Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Louisiana Monument, Vicksburg National Military Park

By Michael Jones
VICKSBURG, Miss.  For a weekend outing or a major vacation destination, Vicksburg has every ingredient for a memory making experience.

Charming Old South mansions and museums, restaurants with the finest in Southern cuisine and the Vicksburg National Military Park are just a few of those memory-making ingredients.

And Lake Charles has an enduring historical link with Vicksburg. A company of Confederate volunteers from Calcasieu Parish was among the South's defenders who shed their blood in defense of the Mississippi city during the crucial 47-day 1863 siege that Abraham Lincoln called the ''key'' to victory for the North.

That group of volunteers, Company I (Calcasieu Tigers), 28th Louisiana Infantry Regiment was led by Captain James W. Bryan, who after the war became the first mayor of Lake Charles and was a leading citizen of the area until his death in 1897.

During the siege 16 of the regiment's men were killed and 57 wounded. At the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou on Dec. 28 and 29, 1862, the 28th Louisiana had 9 men killed, 25 wounded and 9 missing.

The Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates that historic event and has the exact location marked where the Calcasieu Parish men fought.

The park gives visitors a complete appreciation for what happened there 129 years ago with audio-visual programs and life-size dioramas at the visitor center, as well as with a very active living history program and an excellently marked 16-mile self-guided driving tour of the battlefield.

The park's hundreds of magnificent monuments and cannons, spaced out along the 16-mile driving tour, make it one of the crown jewels of the National Park Service system. Louisiana had the distinction of becoming the first state to erect a monument at Vicksburg in June 1887.

Living historians, authentically uniformed, give demonstrations of rifle firing, cannon firing, talks on fortifications and on the life of the soldiers during the siege.

But making Vicksburg National Military Park truly unique is the U.S.S. Cairo Museum. On display is the ironclad ship itself, which was salvaged from the Yazoo River in the 1960s, and an adjacent Naval museum housing many of the artifacts of the crew, naval stores and armaments.

The Cairo was sent to the bottom of the river on Dec. 12, 1862 by an electrically detonated mine, the first such sinking in Naval history. The ironclad's firepower included 32-pounder smoothbores, 8-inch smoothbores, a 30-pounder Parrott rifle and 42-pounder rifles.

In the city of Vicksburg are numerous historic buildings and homes, many open for tours, and which have their own individual stories to tell about the siege.

The Old Court House Museum was used as a Confederate signal station and housed Union prisoners. Now the building features one of the finest historical museums in the nation. Among the displays are original Confederate battleflags, uniforms, weapons and artifacts from the siege.

The McRaven House, open for tours, tells the tragic effects of the war and siege on the city's civilian population. Taken over as a Confederate headquarters and hospital, it was caught in the crossfire between Union gunboats and Confederate batteries. It suffered heavy damage.

About a year after the siege the owner of McRaven House was murdered by drunken Union occupation troops. Now fully restored, the tour guides give visitors a walk through the history of Vicksburg from Colonial times to the 20th Century.

To really get the ''feel'' of the city's history, visitors have a good selection of bed-and-breakfast inns. Such magnificent homes as the Duff Green Mansion, Anchuca, Cedar Grove, Grey Oaks, Balfour House and Bell of the Bends offer unique atmosphere and each has a fascinating story.

The Duff Green Mansion was built in 1856 by Duff Green, a prosperous Vicksburg merchant, and is conered one of the finest examples of Paladian architecture in Mississippi. In antebellum days the home was the center of social activity and parties.

During the siege, the Greens turned the mansion over to the army for use as a Confederate hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Green sought refuge from the deadly Union bombardment in nearby caves.

While the fighting was going on, Mrs. Green gave birth to a son in the cave and named the boy Siege.

Vicksburg is also a city known for its excellent Southern cuisine and a wide variety of ethnic cooking.

Mississippi is world renowned for its catfish and such restaurants as Top O' The River and Walnut Hills Round Tables Restaurant serve it in true gourmet fashion.

The Old Southern Tea Room specializes in plantation cooking, prime steaks and fine seafood. Eddie Monsour's Restaurant has fresh seafood and Lebanese cuisine.

Historic downtown Vicksburg, along Washington Street, has been renovated and contains an array of shops, stores and attractions.

Driving straight through to Vicksburg is about a five hour drive from Lake Charles. But if you have the time for a liesurely journey, there are numerous sites to see and things to do along the way.

From Lake Charles, take Interstate 10 to Baton Rouge and from there go north on U. S. 61, which goes all the way to Vicksburg.

Among the things to do along the way, on U.S. 61, are Port Hudson State Commemorative Area 14 miles north of Baton Rouge; numerous plantation home to tour in the St. Francisville area; Rosemont Plantation, Jefferson Davis' home in Woodville, Miss.; in Natchez numerous antebellum homes; Grand Gulf State Park, which has a fine War Between the States museum and between Port Gibson and Vicksburg is a stretch of the historic and scenic Natchez Trace Parkway.

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