Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
Making “New” History
by Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Preserving and remembering history is certainly an important and worthy pursuit in life, especially in a town as rich in history as Vicksburg. LIVING, however, is not a static or reflective action—it is dynamic. Rediscovering History and BUILDING UPON it—that is what keeps a community relevant, vibrant, fresh, and growing.
As previously shared, I was excited to move to Vicksburg, a town of such historic significance. I am now very proud and honored to be a part of the process of helping local people, people around our country, and even around the world, Rediscover Historic Vicksburg. However, it is not just about “seeing” historic places or “hearing” historic stories. Almost daily, there is something new in the historic air here in Vicksburg!
Historic homes are becoming more and more utilized, and the “Bed & Breakfast” is not just for sleeping and eating anymore! You may experience dinner theater productions, a book signing, a meeting (such as Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable), a music video production, a mini-shopping-mall featuring local artists and merchants, a “Breakfast with the Generals (Civil War, of course)… Frankly, I am not sure what they will come up with next, but I cannot wait to find out!
The historic homes or buildings that are now places to eat are also places to listen to music, sing karaoke, hold a meeting or party, or attend a wine, beer, or cocktail tasting. You may also attend a Blue’s Luncheon with local food being served and local musicians entertaining you. You may be greeted, given information, conducted on a tour, or even entertained with stories by someone “in character”—perhaps even a general or a general’s wife!
In Vicksburg, we are dining on rooftops of historic buildings (10 South), while watching the sunset, a Mardi Gras parade, a local homecoming parade, or listening to music…and more!
We also have places such as the Warren County Old Court House Museum which is not just a place to tour or purchase souvenirs! You can also attend a Christmas Ball that commemorates and re-enacts the beginning of the Siege of Vicksburg or you can experience a “Night at the Museum” or a flea market!
During a weekend in Vicksburg, you can take a tour--Historic, Haunted, or both!—enjoy learning about our local history and perhaps discover a local spirit that is just not ready to leave. You can choose to visit a home that is always open for tours, or you might come during Vicksburg Pilgrimage for even more home tour options! You can experience authentic Blues, “eat, drink, and be merry”, and never have to venture out of the historic part of town!
Whatever you chose to do, we believe you will want to return again and again, because, the deeper we delve into our history, the more ways we are finding to share it! Ironically, while Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, new memories are being made, new traditions are being born, and “new” history is being made!
Mr. President Your Bear is Ready!
by Morgan Gates, Historic & Haunted Vicksburg
Vicksburg is no stranger to the men who have held the highest office in the land. Quite a few presidents of the United States have walked our streets, and, if you add to the list future and former presidents, it is even more lengthy. Andrew Jackson and Zachery Taylor were a few of the earliest. It is very likely that Abraham Lincoln did so as well while on one of his flatboat trips downriver in his youth. Ulysses S. Grant “of course”, William McKinley, and Dwight Eisenhower. In that list of incredible men of impressive credentials, my personal favorite is Theodore Roosevelt.
Teddy Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. He was the quintessential American male specimen. Tough but fair, he hated corruption and stood up for the common man. He was a graduate of Harvard and a published author, but he was also a cowboy who owned and worked on cattle ranches. He was an amateur boxer and police commissioner of New York City –so if you ever wondered why Tom Selleck on “Blue Bloods” has T.R. ‘s portrait on the wall, that’s why. Although he never served in the Navy, he was considered an authority on Naval issues. He wrote The Naval War of 1812 which was considered a seminal work in that field. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley. He gained fame in the Spanish-American War with his group of volunteers, known as the Rough Riders, and their charge up San Juan Hill! Retuning to politics he was elected Governor of New York where his straight-shooting reformist attitudes alienated the political insiders of the day and they sought a way to get rid of him. They decided to sideline him by making him Vice President of the United States (a prestigious but powerless position), but in 1901, an assassin’s bullet catapulted him into the Presidency. He loved America and was instrumental in putting us on the road toward becoming a world power. He created the U.S.’s first world class Navy during his administration. He also started digging the Panama Canal and created many new National Parks. But all work and no play makes Teddy a dull boy, so when T.R. had some time off, he loved to hunt. This passion brought him to Vicksburg in 1902.
In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt disembarked the Steamboat “Belle of the Bends” at the Vicksburg waterfront. He had come to Mississippi at the invitation of the Mississippi’s Governor, Andrew Longino. Their destination was Onward Plantation, about 25 miles north of Vicksburg. When the distinguished party reached that spot, they were introduced to their guide for the hunt. Only the best would do for the President’s hunt. Their guide was probably the most accomplished bear hunter in North America. This man had killed more bear than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone combined. His name was Holt Collier.
Holt Collier was a native Mississippian, born in 1846, as a slave. At an early age, Holt’s master had put him in charge of his hunting dogs and later gave him responsibility for keeping the slave population of the plantation well fed with meat. He killed his first bear at 10 years old. During the Civil war, he fought as a Confederate Cavalryman (Yes Virginia, there were Black Confederates--I hope I didn’t burst any bubbles with that statement). After the war, he went west and worked as a Cowboy for short time before returning to Mississippi. By the time he guided for the President, he was 56.
During the hunt, everybody in the party had received a chance to shoot a Bear except T.R. so Holt rode out alone one evening with just his hunting dogs. The dogs soon picked up the scent and the chase was on. Dogs used to hunt dangerous game, like bear, are trained to surround the animal and keep it in place by lunging and retreating just out of the bears reach, thus keeping it in place until the hunters arrive. Just as Holt rides up, the bear gets lucky and catches one of the dogs with its massive paw, killing it instantly. Angry at the loss of his dog, Holt jumps from his saddle and clubs the bear senseless, lassos it, and ties it to a tree. Moments later, he brings the President up and there is the bear, still dazed and confused and tied to a tree. "Here is you bear Mr. President shoot it!"
Roosevelt, the consummate sportsman, of course refuses to shoot the helpless bear.
The press corps, which even in those days followed the President everywhere, soon flashes the story across the nation. A political cartoonist up North redraws the scene, but not with an angry male bear, but with a cute little cub tied to a tree. A toy maker in New York gets the idea to make a stuffed bear and calls it a “Teddy Bear”!
To think it all started right here in Vicksburg!
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That Shifty Old River by Morgan Gates
I do appreciate all the interest that my last post (A Tale of Two Cannon) has generated. I would like to thank all those who want to help me “find” Whistling Dick. It has also occurred to me that many people do not appreciate the complex dynamics of the Mississippi River.
Most people in the world have a river somewhere in their lives. Perhaps it is a quiet little waterway suitable for swimming and fishing, or perhaps it is a busy industrial waterway. Man, has lived alongside and made use of rivers from the very beginning. In America’s earliest days’ cities grew up along the rivers, they powered the mills and acted as highways of commerce. We also know that even the most sedate water way can unleash destructive energy in the form of floods. We don’t really think much about them otherwise, they’ve always been there and if you’ve seen one you have pretty much seen them all, right!
WRONG! Unless you, like me have grown up practically on the banks of Old Man River, you don’t know my River! The Mississippi, or at least the lower Mississippi, should almost be in a class by itself, Mega River perhaps –Ok, Ok, it could share it with the Amazon and maybe the Nile—but no more! Even the upper Mississippi, which by all rights ought to be considered a separate river, can’t compare. All rivers, are dynamic, and ever changing creatures (that’s right creatures) that are in most senses of the word alive. They move, reproduce, eat, and they have very different personalities. The river you threw a fishing line into on Sunday will not be the same river you cross on your way to work Monday morning. We look at the mountains and the forest and know that, in at least the brief span of our individual lives they will change very little, and we sometimes make the mistake that rivers do likewise but that is wrong. The water you looked at yesterday is gone -- and the river of today is a new one. Now in your mind’s eye replace your placid little fishing river with the Mississippi!
On an average day at Vicksburg 4.5 million gallons of water per second flow past Vicksburg! To put that in perspective that is 53 Olympic sized swimming pools per second and that’s just its water! In its currents the Mississippi suspends, and ultimately discharges, 470, 000 cubic feet of soil per second (that’s at the mouth so just a little less here). That’s a lot of dirt, to put that into perspective, it took the Colorado River something on the order of 6 million years to cut the Grand Canyon. If we could make the Mississippi suddenly dump all its suspended sediment it would be enough soil to fill up the Grand Canyon in just over a year*! If on its most basic level a river is a ditch with water running through it, then the Mississippi is that but with its own fleet of backhoes and dump trucks! Bottom line the Mississippi River can move, if it decides it doesn’t like the neighborhood it can leave**! It has done so on many occasions to towns along its course, like Rodney and Grand Gulf and Vicksburg!-- Wait! Vicksburg! Yes Vicksburg.
Many people who visit Vicksburg go down to Levee Street to see our beautiful flood wall murals, and when they venture beyond the flood gates they are surprised that the Mississippi is so “small” directly in front of old Vicksburg. The reason of course is, the body of water beyond the flood wall IS NOT THE MISSISSIPPI, it is the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Now wait you say, I thought Vicksburg was a Mississippi River Town? I respond, it is! What, now I’m confused you say. Don’t worry let me explain.
When the Reverend Newitt Vick laid out Vicksburg it was indeed “on” the Mississippi River. The original city was only about eight blocks square, and it was located entirely on a large “meander bend” in the Mississippi that came down from the north turned and flowed almost due north again until it reached a line of bluffs the early settlers called The Walnut Hills, it then turned 180 degrees due south and continued to the sea, this left a point of land—a peninsula—known as DeSoto point directly across the River form the city . The River was still there during the siege but then in April 1876 the River took a walk. The trip was not an overnight decision, but once it made up its mind it completed the trip pretty much overnight. The current in the River had been eating away at the base of DeSoto point for years. During the War Grant, had attempted to deliberately cause the River to shift by digging a canal across the base of the peninsula but Old Man River would have none of that nonsense. When the River did shift, it did so almost a mile to the north of Grant’s Canal. The Mississippi’s backhoes had dug a new channel in one night, and the people of Vicksburg woke up the next morning to discover the River had abandoned them –it was not a surprise, they knew it was coming, but they couldn’t stop it. The old channel without the current immediately started silting in—the River’s dump trucks! A river city without a river is in real danger of extinction, the city fathers immediately purchased land two miles south of the city limits and established a new river port but the outside bend of the Mississippi is the worst place for a port facility because of the strong currents. What was really needed was a navigable body of water back in front of the old city. That was accomplished about 26 years later when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo, a navigable tributary of the Mississippi, from its natural course into a canal that diverted it into the old bed of the Mississippi, and thus saved Vicksburg. The city migrated south toward the Mississippi throughout the Nineteenth and into the Twentieth Century and now once again fronts on the Mississippi. Vicksburg is today a city of two rivers the Yazoo on the north and the Mississippi, once again, on the south. Today the Corps of Engineers does an admirable job of taming the Rivers wanderlust, at least so far—cross your finger that the river doesn’t get too restless in the future, because the River is getting really tired of New Orleans lately.
So back to the opening paragraph, and those brave individuals that want to help me go look for the lost cannon. It could be anywhere along a 4 mile stretch of River and/or land it could be over 100 feet down under a swamp or even parts of the modern city of Vicksburg. Or it could be buried 30 or 40 feet down in the river bed under the modern bend in the, River some of the most dangerous currents in the world! So, thank you for you offers my friends, but I think I’ll pass.
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Photo Google Earth Screen Shot of Vicksburg and its two rivers
*If you are a hydrological engineer, don’t start splitting hairs with me if my hasty math is a little off, I’m making a point.
** All rivers can do this but the Mississippi does it so much better!
A Tale of Two Cannon by Morgan Gates
On a hill in southern Vicksburg sits and a formidable piece of artillery, it is a British 7.5 inch Blakely rifled cannon, that was once a part of Vicksburg’s defensive arsenal. This tremendous gun’s breech was banded with wrought iron to strengthen it, it’s cast iron barrel was 124 inches long and it was able to loft a 150-pound shell. It was affectionally known to its crews as the “Widow Blakely” as she was the only one of her kind in Vicksburg.
The Civil War has been called the first modern war, for so many things that personify modern war first appeared on the stage in this bloody conflict. Speed of transportation, and communication, had made great leaps forward, as had the range accuracy and power of the weapons. A 12 pounder Napoleon fieldpiece can put a hole in modern an armored personnel carrier of the modern era (it has been done with replica of those guns). A three-inch ordinance rifle –another fieldpiece—could put all its rounds in 30’’ circle at a mile, the 30-pound Parrot Rifle (the American equivalent of the Blakely) could throw a shell four miles. Don’t let the name fool you this was no meek old lady “The Widow” was a widow maker!
On the night of April 22 1863 as additional transports made a second run past the guns of Vicksburg. A shell prematurely detonated in the Widow’s barrel blowing the last two feet off. The Confederates chiseled the ragged breech smooth, and the Widow Blakely continued to give good service, through the end of the siege; although, at a slightly shorter range.
Enter our second gun, the more mysterious of the two, “Whistling Dick” was a rifled banded 18 pounder by all accounts. This in itself is curious, in that 18 pounder is not a common designation for Civil War era cannon. The old prewar standards for smooth bore cannon were 6, 12, 24, 32 etc. Rifled cannon, a new invention in the 1860’s, complicated the field even more. They were sometimes referred to by their bore diameter 3”,9”, 11” other times by weight of projectile 10#, 20#, 64# etc. finally, to totally confuse things, smooth bores were converted to rifles. I suspect “Whistling Dick” was one of the latter. The gun’s name came from the peculiar whistling sound its shells made as they flew through the air. If you think about it this gun must have made a truly unique sound, for there were hundreds of shells whizzing through the skies around Vicksburg at that time. A certain mythos grew up around Whistling Dick, some claimed it was the gun that sank the Ironclad USS Cincinnati, and when the Union Army at last marched into Vicksburg, they began to search among the many surrendered Confederate cannon for this particular gun. When they finally located the gun, they sent it north as a souvenir, it sat on the Campus of U.S. Military Academy at West Point for over 90 years, and then one day they sent it back to Vicksburg. For you see they did not have the right gun, the gun that sat on the West Point Campus for over nine decades was not “Whistling Dick” it was “The Widow Blakely” they had the wrong gun. What became of the notorious noisy cannon, the night before the surrender, the gun crew quietly rowed the gun out on to the moonless darkness of the Mississippi and tipped it over the side into the deepest part of the main channel. Once safely back ashore they made a solemn vow to never tell a soul. They would surrender, but Whistling Dick never would. Finally, many decades later the last survivor revealed the truth on his death bed.
Today the Widow Blakely frowns once more from the heights ready to protect Vicksburg once more if it is ever attacked by a hostile towboat, or river excursion passenger liner, and what of Whistling Dick? His whereabouts are unknown to this day. The last unbowed Confederate still lurks somewhere in the murky depths.
One Panther’s Bad Day by Morgan Gates
The old panther crept quietly along the limb of the huge old oak tree, he was hungry he hadn’t made a significant kill in several days. His world was changing in ways he didn’t understand. He was getting old and he knew it. Younger more aggressive panthers had begun moving into his range, and his hunting grounds were not as large as they once were. This was the balance of nature and on some level, he understood this. Once he had been the young aggressive male, he vaguely remembered the day when he had killed the old cat that used to dominate this range of forest, but he was not that far along yet he still had plenty of fight left in him, and he would likely hold most of his range for several more summers before he was vanquished. His real problem was that the woods themselves were changing, great openings had suddenly appeared in several places around the forest. Last summer he could travel from one end of his range to the other without touching the ground except when he pounced down from above on a young deer or turkey. Game had always been so abundant, deer, turkey, bear, racoon, and possum as well, although he rarely bothered with racoon and possum, unless he was just bored and looking for something to play with, the adult bears were too big and dangerous, but every once in a while, he thought of snatching a young cub and quickly retreating to a high tree -- it would have been quite a challenge. Right now, he would be willing to try just about anything.
It was the noisy one’s fault, they looked like the forest people that occasionally wandered through his range but they did not act or smell like them. He did not bother the forest people and they did not bother him, they did not stay long in his forest and they were really a little too big for him anyway. The noisy ones were the problem, they were cutting down the trees and hunting the deer and turkey with their thundering sticks, and making it harder for him to find a good meal. The noisy ones were too big just as the big deer and bear were, but some of their young were just about the right size. He had been watching the small herd of young ones for several minutes now, biding his time. The adults were far away in the clearing, he had never tasted their flesh, but he was hungry, hungrier than he ever remembered being. Just then a young male broke from the herd and ran out ahead a short distance, the panther made his move. In a blur of motion, he leapt from the tree. He struck at the young male’s throat as was his habit, he sought to crush the windpipe with his mighty jaws and suffocate the creature in the way of his kind. But this was no deer, the throat was short and stubby and the creature’s limbs lashed and flailed about in a way no young deer could, and the herd, it did not silently scatter away as a deer herd would. They made horrible screeching noises and ran toward the adults in the clearing! He began dragging his prey way but had to stop and slash at its limbs that kept flailing at his face. His bite had been clumsy and not well placed, the creature did not quickly lose consciousness, he was unfamiliar with this new prey but he would do better next time. Loud noises came from the clearing, what was this bellowing sound? Then he remembered, he had heard it before, the noisy ones used this sound to call their dogs in from a hunt. He slowed to look back, the prey was nearly still now, soon he heard the sound of the dogs. He knew the dogs, they were like the wolves, they hunted on the ground. The noisy ones used them to run down the deer, if they caught him on the ground they could hurt him, he started looking for a way to get his kill up in the tree. He climbed atop a fallen log dragging his prey. The dogs were closing fast and he could hear the noisy ones running behind them. What sort of prey was this? They were like the bears they defended their young, fear gripped his heart, as hungry as he was he released his grasp on the prey and leap into a tree.
Rebecca, and the other ladies looked up from their quilting as she heard the children screaming and running toward them. The men were out in the field rolling logs in, to build their cabin. Here on the frontier the settlers helped each other out. The new Mississippi Territory was fertile land with great promise. But before corn and cotton could be planted, the primeval forest had to be cleared and proper shelter had to be constructed. For the wilderness was dangerous land full of wild animals, and potentially hostile Indians. ----A big yellow dog jumped out of a tree and dragged John Bedford away, the children cried. Rebecca knew in an instant that this was no dog but a deadly panther, they had heard its unearthly cry in the woods for the last several evenings. She snatched up her husband’s hunting horn and blew and alarm. The men and dogs converged on the camp, in moments. The men experienced woodsmen and hunters all, quickly picked up the trail and they soon found young John Bedford in a pile of leaves covered in blood. Tears welled in the eyes of the father as he lifted the still and bloody body from the forest floor. Then he heard the child draw a ragged breath, John Bedford was somehow still alive. They rushed the child back to the camp where the women cared for him. As the men and dogs went in pursuit of the killer cat, and before the sun had set the hungry panther was dead!
John Bedford had been quite possibly the luckiest, five-year-old boy in the Mississippi Territory that day, his wounds were largely superficial, he would survive, and grow to manhood, as all little boys should do. Lucky indeed, for the cat’s jaws should have closed on his windpipe like a vise quickly bringing unconsciousness and death, yet the cat had almost missed its mark! One of his fangs actually penetrated the boy’s windpipe, effectively performing a tracheotomy, and allowing in just enough air that the boy survived. That old cat was just having a really bad day it seemed, or perhaps God was just not yet through with young John Bedford, he still had work to do it seems. At least that is what I like to think! For you see the little boy was John Bedford Gates my fourth great-grandfather, and if that cat’s aim had been better I would have never been born.
The basic facts of this story was taken out of " A History of Simpson County" By Bee King Compiled by Frances B. Krechel. She gave credit to Collins Gates for telling her the story. He was a grandson of John Bedford Gates.
Momma was in town visiting.
My friend, real estate agent-extraordinaire, Kim Steen, and I were trying to make sure she had a great time.
And it was October—PERFECT!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
Haunted Vicksburg’s Walking Tour
By Meshea Crysup, RHV
I had lived in Vicksburg nearly two years and had yet to take any type of historic tours when I joined Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable and met Morgan Gates. It was quickly apparent that he was not just a guide at the military park—he was a “storyteller” in every sense of the word. I was not surprised, therefore, when I found out that he ran Historic Vicksburg as well as Haunted Vicksburg, which are both tour-based businesses. Once we concluded we wanted to take a “haunted tour”, I knew just who to contact!
Morgan and I did exchange a couple of emails or texts, but basically, I just went to his website, www.hauntedvicksburg.com , read about the tour options, and we picked one! We opted for the walking tour, but there was also a riding tour option. We were able to pay for the tour online using a debit or credit card. I simply kept a screenshot of the confirmation, “just in case”.
We met up with behind the Old Court House Museum at the appointed time. Morgan, his wife, Gwen, and another guide were waiting for us. Before long, our group showed itself to be much larger than I had expected. In addition to our forty-five, it just so happened that a local paranormal group was joining us also! Exciting indeed!
Morgan introduced himself, told us a bit about what to expect, and introduced the paranormal leader and crew. They had gadgets that were used to detect ghosts! Morgan had a small PA system so we could all hear him. I was not sure about the paranormal gadgets, but Morgan was very visible and could be heard well by all of us.
Morgan led the way around the streets and sidewalks of Historic—and Haunted?—Vicksburg, taking time to make sure everyone kept up and heard the stories. He was also happy to answer questions. As large as the group was, I do not think anyone felt like they were being left out or left behind. The tour lasted about an hour and a half. Just as Momma (Seventy years old), Kim (I am not saying!), and I (Fifty-one years old, with Fibromyalgia) were starting to get tired, it was wrapping up. We all three felt it was “just the right” length and we certainly got our money’s worth!
Morgan is constantly seeking out new haunted tales to keep the tour fresh, but some of the stories and places are just too good for him to drop, so I am not going to let any “black-cats-out-of-the-bag”. I will say, however, that the stories were indeed filled with the “unusual and bizarre”, entertaining, and interesting. Doubly so if you were as interested in Vicksburg’s history as you were its ghosts!
While the paranormal group was very excited about all the “readings and sounds” on their gadgets, I, personally, did not see or hear a ghost. Momma, Kim, and I did have a very good time. In fact, I plan to take the tour again! I am not alone in this however. Frequently Haunted Vicksburg has return business. Do not just take my word, or go by the fact that I, as well as many others, want to take the tour more than once. If you check out the usual travel sites online, you will find that Haunted Vicksburg’s tour is consistently the highest rated tour in Vicksburg! It is certainly one of the most exciting ways to Rediscover Historic--Haunted?—Vicksburg!