Vicksburg National Military Park
Location: Vicksburg, MS
Smashed Penny Machine: No
The town of Vicksburg is on the Mississippi River about an hour West of Jackson, MS. We left our hotel in New Orleans that morning about 8:30. It was roughly a three and half hour drive up. Vicksburg National Military Park is a large battle field so be prepared to devote several hours to the park especially if you are doing the Jr Ranger program.
After paying entrance fee, you can choose to park at the Visitor’s Center or begin the drive through the park. Unless you know a lot about the battle I’d suggest stopping at the Visitor’s Center first. The Visitor’s Center had a short film about the battle (20 minutes long plays at the top of the hour and every half hour). There is also a small museum that will give plenty of background regarding the battle. You can also pick-up a copy of the self-guided tour from the ranger’s station or they have an app and you can get it all straight to your phone. The Visitor’s Center also has a small gift shop and bookstore.
As you drive through the park you’ll past numerous monuments. Most monuments do not have parking or paths to get up to them. Most are close enough to the road that you can see them fairly well from the car. Many are very beautiful monuments so they are worth seeing for the art. I’d suggest (unless you are really, really into Civil War history) just stopping at some of the bigger monuments. I’d suggest stops at Illinois and the Shirley House (next to each other), Kentucky (if you can get to it, road closures made some parts of the park hard to get to), Mississippi, and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, one of the main roads through the park is currently closed, so to see the whole park you are going to have to do some doubling back. This added considerably to the amount of time it took us to tour the park.
In addition to the monuments, the park is also home to the USS Cairo Gunboat and a second museum dedicated to the boat. The museum has a short video (about 15 minutes) that details the process of bringing the wrecked ship back to the surface. There are also several display cases with artifacts found in the wreckage. A smaller book store is located here. There are also bathrooms (since this is on the opposite end of the park from the main Visitor’s Center, this is important information). You can also walk aboard the USS Cairo itself. The ship is mostly just a hull skeleton but some interesting features have survived. Across the street from the USS Cairo is Vicksburg National Cemetery which is the final resting place of over 17,000 Civil War troops along with other veterans through the Korean War.
After stopping at the Cairo, we exited the park and drove through town to get back to the main Visitor’s Center (again one of main roads is currently closed) so we wouldn’t have to back track through parts of the park we had just driven through a little bit earlier. You wouldn’t necessarily have to return to the main Visitor’s Center but there wasn’t a ranger on duty at the USS Cairo Museum. In order to complete the Jr Ranger program, the girls had to go back to the main ranger desk. The girls also received historic trading cards at this location in addition to their Jr Ranger badges.
Overall impression: I’m not going to sugar coat it, unless you are really into history battlefields tend to be rather boring to visit. That being said I do think it’s very important for people to visit battlefields to remember what formed us into the people we are today. Another plus of visiting is it really does help history come alive for a kid that has studied this or will study it in the future. My dad is a major Civil War buff. We visited one historic battlefield on nearly every vacation of my childhood. While many of them aren’t exciting to a kid, it was neat that during class I’d be able to say that I had been to wherever we were talking about and would occasionally get to bring in pictures from various family vacations. If you have kids in tow, check out the National Parks website and see if you can schedule your visit on a day that they have battlefield reenactments going on.
Vicksburg is going to take you easily two hours or more to tour depending on how quickly you read/listen to the tour and how many monuments you stop at. There are a few other sites in Vicksburg you could stop at including Biedenharn Coca-cola Museum, The Old Depot Museum, Riverfront and the Riverfront Murals and several historic homes. It would be easy to make a day trip over from Jackson or combine it with a stop in Jackson.