Photo Essay: Vicksburg National Military Park

Vicksburg, Mississippi, October 20, 1998

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The Vicksburg National Military Park is the site of the Civil War battle in which the Union laid siege to the city of Vicksburg in order to gain control of shipping on the Mississippi River.  At the time of the battle, the whole area was hilly meadows, but the Conservation Corps planted trees to reduce erosion.   Now the area is partly wooded, and so it's harder to visualize the battle.

The image above was taken from a hill where the Union and Confederate front lines were only a few feet apart.  In the distance is one of many monuments commemorating the participation of troops from various states.

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Cannon are all over the place, generally stationed in original earthworks where such weapons were used.  This was a Union rear line.

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A closer look.  The exhibits didn't say anything about whether these particular cannon were the same ones used at Vicksburg, or whether they have been restored.

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The screw under the barrel is used for adjusting elevation.  Azimuth is of course adjusted by moving the whole assembly.

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The little earthwork trenches don't look like much, but given the choice of being behind one with the cannon pointed out or being exposed on the open field, I think I'd rather be on this side.  Not exactly in the location shown, though, because the cannon has no recoil mechanism.  When it's fired, the whole carriage leaps backwards and has to be rolled forward again before the next shot.

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More of the same, elsewhere on the battlefield.

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This trench was one of many dug by Union troops to allow them to approach one of the fortifications guarding Vicksburg without getting slaughtered.  The defenders had all the high ground, an incredible advantage of position.  The Union troops had to fight uphill in order to engage.  The winning strategy was to tunnel under the fortification and plant a large black-powder mine.  Two such mines were exploded; others were in place and ready to go when the city surrendered.

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All over the park are signs like these, blue for the Union and red for the Confederacy.  (Gray would be more conventional for the Confederacy, but not as visually distinctive.  Besides, red is traditionally used to represent the enemy on military maps.)  There were little signs (like the blue one at the end of the trench in the previous photo) and big ones like these.  The little ones just marked where the front lines were on a certain day.  The big ones describe the action, listing company names, places of origin, and commanders.  This trio of signs describes the battle of the Railway Redoubt, from the points of view of three different companies.

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A major feature of the park is this exhibit of the U.S.S. Cairo, a Union ironclad riverboat. The Cairo was sunk near Vicksburg by a mine, and only located and raised recently. The Cairo was intended to engage the enemy bow-first, as seen in this picture. The black planks are actually the iron armor plates.  The lighter colored wood is modern bracing.  The gaping hole on the right side of the picture (port side of the Cairo) is where the mine exploded.

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Here's a closer look at the wood (port side of the bow).  Considering it was underwater for a century or so, it's in surprisingly good shape.

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Here's a view of the stern, starboard side.  You can make out the framework of the paddle wheels, just aft of amidships inside the main cabin.  They were enclosed for protection from enemy artillery.

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Here's a view of the wheel from the port side.  The metalwork is largely original, but you can see that they've had to replace much of the wood.

Technical: Canon Elan IIe body with Canon 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 EF IS zoom lens, handheld.   Fujichrome Velvia slide film (first seven) and Kodak Gold 400 print film (last five). Scanned from the film on a Nikon LS-2000 scanner. Cropping, color adjustment, and touch-up using Adobe Photoshop.

Copyright 1998 Paul Williamson.  All Rights Reserved.