Many Southerners consider it the worst day in the region’s history: July 4, 1863.
Some won’t even have to ask its significance. It’s the one Independence Day event that many would just as soon forget.
It was the date Vicksburg fell after 47 days of siege, turning the tide for the North in this nation’s bloody war between countrymen.
I won’t argue here the merits of the Civil War, aka the War Between the States, the War for Southern Independence and the War of Northern Aggression. There is not enough time or space in a week of columns for that debate.
Almost everybody with southern roots is connected to someone — or is the friend of a friend who has connections to someone — who fought in the war in which some 600,000 Americans were killed and a like number gravely wounded.
My family’s home county of Amite in southwestern Mississippi erected the first courthouse monument to the Confederate dead. There in the hamlet of Liberty, (indeed, also the birthplace of the famous country comedian, the late Jerry Clower) you will find several Gordons, Butlers, Wilkinsons and other kin listed on that revered monument. The Stars and Bars of the Confederacy fly above it today — an act still legal in Mississippi, unlike Georgia where the design was removed from the state flag in 2001.
These ancestors fought and died on the battlefields of Bull Run, Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and everywhere in between. Some were lucky enough to limp home and complete their lives in service to their community.
Familial qualifications to broach this subject aside, this is more of a news bulletin to inform you that Vicksburg was recently chosen over Paris, New York City, the Pyramids, London, Rio de Janeiro and other must-see stops as among the American Automobile Association’s “List of Best 13 Places to Visit in 2013.” Others include Ireland, Orlando, San Francisco and Las Vegas — tall company for Vicksburg, Miss.
Vicksburg and environs are stunners to visit. But don’t expect to do it justice in a day or two. You could spend a whole day in just the gift shop/museum at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Then you must take the winding road through the 116-acre park where you can readily get a feel and a chill for how that landscape became the site of one of the war’s two most decisive battles (the other being Gettysburg, which the North took a day before on July 3, 1863).
The park, sitting high above the Mississippi River, features more than 13,000 graves of Confederate and Union soldiers; 1,300 monuments, including one from almost all of the 50 states; 20 miles of warfare trenches, and the USS Cairo, a 175-foot Union gunboat plucked from the Yazoo River in the 1960’s.
Rebel sappers sank the big boat in 1862, stamping it as the first warship sunk by a mine. Several monumental efforts to save the boat were initiated in the 1900’s and finally completed in 1964. The mud and silt of the Yazoo, a major tributary of the Mighty Mississippi, were credited for preserving its artifacts on display today in the Cairo’s own museum.
I highly recommend a summer trip to Vicksburg. You might even encounter a long-lost cousin or two — an unlikely occurrence in Paris, Rio or Dublin.
Mac Gordon is a retired reporter who lives near Blakely and writes an occasional opinion column for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.