An ECW colleague emailed me a note the other day: “I’m reading the Vicksburg/Tullahoma book, and really enjoyed your article about visiting Vicksburg. I’ve never been and I’m more motivated now than ever.”
The article he mentioned was based on this blog series, which I wrote in 2018 while on a video tour of the Vicksburg campaign with Kris White for the American Battlefield Trust. It was the 155th anniversary of the campaign, and it was my second time in Vicksburg. My only previous visit had been in 2015 on a trip with my daughter and Dan Davis (see here and here). The heat and humidity on that first day left me as depleted as any battlefield experience in my life.
I was pleased to hear of my colleague’s renewed motivation to visit Vicksburg. It’s a fantastic park, every bit as inspiring and intricate as Gettysburg, which seems to be the benchmark most Civil War buffs have as a point of comparison. I particularly love Grant’s overland campaign through Mississippi before he even gets to Vicksburg, which opens up all sorts of additional realms of exploration. There are battlefields and associated sites to see at Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, Raymond, Jackson, and Champion Hill, with a historic driving trail connecting them all. There are also sites on the west bank of the Mississippi.
As I thought of my colleague’s email, the first word that came to mind was “overwhelming.” There was so much to see in the park and on the campaign trail that it was overwhelming. But I had to check that thought. It was almost overwhelming. I add that caveat because the fault was mine, not the park’s. Prior to 2015, I had only a cursory knowledge of the Vicksburg Campaign, so trying to take it in on a single-day’s visit was like drinking from a fire hose. I was much-better prepared for my return visit in 2018, and I have been slowly falling in love with Vicksburg ever since. I returned just last August, and thanks to the patient guidance of Jim Woodrick, I really had a wonderful, immersive experience in Mississippi. (We have a playlist of videos from that trip on the ECW YouTube page, with more to come later this year).
Some people find it funny that I should fall in love with a battlefield halfway across the continent when I have five perfectly spectacular battlefields around me. I mean, the Chancellorsville battlefield is literally in my front yard. My wife’s family owns a gorgeous chunk of the Spotsylvania battlefield. We also have Fredericksburg, Mine Run, and the Wilderness within a stone’s throw. I will always love these battlefields, and they will remain my core subjects of study for the rest of my life. But I also believe that it’s vital for Civil War students to stretch beyond their comfort zones and learn about parts of the war that aren’t their “usual.” I know a lot of Gettysburg folks, for instance, who can hardly even talk about Chancellorsville even though the May battle laid a tremendous amount of groundwork for the July battle. That wider context is essential.
I’m fortunate that, in my editorial capacities at ECW, I’m learning about aspects of the war that are new to me all the time as I help people with their projects. In a way, that, too, has been like drinking from a fire hose! But when I have a quiet moment and I’m looking for something beyond central Virginia to take my mind off things, I’ve been looking more and more to the Vicksburg campaign. (The May 14 battle of Jackson, Mississippi, has become a particular favorite if spectacularly random choice, based solely on the fact that my oldest son is named Jackson).
In the spirit of my colleague’s renewed motivation to visit Vicksburg, I wanted to take a few moments to share these thoughts so that, I hope, YOU might also be re-inspired to visit this amazing battlefield. In the meantime, I hope the links to the articles and videos will suffice (and, I hope, stoke the fires even more).
And, until you can get there in person, you can visit Vicksburg National Military Park online.