Two men dressed as Confederate soldiers and a woman wearing a long gown chat in front of the Old Court House Museum as a small boy looks on.
“We’re here to show locals that there’s a Confederate presence in town; to reassure them,” says one of the men to the woman. “I’m 1st Corporal Brian Nobles of the 46th Mississippi Infantry and this here’s Private Gary Randall. The boy’s name is Bradley.”
It’s fitting that reenactors would be here. The court house was built between 1858 and 1860, and witnessed the battles that took place all around the city as well as in its heart during May and June of 1863. The story of Vicksburg, after all, must be approached from many angles: its importance to the North and to the South, the city and its citizens, and the military campaign.
Vicksburg National Military Park
At the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature on the continent. At the start of the war, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened northern commercial interests.
President Abraham Lincoln told his civilian and military leaders, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.”
Not only did the North need to regain control of the lower Mississippi River to enable agricultural products to reach world markets, but control of Vicksburg would split the South in two.
David Maggio, a licensed tour guide at Vicksburg National Military Park possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the battle, the men who fought here and the park. He explains that this was the stage that was set when Major General Ulysses S. Grant launched his Union Army of the Tennessee on a campaign to take control of Vicksburg.
Maggio says the Confederate Army knew the North would attack sooner or later and had nearly a year to prepare. The Confederate Army not only had the advantage of time, under the leadership of Lt. General John Pemberton, but their defenses were built on a ridge top surrounding the city, giving them the advantage of being able to see their enemy’s approach.
“There weren’t any trees here when the battle took place,” said Maggio. “This was pasture and farm land.”
In May and June of 1863, Grant’s army converged on Vicksburg. Maggio explains that as visitors drive through the park, the red signs represent Confederate lines and blue signs represent Union lines. “They were only a quarter of a mile to a half mile from each other when they fought.”
In the end, the Confederate defenses were so great that Grant simply prevented supplies from entering the city forcing the Confederate army to surrender on July 4, 1863. The Mississippi River was now firmly in Union hands; the Confederacy was successfully split in half.
Maggio paints a vivid portrait of what happened during the spring of 1863 and explains the history of the national park, the monuments, and their placement, and offers interesting antidotes about the men who fought here and what happened to many of them after the war.
Beyond the Battleground
Perched on one of the highest hills in Vicksburg is the Old Court House Museum, operated and maintained by the Vicksburg and Warren County Historical Society. It is an ideal location for preserving the heirlooms of this city with its high-ceilinged rooms and ornate interior. It was named one of the 20 most outstanding courthouses in America by the American Institute of Architects.
During the Civil War, the building was the target of Union shelling but suffered only one major hit.
Inside are relics from Vicksburg’s citizens including Confederate flags, the tie worn by Jefferson Davis at his inauguration as Confederate President, exquisite collections of fine portraits, china and silver, and antique furniture. Antebellum clothing fills one room and others are dedicated to the Civil War.
There are nine rooms on two floors filled with thousands of historic pieces.
Make sure and check out the gift shop which offers authentic Civil War relics along with other souvenirs.
When you go:
Licensed National Military Park Guides offer visitors the unique opportunity to explore the battlefield and city with a professional, who has excellent knowledge of civilian life, and the siege and defense of Vicksburg. Tours are based on two hours in length and are easily arranged for individuals, families and groups. Reservations are suggested and preferred; 601-636-3827.
Where to stay:
Anchuca, a Choctaw Indian word meaning happy home, is one of Vicksburg’s most historic antebellum homes.
Built as a modest house in 1830 by J.W. Maulding, it was completed by Victor Wilson in 1847. Joseph E. Davis, brother to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, died here in 1870 at the age of 87. Most notably the balcony was the site where Jefferson Davis greeted neighbors and friends while visiting his brother in 1869.
This Greek revival landmark is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to being open for tour, it also serves the community as an elegant bed and breakfast inn.
Anchuca is located at 1010 First East Street. For more information call 888-686-0111 or visit the website at anchuca.com.
Old Court House, 1008 Cherry Street; 601-636-0741; www.oldcourthouse.org.
Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; 800-221-3536; www.visitvicksburg.com.