Vicksburg’s “Main” Street
By Morgan Gates
In many small cities, at least “back in the day” as they say, the main shopping district was almost always “Main Street” and Vicksburg does indeed have a street named “Main” but a quick drive down Vicksburg’s Main Street today shows that it is just a quiet residential street. In 1837, a tremendous fire swept up Main Street, and when Vicksburg rebuilt, it moved its “main” street to Washington Street. Washington was named of course for the first president and paralleled the Mississippi River, which was the highway of 19th century America, and Vicksburg’s reason for existing.
Washington Street soon became the thriving shopping area of Vicksburg's antebellum period. Emma Balfour, Vicksburg's most famous siege diarists, speaks of doing her Christmas shopping on Washington Street in letters to her Sister in Law in Alabama. Vicksburg's antebellum period, of course, ended with Grant’s triumphal entry into the city on July 4th, 1863, at the conclusion of a 47-day siege. Washington Street’s location, within sight of the river, caused it to suffer grievous damage. Not many buildings from the prewar period remain along Washington today, but those that do still bear their scars if you know where to look!
Vicksburg rebuilt its shopping district once more. Postwar, Vicksburg became the realm of the "Wholesale Merchant" supplying the post-war tenant farming system. King Cotton was still on his throne post-war and the domestic and international demand remained high. Plantation owners, however, found themselves with a bit of a problem: No labor force! Few Freedmen, given the choice, which they now were, willingly returned to the fields. Attempts to coerce them eventually failed and attempts to recruit immigrants also came up short. Soon the South settled into a system of tenant farming, renting out the plantation lands in manageable parcels to small farmers (black and white), who, in this area, bought necessary supplies on credit either from Vicksburg’s wholesale merchants directly or from plantation stores supplied by Vicksburg’s merchants. These sharecroppers, as they were known, paid not only their rent but settled all mercantile accounts at harvest time with wagon loads of cotton. Many a fine old home in Vicksburg today is linked to this post-war Washington Street recovery. By the early 20th century Washington Street was the finest shopping district between Memphis and New Orleans.
The reign of King Cotton ended with a long, slow whimper in the first third of the 20th century. Vicksburg reinvented itself once more. The Mississippi River Commission located its headquarters here and Vicksburg became a focus for understanding and taming the Mississippi River. By mid century, Washington Street was still a thriving shopping area. Then, on December 5th, 1953, an F5 tornado (this was before such measurements were invented, but it was calculated years later based on damage reports) took aim at Washington Street. By the time this terrible storm dissipated, 38 people were dead and much of Washington Street’s shopping district lay in ruins. Vicksburg rebuilt, and by the 1960’s, Washington Street thrived once more.
Washington Streets most serious challenge was yet to come, however! In the late 60's and early 70's the interstate system nearly did what War and Mother Nature could not: It killed Washington Street! As business moved to Vicksburg’s new “main” street, Interstate 20, Washington Street, nearly died of neglect! A much vaunted “Urban Renewal” attempt, in the late 70’s, likely did more harm than good, and the patient lay in a semi-comatose state through the 80’s and 90’s. In the early 2000’s, it finally looked like the patient was on its way to recovery but a recession caused a turn for the worse. Now, however, it seems full recovery is nearly at hand. The area is returning to vibrancy as an arts and entertainment district. Restaurants, museums, and art galleries now line Washington Street, and old buildings that have stood vacant for decades are being refurbished. There is still much work to be done, but it warms the heart of any old Vicksburg resident to see the area revive! Come visit us and see!
The Christmas Ball
Hosted by The Old Court House Museum
Dec 9th 7:30-9:30 PM
It's that time of year again folks! The Old Court House Museum will be hosting The Christmas Ball on December 9th, and all are welcome. Come enjoy a night of good food, drinks, and period style dancing! Tickets are $30 each or $60 a couple. We also rent costumes for the evening. For more information contact us at 601-636-0741 or firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas 1862
by Morgan Gates
With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore
On Christmas Eve 1862 a Christmas Ball that was being held at the home of Dr. William T. Balfour and his wife Emma was interrupted by a messenger warning of the approach of a Union task force supported by Ironclads. The Confederate General M.L. Smith famously ends the ball as he orders his officers to their stations. Each year as a fundraiser the Old Courthouse Museum reenacts that ball. This years Confederate Ball will be held on December 9th.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, at the Balfour House
The guests were all dancing, maybe even the mouse!
The officers conversed by the fire without care,
No one was worried, about the Yankee’s up there;
The soldiers were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of back home, danced in their heads;
Emma in her ballgown, was the belle of the night
With war all around us no one thought of the fight!
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The patter of rain on the muddy ground below,
Gave a feeling of gloom to objects below,
When what to my straining eyes did appear,
But an exhausted messenger drawing quite near,
The messenger’s hobnails came on with the click,
He needed the General and needed him quick!
More rapid than an eagle, so I do claim
He called for the generals, he called them by name
Oh Forney, Oh Bowen, no, he’s near Port Gibson!
Oh, Martin Luther Smith – to tell you - I’m fixen--
At the top of his lungs – ore the noise of it all!
The Yankee’s are coming – how many – seems All!
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount up to the sky,
So up on the staircase the General he flew,
Bad news was a coming, this we all knew!
Some how all knew it, tho I have no proof,
Even the horses, I swear, were prancing their hoof.
As I drew in my hand and was turning around
General Smith, opened his mouth, we all dreaded the sound.
His uniform was splendid, from his head to his boot,
His buttons so shiny, though we didn’t give a hoot.
The news he conveyed was like a weight on his back,
We all feared the trouble he was about to unpack.
The Yankees are sighted, they’re just north of town!
On gunboats and transports, they are coming right down.
This party is over, all officers must report,
Civilians evacuate, it’s your last resort!
He sprang to his horse, to his men gave a whistle.
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim as he rode out of sight,
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!
Those Who Stand! by Morgan Gates
On this day ninety-nine years ago, the war we now call World War I ended! On that day it was not yet known as WWI though it was called: The Great War, or the War to end all Wars! It ended with an armistice that was signed on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month! The day we now use to remember all Veterans! Of course, we know today that WWI was not the last war nor even the greatest!
War is, unfortunately, part of the human experience. We are by nature an aggressive and predatory species it is the reason we have large brains, predators must be smarter than prey! The brain is a biologically expensive organ! There must be a high return on investment to be able to afford it. War is, therefore, perhaps a necessary part of man’s existence here on Earth! But war does not have to be our constant state of life, for we are the most intelligent of God’s creation, smart enough to figure out how to not fight! We trade, we negotiate, and we, set up laws and other deterrents to restrain our baser emotions. As time has passed we have grown and progressed and done a fairly good job of keeping the peace, at least in this country. The USA has become a beacon of peace and prosperity in our modern world. If history has taught us anything, however, it is that the wolf always lurks near the door waiting for us to let our guard down so that he can pounce.
We here in the United States have been marvelously blessed in that we have seen very little of the specter of war on our doorsteps. Since the end of the Civil War, most of our fighting has been on faraway shores thanks to "Those Who Stand"--the men and women of our armed services--that have taken our fights to the enemy’s doorsteps rather than allowing it to come to our own!
But wait a minute you ask, aren’t you a son of the South? What about the Civil War – what about your great grandfather the Rebel soldier you ask?
True! I write about the South during the War of Northern Aggression, and in some people’s eye’s today anyone who remembers that time must be disloyal, but that could not be farther from the truth! The Civil War was a terrible tragedy for all involved. In effect, it was a massive domestic dispute. But when it was over some of the same men who fought each other worked together to rebuild the South, build the West, and make the U.S.A into the great nation it is today. Some later fought beside each other in our next war. Their descendants fought the Germans and the Japanese, and Chinese and North Vietnamese in our 20th-century wars. Perhaps one of America’s greatest assets is to make those who were once our enemies our friends!
Today descendants of these soldiers in Blue and Gray plus those whose descendants came to the land of the free at later dates still stand ready! Ready to fight to preserve our country, but then offer a hand to those who we have just defeated. Our men and women in uniform still stand ready to protect us, so thank a Vet when you meet them! Happy Veterans Day – but wait there is more!
Our country is welded together with the fires of war and the blood of patriots and made stronger by the glue of forgiveness. It is also true that many of yesterday’s enemies are today’s friend, but never forget that evil still exists and it is always looking for new ways to bring us down. Our nation faces new and even more insidious enemies. Not so much a wolf at the door this time, more a virus in the blood. Those who hate America, both foreign and domestic, are spreading hate, fear, and division among us by any means necessary! The time is at hand for all of us to be prepared, for we must all be ready to be among “THOSE WHO STAND” for America!
Col. Preston Brent of the 38th Mississippi
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg While in Paducah, KY—Whhhaaat?
As you all know, I am not from Vicksburg. This past week, I was back “up home” in Paducah, KY, to see family and attend my sister’s wedding. This could be entitled “It’s a Small World After All—Part Two” because while I was in Paducah—well, y’all guessed it—I Rediscovered Historic Vicksburg, again!
RHV, RHV Books, and Civil War Bloggers & More Network Founder
As we were leaving from our recent trip to Paducah, KY, I received the usual notice in my email to rate or review the place we had stayed. We had been very pleased with our accommodations, so I was happy to do so. (I do not enjoy when I have negative things to say.) Upon completion, I zipped the gentleman a quick message to let him know I had given him “rave reviews”. He thanked me and said he hoped we came back to stay again. He then added that his family was from Mississippi and that he actually had an ancestor with a monument in Vicksburg National Military Park. He gave me a name, and, of course, my search was on!
Col. Preston Brent
Col. Preston Brent was born in Pike County, Mississippi, near Holmesville, on May 25th.—that is my birthday too—in the year 1833. (One source listed Copiah County, MS as his birthplace.) His father, Preston Brent, Sr. was born Feb 27th. 1799, in Fairfield District, South Carolina. Most sources list his mother as Elizabeth Briley, born May 1st. 1804, in the Mississippi Territory. (One source listed her name as “Unknown”.) All sources agree that he married Frances E. “Fanny” Brent, a distant cousin, Sept. 14, 1854. The best I can tell, confusion in sources about his parentage comes from the fact her sir name was the same as his—Brent—and her parents are at times listed as his parents. From what I gleaned, her father, John A. Brent served as a private under his son-in-law, and her mother was Rebecca Kaigler Brent.
Col. Preston Brent, a doctor, had very good organizational skills. Before the war, he served as an officer in the Mississippi State Militia. At the beginning of the Civil War, he started the Quitman Guard and Company K, also known as The Brent Guards or The Brent Rifles, a part of the Mississippi 38th Infantry Regiment.
Timeline of Col Preston Brent’s Civil War Service
(According to WikiTree.com https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Brent-312 )
1861—Became Major of 1st Regiment of Mississippi
1862—Became Captain of Company K 38th Mississippi Infantry Regiment following Col Adam’s Injury
1862—Became Lt. Colonel of 38th Mississippi Infantry Regiment
1862 – 1865—Became Colonel of 38th Mississippi Infantry Regiment
1863—He was wounded in face during battle at Vicksburg, Mississippi
1863—He was captured and paroled at Vicksburg, Mississippi
Col. Preston Brent died in 1884, of pneumonia. Frances, his wife, lived until 1909. Both are buried in Brent Cemetery, the family cemetery, which is near where they lived. Today, there is a gentleman in Paducah, KY, who is proud of his relative and there is indeed a monument with his name on it in Vicksburg National Military Park. However, Col. Brent and Fanny had eight children. If you “Google” Col. Preston Brent, you will not just find articles about him and service during the Civil War, but also about a Daughters of the Confederacy group named after him, an impressive historic home built by his family, and more. Yes, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg often leads me to information on the Civil War, but that almost always leads me on to so much more. In this case, I found a colonel—a son, husband, father, and doctor—who served as he felt he must then returned home leaving a legacy including and extending well beyond the Civil War.