– Vicksburg, Mississippi to Denton, Texas –

I’m almost sad that we didn’t run this morning, now that I’ve been through Vicksburg National Military Park. I think it would’ve been cool to do. While I do regret the fact that we didn’t get to see the park on a run, I don’t regret the fact that we didn’t have to sweat through the awful humidity in that place. It is full of people walking and running, and they were all drenched when we visited around 9am.

It being Memorial Day and all, Vicksburg was a popular place to be. We got out of bed around 7:30am, had some breakfast, showered, packed up the car, and drove the (very) short distance over to the park, which already had a full parking lot at the visitor center. It turns out that Memorial Day is a day that gets you free entry into Vicksburg, so we didn’t even have to whip out our National Park Pass. Fancy, right?

Illinois Memorial

This park commemorates the Battle of Vicksburg, a major battle during the Civil War. The whole campaign lasted from March 29 to July 4, 1863. Many people consider the Confederate defeat during this battle the turning point of the war. The park is almost 2,000 acres, and is home to the Vicksburg National Cemetery. It has “1,325 historic monuments and markers, 20 miles of historic trenches and earthworks, a 16-mile tour road, a 12.5-mile walking trail, two antebellum homes, 144 emplaced cannons, the restored gunboat USS Cairo (sunk on December 12, 1862, on the Yazoo River), and the Grant’s Canal site, where the Union Army attempted to build a canal to let their ships bypass Confederate artillery fire.”

At first, we thought we would only do a small portion of the park and call it a day, since we needed to get home today. However, once we were in the park, we decided to just go for it, and the time we got home would just have to be whatever it turned out to be. We committed. We drove almost all of the park, stopped at a bunch of the monuments, walked through some of the trenches, and explored the USS Cairo, which was the very best part of the trip.

The USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat

The USS Cairo was an ironclad gunboat. An ironclad is a wooden warship, propelled by steam, and covered in iron or steel armor plating to protect the delicate wood from explosions and shelling. They were first used in action during the Civil War, though the United States was not the first country to build such ships. The USS Cairo was built in 1861 and was sunk while clearing mines in the Yazoo River near Vicksburg by an underwater mine on December 12, 1862. It only took 12 minutes to sink. The ship was then lost to the river until 1956, and it was finally pulled from the mud in 1965. The wood was too delicate to pull the ship out intact, so it had to be removed in pieces. The Cairo is one of only four surviving Civil War era ironclads.

Much of the boat that is visible in these photos has been recreated to look the way the ship would have during the Civil War. You can see in the photograph below the new wood at the top of the photo, with older, more original wood in the bottom right-hand corner. The ship rests beneath a pavilion, surrounded by a concrete walkway, and visitors can walk through and all the way around the ship. Portions of the ship have been covered in iron plating. It is incredibly cool, and I’m not a boat person or a Civil War buff by any stretch of the imagination.

There’s also a small museum next to the ship, which houses some of the many artifacts taken from it when it was recovered. According to signs in the museum, the river mud did a good job preserving many of the artifacts found, and the museum hosts weapons, knives, personal effects from the crew, and ammunition, among other things. This is the very best part of Vicksburg National Military Park, so if you ever visit, don’t miss it.

Inside the Ironclad Gunboat

After our adventure with the ironclad, we had to leave the park and come back in. Normally, the park road loops, but a portion of the road has been closed due to soil erosion, and we had to cut through the city to get back into the park. I felt like they maybe should have had more signs about this. We couldn’t be the only ones that wanted to get as much of the loop finished as we could. It was very inconvenient.

In any event, we did get to see most of the rest of the park, and I even bought a National Park t-shirt. We also found a Texas memorial, though once again, we felt a little awkward about it, since Texas was one of the bad guys. Still, we’re Texans, so we can’t resist photographing things that say Texas on them, and we had to walk up the little hill to the memorial and take a few pictures.

Once we finished in Vicksburg, we drove only a short distance over to Poverty Point National Monument, which is a rather small park, and is mostly still listed as a Louisiana State Park, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a little confusing, to be honest. It has a National Park stamp, though, so who are we to argue? The park protects a massive construction created by the Poverty Point people around 3,000 years ago.

Texas Memorial

The entire Poverty Point site is a complex earthworks, with six rings of raised earth extending in a half circle from Bayou Macon, each divided into 5 sections. These are surrounded by several mounds. The site is believed to have been built by hand over a long period of time, using baskets of dirt hauled in from elsewhere, and used for ceremonial purposes, though archaeologists and historians argue over whether people lived at the site, or only used it to conduct rituals. The exact nature of any such rituals is uncertain.

We stopped at the park’s visitor center, and opted to take the driving tour rather than the walking tour, which would have been blazing hot. It is worth noting that the visitor center is operated by the state, but they did still have our national park stamp, so we were happy. We did end up walking up to the top of an overlook to try to get a sense of this place, which is enormous and difficult to see from the ground, but the little hill did not give much perspective. It was a long walk in the heat, and by the time we finished it, we were happy to be done, and not sure why we had done it. To really experience this park, it seems like you almost need a drone, or to see it from overhead somehow. The idea of it is much more exciting than the experience, if you know what I mean.

Poverty Point National Monument

With that finished, we were done with all of our excitement for this short trip, and we booked it for home. This is our last real trip before Atlantic Canada, so my next few blog posts will most likely be about our preparations for that trip. We made it home around 7:30pm, and still had to go hunt around Denton for some dinner. Mark has to work tomorrow, so I know he will be tired. That’s what we get for packing as much as we can into just four days!

– Trip Total : ??? miles

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