Since I write about travel in the Southeast U.S., I naturally have visited many Civil War sites and parks. I never get tired of them because they offer an amazing connection to a major chapter in our nation's development. Quite often, a battle site is simply an open field of green grass, some grave markers, some statues. The significance comes through knowing what happened there and invoking a bit of imagination.
Vicksburg, Mississippi is the site of a very pivotal battle. During the Civil War, capturing Vicksburg, was so crucial to the Union forces that President Lincoln stated:
"See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key, the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."
Securing Vicksburg and regaining control of the Mississippi River essentially split the Confederacy in two — at that point, they knew they were beaten. The Confederate surrender following the siege at Vicksburg, along with Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg the previous day, is considered by many to be the turning point of the war.
You can get a much more thrilling account of this epic battle at the Vicksburg National Military Park, where battlegrounds, museums, monuments, the nation's largest Civil War cemetery, artillery and arms demonstrations, and driving and walking routes along Vicksburg’s Confederate defenses tell the complete story.
There's so much to see here, but make sure you start at the visitors’ center and watch the movie. It’s well worth the time to gain an idea of the significance of the things you are about to see. I highly suggest taking a guided tour. The guides are really knowledgeable and can really help add color and perspective to your visit. There’s a driving tour that’s quite good, but try to make some time to explore part of it on foot. A cell phone audio tour has recently been added, which allows you to dial a number at various sites and hear a recorded description. There are markers throughout the park showing battalion positions which made it easy for me to envision what these soldiers went through. I was surprised at how taken I was by the experience.
Whether you are a Civil War buff or not, you really have to experience the Vicksburg National Military Park and the surrounding town of Vicksburg.