"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
If you’ve been following the recap of my recent trip to the South you’ve already heard about the day that J and I spent on the Mississippi River.
The day after our Natchez adventures, we decided to head one hour north to Historic Vicksburg, MS. J had never been in the this part of the country so I thought he would enjoy seeing a preserved Civil War battlefield. My dad made the drive up to Vicksburg with us in a separate car so he could drive back to Natchez while we continued on to Nashville, TN. The whole drive to Vicksburg we were outrunning a major thunderstorm. The deluge was so unlike our Washington showers it made the drive…. interesting. J had never seen such a storm with lightning illuminating the whole sky and the angry rumble of thunder overhead immediately after. We managed to outpace the storm by the time we reached Vicksburg with only a sprinkling of rain to mar our visit.
We drove through the heart of Vicksburg to reach the rear entrance of the Vicksburg National Military Park. A single lane road took us over verdant, rolling hills as we drove through the park. Periodically we would pass a monument to various armies of the North and South who had held the line during that long battle for Vicksburg. Stately statues of Southern generals stared down on us and the occasional cannon marked the place of a pivotal skirmish.
We followed signs directing us to the U.S.S. Cairo – an ironclad “city class” gunboat that had sunk in the Yazoo River during the battle. It has the distinction of being the first ship to be sunk by an electronically detonated torpedo. Decades of mud and silt from the river perfectly preserved the Cairo until efforts were made to resurrect her from the watery depths in 1977. She now sits partially reconstructed at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
The U.S.S. Cairo Museum contained many of the artifacts that were discovered on the Cairo when she was taken from the Yazoo River. They offered a glimpse into what life must have been like for the young men who served on her and similar ironclad boats. We were even able to walk aboard the reconstructed Cairo, though I couldn’t imagine living in such close quarters with dozens of other people.
We continued our drive through the park to the Visitors Center and learned more about the battle for Vicksburg: how the civilians took to living in caves to avoid cannon fire that had destroyed their homes, how the siege made soldier resort to eating grass, bark, and shoe leather, how the doctors tried to save lives without bias in deplorable conditions and lacking proper supplies. It was a glimpse into another time, and one that I don’t know if I’ll ever completely understand. Even now J and I have found ourselves talking about how these old Southern generals are venerated despite their defeat, why 16-year-old boys joined the Army for glory and pride in country, and how the war has shaped this region of the world.
We gave my dad a final hug and farewell before continuing on our long drive, first to Memphis for some Memphis-style BBQ baby back ribs, and then to just north of Nashville – a huge Army base and a small Kentucky town – Fort Campbell and Oak Grove, respectively. More on that part of our adventure next time!