Sunday, November 20, 2005

Vicksburg, MS

We drove about 300 miles from Tyler, TX to Vicksburg, MS. Straight through the state of Louisiana. We're staying north (via I-20) and avoiding the lower half of these Katrina-battered states. We had also hoped that the Louisiana roads might be better in the north. Well, we got half-lucky. Half were still the bone-jarring, large seamed, concrete squares. But luckily, the other half of the roads were new asphalt. For awhile we had thought about trying to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in MS, but since Wilma we figured we'll just head home and help clean-up and rebuild in our own communities.

We stopped in Vicksburg to tour the Civil War Battlefield. We were kind of surprised that you had to purchase the audio tapes for the auto-tours, instead of renting them. Since we didn't know what we'd do with the cd after our tour we handed it back into the Visitor Center anyway (they said they would provide it to the school tours - so we were happy it would go to a good cause). But the National Military Park was very interesting and took us about 1 1/2 hours to tour three-quarters of it. We were very disappointed that would couldn't tour the USS Cairo (the old Ironclad ship that was sunk in the Yazoo River) or the National Cemetary due to road construction in those areas.

It was hard to imagine how horrific this battle must've been. For 46 days the Union Army, under Grant, put the city of Vicksburg under seige with cannon bombings and gunfire. At times opposing soldiers were dug into trenches just 15 feet away from one another...for 46 days...within earshot of conversations or verbal assaults...fellow Americans...neighbors, sometimes family members...shooting at eachother. The Confederate Army was trying to protect Vicksburg which controlled the Mississippi River. The roads were blocked, reinforcements or supplies couldn't get into them, the soldiers and citizens slowly ran out of food and ammo. Eventually Lt Gen Pemberton had to surrender. The Mississippi River was now navigable to the Union Army and marked a major turning point of the war.

The states which had soldiers present at this battlefield, had posted numerous statues and plaques throughout the park. Cannons and plaques showed the battle lines and explained positions of either the Confederate or Union soldiers. The monument built by Illinois was one of the most elaborate. Inside this domed marble building were all of the names of the soldiers who fought at this battle engraved on bronze plaques encircling the wall. You can still see the zig-zagging trenches and protective earthen mounds that were built as one side gained ground. And the fact that this area is so hilly and forested makes the fighting here even more unimaginable.

Downtown Vicksburg is also worth a driving tour. The city has organized two different scenic drives that take you past a number of refurbished, historic antebellum houses and museums. The Vicksburg Magazine provides a brief highlight on the different homes such as age, brief history, and what you might find inside. Tours are $5-6 a pop, so it could add up if you went inside all of them. We just did the driving tour to see the exteriors, the neighborhoods, and the city. Along the way, we also found a number of other historic homes in a varying array of conditions...you know, peeling paint, rotting boards, etc...but they must've been beautiful in their day. "Main Street" Vicksburg was a couple of blocks long, with several buildings that are reminiscent of New Orleans with the ornate wrought iron balconies. Very cute. Several unoccupied buildings leave room for potential for growth. The main shopping street lies on the top of a bluff and from the side streets you can look out over the Mississippi River and the casino boats. We were a little surprised to find that any town in Mississippi could have streets hilly enough to make you think of San Francisco.
We did go to the Isle of Capri Casino one night. But after losing about $70 in half-an-hour, we called it quits and went home. We're not much for gambling, but usually Andy can hold his own at the Roulette table for a couple of hours - get some free drinks, conversation, and some reasonably cheap entertainment. Perhaps my life-long losing streak is rubbing off on him?

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