Thursday, May 30, 2013
Vicksburg National Military Park has wrapped up a month of commemorative activities – with special emphasis on several exciting events held during the Memorial Day week – all to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg.
Beginning on April 30, 2013, Vicksburg National Military Park recognized the states which participated in the Vicksburg Campaign by placing a wreath and interpretive sign at one state monument each day. State proclamations were read, and that day designated as the state’s special day in the park. The wreaths and signs will stay in place through July 4, 2013, marking 150 years from the day of Vicksburg’s surrender.
Throughout the month of May, several interpretive programs were presented both in the park and at onsite battlefield locations. The presentations described both Union and Confederate military strategy and operations, with major focus on the five major conflicts – Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge – that led to the Siege of Vicksburg.
May 19 and 22 the park hosted numerous interpretive programs focusing on Grant’s first and second assaults on the Confederate defenses – both unsuccessful attempts by the Union army to capture the city. A program highlight on May 22 was a battlefield presentation by Kim Hyatt, NPS employee from Bryce Canyon and descendant of one of the 150 volunteers known as the ‘Forlorn Hope,’ who made a futile charge down Graveyard Road in an effort to take the Confederate stronghold, Stockade Redan. On July 9, 1894, Kim’s ancestor, George Theodore Hyatt, was awarded the Medal of Honor which is now on display at the park’s main Visitor Center.
Additionally, volunteers from local schools, AmeriCorps, and the general public joined park staff on May 22 to place over 18,000 U.S. flags on the graves of Vicksburg National Cemetery. Following this, over 80 school children were treated to a day of special ranger programs and activities.
May 23 saw the unveiling of the U.S. Post Office’s new Sesquicentennial Stamps for Vicksburg and Gettysburg which took place in front of the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat and Museum. That same evening, park staff brought history to life during a “Shadows of the Past” night walk through the National Cemetery. First person costumed interpretation merged with traditional ranger walks to make this a unique visitor experience.
Memorial Day Weekend (May 24-26) saw three open air concerts at the main Visitor Center. The U.S. Navy Mid-South Band, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (with special guest, Trace Adkins), and the Jackson Community Mass Choir all entertained a multitude of visitors over the course of the three evenings. Daytime activities gave the public the opportunity to choose from many different programs offered both Saturday and Sunday throughout the park. U.S. Navy Special Boat Team 22 set up a display at the U.S.S. Cairo to answer questions and talk about the difference between the historic and present-day Brown Water Navy. The annual Military Thru the Ages exhibit demonstrated the evolution of the American soldier from the Revolutionary War through Afghanistan. People were able to see the different types of military uniforms, weapons, and equipment used throughout the nation’s history.
Additional weekend activities included an introduction to “Douglas” the camel by U.S. Camel Corps re-enactor, Doug Baum. As the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Douglas was present in the Confederate lines during the siege, and used to carry the unit’s musical instruments. An unusual sight during the conflict, he was fatally shot by a Union sharpshooter, and has since had a headstone erected in his memory in the Vicksburg City Cemetery.
In recognition of a significant restoration and preservation effort made possible through funding provided by the Iowa State Legislature in 2012, the Iowa State Memorial was re-dedicated with Iowa Governor, The Honorable Terry Branstad, reading and signing a state proclamation declaring May 25, 2013, as Iowa Day at Vicksburg National Military Park. Also in attendance and representing the State of Mississippi was the former Governor, The Honorable Haley Barbour. The ceremony mirrored the original dedication event held in 1906, including an artillery salute and singing of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ and ‘America’ by Vicksburg School children.
The weekend was rounded out with book signings by noted authors Jeff Shaara, Dr. John Marszalek, Charles Larimer, Dennis Black, Tim Isbell, Jeff Giambrone, and Rebecca Drake, numerous siege and living history programs at various park locations, and tours of the historic Shirley House and Pemberton’s Headquarters.
On Memorial Day, May 27, park staff participated in the City of Vicksburg Memorial Day parade and program at the city auditorium, with activities culminating in a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Vicksburg National Cemetery flag pole and performance by the Mississippi Army National Guard 41st Army Band.