Located on 1,852 acres across Vicksburg, Mississippi and Delta, Louisiana, Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Vicksburg, a 47-day siege that resulted in the city’s surrender to the Union Army during the American Civil War, as well as the greater Vicksburg Campaign that preceded the battle.
During the American Civil War, the Mississippi River was an important battleground between Union and Confederate troops, as the river served as a major backbone of the country’s economic transportation. Following the South’s secession from the States, the river was closed for navigation by the Confederacy, which threatened to cripple northern economic activity.
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By 1982, the Mississippi city of Vicksburg became a crucial strategic battlefield for the Union’s hopes to regain control of the river’s lower portion, as well as a major lynch pin in crippling the economy of key Confederate city Richmond. A campaign headed toward Vicksburg, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, embarked in December of 1862. For the following six months, Union and Confederate armies clashed throughout the Mississippi area, culminating in the 47-day Battle of Vicksburg, which began on May 18. The campaign and battle resulted in more than 48,000 casualties before the Union’s victory on July 4.
In February of 1899, the Vicksburg National Military Park was established to commemorate the battle site, which was transferred to the supervision of the National Park Service in 1933. In the 1950s, control of a section of the park was transferred to the city of Vicksburg, which permitted the construction of Interstate 20. In October of 1966, the park, along with all other NPS historic areas, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, Vicksburg National Military Park encompasses 1,852 acres across Vicksburg and nearby Delta, Louisiana, of which 1,729 are federally owned. More than 1,300 historic markers and monuments commemorate important sites connected to the Vicksburg Campaign and the fallen Union and Confederate soldiers that died in the campaign’s battles. Notable among the memorial collection is the Illinois State Memorial, which contains one step commemorating each day of the 47-day siege. The original Surrender Monument, a stone tower which marked the site of Generals Grant and Pemberton’s surrender discussions, is also displayed at the park’s Visitor Center, which also showcases an historic 12-pound Howitzer Cannon alongside a number of exhibits about the campaign’s battles. A 20-minute orientation film, Here Brothers Fought, is shown on the half hour daily at the Center’s auditorium.
At the USS Cairo Museum, the recovered and restored USS Cairo gunboat is displayed. Nicknamed the “Hardluck Ironclad,” the Cairo was one of seven 13-cannon Union gunboats constructed for the American Civil War and named for towns along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In December 1862, the ship, led by Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge, Jr., was sunk by Confederate forces during a mission on the Yazoo River, becoming the first ship in United States history to be sunk by an electronic torpedo. In 1956, several historians began efforts to locate the ship from the Yazoo’s waters, recovering it in 1964. The vessel was transferred to the park in 1977 and is displayed today at the museum, which also features collections of recovered ship artifacts and exhibits recounting life on board Cairo.
The park also includes the 116-acre Vicksburg National Cemetery, which holds the remains of more than 18,000 military service members, including Union and Confederate troops buried between 1866 and 1874. A Greek-Revival-style Antebellum mansion, used as General Pemberton’s Headquarters during the Civil War, is used for public special events and private rentals. Across the river in Delta, Louisiana, the remaining portions of Grant’s Canal may also be explored. A paved tour road and a variety of hiking trails provide access to important park sites, including the Al Scheller Primitive Hiking Trail, which provides perspective on the period-accurate hiking conditions Civil War troops faced during occupation of the area.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A variety of guided and self-guided tour options are available for exploration of the park’s extensive monument collection, including audio tours, cell phone tours, and group tours with licensed park tour guides. Educational tour packages for elementary and secondary students are also available, incorporating Mississippi state curriculum standards. Guided tours must be booked in advance due to tour popularity. During the summer, weeklong Junior Ranger camps are hosted at the park for students ages 8-16, encouraging volunteerism and park stewardship. Living history demonstrations and conversations are also offered throughout the summer months, offering Civil-War-era weapons demonstrations and opportunities to speak with park historians about relevant cultural topics.
3201 Clay St, Vicksburg, MS 39183, Phone: 601-636-0583