WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT VICKSBURG
– by Morgan Gates 11/5/2016
Welcome to my hometown! Vicksburg Mississippi, maybe you’ve heard of us! if you are a big fan of the American Civil War you almost certainly have, but Vicksburg does not begin or end with the Civil War. We were a thriving community before “The War*” and after and still are today.
We were founded in 1819 by the Reverend Newitt Vick, a Methodist Minister (Meshea is working on a piece about the early history and it will probably be posted by the time you read this so I won’t steal her thunder) and things started popping from the start. This part of the U.S. had just opened up for settlement about 20 years earlier. The land was rich, the rainfall abundant, over 90% of Americans were farmers in those days, you could clear the land drop a seed and you then had to jump out the way before it grew up you pants leg it seemed.
The Mississippi and its tributaries were natural highways that allowed you to float your crops down to New Orleans where by sea they could go anywhere in the world. Steamboats had been plying the rivers for a decade; the cotton gin had been around a quarter century and demand this fiber crop was high (Think about this: if the only underwear you had ever worn was wool, how much would you pay for a set of Haines comfort fit) ! Throw in the fact that Vicksburg was too high to flood, and away from the malarial swamps and the town boomed.
Vicksburg’s population just before the war was about 4500 people, and while that is tiny by todays standards, remember that Chicago had 112k, New Orleans less than 200k and even NYC was well under a million. Vicksburg was in it’s early days sort of a hybrid of a rough and tumble frontier town and a cosmopolitan city with high ambitions. Dueling and plain old brawling were common along the river front while the mansions popping up around the hill tops were furnished with European furnishings and the ladies wore the latest French couture. Vicksburg was well known in the day, not just in the South but around the country, events that happened in and around Vicksburg made news in New York City. Money was being made here and Vicksburg was a close second in wealth and prestige to its older sister Natchez (after the War it will pull ahead, but that’s a story for another day). Money and politics make strange bed fellows and ultimately War breaks out.
At the beginning of the Civil War Lincoln proclaims “Vicksburg is the Key” and in the first half of this bloody conflict it seems the South will win. Fortress Vicksburg the Gibraltar of the South, survives four major military actions against it before succumbing to a 6 ½ week siege, which returns control of the Mississippi to the union and catapults a controversial young general that many of his contemporaries did not like, into the chief general’s job and with his hand on the helm the Union wins the War. Post War Vicksburg reinvents itself as a wholesale mercantile powerhouse of the region and quickly returns to prosperity. Presidents William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt visit the City as does Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King.
Today we are home to the headquarters of the Mississippi River Commission, and the Army Engineering Research and Development Center. Our River Port is the 11th largest inland port in the U.S. Many other great things are going on in Vicksburg, and more are on the way. In the days ahead we will explore many things both past and present. Journey with us as we Re-Discover Historic Vicksburg.
*Just about anybody born south of the Mason Dixson line knows that THE WAR refers to the American Civil War 1861-65, but some for our friends elsewhere… FYI.