Sunday, April 06, 2008

Driving up along the Mississippi River, we stopped over one day in Natchez (over 500 ante-bellum houses, their gardens full of azaleas, flowering dogwood trees, and wisteria), and then two days in Vicksburg visiting family we haven’t seen in far too long.

Today, we spent the morning at the National Military Park that memorializes the Civil War battle of Vicksburg. The sun shone beautifully today, after two days of intense rain and the Mississippi River running at flood stage.

Unlike most Civil War battles, the Seige of Vicksburg seems almost modern. Its trench warfare over hilly terrain ended in a six-week siege and the Northern forces gaining control over the critical Mississippi River, cutting off supplies to the Confederacy. Union forces dug trenches and repeatedly attempted to take Vicksburg by direct assault. We could see Confederate and Union cannons still facing each other and drove along a 16-mile parkway filled with stone memorials and gun emplacements. One Union attempt to dynamite Confederate fortifications resulted in several Confederate slave workers being blown up; one man survived. He said he was “blown to freedom”.

We walked through the recently reconstructed U.S.S. Cairo, an early ironclad that was torpedoed (actually by an underwater bomb, what we would call a mine today). Only the top part of the ship was fitted with iron plating; under the water line, the wooden ship was entirely vulnerable.

The Cairo sank in under 12 minutes, but no one was lost. The Cairo lay in the mud of the Yazoo River for 100 years and was salvaged in 1960. Interestingly, the original crew was international, including men from everywhere, even Sweden, with ages ranging from 14 to 60. I'd always thought that shortages of troops was a problem more for the Confederacy, but in reality, both sides were desperate for troops.

I found a lovely classic book, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad. People along the underground railroad used patterns in quilts to show runaway slaves how to get safely to Canada. So those well known patterns (shoofly, log cabin, bear’s paw, bow tie, flying geese, drunkard’s path and stars), all had a hidden meaning during the Civil War era.

I also learned that more than one woman disguised herself as a man and served in Union forces. You might be amused by this picture that shows how tiny the women were (the men were rather short as well, with the average height of men being about 5’4”).

Tomorrow we’ll drive up toward Tennessee along the Natchez Trace, an old trade route from the Tennessee Valley to the Mississippi and New Orleans, heading north again. May you have a good week!

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