“Vicksburg is the key,” said President Abraham Lincoln about the southern town situated along the Mississippi River. Recognizing Vicksburg’s strategic location, he added, “The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.
In the Civil War saga about two opposing forces, Union and Confederate, each side had victories and failures as they struggled for control of Vicksburg. Union naval forces bombarded Vicksburg and Union soldiers attempted to excavate a canal to change the course of the river, yet both efforts were withdrawn. The Union returned with a two-prong attack, but the Confederate cavalry destroyed the Union’s base of supplies and Confederates “bloodily repulsed” Union troops north of Vicksburg. Yet, through persistence and ingenuity, the Union had the final victory at Vicksburg.
Visitors to this historic national military park will find a plethora of markers, memorials and signs explaining how this Union victory was accomplished through a siege of Vicksburg affecting Confederate forces and civilians alike and why it was a critical turning point in the American Civil War.
The park’s visitor center and the U.S.S. Cairo Museum, located separately within the park, are filled with informative displays and artifacts that are well-worth a stop. The Cairo was an ironclad gunboat. Sunk in 1862, the Cairo was discovered in 1956, raised, restored and is the only remaining ironclad of its type. Visitors can board this amazing vessel at the museum.
A driving route through the park offers stops with short walks to notable sites. Hikers and bikers will pass the park’s most important sites when they use the same 7-mile or 14-mile paved tour roads. The more adventurous can try the Al Scheller Hiking Trail. Originally designed as a compass course, this primitive 12.5-mile foot path brings hikers to the most rugged areas of the park. Be sure to check with park staff before attempting this trail. Cautions include avoiding this trail during high heat and humidity, steep and slippery surfaces, stream crossings and streams at the bottom of ravines that are prone to flash flooding.
A visit to Vicksburg National Military Park wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the U.S. National Cemetery, one of the oldest national cemeteries in America. Rows and rows of small square blocks, engraved with only a number, mark the burial sites of almost 13,000 unknown soldiers and sailors. Out of respect, take time and reflect upon the sacrifices of all those who now rest here in peace.