We spent the morning of December 24 at Vicksburg National Military Park. It was a bit of an odd choice of a place to be on the day before Christmas, especially when I'm notoriously lukewarm about the cannonball parks, but we had the time, and I was curious. We weren't sure if the park would be open -- it was a federal holiday -- but as it turned out that, although the Visitor Center and USS Cairo Museum were both closed, the tour road was open.
The tour road, of course, is one long string of markers of various sizes, shapes, and styles, from the truly monumental, like the Illinois state memorial shown above (for a sense of scale, if you look close you can see the jogger at the top of the stairs), to fairly low key, like the Kansas marker shown below. It dates from 1973, so uses rather simple symbolism rather than relying on the classical allegory popular in the early 1900s, which is when most of the monuments were erected.
I've never been much of a Civil War buff -- when I think about the war at all, it's usually in terms of what a colossal waste of life it was, all the people who died just because a handful of rich white guys couldn't stand the idea of giving up a source of cheap labor. Now that we're sliding into the 150th anniversary of the mess, the attempts at revisionist history are cranking up, billboards are popping up all over the South commemorating their glorious boys in butternut gray, and there's a lot of stupid blather about it all being about states' rights, not slavery. Of course, that blather comes from the descendants of the guys who started the war by firing the first shots against Fort Sumter and then turned around to call it the War of Northern Aggression, so it's fairly clear Southerners have always had a tenuous relationship with reality.
Try asking one those states righters sometime just exactly what rights they were talking about, though, and they start to stammer. Why? Because there is no answer other than the obvious: slavery. Back in 1861 there was no income tax, no estate tax, no interstate commerce commission, no federal highways program, no labor department, no environmental protection agency, very close to nothing, none of the things Civil War apologists, Tea Partiers, and their ilk bitch about today, nada, no federal meddling at all. The federal government consisted of the War Department (aka the Army), the Navy Department (self evident), the State Department (which dealt with other countries), the Post Office, the Treasury (which minted money and collected excise taxes and tariffs), and not a whole lot else. So just exactly what states' rights were there to protect other than slavery? Then when you toss in the fact every single one of the individual states' acts of secession explicitly name the right to practice slavery as a reason for seceding. . .
As for Vicksburg NMP, if you're into monuments, it's a treasure trove. It's chock full of books on sticks, stone markers, interpretive tablets, you name it, in a wide range of styles. Most date from the early 20th century, but there are more recent additions -- the newest was dedicated in 2004, and is shown at the top of this post. (It's dedicated to Union troops who fought at the battle of Milliken's Bend.) There are multiple obelisks, like Michigan's
I always joke about the cannonball parks being littered with chess pieces. Well, there actually is one at Vicksburg, for an Ohio unit:
Does it or does it not look like a rook? Ohio also has a dildo:
Okay, I know it's supposed to represent ammunition of some sort, but it sure looks like a dildo to me.
The park does the usual color coding for the books on sticks so you can tell at a glance where the Union forces were positioned and where the CSA troops were. At the site pictured below, the two overlapped:
Vicksburg NMP includes Vicksburg National Cemetery, which has approximately 17,000 Civil War dead buried there, almost all Union troops. After the cemetery was established, Union dead were disinterred from temporary graves throughout the South and buried permanently at Vicksburg. Many of the graves are marked Unknown (the low stones in the photo) because by the time the bodies were moved, nothing remained that could be used for identification.
The USS Cairo Museum is next to the cemetery. One of these days I may go back just to check out the artifacts and interpretive displays. As it was, all we got to see was the Cairo from behind the fence. The obelisk in the upper right background is a Navy memorial.