The Last Voyage of the Sultana
By Morgan Gates
An anniversary of a great American disaster quietly passed recently, no flags flew at half-mast because of it, no moments of silence were observed, no orator solemnly intoned the names of the lost, and I doubt that any of the national media outlets even mentioned it. Don’t feel too bad, for few people of the era in which it happened knew much about it either! In fact, if I asked you to name three or four historic American disasters just off the top of your head, chances are it wouldn't be on your list even today. Just for fun let's try it… 9/11, The Challenger, Pearl Harbor Day, The Hindenburg maybe even The Titanic … bet you didn’t list the Sultana!
One hundred fifty-three years ago the steamboat Sultana exploded and burned in the middle of the flood-swollen Mississippi River in the middle of the night. To this day nobody is quite sure how many people died that night, but the estimates range between 1192 to 1547, the higher total would be more than perished aboard The Titanic 48 years later. To add injury to insult most of the victims were recently released POW on their way home after release. Well, what does this have to do with Vicksburg you ask? The Sultana had begun its fateful journey In Vicksburg only a few days before. The fate of the Sultana and Vicksburg it seems, were inextricably linked in more ways than one, however.
The City of Vicksburg, the key to regaining control of the Mississippi River, had resisted the best efforts of both the Union Navy and Army for over a year and finally fell to the second longest siege in U.S. Military History on July 4th, 1863. The Confederate Commander was brought to negotiation by 47 days of privation and near continual bombardment as terms of surrender he demanded parole for his beleaguered men. Grant who had earned the nickname Unconditional Surrender Grant at Fort Donelson initially refused, to which his opponent replied, “You will bury many more of your men before I unconditionally surrender Vicksburg!” Grant, who likely was just “negotiating from a position of strength” realized the impracticality of processing the tremendous Vicksburg garrison into POW camps relented and allowed the parole*. Still, he must have questioned this decision especially after he discovered that many of the same men who he had paroled at Vicksburg were captured again at Chattanooga. On April 17th, 1864 Grant, now the chief Union General, ended all parole! Neither side was prepared for the vast influx of POW that ensued, but the South was in especially dire straights for by this time in the war they were having trouble feeding their own people. The hastily constructed Andersonville Prison in Georgia was an especially nightmarish combination of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and exposure. By the spring of 1865 a limited amount of parole had resumed and even before the War was officially over the South had started paroling prisoners at Andersonville and Cahaba to Federal authorities at Vicksburg. A parole camp was established just outside Vicksburg, and emaciated walking scarecrows that had been prisoners were housed and cared for until transportation north could be arranged.
Enter the Sultana! The steamboat had been headed down river spreading the news of Lincoln's assassination along with its regular passenger and freight duties. On a stopover at Vicksburg the federal quartermaster offered the financially strapped captain a deal he could not afford to turn down, on his upriver leg he would load 1400 former POW aboard the Sultana for the princely sum of $5 per soldier and $10 per officer for a small kickback! The Sultana had been designed to house only 376, but Wartime exigences had caused such cautions to be dispensed with before. Upon her return trip, one of the Sultana's four boilers sprang a leak a potentially deadly problem, but a proper repair at Vicksburg would have meant the Captain would have missed this financial windfall, so he opted for a quick patch up job instead. The next day, not 1400 but almost 2000 former POW were loaded aboard the Sultana. The doomed ship backed away from the docks at Vicksburg on the night of April 24th with 2, 125 people aboard and heading upriver fighting a strong spring floodwater swollen current. At about 2 a.m. on the night of April 27th, the boilers exploded in mid-river the loss of life that night was perhaps the greatest maritime disaster in American history! But coming on the heels of the assassination of Lincoln and the unimaginable losses of the bloodiest war in American history this tragedy hardly stirred a ripple in the peoples conscious, for America had absorbed about all the bad news it could at that time, and few people know about this tragic incident even today. But you do now dear reader. Until next time, never forget the past for it is the ladder to tomorrow!
* Lacking a means for dealing with large numbers of captured troops early in the war, the U.S. and Confederate governments relied on the traditional European system of parole and exchange of prisoners. The terms called for prisoners to give their word not to take up arms against their captors until they were formally exchanged for an enemy captive of equal rank. Parole was supposed to take place within 10 days of capture. Generally, it was granted within a few days, especially after a major battle where thousands of troops were involved. Sometimes parolees went home to await notice of their exchange; sometimes they waited near their commands until the paperwork was processed. (civilwarhome.com)
The Yankees Are Coming -- Again!
By Morgan Gates
One hundred fifty-five years ago Vicksburg was the center of world attention. Earlier in the year, President Lincoln was making daily walks to the telegraph office to check on the progress of Grant's attempts to bypass Vicksburg. By April Grant himself had given up on these efforts and given his 13th Corps commander the task of building a road through the swamps down the west side of the Mississippi. On the moonless night of April 16th, 1863, a fleet of Navy Ironclads and Army transports had run the guns of Vicksburg. The Army of The Tennessee was in the process of moving south of the City to attempt a crossing of the Mississippi. Everybody knew the Yankees were coming! This July 4th, 2018 they will be coming – again!
The first Annual Vicksburg Civil War Symposium will be your chance to meet these legendary men of American History portrayed by the nations best living historians scheduled to appear are:
Major General Ulysses S. Grant (Curt Fields) – The commander of the Army of The Tennessee that besieged Vicksburg in the spring and summer of 1863 Grant was one of the most Iconic generals in American History. His is the classic American story, rising from humble beginnings and surviving a string of professional setbacks that would have humbled a lesser man. The surrender of Vicksburg sets him on a path into the history books as the man who won the war. If that was not enough, he served two terms as President and his memoirs became one the bestsellers of the 19th century.
Major General William T. Sherman (Dean Cass Jr.) – The man who made Georgia howl did his dress rehearsal in Mississippi, transforming Jackson Mississippi into Chimney Ville. Sherman was Grant’s best friend and right hand man. At Vicksburg he commanded the 15th corps he attacked Vicksburg in the winter of 1862 at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou and again on May 19th and 22nd 1863.
Major General James McPherson (Scott Thomas) – promoted to Major General at Corinth for bravery he was Grant’s 17th Corps Commander at Vicksburg he fought the Battle of Raymond and anchored Grant’s center during the siege. His stellar performance caused him to rocket up the ranks, he was killed in action in 1864 the highest ranking Union officer to die in the war.
Major General Henry Halleck (Richard Weil) – Grant’s immediate superior during the Vicksburg Campaign. His relationship with Grant was somewhat rocky during the early part of the war.
Major General Henry Slocum (David Bonham) – A hero of the Battle of Gettysburg he was the military commander of Vicksburg in the summer of 1864.
Brigadier General Rufus Ingalls (Mike Trapasso) – while not a key player in the Vicksburg Campaign Rufus Ingalls was a key player in the Civil War as a whole. He was the chief quartermaster of the Army of the Potomac in the summer of 1862 and in the summer of 1864 Lt. General U.S. Grant made him quartermaster of the entire Federal Army.
---Oh, the Confederacy will be well represented as well, but more on that later
By Morgan Gates
Before U.S. Grant made plans to capture Vicksburg he first made plans to simply by-pass it! This was an old and valid plan of action. Since time immemorial military bastions, be they walled cities in ancient times, Medieval castles, or Civil War river fortifications, were only as effective as the choke points they controlled. If they could be by-passed, they were rendered useless.
In the winter of 1863 there were three separate projects on going to by-pass Fortress Vicksburg. The most well known was Grant’s Canal. It had been begun the summer before by Brigadier General Thomas Williams. Between June 27- and July 24 his brigade of men from, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Michigan tried to dig a ditch across the base of DeSoto Point just west of the city -- OMG what was he thinking! The Confederates didn’t have to lift a finger, Col. Summer handled that campaign all by himself. Disease and heat exhaustion took care of the Northern soldiers, and they impressed slaves to continue the work but to no avail. Work was abandoned ad the soldiers pulled out with Farragut’s naval withdrawal.
Grant’s men took up the task again in January. In Grants opinion it at least kept the men busy and in shape. This time it was Old Man River himself who took a dim view of the work. A sudden river rise flooded and nearly backfilled the canal, until two steam dredges were brought in, but Confederate artillery drove them off, and work was abandoned once more. Thirteen years later when the Mississippi decided it was read to change its course it did so a mile north of Grant’s Canal. A small segment of Grant’s canal still exists under the I-20 bridge today.
The second attempt was the Duckport Canal. In the 19th century the land immediately west of Vicksburg was mostly swamp interspersed with cotton fields, the land was crisscrossed with a number of small waterways know as bayous - small sluggish rivers typically found in marshy areas. The idea was to dig a canal of about two miles length that would connect the Mississippi (several miles NW of Vicksburg) with the headwaters of Walnut Bayou, which emptied into the Mississippi about 15 miles south of the city. This was a long shot and even Grant admitted it, but he gave the OK to begin work on it anyway. The Bayou was shallow and clogged with trees, but by mid April they were able to get four steam dredges into the canal but in early May the Mississippi began to drop, and two dredges and 20 barges were marooned, work on the canal stopped.
The most audacious attempt was the Lake Providence Canal. Lake Providence is an oxbow lake about 45 airline miles above Vicksburg. a canal was dug to connect Lake Providence to the levee that separated it from the Mississippi. The levee would then be blown allowing flood water from the Mississippi to enter the lake flooding it to a depth sufficient that it would allow riverboat passage from the lake to Bayou Macon, then through various connecting waterways all the way to the Red River, over 200 miles of torturous tree clogged waterway that would have required extensive tree removal and dredging to be and effective by-pass. The levee was blown, and Lake Providence flooded but it was not until March 23 that the waters were high enough for work to begin. By this time Grant had decided to move his troops overland and cross the Mississippi and engage Vicksburg and he ordered work stopped.
Unintended consequences: The work at Lake Providence stopped, but the levee breech and canal to the lake caused extensive flooding in eastern Louisiana, this actually helped shield Grant’s movements along the west bank, not that he had much to worry about from that sector as Kilby Smith the CSA commander on the west bank had his hands full elsewhere. Unmentioned in the annals of history is the catastrophic flooding of countless small farms and plantations in this area. But there was another unintended consequence that did not happen, only by the Grace of God! Vicksburg is home today to the Mississippi River Commission a cooperative effort of Government/Civilian assets that has spent decades studying the flow of the Mississippi and all its related waterways in order to control the damaging potential of floods and enhance navigation. In a recent presentation to our Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable a retired engineer dropped a real bomb of information into our laps. If the river flood levels had been just a little bit higher that fateful spring of 1863, the levee breech at Lake Providence might have done much more that flood eastern Louisiana, it might have permanently changed the course of the Mississippi River leaving not only Vicksburg bypassed but every river city south of Lake Providence as well! Maybe U.S. Grant himself said it best in the opening of his Memoir “Man proposed but God disposes”!
Cooking with J.M. Swords
By Morgan Gates
I suppose civilized man has always depended on some version of social media. Long before Facebook and Twitter news both real and fake circulated via whatever media was available. Perhaps town criers and town gossips being the oldest. The invention of the movable type printing press in the in the 1400’s revolutionized the social media world in a way unmatched until the present day’s internet. Books once rare and the province of the very wealthy were now widely available. The next evolution of this information revolution was the newspaper in 1605. That is a single current-affairs series regularly published at intervals short enough for readers to keep abreast of incoming news! For 400 years newspapers ruled the roost of social media. Full of Notable Events Sports and Weather (NEWS) they kept people current on matters both great and small. Some of the most popular of the short but enjoyable features common in “papers” were both social events and recipes.
Nineteenth-century Vicksburg as a thriving community had several newspapers. One was the Daily Citizen published by J. M. Swords. Swords continued publishing throughout the Siege of Vicksburg despite hardships such as running out of proper newsprint and substituting wallpaper. In its July 2nd edition, The Citizen records one such social event with at least a suggestion of a recipe:
…poor defunct Thomas (and old cat of the neighborhood) was prepared not for the grave but for the pot, and several friends invited to partake of a "nice rabbit." As a matter of course, no one would wound the feelings of another, especially in these times, by refusing a cordial invitation to dinner, and the guest aided in consuming the poor animal with relish that did honor to their epicurean tastes. The “sold” assured the meat was delicious and that “pussy” must look out for their safety.
There is no mention of just how hapless old Thomas was prepared for the pot in this article, however, at the very end of this edition of the Daily Citizen there is a “late edition edit” added July 4th by Union troops who had recently entered the city.
Two days bring about great changes the banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg… The Citizen lives to see it. For the last time it appears on wallpaper. No more shall it eulogize the luxury of mule meat and fricassee kitten—urge southern warriors to such diet nevermore…
Until next time Bon Appetit from your friends a Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Our History runs Deep—Literally by Morgan Gates
Vicksburg is most famous for its role in the Civil War of course, but much more happened around Vicksburg than just the turning point of this terrible war. This area is as rich in history as its soil is fertile! Both before and after the war.
Not long ago I had a conversation with a local relic hunter. He had brought in some recently unearthed artifacts and was looking for some information on his finds. Before we go any further let me assure you that these relics WERE NOT found on the battlefield! Relic hunting within any military park is illegal! He was hunting on land owned by his family, many miles from the battlefield, but there were more Union soldiers in and around Vicksburg/Warren County in 1863, than the current population of the city and county combined! So, artifacts can be, and routinely are, found throughout this area.
The objects he had were apparently from the 19th century but seemed to be post war civilian and perhaps connected to an early leader of the post war African- American community whose grave he found on the property. The struggles of the African-American community after the war are yet another layer of the deep history around Vicksburg. Prewar slave laborers knew only their work. They had never dealt with the aspects of daily life that most men took for granted --making a living, finding a place to live, supporting themselves and their families, etc. Post war, they were thrust suddenly into the cold cruel world with very little to no preparation--they had to start from scratch! Over the next few generations they were excluded from white society by racist policies, so they built a society within a society. They built their own communities within the larger white communities, with their own churches, stores etc. They survived and, in many cases, thrived in spite of the forces working against them. The first African- American woman in America to earn a PhD lived in Vicksburg!
Another object he found upon digging even deeper was a stone arrow head in nearly perfect condition. The arrowhead likely was of Choctaw origin, meaning it could have been no more recent than 1830 and likely significantly older. The majority of the Southeastern tribes were removed to what is today Oklahoma by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, yet another layer of history!
Let’s delve even deeper, shall we? I am a member of the Historic Vicksburg Advisory Committee, and one of the many projects we are working on is the tricentennial commemoration of Fort Saint Pierre. Established in 1719, this French outpost on the Yazoo River –inside the boundaries of present Warren County – was bigger than the French settlement called New Orleans in 1720. The Fort was built on the site of and even older French Mission dating to 1698.
Deeper yet we dig, Mississippi has a newly established series of road side markers that designate the locations of Native American mounds. These mounds predate even the Choctaw. They are mostly associated with the Mississippian Culture which dates back as far as 800 A.D., but many may be even older than that.
So if you are a lover of history, come on down, for our history runs deep.
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The Second Book of Morgan
By Morgan Gates
Part of the upbringing of any good Southern Gentleman is that "One does not brag on himself" a gentleman's reputation should speak for itself! Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in today. In today's world, everyone is tooting their own horns so loudly that such gentlemanly manners no longer apply, I am afraid. So please forgive me Momma and whoever the Patron Saint of Good Manners may be as I announce the publication of my second book. The Long Road Home is a collection of seven Historic Fiction short stories; all are based on actual historical events, all are set in or have some connection to Vicksburg and or Mississippi. All are of the Civil War, or earlier and all involve struggles to survive in one way or another, and inevitably to go home."
I am a storyteller and historian by trade nowadays. Notice I put storyteller first, because if you can't catch a person's attention, then you aren't really transferring any significant amount of information. I've read – or at least tried to read – too many books in the history genre that read like a dictionary or even worse the so and so begat so and so sections of the Bible, and that is a shame! History is, or should be, entertaining! It is after all the story of us! Long before anyone figured out how to draw some abstract symbols on a clay tablet or animal skin and call it a word, people passed their history down by telling stories. Around the campfires, each night the old man (or woman) of the village would tell of some great hero or a catastrophic fight for survival, and knowledge and wisdom were passed on to another generation. That is in essence what I do on my tours, both daytime historic tours and night time ghost tours, ghost tours are really little more than dressed up historical tours (Oops! Maybe I shouldn't have said that, don't tell anyone OK?) Stories on a tour are by necessity rather short "soundbites" is the modern catchphrase I believe. Sometimes; however, the story begs for a more detailed telling. Alternately sometimes you have just a fragment of a story, incomplete, in some way but enough to suggest a more complete version.
Enter writing a Book! A decade ago, when I first started giving historical tours, if you had whipped out your crystal ball and told me I would one day write a book, I would have laughed at you. Yet as time when by I came across those stories that needed more telling than just a short blurb on a dark sidewalk. Haunted Vicksburg Ghost Tours are my bread and butter, so it was natural that my book would be a companion to that tour. It was a long time coming, a story here, a story there, a few false starts a brick wall or two, but with a little help, OK a lot of help, from my partner in time Meshea, my book “A Walk on the Darkside” was published last year. I'm pretty proud of my book, and it sells pretty well on the tours and in bookstores in Vicksburg (Don't worry Stephen King you have nothing to fear). This book had kept my creative juices flowing during many an offseason, but now that it was in print "what next"? WARNING: THE SURGEON GENERAL HAS DETERMINED THAT WRITING CAN BE ADDICTIVE! I began casting about for my next project. Several topics were started and abandoned… Remember the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone when Harry is getting his first wand and is told … “The wand chooses you Mr. Potter” well apparently that applies to books as well.
Well book two chose me, and things came together much more quickly this time, the first time is always the hardest they say! In truth bits and pieces of this book have been circulating in my head for quite some time as well, but when I put pen to paper (ok fingers to keyboard) this time the word flowed out more readily. So, what is book two you ask? More Ghost Stories, nope not this time! Historical Fiction is my genre this go round!
I have come across a number of fragments of stories, stories not in and of themselves whole! Around these stories, I have woven a fictional whole.
Now that I’ve made my plug, allow me to humbly request that you consider buying a copy of my new book, if you have ever taken one of my tours or regularly follow this blog, I think you will enjoy it. I have included a link below where it can be purchased directly from Lulu, and it should be soon available from other venues in Vicksburg. Thanks, and may your road home be short and your struggles few!
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He’s been working on the Railroad…
By Morgan Gates
As the Union Armies marched across the South, one of their favorite practices was the destroy the Confederacy's rail lines. The American Civil War was the first significant conflict in which railroads had played a major role. Steam-powered transportation via rail was relatively new in the world in the 1860’s, the first public steam railway in the world, had been opened in England only 35 years before. Railroads had however proved invaluable to the war effort of both sides, able to move troops and supplies at previously unheard-of speeds, using imperishable, easily obtainable and readily stockpiled fuels (mostly wood in the south) its main weakness was its fixed tracks. The Union was, of course, quick to recognize this and it became standard practice to destroy southern railways. Putting the rails out of service was easy enough, pry the tacks from their wooden ties and trains could no longer run on them. The problem was how to put them out of service long term? Wooden ties could be burned, but the iron rails were a bit more durable. Remember, this was well before the advent of light but powerful explosives, or even cutting torches. Serviceable wooden ties could be hewn from the nearest woodlot and the rails re lain, especially in an area where slave labor was employed. The rails had to be made useless somehow. The answer was to melt them. The ties were piled up and made into a bonfire the rails lay across them, and when they became red hot they could be bent, the most effective method was to use a handy tree to act a center point to ensure a good angle was applied. Please note: this method would not work with modern steel rails as their melting point is too high. At the time the rails were made of rather poor-quality iron which can become malleable at temperatures as low as 700 degrees. I do not know whose idea this was the first time it was done, but rails bent by such a method became known as "Sherman Neckties" as his men practiced this widely during the Atlanta Campaign. Atlanta, however, was not the first pace it was practiced, it was also done in Mississippi in 1963 and early 1864. In one of the displays in the new Mississippi History Museum in Jackson, there is a severely bent rail, an example of Sherman's handiwork in Mississippi, proof that he was tying his neckties here long before he traveled to Georgia and beyond.
Want to know more about Sherman in Mississippi? Come to the Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4 2018.
That Other Burg
By Morgan Gates
The American Civil War was the seminal conflict of American History, only the American Revolution that created our country was more important. No American War before or after can compare. Even World War II, massive and bloody as it was could not compare. For it was not fought on our soil and, heaven forbid, it had not worked out the way it did, The United States itself was not in any real sense in danger of conquest. The American Civil War was, in fact, significant on a worldwide scale. Remember since "the shot heard round the world" America had exerted a genuine Ideological influence on the rest of the world. What would have been the effect on the rest of the world if the "The Great Social Experiment" that was the USA had failed only "Four Score and Seven Years" after its inception?
Please remember dear fellow student of history, that a Union victory was not a foregone conclusion especially in the first two years of the War. A string of Confederate victories in 1862 had soured the northern population's opinion of the War. The Republicans had lost control of Congress in the mid-term elections, and the Democrats were agitating to end the War with a peace treaty and bring the boys home and stop the carnage. But in the summer of 1863, a significant Union victory turned the tides of war and public opinion. What was that victory GETTYSBURG you shout! Not so fast I answer… let's consider the facts.
Gettysburg is without a doubt a great battle, the nearly mythical invincibility of Lee lain open to the light of day, he was indeed just a man after all. The incredible losses of the day were unequaled in Western Hemispheric History to this day. But What if Lee had won? Lee would have still had to withdraw and head south again, sooner or later.
No, I would have to argue that the most important Union victory in the bloody Year of 1863, was at THE OTHER BURG! Vicksburg! Union operations against Vicksburg had been in progress since shortly after the fall of New Orleans. U.S. Grant’s operations to capture Vicksburg had been in progress since the winter of 1862. Grant was a stubborn as a mule and tenacious as a bulldog. Handed defeat after defeat by Confederate forces and mother nature. He conducts a series of operations so audacious that even his best friend William T. Sherman is flabbergasted by them! A nighttime run by the U.S. Navy (Grant's idea) past the formidable guns of Vicksburg. An amphibious landing unequaled until D-Day. A 19th-century Blitzkrieg across central Mississippi without a substantial supply line. Two nearly bold if unsuccessful assaults across impossible terrain and a 47-day siege in the heat of a Mississippi summer. This is the turning point Victory of the summer of 1863.
Had Vicksburg held and Lee lost, I think we would be living in a very different world today. Had Vicksburg fallen and Lee won, I doubt if the South could have still won. For the loss of Vicksburg was not just a loss of one town, it was the loss of the Mississippi River, and with it the Trans-Mississippi! So the next time you hear someone tell you that Gettysburg was the turning point of the War, just smile and politely nod your head for you know the truth. It was not Gettysburg but that other burg, VICKSBURG!
Want to learn more about Vicksburg and the War? Make plans now to attend the first annual Vicksburg Civil War Symposium July 3-4.
Lets take a walk along the new Vicksburg Heritage Walking Trail!
This is the Temporary trail head on Washington Street, when the Farmers Market stalls across the street are completed it will be moved over there. Wow this trail is pretty extensive, maybe we better just pick one today and come back later to finish the rest.
Yes, Vicksburg has some hills, but it's nothing we can't handle, plus it's great exercise.
Look, that's a Mississippi Blues Trail marker! Vicksburg has a lot more to it than the Civil War. Who knew?
"The Mississippi Barbecue Company will opening soon in this old building! Great Food served in unique historic buildings, with great views! What's not to like!
Look at this cool old house being restored on Grove Street.
Here is the next marker, it's about the Jewish community in Vicksburg.
These are some of the people who contributed to these markers. Oh, I've herd of this guy, I here he really knows his stuff!
This is the Bazsinsky House to day, it's a beautiful place!
This is where the HAUNTED VICKSBURG GHOST TOUR starts! On the corner of Monroe and Grove, on Friday and Saturday nights! I hear it is really good, we should take it one night!
The Old Courthouse Museum, if walls could talk! We have to go there before we leave!
Look at these old pictures of Vicksburg, what a different perspective.
You can rent this historic house as an Air B&B complete with butler and cook if you can afford it!
Vicksburg columns, newspapers printed on wallpaper, more fun facts
The Luckett Compound, we would have missed this if it weren't on the trail.
Lots of beautiful churches in this city!
Wow, there is so much to see here, and that was only one trail! We need to come back soon!
If you would like a GUIDED TOUR of this remarkable city, along this trail or any other or if you are not up to walking, and would like a driving tour, shoot me and email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sitting on the Stockade Redan
by Morgan Gates
A storm raged in my mind today, life-changing events swirl in my near future. Not bad things, mind you, good in fact, but still, life-changing! Change, especially significant changes can be exciting, but also somewhat frightening! So I did what I often do when in need time to think and clear my head, I went for a walk in the Vicksburg National Military Park. (Those of us who live in Vicksburg can purchase an annual pass for a quite reasonable sum, which allows unlimited access to the park road and there are several places where access to the tour road is available to pedestrians and bicyclist.)
From where I parked my truck, my dog, and I walked just over a mile to the Stockade Redan before retracing our steps. It was a perfect day for a walk. The sky was a cloudless blue that you could really only see in winter in Mississippi. I have often said that as the landscape around here turns bleak and gray, it is almost as if Mother Nature makes up for it by painting the skies in vivid hues. The temperature was also just right—60 degrees with a light wind. Sometimes winter can be the best season in the South. Despite the pleasant weather, the Park was almost empty and entirely peaceful. We stopped at the Stockade Redan and sat on the peak of the fort for a few minutes.
I'm sure anyone who reads this blog regularly knows of the profound events that happened in that place, but in brief review: The Vicksburg Campaign was the actual turning point of that deadly war. More so than Gettysburg, for though many more men died in that Pennsylvania field, the loss of Vicksburg severed the Confederacy in half! In sight of where I sat, Sherman's 15th Corps charged into the teeth of death. The 13th U.S. Infantry Regiment took 43 % casualties including George Washington’s Grandnephew. A few days later, the Forlorn Hope led a charge that piled bodies so deep it blocked the Graveyard Road that I had just walked down. Later in the siege, Henry Clay's Grandson died defending another fort less than a mile to my right, and less than a mile to my left my own Great-great Grandfather hunkered in a trench for 47 days.
On this day no smoke obscured the view, the roar of cannon and musket were replaced by the whisper of the wind. The ominous muzzle of Union cannon stared at me across the ravine, but no death and destruction had issued from them within the living memory of man. Black Vultures circled high in the sky by while their distant ancestors may have feasted on human flesh. These carrion birds would likely sup on nothing more gruesome than road-killed armadillo.
Do spirits still haunt this battlefield? Some say they do. Certainly there still a few forgotten bones buried somewhere in the ravine below. But today only memories, visual images pulled from the pages of history books, people the landscape below.
These images remind me that this place where I sit in peace today was once a place of bloody carnage where lives were sacrificed so that the nation we know today could exist.
My dog grows restless. He wants to move on, to smell the deer cropping and trace the path of other woods' creatures that have passed this way. I get up and we start back the way we came.
Info From the National Park Service website:
What is the Stockade Redan?
Stockade Redan was constructed to protect the Graveyard Road approach to Vicksburg. The fortification was given its name because of the wall, or 'stockade,' of poplar logs built across the Graveyard Road. The redan was attacked twice, on May 19 and 22, and each time the Confederate garrison successfully repulsed the Federal soldiers.
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg at the Cottonwood Public House
by Meshea Crysup, RHV
The building is historic—and I will blog about that when I get more of that history from the owner—but the place is modern and like nothing else in Vicksburg! Our historic area has stepped up and into exactly what young people are looking for in a community. One can live in The Lofts, lunch at 10 South or Roca, and then when evening comes, walk on down and unwind at the Cottonwood Public House!
Craft Beers, which are all the rage!
Craft Cocktails, YUM!
Craft Pizzas cooked in a firebrick oven!
The menu is “foodie heaven”.
The atmosphere is “old meets new”, “inside meets outside”, and “traditional meets modern”! Exposed brick walls, wide open space, a very L.O.N.G. bar, seating that will open onto the sidewalk when the weather is warmer, tall tables, short tables, a sofa, a dart board, and, of course, let us not forget that THEY BREW BEER! (Well, they will be soon! Zack Erickson, the brewer, promised that we will talk so I can blog all about that as soon as the beer is brewing!)
If you are looking for an interesting way to spend an evening or a new place to call “your place”, check out The Cottonwood Public House, 1309 Washington Street! The epitome of reclaimed-downtown chic, it is certainly a modern way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
in the Spring
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Spring will be here before we know it, therefore it is not too early to start planning daytrips, weekends, long weekends, or even week-long Spring vacations. Vicksburg is certainly well into planning an exciting season for those of you who want to come Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018
The dates for Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018 are March 22-April 8, on Thursday-Sunday of each week.
Pilgrimage is more than just afternoon tours of historic homes, churches, etc. It is also special events and unique educational and entertainment opportunities designed to introduce you to all that Historic Vicksburg has to offer. Of course, Civil War history is thoroughly covered, but the Antebellum Era is about more than war. Plus, Vicksburg’s history goes back long before the war and much has happened since. Pilgrimage has something for everyone!
One unique feature of Vicksburg Pilgrimages is that you are not merely buying a venue tour ticket, handed a map, and sent on your way! All afternoon venue tours are conducted by Historic & Haunted Vicksburg Tours owner/operator, Morgan Gates. While he drives you from one stop to the next in his comfortable tour van, Morgan entertains and educates you with a Vicksburg City Tour. Your Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage 2018 ticket will also get you discounts at many businesses and for many events being held in Historic Vicksburg. Therefore, your Pilgrimage ticket purchase is actually a very valuable tool and a great deal!
What businesses and events?
Vicksburg has many interesting shops, galleries, antique stores, boutiques, a coffee shop, a bakery, a bookstore, museums, a new self-guided walking tour, the Riverfront Murals, Catfish Row Children’s Art Park, and unique dining options, several with live musical entertainment in the evenings. Much of this is within walking distance of one another. While not yet complete, the list of businesses offering discounts on purchases is growing daily! As far as events, how do afternoon teas, ghost hunts and/or tours, book signings, trivia nights, wine, beer, and cocktail tastings, the Genius World Book of Records longest running play: Gold in the Hills, and an Antebellum Ball sound? Those are a few of the things in the works!
Rest & Relax in the Midst of History
Any trip to Vicksburg, but especially during Pilgrimage, is enhanced by staying at one of our may Bed & Breakfast locations. The history of the homes, the period furnishings, the gardens or courtyards, and of course the Southern Hospitality—defiantly the best way to have a superior and relaxing lodging experience!
More to Come!
Over the next few weeks, as details are finalized, I will be keeping you informed and providing you with contact information, ticket information, etc. I will also re-share the blogs I have already done on historic tour homes, tours, etc., as well as bringing you new blogs about those I have not yet covered! Of course, the goal is to whet your appetite, peak your curiosity, and lure you to our 2018 Vicksburg Spring Pilgrimage! If you cannot make it at that time however, it will all serve as a great guide for when you can join us, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
in the Winter
While Vicksburg, Mississippi is certainly in “The South”, our winter weather is unpredictable. We may have temperatures in the 70’s one day and in the 20’s the next! We even get some snow! I am honored to share pics from Vicksburg National Military Park that my friend, Licensed Battlefield Guide, B.B. Ingle, recently sent to me! (Thank you B.B.!)
~Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
The morning of December 8th, 2017, I awoke to find several text messages from my friend, BB Ingle. An occasional text about Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable is not unusual, but over a half-a-dozen at around 7 am—well that was! If you are familiar with “The South” at all, however, you will understand what B.B. was so excited about!
What is there to do in Vicksburg in the winter?
Well, to be honest, if it snows, not a lot, lol! We truly pretty much shut down the whole state of Mississippi! Thankfully, that does not happen very often! So, check out the weather forecast, just in case, then go ahead and plan a trip to Vicksburg!
Obviously, Vicksburg National Military is open year around, baring the federal government shutting down. Vicksburg also has many tour homes which are open or available upon appointment. There are also museums, historic churches, art galleries, a book store, guided tours, walking tours, unique dining experiences, riverfront murals, an art park, historic cemeteries, unique stores and shops, live music, trivia, wine, beer, and cocktail tastings, and more! My list is far from exhaustive. Below are links to websites with complete lists and details.
Historic Vicksburg Tours
Haunted Vicksburg Tours
Old Court House Museum
McRaven Tour Home
Baer House Inn
Duff Green Mansion
As you can see, Historic Vicksburg has much to offer, even in the winter! In fact, if heat, humidity, and mosquitos are not for you, winter might be the best time for you to plan on Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
Seriously folks, winter really is a GREAT TIME
Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg!
History Has a Home
By Morgan Gates
I was finally able to get over to the new Mississippi History Museum this weekend, so I thought I would venture a few miles to the east of Vicksburg and write a blog or two about this long-awaited building.
The new Mississippi History Museum in Jackson, opened in December, to coincide with Mississippi’s Bicentennial. It has been a long time coming but it is was worth the wait. Mississippi is arguably one of the most historic states in the Union at the state has no shortage of excellent museums, including among others, the Old Court House Museum and the Lower Mississippi Valley Museum in Vicksburg. The Elvis's Birthplace Museum in Tupelo, Beauvoir in Biloxi, B.B. King in Indianola, The Agricultural Museum in Jackson and many more both large and small. Each interprets a different slice of Mississippi's diverse and rich history. The Central Museum, the one that tells Mississippi's history as a whole, however, has been missing piece of the puzzle for more than a decade.
Our story of homeless artifacts begins in the late summer of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina barreled ashore on the “Landmass between New Orleans and Mobile” as one national media weatherperson phrased it, that we otherwise know as the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The storm made landfall about 150 miles south by southeast of Jackson. Your average garden variety hurricane is usually little more than a gusty rainstorm by the time they are that far inland, but our girl Katrina! She reached Jackson while still at hurricane at strength. And she ripped much of the copper sheathing from the roof of the Museum’s previous home, the Old Capitol Building. Causing the artifacts removal to safe storage until repairs could be made. With much of the southern half of the state in ruins, it took a while for repairs to be made.
The old Mississippi State Capitol building, which served from 1839 – 1903 is a historical artifact in and of itself, so when restoration funds became available in 2006, it was decided that this Grand Old Dame would better serve to tell her own story! When she reopened in 2009, she did just that. One Vicksburg connection in the Old Capitol Museum; on the wall in the old Governor's office are the names of every man who served in that role during the building's tenure, the first name is Alexander Gallatin McNutt of Vicksburg! The Old Capitol is now a great new addition to Mississippi's interpretive history, but still, no building was available to tell the whole story. So, a brand-new construction began to rise right behind the Old Capitol to house and expand upon the artifacts of the Mississippi History collection. Coupled with the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum housed in the same building but with its own wing, two for the price of one so to speak, the Museum is now open, and Mississippi's history once more has a home! Go check it out some time. http://www.mmh.mdah.ms.gov/
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A Prayer for the President
By Morgan Gates
A scene from an Episcopal prayer service, in Vicksburg Mississippi the Rector leads the congregation in prayer:
O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favor to behold and bless thy servant THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A murmur runs through the congregation, there is a tension in the room, most are too polite to speak it, but the thoughts running through their minds are almost audible. Oh My God, did he really just pray for God to bless that awful man? He is not my President! The only reason he is in charge of us is due to outside meddling!
There are also members of the local government and law enforcement in the congregation that day as well. They can see the discontent in the crowd; they wonder if a violent protest is about to break out right here in this church service. Churches have often been hotbeds of political dissent. One of them wonders if he should summon back up immediately. Another thinks “what is wrong with these people, can’t they at least respect the office if not the man?” Then several of the leading ladies of the congregation storm out the back door in protest! The tension breaks the officials breath a sigh of relief.
The protest described above was not a protest against Donald Trump: it was against Abraham Lincoln, and it occurred in a prayer service in Christ Episcopal Church on Christmas Eve in 1863! On December 24th, 1863 Vicksburg had been an occupied city for six months! Martial law was in effect; Blue coated troops patrolled the streets! The previous rector of the church the Reverend W.W. Lord and ardent Confederate had departed the City after the surrender. Another man now filled the pulpit. Quite a few of the Union occupiers were of the Episcopal denomination and attended services at the church regularly, and it was at their insistence that he pulled out the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and led the congregation that particular prayer on that particular day. The Prayer for the President of the United States was not something new, but it had been modified to read the Prayer for the President of the Confederate States by most southerners since succession! The protesting ladies did not get off “scot free” however. They were identified by the Union officials and banned from the city for the duration of the war! It was said that the Union officials discovered that: The Men of Vicksburg had surrendered, but the women had not!
By Morgan Gates
'Tis the Christmas season, and all are scurrying about finishing up their shopping and having Holiday get-togethers and such, so the postings have been a bit lean here lately, our apologies! So here is a little tidbit, for you, a bit out on the edge of our usual genre perhaps, but interesting none the less.
The most famous Christmas Ghost story is, of course, Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" – You know it well, Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future! But did you know that Christmas was once as associated with Ghost Stories as Halloween? (See the link to the article in Smithsonian Magazine below)
The tradition long predates Dickens it seems, but the Puritans did not much like it so it never really "crossed the pond" so to speak. Dickens' work gave Christmastide ghost story a brief burst of life in the new world in the 19th century, but eventually, it was the Halloween tradition brought west by Scottish immigrants that became the scary holiday!
But I digress! Yes, Christmas was once a time of Peace on Earth, goodwill toward man and Fear of Hell and damnation! Almost lost among the black Friday sales and Jolly old elves and reindeer, is Santa’s dark alter ego, Krampus! Almost lost, until Hollywood disinterred him a couple of years ago that is, the Krampus story originates in alpine regions of German and Austria. The figure is somewhat demonic in appearance, often described as a smallish hunched over figure with horns. He would deliver bundles of birch branches to beat bad children with and a sack or pack in which he would carry particularly bad children off to never be seen again! Que the shivers!
Ok, so what does this have to do with Vicksburg? Well, there were many immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from these Germanic lands in the south. When I was growing up, I was taught not that Santa brought misbehaving children "switches" not lumps of coal! Finally, a story from my father's childhood! When he was a child he was taught that a "boogeyman" called "Sack-a-Billy" traveled all around the land and he would put particularly terrible little children in a sack he carried over his shoulder and carry them off, and they would never be seen again! Sack-a Billy was described as a stooped shouldered old man who walked the railroad tracks from town to town! Sound familiar?
One, day in a fit of anger my father – just a child at the time – set out to run away from home, and burst out the front door at a run! The Vicksburg Street on which he lived has a railroad track running right alongside it. As luck would have it, at that particular moment a stooped over old man with a sack over his shoulder was walking by his house! Well, you can imagine how quickly he reversed course and decided running away was not such a good idea!
Of course, my 6 or 7-year future father had not actually encountered a supernatural being, for this was during the 1930's when many men down on their luck traveled the railroads as Hobos. When my father was alive, we laughed over this story many a time, but it was just recently that realized that in a way he had an encounter with a Vicksburg Mississippi incarnation of Krampus!
He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty or nice, Krampus is coming to get you tonight!
Peace on Earth? What Peace?
By Morgan Gates
Peace on earth, goodwill towards men… famous words indeed! Words uttered by the Heavenly Host in Luke 2:14 ! Yet there has always been war, and strife and suffering and this side of heaven I suppose there always will be both then and now…
This Saturday (12/9/2017) the Old Courthouse Museum will have their annual Christmas Ball, a reenactment of an actual Christmas Ball thrown for the Confederate officers and their ladies on Christmas Eve 1862. This ball was famously interrupted by a messenger warning of an impending attack by General William T. Sherman and 32,000 men. Sherman's men sat aboard crowded transports that Christmas day, their Confederate counterparts spent the day hastily marching and digging in! No peace on earth that day!
Briefly, Sherman's men land along Chickasaw Bayou a tributary of the Yazoo River a few miles north of Vicksburg, they find themselves in the disadvantageous position, of being in a partially flooded swamp while the Confederates hold the high ground. The battle lasts three days and ends in a Confederate victory. (We will delve more deeply into this almost forgotten battle at a future date) .
By the Christmas season of 1863 the War had moved on to other regions of the South, but Vicksburg was in shambles and many around Vicksburg, were hungry and impoverished. Some say the custom of eating black-eyed peas on New Years Day arose in Vicksburg during this time. In the antebellum years, this legume was reserved for animal fodder and was thus one of the few crops not burned or confiscated by the Union Army during the war. Of course, Vicksburg recovered quickly post-war, and soon there were times of plenty and peace again.
War and personal strife, and suffering, I am afraid are just part of the human condition. I doubt that there has been a point in all of history where there has not been a war raging somewhere on God’s green earth, and I am absolutely sure there has not been a time without personal strife. So, what was the point of these words spoken so long ago by celestial beings at the birth of our savior? God has always been more concerned with us as individuals than as a species and with the condition of one person’s heart (yours or mine)!
So how do we find peace on a troubled Earth, or offer goodwill to our fellow man! We find it through him!
We here at Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg would like to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and pray that you will find your own peace and goodwill towards men!
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 email@example.com
‘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.
Rediscovering Historic Vburg© Visits McRaven Tour Home
I am ashamed to admit that, until very recently, I had yet to tour McRaven. When an out-of-town-guest visited however, it proved to be an excellent time to correct that! In fact, an alternate title could have been Martha & Meshea Tour McRaven! Special thanks to my friend, Martha Workman, for going with me, taking some awesome pictures, and embracing my passion for Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg©!
~Meshea Crysup, Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg
Civil War Bloggers & More Network
We had to leave the higher-traffic area of Vicksburg, and wander to the very end of a backstreet to get McRaven Tour Home, but what else would one expect when going to “Mississippi’s Most Haunted House”?
It was about 9 a.m., so I must confess the place did not come across as “spooky” or “haunted”. I imagine we would have felt differently had it been night time. Day or night, I am positive we would have felt differently had we encountered a ghost or some other strange experience while there. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it—we did not. What we did experience, however, was a step back into time during our guided tour of this wonderfully preserved time-capsule. Never one to re-invent the wheel, this excerpt from their website does an excellent job of setting expectations:
Named Mississippi's "Most Haunted House," visit the McRaven Tour Home where ghostly demeanor has been broadcasted on A&E, The Travel Channel, 48 Hours, and "Look Around Mississippi." Step back in time to Vicksburg's finest, totally authentic, pre Civil War home with the most complete way-of-life tour. Built and remodeled in three different time periods, every room is lavishly furnished and reserved with museum-quality antiques including a pioneer kitchen. National Geographic Magazine has labeled the McRaven Tour Home the "Time Capsule of the South." Enjoy strolling through the three-acre gardens, once a Confederate campsite and field hospital. Discover and experience the famous and infamous people of McRaven, and why their spirits have never left. (www.McRavenTourHome.com)
The basic, daily tour we took is chalked full of history and was well worth the time and money. There is also a Haunted Tour option. Special events, such as paranormal investigations, a fall day in the Pumpkin Patch (complete with face painting, games, and a photo booth), special candle-light ghost tours, and a variety of other events are also available throughout the year.
Martha and I learned a great deal, were in awe of the period furnishings as well as the home itself, and had a full morning, including browsing in a gift shop, by making just this one stop. Of course, between the two of us, we took a lot of photos! Be sure to check them out at the end of the blog post! We certainly concluded that McRaven Tour Home is indeed an excellent way to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
McRaven Tour Home
Located at 1445 Harrison Street, Vicksburg, MS 39180
Mon-Thurs: 10am-5pm • Fri-Sat: 10am-5pm, 7-9pm • Sun: 1-5pm, 7-9pm Extended Times and Dates for October!
For over a year now I have been sharing with all of you--and anyone else who will listen--all the ways I have found to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg. Today, I am curious...
How Do You Recommend to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg
by Meshea Crysup, Founder RHV, RHV Books, & Civil War Bloggers...and More Network
Not from Vicksburg or know how to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg? Well that is ok because I would love to know how YOU Rediscover Your Historic 'Burg (or area...) so KEEP READING!
Believe it or not, I do not wear a sign around my neck saying, "Hey, I'd love to tell you about things to do in Vicksburg!" Those who are with me believe I must, however, because rarely do I go downtown without being stopped and asked about places to eat, things to do, etc. Personally, I just think I am "approachable" and folks can just tell. Whatever the reason, I find myself, on a very regular basis, helping folks map out their evening--sometimes their whole weekend--here in Vicksburg. I know how I go about it--what I say, what I recommend, etc.-- but I am not from here. So, today, I just started wondering what those of you who are from here would have to say. So, please, if you are from the area or simply know the area well, fill out the form below! I cannot wait to learn how YOU recommend how to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg!
Not from Vicksburg or know how to Rediscover Historic Vicksburg? Well that is ok because I would love to know how YOU Rediscover Your Historic 'Burg (or area...) so KEEP READING!
He Was a Good Soldier by Morgan Gates
A certain lady called the other day. She was in Vicksburg’s Cedar Hill Cemetery, in the section reserved for the Confederate dead, and she was having trouble finding a certain marker. I was out at the time so she talked to my long suffering wife/bookkeeper/receptionist/CFO/love of my life. She seemed quite upset that she could not find this particular grave. She had already called the Military Park desk and they didn’t know, they had referred her to me. She seemed genuinely disturbed that my wife could not help her either!
This is not in and of itself surprising, as there are literally thousands of unknown soldiers buried around Vicksburg and more than a few lost graves! The Confederate Cemetery, “Soldiers Rest”, has about 1600 tombstones (out of 5-6,000 bodies that were actually interred there during the siege) inscribed with names and units, all standing in neat orderly rows, but not a one (that I am aware of) actually marks a particular grave. They are memorial stones, for the actual bodies were interred in pits. When you are picking up a hundred or more dead men a day, as they were during the height of the siege, the niceties of individual graves are dispensed with. The particular soldier she sought, does have a stone with his name and unit engraved on it! It was placed there long after the war as a memorial stone, but his body is not interred in any of the pit graves either!
This soldier, like many in that era, was not born in the U.S. but emigrated as a young adult, arriving in Texas in 1855. He found work as a laborer with the U.S. Army, in west Texas and the desert southwest, before the War. When succession came he joined the Confederate cause. By the summer of 1862 he was in northern Mississippi and became part of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry. He served at Iuka, and Corinth, and of course the Vicksburg Campaign. During this bloody campaign, the 43rd had one of the highest casualty rates of any of the Confederate regiments at Vicksburg, and this soldier was one of those casualties. He was felled by a Union sharpshooter, not a particularly unusual way to die at that moment in time!
The reason this lady could not find his marker was that the 43rd has its own little plot about 100 yards south of the rest of the Confederate markers. In this little plot there is indeed a marker for this soldier, but his body does not rest anywhere within this cemetery. For you see with the rest of the 43rd nearing starvation, this good soldier made the ultimate sacrifice--his body was cooked and eaten by his famished regiment! ----------- Oh, but wait! I need to tell you one or two more important facts about this good soldier before we end his tale! First his name “Old Douglas” and that … Old Douglas was a Camel--part of a failed experiment to use camels as pack animals in the desert southwest before the war. For the 43rd Mississippi called themselves the Camel Regiment and Old Douglas was their mascot and he was indeed a very good, maybe even delicious, soldier!
Battle flag picture from Flickr
A Man with Connections Upstairs
by Morgan Gates
The Reverend Doctor William Wilberforce Lord was a man with a close walk with God. As the shells rained down on Vicksburg from the Union mortar boats on the Mississippi, he kept the doors to Christ Episcopal Church open daily to the beleaguered citizens of Vicksburg. Just days before his home, next door to the church, had been destroyed, when a heavy exploding shell had dropped through his roof, through the second floor, and landed on his dining room table, which had just been set with his family’s supper by his cook. It was only by God’s grace that he, his wife, and children had not been sitting at that very table when the shell detonated.
Reverend Lord was a man who had a strong faith. He moved his family into the basement of the church until he could have a proper “cave” constructed. Once his family was snugly ensconced in their subterranean shelter, no man would have blamed him for closing the church doors and joining them there. W.W. Lord, however, did not answer to any man, he answered to God, and if God stands with you, who can stand against you? So, while most of Vicksburg’s Churches remained shuttered during this deadly siege, Christ Episcopal was open! All but one of its beautiful stain glass windows had been shattered and pieces of glass and brick littered the sanctuary, yet the doors were open and Reverend Lord was present each day to minister to those who wished to come and pray.
On July 4th, the guns fell silent, and the Union Army marched down Jackson Street, within sight of the church-- the siege was over! Reverend Lord met with General Grant sometime later and Grant offered him safe passage through the Union lines to Mobile, but Lord refused, opting to leave the city with the paroled Confederates. He later served as a Confederate chaplain for the duration of the conflict.
After the War was over, Vicksburg quickly returned to prosperity, as the river reopened and the cotton trade resumed. A group of former Christ Episcopal congregants decided that post war Vicksburg was now big enough for a second Episcopalian Church, and in 1870 construction began on the “The Church of the Holy Trinity”, about seven blocks to the south, and Reverend Lord was called to serve as its first Rector.
This beautiful Romanesque Church was to feature a steeple that towered nearly two hundred feet above the streets of Vicksburg, and be topped with a cross nearly as big as a full grown man. When time came to set the steeple in place the question was asked, “Who was to do it?” Of course, none other than Reverend W.W. Lord stepped forward. Lord had worked on high masted sailing ships as a young man, so he knew a thing or two about maneuvering at lofty altitudes, but he was now a man of fifty-five years, a time when most of us prefer to keep our feet firmly on the ground. Perhaps Reverend Lord simply considered this task as putting him a little bit closer to heaven, for he shimmed up the towering edifice and successfully anchored this symbol of his saviors’ love to the highest point in the city.
That very cross cast it’s shadow across this city for many years thereafter, through wind, hail, lighting, and tornados. Finally, after nearly a century, it was decided this “old rugged cross” was due for retirement. A modern high crane was brought in which, quickly and efficiently, and with almost no risk, plucked Reverend Lord’s cross from the summit and replaced it with a replica. The replacement lasted just a little over a decade, before it was stuck by lighting and had to be replaced again. I guess the crane operator didn’t have the same connections upstairs.
That original cross today sits at the head of an enclosed prayer garden on the church grounds as a reminder of the love of our Lord Jesus, but also of unquestioning uncompromising faith of a latter day disciple of his, the Reverend Doctor William Wilberforce Lord!