Saturday, April 30, 2016

Tyler State Park

Tim and I are heading west to a Habitat for Humanity build in Hobbs, New Mexico, but first, we are dropping down to Austin and San Antonio, Texas.

However, the drive from Vicksburg to Austin is too long to do in a day so we reserved a campsite at Tyler State Park near--you guessed it!--Tyler, Texas. 

This is the first state park we've tried and, despite its beauty, it might be the last. The campsite was long enough for the Dawntreader but it was a tight squeeze.  Tim shoe-spooned the Dawntreader into the site with inches between the bus and one tree.

Plus, although little damage was done, a few overhanging tree limbs scraped the roof. 

Still, the scenery of this state park built by the Civilian Conservation Corp was worth a few ("minor, Tim, very minor") scratches. 

We walked around the lake and enjoyed many beautiful vistas. 

I'd always thought of Texas as wide, open and often barren spaces. Who knew Texas would be so beautiful!

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Rainy Day In Vicksburg

On our last day in Vicksburg, rain swept through the city, making it a perfect day to visit museums.

Vicksburg's Old Court House

Providentially, I had taken photos of the Old Court House's exterior the day before the deluge.  Isn't it pretty?  It towers above the city which is why it made a perfect lookout for the Confederates during the Civil War.  Since 1948, it has been a museum filled with a wealth of items that reflect the town's heritage.

Looking at the exhibits of antebellum and Civil War artifacts consumed my time there so that I didn't take many photos worth preserving.

But I did learn about Confederate Lt. General James Pemberton's agonizing decision to surrender the city he was told to hold at all costs.  Once he realized that General Joseph Johnston was not coming to his aid, he seemed to have little choice.  General "Unconditional Surrender" Grant showed him no mercy in the terms that turned the town over to Union forces.  

Once the surrender was settled on July 4th, 1863, Union soldiers moved into the town and forced many of its citizens to sign loyalty oaths. The Reconstruction years were particularly hard.  Is it any wonder that the people of Vicksburg refused to celebrate the 4th of July until 82 years afterward?  That fact was recorded in the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper dated July 6, 1945, a copy of which was displayed in the museum. 

A room devoted to exhibits of articles owned by Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina was informative, especially the information about the arrest and two-year incarceration of Davis in Fort Monroe, Virginia, and Varina's tireless efforts to have him released.

Of course, the museum had lots of other artifacts that told the history of the city.  

One that caught my eye was the cartoon pictured below.  Did you know that the history of Teddy Bears is tied to Vicksburg?  Me, neither, but here's the story!  During a bear hunt at Smedes and Kelso Plantations approximately 24 miles north of Vicksburg, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to kill a bear and missed.  One of the men with the hunting party captured a bear cub and tied it to a thicket of sugar canes, making the animal a sure target, but Roosevelt, seeing the frightened cub, refused to shoot it.  

Cartoon's caption reads "Drawing the Line in Mississippi"

A political cartoonist from the Washington Post, Clifford Berryman, captured the event in a sketch for the paper.  The cartoon was seen by a Brooklyn, New York, toy manufacturer named Morris Mitchum who persuaded his wife to create a stuffed bear which he then mass-produced as Teddy Bears.  And the rest, so they say, is history!

Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum

Bottling Coca-Cola in order to sell to the masses was the brainstorm of Vicksburg resident Joseph Biedenharn.  

Joseph Biedenharn

First concocted by Dr. John S. Pemberton in 1866 in Atlanta, Coca-Cola was initially sold only as a fountain drink.  Its syrup had to be mixed by the fountain with carbonated water--soda water.  

Bottling apparatus

But Biedenharn had the bright idea of bottling it to sell the fizzy soda (as the museum's web site says)  "to those who could not always make it to town to visit one of his three soda fountains."  

The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum holds all kinds of memorabilia related to the popular soft drink. 

Soda Fountain

There's a 1900 soda fountain and an early bottling machine, advertising posters and more Coca-Cola bottles and cans than I'd ever imagined. 

Both museums were fun ways to spend a rainy day!  

Looking in all directions from the rooftop

But that evening, when the sun came out, Tim and I rode the elevator to the top of the old 1st National Bank for a bird's-eye view of the Mississippi River and Vicksburg's historic downtown.  

Dinner at the open-air rooftop restaurant named 10 South while watching the sun set was a great way to end the day!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Historic Properties in Vicksburg

No, I'm not a realtor.  I'm just a lookey Lou who loves to look at old historic homes and there are some beauties in Vicksburg, MS.  Two properties we liked were the Anchuca Historic Mansion and Cedar Grove Mansion.

Anchuca Historic Mansion & Inn

In the language of the Choctaw Indians, Anchuca means "happy home," a good advertisement for an antebellum home that is now a bed & breakfast business.

Front Parlor

Built around 1820 by J. W. Mauldin, a local politician, the house underwent a major transformation to the Greek Revival style when a prominent Vicksburg merchant Victor Wilson purchased the property.

Stairway divides to ascend to the front and rear bedrooms

The Wilsons with their six daughters and one son lived in the home until the siege of Vicksburg forced them, like many of the city's citizens, to move to safety in a cave hollowed out from the bluff.

Anchuca's Dining Room

They survived the siege but tragedy struck weeks later when their only son and their infant daughter died as a result of the malnutrition they experienced during the siege.

One of the bedrooms

When Mr. Wilson died two years later, Mrs. Wilson, weighted down with debts and depression, sold the property.

Joseph Emory Davis

Joseph E. Davis, the older brother of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, bought the home from Mrs. Wilson.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Following his two-year incarceration at the conclusion of the war, former President Jefferson Davis returned to Vicksburg where his family's plantation had once stood on a bend in the Mississippi River south of the city.  

Tim surveys the balcony

From the balcony above the front door, Jefferson Davis greeted neighbors and friends while visiting his brother Joseph in 1869.  His brother died the following year and the home passed through several owners before it became the bed & breakfast it is today.

Cedar Grove Mansion, Inn & Restaurant

Cedar Grove Mansion was built in 1842 by a prominent Vicksburg merchant and jeweler, John Alexander Klein, for his 16-year-old bride Elizabeth.  During a year long honeymoon in Europe, the couple bought furnishings which remain in the home today.  

John Alexander Klein and his wife Elizabeth

One of the pieces that I found funny was the bureau with its "petticoat mirror" in the corner of the ladies parlor where ladies would check to see if their intimate apparel showed.  If it was visible, another lady would euphemistically say, "it is snowing down South" to warn the wearer.

"Petticoat Mirror" Bureau

When the Civil War was brought to their doorstep in Vicksburg, Elizabeth was shunned by many of her neighbors, not only because she was a Northerner born in Ohio, but also because her uncle was Major General William T. Sherman.

(Upper) Cannonball in the wall; (Lower) Glass protects the hole in the floor

Despite that family tie, the home was shelled during the siege of Vicksburg. There is still a cannon ball lodged in the wall of its parlor and another shell created a gaping hole in floor nearby. 

Clockwise from the left:  Ornate birdcage found in the solarium; Parlor's fireplace; Ballroom

Used later as a Union hospital, Sherman and his men occupied the first floor of the home while the Kleins with their ten children lived upstairs.

Dining room buffet hides Klein's safe

One of the most interesting items in the home is the dining room buffet which was actually a 3,000-pound safe that Mr. Klein used to protect his wealth.  

Safe's tumblers

Sherman and his men ate many a meal at the dining room table just a few feet away and never guessed its secret.

Interior of the safe

Over the years, Mr. Klein purchased acreage around Cedar Grove and built homes for his children upon his land.  

One of the homes built by John Klein for his children, in this case for Madison Klein

After his death, Elizabeth sold off the land until only the five acres where the house sits remained.

In our minds, visiting Anchuca and Cedar Grove mansions tied human faces and families to the Siege of Vicksburg, giving us a better view of the impact of the war.  Historic, indeed!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vicksburg Is The Key

Vicksburg National Military Park

Gathering his Cabinet and military leaders to discuss strategies for winning the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln examined a map of the nation and placed his finger on Vicksburg, saying, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key.  The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."

General Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of Defense Edwin Stanton

Yesterday morning Tim and I left Foley, AL, bound for Vicksburg, MS, on the banks of the Mississippi River, the city called by Confederate President Jefferson Davis "the nail-head that held the South's two halves together."

We pulled our RV, the Dawntreader, into its spot at the Ameri-Star Casino's RV Park, grabbed some lunch and headed out the door to explore Vicksburg National Military Park, once a Confederate stronghold and now maintained by the National Park Service.

The 15 years we lived in Virginia turned us into Civil War buffs.  We've visited all the battlegrounds within a 90-mile radius of Washington, D.C. and hope to add more to our 'been there/done that' list.

The grandest monument of the 1,300 markers placed on the grounds of the Vicksburg Military Park is the Illinois Memorial.

From its doorway, one may view the hilly terrain of the battlefield

Its dome gives a window to the sky.

The Illinois Seal is the focal point of the rotunda's floor.

I was a history major in college.  Primary sources such as quotations and diaries are the tools a historian uses so bear with me as I list a few here.

The cantilever bridge that carries Interstate 20 over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg

Mid-nineteenth century biographer and newspaperman Lloyd Lewis called the Mississippi River the "spinal column of America...the symbol of geographic unity."  He added that the river could be considered "the trunk of the American tree, with limbs and branches reaching to the Alleghenies, the Canadian border, the Rocky Mountains."

To further employ that analogy, if the Mississippi River is like a tree, then its sap would be the agricultural produce that pooled down its trunk en route to markets overseas.  Terrence J. Winschel in his article, "The Fall of Vicksburg, published in Hallowed Ground Magazine in 2004, wrote, "Indeed, the silent water of the mighty river was the single most important economic feature of the continent, the very lifeblood of America."

A line of cannons arrayed in front of the park's Visitor Center

No wonder control of the Mississippi became a major objective of the Union and Confederate leaders who focused their military might on Vicksburg and brought war to the city, the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy," situated high on bluffs above the river. 

The park's statue of General Ulysses S. Grant

Union General Ulysses S. Grant, along with Major General William T. Sherman, made several unsuccessful attempts to possess the city before he conceived a brilliant plan to march his soldiers in a circuitous march south of the city for a surprise attack against the defensive lines of Confederate General John C. Pemberton.

Confederate General John C. Pemberton

The terrain surrounding Vicksburg favored the Confederates who held the high ground and repulsed the Union attacks until finally Grant laid siege to the city, a siege that lasted 47-days.

The 47 steps to the top of the Illinois Memorial recall the 47 days of the siege.

Union gunboats continued to fire upon the city whose citizens moved into caves to try to escape the barrage.  "Terror strikes, we remained crouched in the cave, while shell after shell followed each other in quick succession," wrote Mary Loughborough in her diary. 

The park's Visitor Center has this representation of a citizen's cave.

Food supplies dwindled.  "Our provisions were becoming scarce," resident Lucy McRae wrote, "and Louisiana soldiers were eating rats as a delicacy, while mules were occasionally being carved up to appease the appetite."  

Battery De Golyer was the largest concentration of cannon in the Union's siege lines around Vicksburg.

Another citizen, Will Tunnard, stated, "It is a difficult matter for persons surrounded with abundance to realize the feeling produced by extreme hunger...It must be felt to be realized; and if once felt, the idea of eating dogs, cats, rats or even human flesh would contain nothing repulsive or repugnant to the feelings."

Pemberton's Headquarters near Vicksburg's historic downtown.

Finally, on July 4th, 1863, the same day the battle at Gettysburg ended, Pemberton surrendered the city.  Together, both battles are considered the turning point of the war.  

Vicksburg National Cemetery

That evening as Tim and I watched the sun set from the bluffs over the Mississippi, we tried to imagine the river as it had been during the siege.  Neither of us could not conceive the devastation the siege brought to this fair city, the city that was the key to winning the war.