Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg via Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable
by Meshea Crysup, RHV, RHV Books, & Civil War Bloggers & More Network
Part 1 (Grant & Lee at Appomattox)
I must confess, when I was told the Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable was being formed, I had no idea what it was—it did not matter! Someone in Vicksburg was doing something to educate and re-engage locals in our rich history and further the concept of “History as Industry” for what should be our very own little-historical-gold-mine! I was IN! Both feet! I am one hundred percent thrilled to be a member and happy to share my Roundtable Experiences with you. It is a fantastic way of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
For those of you as in the dark as I was, a Civil War Roundtable does not require a round table! In fact, I suppose we would not have to have a table at all! Seriously, it is a group of history buffs who get together to listen to speakers such as authors, reenactors, etc. and who plan and/or attend historical events. It is educational, social, fun, and a wonderful way to keep the truth of our history alive. In a town as rich in history as Vicksburg, I see it as almost a civic duty to be involved! It is so hard to believe that from the mid 1960’s until last October (2016), Vicksburg did not have an active Civil War Roundtable! The “Key to the South”—without a Civil War Roundtable—Unthinkable!
Thanks to Corey Rickrode, of Baer House Inn, and his association with Curt Fields, and several of our local battlefield guides—Morgan Gates, David Maggio, Michael Logue, and Joyce Hill to name a few—the lack of a Civil War Roundtable has been rectified! We are still relatively small. We are still struggling to raise funds to pay speakers. Many of us are donating time, talents, and dollars to the cause, and happy to do so. I must say, May’s meeting drove home just why such an organization matters and makes a meaningful difference!
~Meshea Crysup, RHV, RHV Books,
& Civil War Bloggers & More Network
Part 1 (Grant & Lee at Appomattox)
We had two wonderful speakers from Kansas City, Randal L. Durbin (General Grant) and Lane Smith (General Lee) who reenacted “Grant and Lee at Appomattox. (Their info is included at the end of this blog, and I highly recommend them!) Lane—General Lee—told a story at the very end. He has been doing General Lee a good while now. In fact, the pair had done this particular program about thirty-five times as of last night. There is a point where he asks for his horse to be brought to him. Well, all reenactors strive to be as historically accurate as possible, but he always just asked that the “orderly” bring Traveler to him. Not anymore! Here, in Vicksburg, he found out that the “orderly” was named Turner. In fact, he not only knows the man’s name, but he has an entire book about the man to read!
It just so happens that one of our first speakers, Al Arnold, authored said book. (Info on Al and his book will also be at the end of this post. I highly recommend Al Arnold as a speaker as well!) Lane/General Lee was thrilled to have this new—to him—piece of information to incorporate into his presentation. In fact, he was to speak, as General Lee, at an event the next week, and he was anxious to share his “new find” with that group. No doubt, he will continue to be as enthusiastic and include it from now on.
I do not want to “ruin the story” for anyone, but “Turner” was an African American, and proud to have served, not just one, but two civil war generals. He went on to live a long life, sharing his personal story right up until the end. Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable is honored to have been a part of leading Lane/General Lee to that information, connecting him to Al Arnold’s wonderful book and the story of Turner—Robert E. Lee’s Orderly, and to contributing to the accuracy and authenticity of future presentations.
Dual Citizenship by Morgan Gates
I am a patriotic American and proud of it. I am Born in the USA, just like Bruce Springsteen! I am American made in 1958, that makes me “a classic”! I am however a citizen of another country as well and I love that country as well and I visit it quite often. There are many American citizens that hold dual citizenship (United States and Great Britain for example). Does that mean they love one country more than another? Not necessarily. Many of us routinely love equally. Our children being a prime example. I have twin daughters both are beautiful (like their mother) both are smart (like their father 😊) as much as they are alike they are different yet I love them the same. Just like I love my two daughters, I love my two countries! Yet when I display the flag of my other country it is somehow considered controversial by some. Perhaps because they were once at war with each other a long time ago but then again, the U.S. and Great Britain were at war once upon a time (actually twice upon a time). But if I put a Union Jack on my truck I doubt it would raise many eyebrows.
I’m sure you have figured out by now that my second country is the Old South. As a lover of history and a man who regularly teaches others about the history of the Old South, I feel a special kinship with this bygone era. I am not alone in this sentiment I meet people nearly every day from far flung corners of the world that see the south both then and now as a special place. Yet both Memphis and New Orleans are removing (or trying to) reminders of the Old South and my home state, Mississippi, is routinely criticized by the mouthpieces of the left and the timid for displaying a Confederate Battle Flag (it was never the national flag of the Confederacy and was only used as battle flag by a handful of units) in its state flag. By the same token no one seems to mind that Texas is still using the “Lone Star” (a symbol of its time as an independent republic) in its flag or California its Bear (again a symbol of independence), so why are the so called Confederate emblems such a problem for some? Let’s examine a few arguments against them.
We remember the suffering and sacrifice of those (U.S.) Americans who served each year on Memorial Day, May 29th this year, but what of my brave soldiers of the Confederacy (My second country – which exists only in memory today) should they be forgotten because they lost? Remember, by all common sense of the day, we should have lost the American Revolution! No, their sacrifice is no less because they lost and they too have a Memorial Day, Monday April 24th is Confederate Memorial Day this year in Mississippi (it varies somewhat elsewhere 4/26 is most common) so I ask all citizens of the Old South to take a moment this week and remember the sacrifices of those men of another century, many of whom were our ancestors biologically or culturally, who stood in defiance and defense and lost! Their sacrifice being no less because of it. You see you too can have dual citizenship, loving one does not mean you love the other less.
A statement of my personal belief: I refuse to be told by the un-informed to forget or deny my heritage! I believe it was a tragedy that the Civil War happened but it did. I believe in my heart that we are better off today because the South did not prevail but I have the advantage of 152 years of hindsight.
In Defense of a Bed Bug by Morgan Gates
This is not an original story, but rather another little gem plucked from the trash bin of history, told in my own way of course. If you mentioned the name Seargent Prentiss in the Antebellum period almost any educated man of the day would have immediately known who you spoke of. Yet today he is largely forgotten.
Seargent Smith Prentiss was a famous lawyer, politician and orator in the early history of Mississippi. When he died at the early age of 41 it was said that the nation mourned. Very few men can be called legends in their own time. This man was. He was one of the wealthiest men in the wealthiest portion of the United States in his day. He was a politician of national reputation even though he served only one term in a national office and he was called one of the best orators of his day by Daniel Webster who was widely considered the best orator in American history. It was said he seldom spoke from prepared notes, speaking extemporaneously and quite eloquently. Seargent Prentiss was born in Maine but he moved to Natchez in the 1820’s where he became a lawyer. He moved to Vicksburg in 1832 where he practiced law and became involved in a legal disputed with some of Newitt Vick’s (Vicksburg’s founder) heirs that dragged on for years.
Like any lawyer, Prentiss often traveled for his work. Our story takes place in a small country inn, its exact location has been lost to history. Prentiss’ travel partner was awakened in the middle of the night by the bite of a bed bug. The partner quickly lit a candle and rifled through the bed covers until he found the felonious bug and using the butt of his pistol was about to administer a bit of summery justice. At the last minute, Prentiss launched into an off the cuff defense argument. The execution was stayed while the eloquent defense continued. The other guests awakened by the commotion listened in as well. Soon an impromptu court was convened and the tiny insect got a proper trial complete with due process and one of the finest legal minds of the day was his defense lawyer. Perhaps even more amazing –from our point of view at least--- all this was done pro bono! Prentiss’ defense is so convincing that in the end the bed bug was acquitted of all charges and released from custody!
Amazing you say, maybe not so much…You see this was not the first nor would it be the last time a good lawyer got one of societies’ parasites off the hook!
The Faith of our Fathers by Morgan Gates
It is Easter Sunday as I write this blog; therefore, I think it appropriate to say a few words about the Christian faith and how it sustained those who came before us. If that offends you, then you probably shouldn’t be reading my blogs anyway.
The Faith of Our Fathers is the name of an old English hymn sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches. It deals with having faith in times of trouble. Our country was founded on faith, a fact that many today have forgotten, or in some cases, are actively trying to erase. This was not the case for our forefathers. One of the first things the early pioneers built in a new place was their church, and sometime the church is the last thing still standing in the ruins of a former town.
I dare say that without faith we would not be here today. Why else would a man pack his family into a leaky wooden ship, not much bigger than a greyhound bus, with 130 other people, and spend over two months crossing the stormy Atlantic? How else could a man strike off into an unknown wilderness, with little more than an ax and a musket, to build a new life knowing that there was no guarantee of success, and that both he and his family might die in that wilderness?
Even more to the point is that this is not the story of one man, or even a dozen, but untold thousands of pioneers that have repeated this same pattern, over and over again, over a span of hundreds of years, each time new lands opened up.
Without faith, how could a few ragtag farmers, lead by a few backwater intellectuals, rise up against the most powerful empire in the world and fight them to a point that they allowed some of their most valuable overseas real estate to go its separate way? Not only did that unlikely event transpire, it set the stage for a movement that would transform the world.
That same faith allowed these “backwater intellectuals”, that we now revere as our founding fathers, to establish a Republic-- an extremely risky type of government (There had not been a successful republic in over 1800 years at the time of our nation’s founding. To prove the risk, note that when the French people attempt to do likewise a few years later, it ended in disaster). To help protect this fragile form of government the Bill of Rights was added to the American Constitution. The very first of which is:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Some people today have tried to twist the meaning of this amendment from its original meaning of; freedom from government intervention in religion, into freedom from religion but that was clearly not the intention of those who penned it! Yes, that makes me a “Strict Constructionist”!
Ok now let’s confront the 800-pound gorilla in the room! I write quite a lot about the Civil War, in which the southern states, including my own, tried to leave this country that I have been waxing eloquent about. How do I reconcile this with “The Waah”? That’s easy. You see, my 3rd great grandfather, John Morgan Gates, was one of those “axe and musket” pioneers that came to Mississippi shortly after it opened as a territory. The Confederate constitution was copied almost word for word for the U.S. constitution and many Confederate leaders thought they were the true sons of the founding fathers. They too you see had faith.
Even with their faith, the southern founding fathers lost, so was their faith was pointless? No! Faith, you see, is no guarantee of success. In this day of money back guarantees and litigation if the doctor (or whatever) doesn’t work, we expect results; however, what God wills to succeed or fail is not man’s to see. Faith is what makes us step outside our comfort zone, to take a chance, to risk all on a roll of the dice of fate with the chance for a better life, and even if that fails, a better world awaits, because of the one who we have faith in. It is on Easter Sunday that we remember why we can have that faith.
The Caves of Vicksburg By Morgan Gates
If you do much reading about the Vicksburg Campaign you will eventually come across a reference to “the caves” that the population retreated into to survive the forty seven day bombardment of the city. It is an item of immense curiosity to visitors to the city and I am often asked; where are the caves? The short answer is, there are no caves. What! You reply, I have read references to them and have seen pictures, but again the short, and brutally correct, answer is; there are no caves in Vicksburg! That concludes or blog entry for today thanks for reading….
You knew I wasn’t going to leave it at that, though didn’t you? Cause what fun is a short answer? My wife sometimes asks me if I can explain something in 25 words or less… the answer is usually no!
A cave by definition is a: large underground chamber of natural origin! Caves typically occur in rock strata, most often in limestone and are usually formed by the action of water over millions of years. Caves can also be formed along sea coasts by the action of waves and by lava in volcanically active areas. None of these geological processes apply to Vicksburg. No active volcanos anywhere in this region. We are almost 200 miles from the sea and the hills of Vicksburg are not made of rock!
Anyone who has visited Vicksburg has been impressed by the ruggedness of the terrain surrounding the city. Our hills are not mountains, not even close, their peaks are measured in hundreds of feet not thousands, it is the steepness of the slopes that is so mind boggling, if you were to hike through the forest—say on the “Al Scheller Nature Trail” that winds through the Vicksburg National Military Park you might encounter a decline of 60 degrees and then be confronted by an even steeper upward slope where a rope has been tied off to a tree at the top to help you ascend. In fact 90 degree slopes are not uncommon. Even more impressive is these slopes are made of dirt!
What? Dirt you say? Everybody knows dirt will not hold a 90-degree cut.
And you are right, most of the time. Most soil types will begin to slide at any angle above 45 degrees. But not loess soils. Loess is a very fine wind borne particle, deposited by a series of ancient dust storms as the last ice age was ending. It is very light, very fine, and very irregular in shape; therefore, it sort of locks together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It will erode in the rain quite readily and some of the steeper bluff faces were caused by erosion but it is also quite fertile so vegetation grows thickly and protects it. The bluffs today were formed by the actions of the wind and water. The caves of Vicksburg however were not.
In the spring of 1862 when Flag Officer David Farragut first began dropping shells on Vicksburg from the river. A large community bomb shelter adequate for about 200 people had been dug into the bluffs near Glass Bayou and some citizens sheltered there but in the long term it was simply easier to largely evacuate the portion of the city closest to the river. Farragut’s big guns had only limited elevation and they did not have the range to fly much farther that the first line of ridges on which the city was built. Many people simply moved in with friends and relatives living east of Vicksburg.
The following spring -1863- Union Major General U.S. Grant swung east of the city and closed off the eastern escape route. Meanwhile Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet towed seven mortar barges to Vicksburg, and parked them just out of the range of the Confederate guns, soon they began lobbing 220 pound exploding shells on a high trajectory into the city. Unlike the direct fire artillery of the day, these tremendous shells dropped almost straight down from high altitude. This time no part of Vicksburg was safe and the people sought shelter underground. Here again geography came to the aid of Vicksburg, the steepness of the bluffs meant the citizens of the town did not have to dig down but straight back into the bluffs. Soon almost every steep bluff face in and around Vicksburg was riddled with holes. Digging these holes became a thriving cottage industry and the wealthy citizens of Vicksburg began to buy sell and trade these expedient shelters.
The use of earthen shelters against “bombs” –exploding artillery shells—dates back to at least 1833, but they were commonly called a “bomb proof” in military circles. The word “bomb shelter” is not used until about 1895. So, what did the civilians of Vicksburg in 1863 call their bomb proofs? Emma Balfour, the noted diarist of the Siege, reports that at one point Confederate Lt. General Pemberton asked her if she had provided herself with a “rathole” but this was perhaps a too indelicate a term for a polite Victorian society. The bomb shelters of Civil War Vicksburg were commonly called “caves” after the natural formations they so closely resembled. By the time, Vicksburg surrendered it was so covered up with holes the Union occupiers of the city said it resembled nothing so much as a large prairie dog town!
After July 4th 1863 Vicksburg settled down to a relatively peaceful if not pleasant military occupation. Martial law was declared, and first Grant then a whole parade of Union Generals ruled over the city. Cotton production resumed, now supporting the Union economy, and life returns to a modicum of normalcy. The economy starts humming and people are anxious to put the nightmare behind them. Many caves within the city limits are filled in during the occupation, as the city grew others fell to progress, by the turn of the 20th century most of them were gone. Somewhere around 1900 a cave collapsed and killed several children, this prompted a city ordinance that required the remaining caves within the city limits to be eliminated. When I was growing up there were only two surviving examples and they were in remote and largely inaccessible areas. One of those succumbed to the elements a decade or more ago, and after a couple of particularly rainy winters I heard rumors that the last one had fallen in. So, a couple of winters back while the poison Ivy and kudzu was still dormant I went exploring and confirmed that it too had fallen in, so I can say with confidence “There are no caves (left) in Vicksburg”!
P.S. (award yourself a brownie point if you know what PS means by the way) if you Google Vicksburg’s Caves one of the first pictures you will see is the ridge behind the Shirly House during the war. The shelters pictured there are not caves they are “Shebangs” but that’s a blog for another day!
*Before someone asks in the comments, due possible liability issues and respect for private property I will not disclose the location of the ruins of this cave!
The Return of a Legend: by Morgan Gates
Meshea likes to list “all the pies she has her fingers in” on her blog posts. This is all well and good although I suspect she will have to kick off her shoes and start sticking toes in as well pretty soon. Me, I’m not so big into listing all the things I’m involved in, though I have quite a few. One I am going to crow about today is my association with the Old Courthouse Museum, one of the preeminent landmarks of Vicksburg and home of the Warren County Historical Society. I am on the Advisory Board for the Old Courthouse and therefore I am proud to say I am associated with a man who is living legend in the Vicksburg/Warren Area. Gordon Cotton, the former curator, is a noted author of all thing historic in and around this town. I’m pretty sure even he does not know how many books and articles he has written about life in and around this area from the first settlers right down to modern times. God himself only knows how many lives this man has touched in a positive way. Gordon is no spring chicken anymore he just celebrated his 81st birthday, but his mind is still sharp and he still works part time at the museum a couple of days a week. Gordon has been largely retired from writing for quite a while but in honor of Mississippi’s Bicentennial of Statehood this year he has agreed to return to the type writer (he doesn’t “do” computers) to write a series about early Warren County residents. The stories have been electronically translated by Jordan Rushing a OCH staff member and a budding historian himself and I am proud to help share these stories via Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg. Today’s installment has to do with some of this county’s very first inhabitants and the earliest European visitors to this area. So click the link above and Enjoy!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg Co-Founder, Historic/Haunted Vicksburg, Historian, Author, Old Courthouse Museum Advisory Board, Blah, Blah, Blah!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg: Gold in the Hills
By Meshea Crysup
Founder of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg & RHV Books
Civil War Bloggers, Authors, Photographers, Speakers, and More Network
There is more to rediscover in Vicksburg than our civil-war-related history. For example, there is a play that holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ “longest running show” status. Gold in the Hills has played every year since March of 1936, and it is RIGHT HERE in Vicksburg! Who knew???
Well, obviously, a lot of people must know about this play or it would not just keep going, and going, and going…
But, as it often goes in any town, locals are often not as aware of the “jewels in their midst”, or they are aware, but take it for granted because it has “always been here”. For this reason, not only do I want to be sure people outside of our area know about Gold in the Hills, but I think it is important to bring it back to the minds of locals as well! (This is my goal with all aspects of history we are “rediscovering” and blogging about!)
A Bit of History
Gold in the Hills began on March 28, 1936. It was started to fill the need for evening entertainment during Pilgrimage. Vicksburg’s “Pilgrimage” has come and gone a few times since then, but the show has remained! In spite of changing venues a few times, a fire consuming where the show was held as well as costumes, props, etc., and the fickleness of human nature, the show has gone on! (Click here for more info.)
About the Play
(Full disclosure: This is an excerpt from Vicksburg Theater Guild’s Website below. I wanted to get the info “straight from the horse’s mouth!)
Fun for the whole family. Sing the old songs! Cheer the hero! Boo the villain! Presented yearly since 1936, Gold in the Hills features a relentless hero, a winsome heroine, a ruthless villain, beautiful can-can dancers, and the wilder side of city life in the infamous New York Bowery.
Become a part of history when you witness the Guinness Book of World Records’ longest-running show, playing every year since March 1936!
… who stole John Dalton’s gold locket?
… what did Murgatroyd discover in the hills?
… is John Dalton really penniless?
… where DID Lizzie leave her fascinator?
… what is the dead sister’s secret?
How do you get in on the fun and find the answers to all these questions?
Friday & Saturday, March 24-25, 31, & April 1, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 2, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, April 7-8, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, June 2-3, 9-10, 16-17, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $12, $6 children (12 & under)
Buying Tickets at the Box Office
Tickets are available at the Box Office starting one hour before curtain time for Main Stage shows and 30 minutes before curtain for Gold in the Hills and Fairy Tale Theatre.
We do not take reservations, and we offer open seating.
We accept Visa, Mastercard, cash, and personal checks.
Buying Tickets Online (Click here/Link included!)
Tickets for main-stage plays are available for purchase online! Fast and convenient, plus you can print your ticket at home and avoid the line at the box office!
Remember, just because it has always been here—or so it seems—jewels like this do go away if they are not supported locally. This is a really big deal folks! If you are planning a trip to Vicksburg, go see it! If you are a visitor in the area right now, go see it! If you are from the Vicksburg area, go see it—even if you have seen it before! (All live performances vary and the experience will always be a little—maybe even a lot—different!) If you are from the Vicksburg area with guests in town, all y’all go see it!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg:
“The City Tour”
by Meshea Crysup
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg and RHV Books
Civil War Bloggers, Authors, Photographers, Speakers Network
Read all the way to the end, past the Historic Vicksburg Tours Meme, for a VISUAL BONUS!
One casual drive through the downtown part of “The City” of Vicksburg sparked my historic curiosity. There is so much to take in, much of which is obvious, but even more that is not.
There are old homes, old businesses, and old homes that are now businesses. Not only are their stories fascinating, but their architecture is as well! (Do not even get me started on those who do not think that architecture of old homes and buildings is relevant to a historical tour!) There are also churches, museums, the fire house, the depot, the various monuments, statues, etc. scattered throughout the city, the flood wall, and so much more.
As with all historic places, however, everything is not lined up in a row so you can go from one to the next easily. Some are, of course, especially if you are into “walking around downtown”. When Momma would visit, she and I would go exploring and shopping. We enjoyed it and there was a good bit to see along with some awesome lunch options.
There is so much more to the City of Vicksburg, however, than we were seeing with our approach. I found excellent tourism guides, booklets, etc., thus it was not difficult to find out about all the other places to see, but I was left with actually finding them as well. Even living here, I do not have the time to put into figuring all of this out for myself, nor do I want to have to. If I were on vacation, I certainly would not want to. Well if you are into Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, we have good news: You do not have to!
How do I suggest Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg: “The City”?
Historic Vicksburg Driving and Walking Tours!
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, this is owned and operated by my “Partner in Time”, Morgan Gates. That does not change the fact that I was here over two years before I discovered Historic Vicksburg in a meaningful way and this is how I finally did it! I am not playing favorites either, because this is the only comprehensive tour business in Vicksburg! That is ok though because Historic Vicksburg Driving and Walking Tours truly covers it all!
Vicksburg is not an easy city to walk around because of all the big hills one has to go up, down, and of course, back up. Historic Vicksburg’s Driving Tour is my personal pick, in part, for this reason! Whichever tour option you choose, however, you will get more than you paid for or expected. You will not just have an old house or building pointed out to you, be told its name, perhaps its age and who lived there, then move along. Morgan puts his all into these tours, just like he does with his Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Walk and Haunted Vicksburg Driving Tour. He “weaves the story of Vicksburg” into the tour, including its varied architectural styles, the family connections from one site to the other, the family connections with well-known, non-Vicksburg citizens, the financial situation, the industrial trends of the time, the prevalent religious and morality viewpoints of the era, and more. Historic Vicksburg City Tours will provide you with a comprehensive, educational, and interesting “big picture” view—pun intended—of the various areas of the historic city while also, as only Morgan Gates can, leaving you with an intimidate knowledge of—perhaps even feeling a bit like you know—those who lived, dreamed, and built here before.
For those of you who just cannot make the trip to Vicksburg at this time, I am proud to be able to include this as an option to hold you over until you can join us!
Keep scrolling down for VISUAL BONUS!
A Photographical City Tour of Historic Vicksburg
Via the incomparable talent of Janie Fortenberry
Thank you, Janie, for making me feel welcomed here, always being willing to help and encourage me, and sharing your wonderful talent to further the cause of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Ever grateful and in awe