“It was, after the conflict, literally the hill of death; men, horses, cannon, and the debris of an army lay scattered in wild confusion.” (Union General Alvin C. Hovey describing the Battle of Vicksburg)
To many historians, it’s common knowledge that the Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863 represented a turning point victory for the Northern Union Army in the Civil War. In this winner take-all situation, it’s been further agreed upon that General Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg over his Southern Confederate counterparts solidified his reputation as the commanding general who could most capably lead his troops to end this long war. For those experts who studied the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, it’s been further reasoned that this triumph at Vicksburg provided a timely boost to Lincoln’s chances of being re- elected to a second term as President in 1864. At least these opinions prevailed when I conveyed such patriotic dogma from the textbook to my 7th and 8th grade students as an American History teacher in South Florida back then.
But as I measured my emotions during our morning visit to the Vicksburg National Battlefield on our road trip last week, these hallowed grounds adjacent to this historic town along the Mississippi River felt so much more tragic than celebratory to me in various ways. Consider my first impression there of a landscape still scarred by unsightly craters and trenches from this bloody battle that turned pristine forest groves and fertile farm fields into environmental wastelands. Upon turning my attention as well to so many monuments erected along our drive along the sixteen mile battlefield road, I became sorrowfully reminded by each of these heroic dedications that over thirty thousand soldiers combined on both sides tragically lost their lives at Vicksburg. Furthermore, as I stood along Vicksburg’s cliffs overlooking the peacefully flowing Mississippi River basin to conclude our tour, disturbing images arose in my mind of that nightmarish scene of river passing gunboats like the USS Cairo shown below being sunk unmercifully by underwater torpedos and cliffside bombs during the course of the battle.
Thus it seems fitting that I recall feeling negative vibes by the distinct chill existing in the air accompanied by some unaccustomed dead silence at Vicksburg that morning of our visit. For such heightened sensations seemed to set an ominous tone to feel the mass lonelinesses, desperation and despair that once took place at this famous Civil War battle scene. So allow me to set the stage in the following photos from our road trip visit that history should record Vicksburg as more accurately a “Pyrrhic victory” toward inhumanity’s creation.