ECW is pleased to welcome back Andrew Miller. A historian with the National Park Service, Andrew just accepted a new position at Vicksburg National Military Park. He formerly worked at Liberty Island in New York City.
We arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi, like a cannon shot—a whirlwind three-day drive that took us from our former front porch in New Rochelle, New York, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and then snaking southwest to the Hill City.
On the way, my wife and I had the pleasure of seeing several Civil War sites including meeting the magnanimous Park Ranger and ECW author Lee White of Chickamauga/Chattanooga. (We hope to be back, Lee).
Our weeks of vacation before entering upon my duties at Vicksburg National Military Park have been a combination of stress and relief. Living out of a suitcase at both a hotel and temporary lodging, as well as eating out almost every night, takes a toll and gets old fast.
But walking the up and down Vicksburg’s streets, observing magnificent antebellum homes, structures, and vistas, immediately helps one understand where they are: the Delta. The Warren County Courthouse alone is worth a visit to Vicksburg. Close by, the Pemberton Headquarters and Balfour houses both transport you back into the campaign to capture the city.
Peering through the windows of the Balfour house (which is a private residence, so the peering was from the street and as nonchalant as a gawking history nerd can be) stirred the events of the Christmas Eve party held by Dr. William and Emma Balfour: Confederate officers resplendent in their finest dress uniforms, beautiful southern belles stunning in every way imaginable, all dancing the night away as Union transport boats descended the Mississippi river to capture the city. This was the beginning of William T. Sherman’s failed Chickasaw Bayou expedition.
Apart from all of the history spanning pre-Columbian to modern industrial, Vicksburg has a wonderfully developing downtown, sprawling from Washington Street. Cute restaurants, a new brewery, and welcoming voices greet you, asking where “y’all from” and also curious why we’d leave New York for Vicksburg.
For those who have never had the opportunity to see the military park here at Vicksburg, they will both impressed with its grandeur and in awe of its monuments, both within the park boundaries and around the city. The fifth national military park, created in 1899 through an Act of Congress, the park roads originally contoured to the siege lines. However, in the 1960s, the city petitioned the National Park Service to transfer some land back in order to allow for development.
Thus, as you drive around Vicksburg, the south side of the original park has considerable commercial and residential development. Yet, this alone cannot diminish the magnificence of this battlefield gem. Traveling the siege lines and walking the grounds allows one to find oneself, to quote the Civil War historian Steve Phan, “soulfully lost on the battlefield.”