F&F Day 13: Some History and More Family
I had two non-F&F side trips planned for this tour: The first was the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa; the second was the National Military Park at Vicksburg which commemorates the battles and siege of Vicksburg in 1863. Other than F&F, I’m all about motorcycles and history, so this trip is working out well.
Given my career as an historian, I’ve visited several dozen Civil War sites, and I have to admit I was impressed with the one at Vicksburg. In the early 1920s, the federal government secured much but not all of the land involved in the battle/siege of Vicksburg as part of several land swaps. As a result, visitors today can drive a loop road that covers more than 16 miles and traces both the Union and Confederate lines of battle and several battle sites. Having read about the 1863 events on the the Mississippi River, I was familiar with the general outline of the siege and its importance, but actually covering the terrain–sometimes on foot–turns out to be crucial to understanding why things unfolded for General U.S. Grant as they did and why he was the driving force behind most of the military victories that preserved the Union. All this is really only important, I guess, to historians and other foolish people but I just wanted to mention that I enjoyed it.
The statue of General Grant (above) was one of about 1,300 monuments and statues on the National Park Service site, pretty much equally divided between Union and Confederate memorials. Seeing all those memorials brought to mind the current debate over the appropriateness of Confederate memorials throughout the south. I think all the memorials on the battlefield are perfectly acceptable because they commemorate the bravery and selfless commitment soldiers and officers on both sides displayed during battle. They DO NOT commemorate a “Lost Cause” or a racist ideology and they are correctly placed in the location where the action took place. That’s a far cry from erecting monuments 50 years or more after the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse to celebrate the lives of racists who fought to destroy the union and preserve the congenital defect of slavery with which this nation was born. All Civil War memorials are not created equal.
In addition to the battlefield, the site also contains the only preserved ironclad ship from that period: The SS Cairo (pronounced like Karo syrup). It was one of seven such ships built for the Union for service on the Mississippi and was the first to be sunk in 1863. But the good news is that it rested on the bottom of the Yazoo River in Mississippi for more than 100 years before a historian discovered its location and ensured that its remains would be raised from 36 feet of water and several feet of mud. The sunken ship also contained hundreds of day-to-day artifacts that reflected life aboard the river vessel and are on display at the Cairo Museum. The ship’s remains were meticulously restored and displayed in such a way that visitors can even walk where Civil War sailors once trod. Pretty cool.
After my tour of the battlefield and the ship, I set off from Vicksburg on a hot four-hour, mostly boring ride along I-55 until I arrived in Kenner to spend the weekend with Hilary, Peter, Annabella, Juliette and Eleana. In the rush of getting ready for this trip, I apparently forgot to tell Hilary exactly when I was coming in, because when I called her last night she was surprised to say the least. But everything works out well and I’ll get to be on the sidelines for several grandkid activities for the next two days.