One cannot escape being impacted by a visit to Vicksburg National Military Park just off Interstate 20 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I know this because I had tired of hearing about the great United States Civil War before going there. I could not understand the glorification and reenactment of the battles fought there. Vicksburg is where General Pemberton and the Confederate Army surrendered to General Grant’s Union forces on July 4, 1863.
While traveling through Mississippi with my brother two summers ago, we decided to stop in at the Vicksburg National Military Park. Although I was born and raised in the south, this was my first visit to a park that commemorated Civil War battles.
Several things struck me deeply during the two-hour visit. The memorial seemed massive with paved roads weaving gently through nearly three miles of beautiful wooded and hilly geography and past 1700 memorials. Nearly halfway through the self-guided tour, it dawned on me that there was a complete absence of Confederate troop mentions or honoring. Oh yes, I thought. This is a memorial to the victors of the war. To the side that preserved the union of the states.
The actual National Cemetery at Vicksburg covers 116 acres where the remains of 17,000 Union soldiers are interred. Soldiers that died during the Civil War were usually buried where they died either in a marked or unmarked grave site if the soldier’s name was unknown.
I was struck by all the places from which the Union soldiers originated that fought at Vicksburg. There were individual memorials for troops from Alabama, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. There is an African American monument commemorating the nearly 200,000 black soldiers in the Union’s army and navy.
But what about the Confederate soldiers? Where were they interred I wondered. Later I learned that the National Cemetery System enacted in 1862 allowed for burial of only “…the soldiers who shall die in the service of this country…” The Confederate soldiers were buried behind Southern lines. Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg City is where their remains were interred and remain today.
There is a Visitor’s Center at Vicksburg National Military Park that was closed when I visited. But I would loved to have seen the Confederate Hospital exhibit which shows the typical Vicksburg’s home that served as hospitals during the war. I will never think about the Civil War again without the heart that was formed for those involved that was brought to full life through my visit.
This month’s program at Vicksburg commemorates the Sesquicentennial of the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg and will be held throughout the month of May 2013. On Thursday evening, May 23, 2013, a program “Shadows of the Past” will be presented at the Vicksburg National Cemetery. This will be a program highlighting lives of veterans who are buried in the National Cemetery. More Vicksburg National Military Park information can be found at http://www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm .