particularly terrible little children in a sack he carried over his shoulder and carry them off, and they would never be seen again! Sack-a Billy was described as a stooped shouldered old man who walked the railroad tracks from town to town! Sound familiar?
One, day in a fit of anger my father – just a child at the time – set out to run away from home, and burst out the front door at a run! The Vicksburg Street on which he lived has a railroad track running right alongside it. As luck would have it, at that particular moment a stooped over old man with a sack over his shoulder was walking by his house! Well, you can imagine how quickly he reversed course and decided running away was not such a good idea!
Of course, my 6 or 7-year future father had not actually encountered a supernatural being, for this was during the 1930's when many men down on their luck traveled the railroads as Hobos. When my father was alive, we laughed over this story many a time, but it was just recently that realized that in a way he had an encounter with a Vicksburg Mississippi incarnation of Krampus!
He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Krampus is coming to get you tonight!
Peace on Earth? What Peace?
By Morgan Gates
Peace on earth, goodwill towards men… famous words indeed! Words uttered by the Heavenly Host in Luke 2:14 ! Yet there has always been war, and strife and suffering and this side of heaven I suppose there always will be both then and now…
This Saturday (12/9/2017) the Old Courthouse Museum will have their annual Christmas Ball, a reenactment of an actual Christmas Ball thrown for the Confederate officers and their ladies on Christmas Eve 1862. This ball was famously interrupted by a messenger warning of an impending attack by General William T. Sherman and 32,000 men. Sherman's men sat aboard crowded transports that Christmas day, their Confederate counterparts spent the day hastily marching and digging in! No peace on earth that day!
Briefly, Sherman's men land along Chickasaw Bayou a tributary of the Yazoo River a few miles north of Vicksburg, they find themselves in the disadvantageous position, of being in a partially flooded swamp while the Confederates hold the high ground. The battle lasts three days and ends in a Confederate victory. (We will delve more deeply into this almost forgotten battle at a future date) .
By the Christmas season of 1863 the War had moved on to other regions of the South, but Vicksburg was in shambles and many around Vicksburg, were hungry and impoverished. Some say the custom of eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day arose in Vicksburg during this time. In the antebellum years, this legume was reserved for animal fodder and was thus one of the few crops not burned or confiscated by the Union Army during the war. Of course, Vicksburg recovered quickly post-war, and soon there were times of plenty and peace again.
War and personal strife, and suffering, I am afraid are just part of the human condition. I doubt that there has been a point in all of history where there has not been a war raging somewhere on God’s green earth, and I am absolutely sure there has not been a time without personal strife. So, what was the point of these words spoken so long ago by celestial beings at the birth of our savior? God has always been more concerned with us as individuals than as a species and with the condition of one person’s heart (yours or mine)!
So how do we find peace on a troubled Earth, or offer goodwill to our fellow man! We find it through him!
We here at Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and pray that you will find your own peace and goodwill towards men!