Thursday, June 6, 2024

Visiting Vicksburg, MS - Part I (Vicksburg National Military Park/Vicksburg National Cemetery)

We thanked John Schneider Studios for the opportunity to stay as Harvest Host (HH) guests and began our trek to Vicksburg, MS.  Our first stop, a Roadside America site, was just about an hour away, so we left the Jeep unhitched and I road shotgun with Mom. 


We picked up Dad, who had parked Big Boomer/Suite Retreat at a rest stop close to Magnolia, LA, and we proceeded 8 miles to visit the site of the Memorial to the Southern Rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The band’s plane crashed in 1977 in the nearby woods enroute to a performance in Baton Rouge.  Tragically, 6 members of the 26 passengers onboard, including lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, perished that day. 


We re-hitched The Rat Pack Rubicon and Mom took her shift at Big Boomer’s wheel.

We unhitched the Jeep again just before reaching Askews Ferry Landing Campground in Edwards, MS, about 15 minutes from Vicksburg.  We stayed 3 nights, 1 through our HH membership, the other 2 as regular patrons.  Harvest Host recommends members spend at least $30 on products/services offered by the host locations, so we opted for the full-hook up site for $25 the first night as HH guests.  We paid full price of $45/night for the other evenings.


It is a lovely, family-owned/operated campground, with a lake inhabited by fish, ducks, geese, and even an ibis.  It has a small pool, laundry facility, and a horse hotel as a NEIGHbor.  All the RV sites are back-ins.   The section we were assigned had RV sites back-to-back in 2 rows.  Since no one was in the other row, we were able to pull right through to our site (#38) in the trees (didn’t need to use our solar since we had full hookups).


RV Park NEIGHbors!

Seemingly, the rain/thunderstorms we left in Livingston were following us, and we experienced a bad storm with high winds overnight.  We awoke early the next morning to several downed branches near our rig and a tree down elsewhere in the RV Park.  Luckily, no one incurred any injury or damage.


We proceeded to the Vicksburg National Military Park, noticing quite a bit of storm damage and downed trees both outside and inside the Military Park.


Before I start my narrative, I must do a Rambling RV Rat Disclaimer:  I may be adorable , charming, and witty, but one thing I am not is a historian or Civil War aficionado like so many folks out there.   So, please forgive me for any historical inaccuracies, for I am just a cotton-brained stuffed rat who loves to travel, learn, and ramble!  (If blame should prevail, it should be laid at the feet of my dim-witted parents!)

As we began the Military Park's 16-mile auto tour, I studied my surroundings.  The grounds, with rolling hills, emerald grasses glistening from all the recent rainfall, and birds chirping happily from the canopies of trees, belie the carnage and devastation that occurred here 161 years earlier from May 19 through July 4, 1863.


My cotton-filled head was spinning just learning about battle formations and fortification types, like the difference between a redoubt (square) redan (V-shape), and lunette (crescent).  I can’t imagine the brain power required or stress suffered by Confederate General Pemberton or Union Major General Grant.  They had to devise plans to ensure success of what became one of the most complex and important battles of the Civil War.  The Union plan was to build on its victories at Shiloh and Corinth and continue to geographically divide the Confederate States by gaining control of the Mississippi River Valley.  For the Confederates, maintaining control of this waterway was imperative for their supply chain. 

The strength of the Confederate forces at Vicksburg under General Pemberton was formidable, resulting in several unsuccessful attempts in mid-May by Union Forces to take them down.  These included Stockade Redan, Third Louisiana Great Redoubt (Ironically, Lincoln’s brother-in-law fought here on behalf of the Confederates), Second Texas Lunette, and Railroad Redoubt.  Major General Grant was forced to change strategies from “storm” (quick victories through surprise attacks) to “siege” (surround/isolate to cut off supplies, thereby forcing surrender).  Obviously, this new strategy, though thought to be a bit of a gamble, paid off for Major General Grant.  General Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863, just a day after the Union victory at Gettysburg.

View of Confederate Fort Garrott, best example of a fortification throughout this Military Park.

Earthen mound was part of the Great Redoubt, highest and largest Confederate fortification in Vicksburg.

Site of interview between Grant/Pemberton July 4, 1863

Shirley House, circa 1830, is the only wartime building remaining in the Park

If Shirley House could talk, what a tale it could tell!  As depicted on this interpretive panel, right outside its door were the trenches, fortifications, and perils of war. 

A nest inside the barrel of a cannon 

A view of the Mississippi River (left) and Yazoo River (right).  Ironically, the Mississippi River, so important to victory in the Civil War, changed course after the flood of 1927.

We walked, we drove, we scaled a few hills, and climbed many stairs to marvel at the architectural diversity of the monuments within these hallowed grounds.

We could not get to the Navy Monument due to a road closure.  But we glimpsed it from afar through the trees.


TX Monument (My favorite, though I may be a bit biased)

IL Monument - outside

IL Monument - inside rotunda

MO Monument

MN Monument

IA Monument

AR Monument

AL Monument

OH Monument

MS Monument

KY Monument with Lincoln/Davis.  United We Stand, Divided We Fall - As Relevant Today As 161 Years Ago

African American Forces Monument


We also visited Vicksburg National Cemetery, containing the gravesites of 17,000 veterans, including 1,280 from the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, WW 1, WW 2, and Korean War.  Sadly, the identities of 75% of the Civil War veterans interred here remain unknown.


Turkey vultures sitting in a treetop can be seen in the background of this photo 

The short, square markers represent unidentified Union troops

Brace yourselves, it’s now time for a Rambling RV Rat rant!  As we walked through the cemetery, we found a pile of American flags that were placed on graves for Memorial Day.  Subsequently, they had been removed and were LAYING IN A HEAP ON THE GROUND LIKE TRASH!  We were appalled that a NATIONAL cemetery would disregard proper flag etiquette and protocol for disposing of flags!


Furthermore, The Visitor Center, normally open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week, was “closed for maintenance” 2 of our 3 sight-seeing days in Vicksburg.  This resulted in us having to return every day during our brief Vicksburg visit just to peruse the Visitor Center and view the film, which is what the Military Park suggests (and my Mom absolutely insists) doing before beginning the motor tour.

Since the Visitor Center was closed, the Park offered fee-free access (though this had no impact on us since we have the America the Beautiful Pass.)  The kicker is that they built an entrance payment kiosk in the parking lot which boasts via plaque that this improvement was “thanks to your fee dollars”.  Yet the payment kiosk was void of an attendant, causing the Park to lose valuable fee dollars.  The maintenance conducted was by third party vendors, whose vehicles were present in the parking lot.  So what were the Visitor Center rangers doing during maintenance closure that 1 of them could not work the booth?  (Paid time off, I guess, or perhaps “working from home” though it is beyond my comprehension how their job function can be performed away from the facility).


And since I am on a roll:  The USS Cairo Museum was closed on our prior 2 visits.  We gave that a free pass since its normal days of operation are Wed-Sun, and we were there on Mon/Tues.  But when we returned on Wed, the gate was locked!  There were no “alerts” on the National Park Service website to advise us that it was inaccessible.  Fortunately, the actual USS Cairo is housed under a canopy outdoors, so we did get to see the boat.  The USS Cairo was 1 of 7 ironclad gunboats commissioned by the Union Army in 1861 for assistance in securing control of the Mississippi River.  They were required to be built within 100 days or face a $200 fine for every day delayed.  All of these gunboats sunk in action.  However, the USS Cairo was discovered in 1956 and subsequently salvaged.  It was brought to its current location for display in 1977.  We really would have liked to see the displays inside the Museum since they probably chronicle the recovery process and renovation/restoration efforts in detail.  But again, our opportunity was lost.   


I know I sound a bit like “Karen” here (and probably to the Park staff to whom I registered all of the above complaints.  In my defense, though, I was not the only visitor expressing disappointment to Park staff on the Cairo Museum inaccessibility).

Despite my grumblings, I found visiting Vicksburg National Military Park/Vicksburg National Cemetery highly educational, emotional, and enlightening.


Though we came to Vicksburg specifically to tour the National Military Park/National Cemetery, we visited other attractions/areas of interest that Vicksburg has to offer.  I’ll tell ya about that in my next blog.  Talk to you again soon!      


  1. We really enjoy touring historical battlefields too. Too bad about their hours and closures. Safe travels!

  2. I have not seen any of these sites. We need to fix that.