The City Too Beautiful to Burn
by Morgan Gates
I was approached by a publishing company not long back about the possibility of writing a book. The working title would have been “The Hidden History of_____” and there we hit our impasse. I tried to convince them of the rich history of West Central Mississippi, but in the end, they really wanted a History of the Mississippi Delta, and as we know:
“The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends at Catfish Row in Vicksburg” –David Cohen, Author
That small quote says a lot and puts it largely out of my area of expertise. So, anybody out there who know a good bit about “The Po Monkey Lounge, B.B. King, hot tamales, and Kool Aide Pickles, contact Arcadia Publishing.
My point is that this area- the area along the Mississippi River, roughly between Vicksburg, on the north, and Natchez, on the south, and extending east about 30-40 miles, are some of the most historic lands in American history, but we don’t have a catchy name for the region. I like “The Lands Along the River”! What do you think? --So, for today’s installment of Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg, I thought we might drift a little south and visit another historic town of “The Lands Along the River”: Port Gibson, Mississippi.
The little town of Port Gibson lies 30 miles south of Vicksburg, on Highway 61. Last week My “partner in time”, Meshea, and I loaded up, along with my better half and a couple of friends, and went to visit my friend Joshua McCrane, and take his “Port Gibson Historical Ghost Tour”. It was a lot of fun! (Call the P.G. Chamber of Commerce at 601-437-4351 if you want to go.)
Port Gibson is a beautiful little historic town and one of the oldest in Mississippi. It was founded in 1803, by Samuel Gibson, at a landing on Bayou Pierre, a tributary of the Mississippi. Thus, it was Gibson’s river port or Port Gibson. The town is named for Gibson but there were French settlers there as early as 1729, making it one of the oldest settlements in Mississippi. It was home to Mississippi’s first library and second newspaper. The town was important enough in the antebellum period that it was visited by Henry Clay, one of the most important politicians of the period, who made two campaign speeches there during one his unsuccessful bids for the presidency. Considered one of the most beautiful towns of the old south, U.S. Grant fought and won the Battle of Port Gibson about two miles west of the city in 1863, and allegedly remarked, as he passed through on his way to Vicksburg, that the city was too beautiful to burn.
The town has many beautiful homes and public buildings, including A Presbyterian Church, which features a gold-plated hand, pointing toward heaven, in place of a cross, and a former synagogue that is the only example of Moorish Revival Architecture in the state.
Its Greenlawn Cemetery is one of the best maintained historic cemeteries in the region, with markers going all the way back to Samuel Gibson himself. Very nearby are the Natchez Trace Parkway (the original road actually came through the town) and Grand Gulf State Park, which commemorates the Civil War Battle of Grand Gulf. It has a museum and a number of reconstructed historic buildings, and it is one of the few places you can get up close and personal with the Mighty Mississippi without a boat. (I strongly advise against swimming in it though)! The beautiful Ruins of Windsor are just a few miles west and the Ghost town of Rodney is not far southwest. The town and its surroundings are well worth a visit.
Ok, so now the bad news. Don’t come expecting a thriving tourist Mecca. Long gone are the prosperous days of old. The town has fallen on hard times. There are no “quality” restaurants in town. There is, however, a McDonalds and a couple of other fast food establishments. I can highly recommend the “Old Country Store” (a restaurant) in Lorman, 10 miles south of Port Gibson, on highway 61. As for lodging, one of the bed and breakfasts such as Isabella or Oak Square are your best choices. Port Gibson is also an easy day trip from Vicksburg or Natchez. So, the next time you are in a mood for some “off the beaten track exploring” go check them out.
Vicksburg After the Siege: Part I
By Morgan Gates
And they all lived happily ever after… THE END! Every fairy tale ended that way remember? Or perhaps you don’t, it seems fairy tales are becoming things of the past as well. Oh well that’s a different story. But you get the picture, all stories, be they fairy tales, books, or movies necessarily come to an end. Some end well others not so well, but inevitably the story ends. But real life … not so much! Life goes on, changed perhaps, seen through the eyes of others perhaps, but still it goes on. When I am giving a tour of the Vicksburg National Military Park I pretty much wrap it up with the surrender on July 4th 1863, but of course Vicksburg’s story goes on as well. The war was not over, there were not quite two more years of conflict left before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and of course there would be men under arms in the South for months thereafter. So, I thought I would just briefly discuss a few things that happened in and around Vicksburg after the Siege ended but while the War was still going on. Some of these I may expand upon in later Blog articles:
No Show Joe: We know of course that Joseph E. Johnson had been ordered to Jackson in mid-May to command the “Army of the Relief” and raise the siege of Vicksburg and yet he found reason after reason to delay his march until it was too late. When he finally reached to the line of the Big Black River (15 miles east of Vicksburg) he discovered that Grant was ready for him (big surprise) and had heavily fortified his rear. He probed this formidable “Exterior Line” in vain as Pemberton surrendered his beleaguered army and the city. Then Grant turned to his “Pit Bull” William T. Sherman and said “sic ‘em” and he crossed the Big Black with his own army of maneuver in hot pursuit. Johnson raced back to Jackson he delayed Sherman by poisoning the water sources with animal carcasses, just as the Union had done to Vicksburg’s defenders. Johnston made it to Jackson and slammed the door shut, and that city was briefly besieged, but Johnson was not a man who would hold his ground at all costs. He and his army sliped across the Pearl River in the middle of the night and left Mississippi and Jackson burned for a second time. For more on this little known event, read Jim Woodrick’s
The Civil War Siege of Jackson https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781626197299 .
Grant on Ice: The surrender of Vicksburg was of course a long sought goal of the Union and on the surface Grant was the man of the hour. But for the next four months he would not be fighting but doing garrison duty in the captured city. He would watch as much of his valiant army was siphoned off to other parts of the war. Here we must remember that while we know Grant as a great hero today, at the time he was not well liked by many of his peers, many of whom considered him a “stumbling little drunk”! Grant also had political enemies, especially John McClernand whom he had relieved of command during the siege.
Grant had been relieved of his command by his superior General Henry Halleck after the Battle of Shiloh (only fifteen months in the past) and he had disobeyed Halleck’s orders when he pushed inland from Grand Gulf on his way to Vicksburg. There must have been more than a little doubt about his future in his mind when he lay down at night during this time. Did he turn once more to his alleged and much debated drinking? We know that on a visit to New Orleans during this period Grant had another incident with a falling horse, that would leave him badly bruised and in great pain for a period of time. Then he received the message from the War Department, to report to Cairo Illinois to meet with a representative of the department. We know today that this will be good news, but what did Grant think? Oh shit! Or about time!
That looks like about enough for one entry, so we will continue this line of thought in our next installment………
Meshea writing about Vicksburg’s history rather than ways of rediscovering it—what’s up with that? Well, Morgan is a very busy man of late and I know our history-diehards like this sort of thing better than “tourist advice”. Plus, I am still discussing yet another way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg. There is something here for history lovers and history rediscovers alike, making this piece a win-win! Speaking of winning in two different ways…
Van Dorn: More—or Less—Than the Man That Saved Vicksburg Twice
by Meshea Crysup, RHV
While I have been an avid history lover my whole life, I am not good with remembering the names of all the generals, battles, etc. Like everyone, I know who Grant and Lee were, about the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and of course I can remember Lincoln and Davis by name. Van Dorn however, not so much.
Who is Van Dorn and How Did I Stumble upon Him?
First, the “how”.
My husband’s ancestor fought in the Civil War, right here in Vicksburg, and, if family tales are to be believed, he “walked all the way back to Texas” afterward. Hubby also just happens to work with a very active member of our local Sons of the Confederacy group, so while it took a while to get him there—Thank you Bryan Skipworth—Hubby is now a member. Like Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable, the Sons of the Confederacy have a speaker each month. This month, it was none other than author Brandon H. Beck! (Did you catch that? I just threw in yet another way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg! Two actually! The Sons of Confederacy and a very knowledgeable author and passionate, enthralling speaker, Brandan H. Beck! Yes, the links can be found at the end of the article!)
Now, for the “who”.
Major General Earl Van Dorn was “colorful and controversial” according to Dr. Brandon H. Beck. In fact, the cover of Beck’s book, HOLLY SPRINGS: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas, and the Raid that Saved Vicksburg, features the pictures of the two men Van Dorn fought most: U.S. Grant and Earl Van Dorn. This is exactly how Dr. Beck began his presentation and I was hooked!
Van Dorn did indeed save Vicksburg twice. Once by preventing the U.S. Navy from taking it and once by causing U.S. Grant to abandon an attempt to take it. There is no doubt, each of these was a major accomplishment, and having done both of them, one would think that secured his legacy and assured Major General Van Dorn a place in history. It might had, if only Grant has been his only enemy—alas, he was not.
He survived the horrors of war only to have his drinking and fondness of the ladies to be his undoing. His was not the brave and glorious death of a general in battle, nor was it the quiet passing of an aged, respected war hero. Instead, he was shot by a jealous husband and angry father. His less-than-inspiring death was then overshadowed by the incredibly misfortunate, friendly-fire shooting of General Stonewall Jackson, which eventually lead to his death just three days after Van Dorn’s. Thus, the highly respected Stonewall Jackson has become legendary—I easily remember his name too—but Van Dorn, again, not so much.
Like many great men in history—Caesar, King David, and Henry the Eighth—Van Dorn had his weaknesses and personal demons. Unfortunately for him, the Victorian sensibilities of that era were not as forgiving of such things as we are today. To his contemporaries and peers, Van Dorn was a lesser man, in spite of his accomplishments. With the gift of hindsight however, I see him as more than a man who lost the exact same internal battle we all have of Sinner-Saint. General Earl Van Dorn, the military man, certainly should be remembered for saving Vicksburg, not once, but twice.
For the complete story, I highly recommend Dr. Brandon’s book, HOLLY SPRINGS: Van Dorn, The CSS Arkansas, and the Raid that Saved Vicksburg. I also thoroughly enjoyed his speaking style and recommend him for any group wanting to learn more about Civil War history.
For more information about our local Sons of the Confederacy, contact Bryan Skipworth.
Rediscover Historic Vicksburg Via
In the interest of full disclosure, yes, Morgan Gates, my “partner in time” at RHV founded, owns, and operates Haunted Vicksburg Tours and Historic Vicksburg Tours. I am not shamelessly plugging his business, however. His tours really are awesome—would I have him as my blog partner if they were not? Also, his is the only tour business available in Vicksburg, outside of the military park. If others were available, I would write about them as well! That said, let me tell you about my experience on the Haunted Venues Tour I took last week and why I really believe this is another great way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Meshea Crysup, Founder Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Founder Civil War Bloggers, Authors…& More Network
Founder Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg Books
Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable VP
Like all of Morgan’s tours, we started out in the parking lot of the Vicksburg Outlet Mall. It is very easy to find—just head for Cracker Barrel and instead of turning into their parking lot, look to your left and you will see the Historic Vicksburg and Haunted Vicksburg Tours van, and, most likely, Morgan will be standing beside it watching for you! The tour starts at 8 PM, so as instructed, we—I enlisted my friend Kim Steen, Vicksburg Realtor Extraordinaire, to come along—arrived by 7:45. We were joined by a vacationing couple. Rain was moving in, but had not started yet. No matter—while the tour does involve getting out of the van several times, it is a driving tour and does not have to be canceled due to a little rain!
I expected to enjoy the tour, certainly, but I am around Morgan a lot! We are constantly talking about RHV, his business, the books, and other projects we have going, etc. I really did not expect to hear anything that had not already come up in conversation one time or another over the past year of Coffee Klatches and collaboration. Boy was I wrong!
The tour covers four neighborhoods, with a stop in each, plus a drive along the riverfront. While driving to our first area/stop, Morgan discussed a bit of Vicksburg history while also setting the tone for the topic of the evening: Haunted Venues!
Baer House Inn
Kim and I are at Baer House Inn frequently—attending Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable as well as other meetings there and other events, such as the Detective Comedy Dinner Theatre productions. To be honest, neither of us expected anything unusual so we both opted to leave our phones locked in the van. This was a mistake because, like the rest of the world, our smartphones are also or cameras and there is a “photo op” at Baer House that is very cool, and on this particular night, was also “eventful”. As per usual, I am not going to give away the details—I do not want to spoil the tour for you—but it involves a photograph in the house! The inn had a couple of guests that decided to join us for Morgan’s stories. After the very—hmm, I will just say “out of the ordinary photographic experience”, Morgan ended that part of our tour by telling the inn patron who were staying behind to “sleep tight!” RIGHT!!!
Our next stop was on the street with most of the businesses and restaurants in the historic part of Vicksburg—Washington Street. Kim and I are certainly on this street often, however we did NOT leave our cameras behind this time! There is another interesting photo op—outside of the doll museum. Yes, I said DOLL MUSEUM—creepy already, I know! We were all armed with our trusty smartphone cameras this time. Unfortunately, you know how it goes when you are prepared for something—nothing happened, this time, at least not with the photo. What did happen? A local business owner was just stepping onto the sidewalk as we went by. Of course, Morgan knows everyone, so the gentleman stopped to say hello. Since he was there and we were taking a haunted tour, he shared two of his own, most recent, Haunted Vicksburg experiences with us! Freaky!!!
Tourist Alert! I live here, so I should have known better, but I did not prepare for the Mississippi mosquitos! Riverfront, muggy, summer night in Mississippi—you get the picture! Think “Backwoods Off”!
I go to the Riverfront frequently to take pictures, but never at night. Not only is it a different visual experience, but Morgan has a whole other set of stories and facts to share. I informed the group and Morgan that obviously he had been holding out on me. In truth, however, he just knows so much about the area and its history that, as with all of his tours, he switches up what he tells. They are all great stories and you never get exactly the same tour twice!
This part of the tour takes you to an entirely different part of town and much further than one could go on a walking tour. We actually stopped at Cedar Grove, which is one of my favorite B&B’s to eat at. At night, it was beautiful! While we were there, a young man that had been on the tour a few days before showed up. He had a friend with him and he was basically recounting his tour experience with her. He actually came up and showed us all a picture he had taken on yet another night that he had returned to the tour site! Obviously, he was enthralled by what Morgan had shared during the tour! As for the picture he shared—wow! And, as if on cue, a hoot owl joined us, adding to the haunted ambience!
Southern Cultural Heritage Center
Our last stop was also too far from the downtown area to have been reached by a basic walking tour. I have been to this area with Morgan on other tours, but again, he shared stories I had not yet heard! The ambience at night here too is very different than during the day. It is certainly a great area for discussing haunted history!
Just as we were finishing up the tour, the rain moved in—Perfect timing! As for my over-all impression of the tour, it is truly a great way to Rediscover Historic—and Haunted—Vicksburg. I actually enjoyed it even more than the Haunted History Ghost Walk tour. Alternating between walking a bit and driving allows you to cover more of Vicksburg—more Haunted Venues! Like the very popular—and rightly so—walking tour, whether you believe in hauntings or just like history with some unexplained and unusual twists, you will certainly come away agreeing with Morgan’s tour catch phrase, “You never know what is going to happen in Haunted Vicksburg!”