Posted by: christinajclark | 29/07/2009

Vicksburg National Military Park – Vicksburg, Mississippi

One great affordable option when traveling on vacation is to take in one of the many National Parks and Monuments operated and maintained by the National Park Service.  These national treasures provide a panoramic view of our historic past and capture the diverse beauty of America.  Last month we visited the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi – here’s a bit of our experience.

Vicksburg cannon

What it’s like to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park

Our journey started in the visitors center.  Like other national parks the center featured a short film (reminded me of elementary school) along with books and other memorabilia reminiscent of the civil war.  The front of the visitor center was stimulating, but nothing that captured my imagination. Then, something magical happened in the interpretive displays.  The wool uniforms, the black powder rifles, the antique vessels and elixirs, the battlefield maps transported us out of the here and now into a sensory experience of life during the siege of Vicksburg.  I suddenly understood the struggle of Vicksburg’s beleaguered residents and the challenges faced by the opposing armies encircling the city.

Beyond the visitors center lay the Memorial Arch serving as the gateway to the battlefields of the Vicksburg National Military Park.  The Arch marks the start of sixteen miles of roads set along side the trenches, fortifications, and historic troop positions of the Confederate and Union armies.  Memorials and markers along the road place the scale of the conflict into view.  Standing between opposing fortifications only feet apart there is a palpable intensity and feeling of fear these brave troops must have endured.  It’s an experience that cannot be matched by reading a book – feeling the intense summer heat, seeing the gun emplacements, and standing atop the redans.

USS Cairo

Along the driving tour there are plenty of places to get out of your vehicle and view the battlefield.  Be sure to stop at the Willis-Cowan antebellum home along the drive.  This  home has been carefully restored to the time period of the siege when it was used as a headquarters by Confederate Lieutenant General Pemberton.  The USS Cairo is also a great stopping point.  This Union ironclad gun boat, rests in a sheltered display next to a museum featuring artifacts from boat and its crew.  The park also features the Vicksburg National Cemetery where 17,000 Union soldiers are buried.  The immersive experience through the park you will provide a great appreciation for the importance of this battle in the US Civil War.  A stop here is certainly worth the time!

Vicksburg NMP cemetery

A few tips to get the best experience when visiting the National Military Park in Vicksburg:

  1. Be sure to take the narrated audio driving tour of the park.  You’ll wind around roadways of the park with a virtual tour guide. You can buy the audio driving tour CD in the park gift shop, but check the front desk of your hotel or campground first to see if they have a copy you can borrow (for free).
  2. Take a few minutes to visit the park’s website and the visitor’s center before you start the driving tour, so you have more of an appreciation of the battlefield and the history of the siege.
  3. During the summer, the Mississippi heat can be intense.  Take the driving tour and walk the battlefields in the morning to avoid the heat.  Be sure to bring along a bottle of ice water – there are no concession stands in the park.
  4. The National Park Service is offering Fee-Free Days August 15 and 16. Visiting either of these days will give you free entrance to the park – the normal entrance fee is $8.

-Written by Robert

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