|Man that was a truly intense, action packed three days! I didn't have the time-or the stamina LOL-to cover as much as I wanted to but I must say I'm pretty happy about the trip in general. I got to my hotel Sunday, Aug 17, about 2:30 (up at 4:00 A.M.) checked in, and proceeded immediately to the visitors center. Chatted with the very friendly and helpful staff and aquired some brochures, maps, and of course.....books. As an aside the seasonal guide/ranger?(whose name shall remain unmentioned for fear Ed might stomp a mud hole in him) taught me how to do a pretty passable Ed C. Bearss impression! I then jumped in the car -after being on the road for 9 hours- and took a "quick" drive through of the park. And I must add that it rained 2-3 times a day while I was there. I drove the entire auto tour, took some pics at Fort Hill, and then realized it was almost 6:00! Time flies you know. I Then decided it was time for food and a much needed rest. Turned in about 9:00 P.M. but unfortunately I neglected to set an alarm so at the bright and early hour of 9:30 A.M. I was off to the park again. This time I was far more thorough, taking time to photographically document as much of the park as time and energy allowed. I got as far as Thayers approach and decided I needed food and water! Then it was off to the Old County Courthouse Museum for a break from the relentless Mississippi heat and humidity.
after a couple of hours there I headed back to the park-it was raining again of course- and spent the next few hours finishing the tour and taking about 400 pics.
I knew I had a lot to cover Tuesday so it was early to bed and up at 5:30 A.M.
my plan for the day was to cover as much of Grant's approach and the several battles that took place leading up to the seige.
First up was Grand Gulf, scene of a serious gun duel between Confederate shore batteries and the Union gunboats. Most of the monument park there is a mixed bag consisting of equal parts local, cultural, and military history.....oh yeah...the town actually doesn't exist any more. It was never rebuilt after the war. But they do have a nuclear power plant. Most of the confedrate defense works still over looking the Mississippi river are located at the end of a narrow asphalt road in a very lonely section of wilderness...and as I soon found out, it is occupied by hundreds of the biggest, brightest, and down right creepy bunch of spiders it has ever been this city boy's displeasure to meet. EEEEEEEEWWWWW! I hate friggin spiders! I know I'm a wus but those things were everywhere! Hanging off of every tree and on every bush they were. Needless to say after discovering my outnumbered state of affairs I beat a hasty retreat!
Next it was off to Port Gibson, with no maps, and no information as to how to find anything I drove around a bit, realized I was ill prepared for this unpreserved, unmarked little battlesite and decided to move on to next stop..Raymond.
Much better luck here...only got lost twice LOL! I finally found the "battlefield"-really just a small section located mostly where the Confedrate rear would have been- And proceeded to walk the nicely marked interperative trail. Here's where some planning payed off....I brought a compass!!!!!! Good thing too 'cause after driving all over the Mississippi coutry side I had no idea which way was which! And let me tell you when you are trying to tour a basically unpreserved battle site it helps to have an idea of the directions. It helped immensely in picturing troop deployments.
Next was possibly the most dissapointing portion of the Captain's civil war touring follies....Finding Champion Hill with google directions AAAAAARRRRRR!
I spent a couple of hours driving around little towns and back roads only to arrive at ......tadaaa!!!! The wrong place! fortunately I had brought along a copy of Blue and Gray magazine with auto tour directions-god bless this publication-and by following them I was able to find "the crossroads". I had planned to walk the battle site but since it was private property, densely wooded, and fearing another encounter with those dreaded denizens of the south, the Mississippi Nuclear Tree hanging monster spiders, I decided to move on to the final stop...Big Black river bridge.
With my B&G magazine map firmly in hand I journeyed forth-only getting slightly lost this time-and arrived at the bridge site, snaped some pics, and unfortunatley again had to run for cover amidst a downpour.
Having little time and still much to see I headed back to Vicksburg, a late lunch, and a trip to the seriously touristy but kindof cool, Vicksburg Battlefield museum. okay for those who haven't been there before....it's shapped like a boat! and guess what? it has almost nothing to do with Vicksburg! Well other than a movie you get to watch and a giant diorama of the entire siegeline. I suspect the whole place is really just an excuse to show off their HUGE collection of model boats. Hand made, covering everything from Spanish discovery, all the way to modern day fighting ships. tre-cool!
Finally it was time to seek out my last planned stop, The Soldiers Rest Confederate cemetary, which is really only a small part of the main city cemetary. I don't know about anyone else but I find really old cemetaries quite beautifull. And this place did not dissappoint. As I drove down a narrow path past the numerous aged headstones, many of them well over a hundred years old, the sky once again darkened...and a gentle southern rain began to fall. As I topped a hill I began to see small Confederate flags placed next to several dozen markers that bore the inscription "unknown Confedrate dead" I must admit that it was one of those moments that make all the miles, miscues, and expense worth it. At last I came to a large but modest statue of a lone soldier gazing into the storm tossed horizon, once again adorned with the battle flag of a lost cause. I removed my hat as I had done earlier at the Union Cemetary and quietly uttered a few words of thanks to these brave soldiers of Gray...and of Blue...for believing in something...right or wrong..for believing in something strongly enough to risk all their tomorrows to help bring to maturity the wonderful, free, and yes still flawed, but always improving great nation we live in today. The rain seemed most appropriate.
So after that most moving experience it was time to once again find find some supper, and get some rest for the long drive home the next day. To summarize my overall impression of my Vicksburg trip I would have to say it was another learning experience. While I drove through a pristine, beautifully maintained Military park, many people of color eaked out a mostly impoverished existence amidst the reminders of a past-and a glory-long since faded. Mississippi is a poor state-the poorest in the country-and it shows on every side street where the houses are dilapidated and the roads are crumbling. While I can afford to take a week off from my job and travel the country endulging my historical curiosity, most of these folks, the good citizens of Vicksburg, are just hoping things will get better. As I travel to these places I can't help but think that reconstruction missed a few spots along the way.
That being said I can't think of another nation in the world that is better equipped to mend it's broken parts than the United States of America, and for that I think we have at least in part these long dead boys in blue and gray to thank for this.