On February 24, 2014, the 7th and 8th grade Talented and Gifted (TAG) students from Eiland Middle School took a step back into history when they traveled to Vicksburg, Mississippi. The first stop was the Mississippi River and Levee walls. Students were able to walk out on the banks of the Mississippi River and look to the other side to see the state of Louisiana. The students also were able to see how high the Mississippi River had flooded and the years in which it flooded. They looked at the murals painted on the levee walls and learned about the story of President Theodore Roosevelt, and his black bear hunting trip that prompted the production of teddy bears as we know them today.
The students then went on to the Vicksburg Military Park where the Battle for Vicksburg came to life through the wonderful narration from our tour guide. Mr. Harris, our tour guide, shared with the students the story of this battle. He explained how Vicksburg occupied the most strategic spot on the Mississippi River and that in 1862 President Lincoln gave Union General Ulysses S. Grant the job of seizing it. The Battle lasted 14 months and had a 47 day siege on the city which resulted in the Confederate forces in Vicksburg surrendering on July 4, 1863.
The South never really recovered after this battle, and Vicksburg bitterly refused to celebrate the Fourth of July for nearly a century. All the states in the United States that had soldiers fighting here, erected monuments for their soldiers’ bravery. Mississippi also has a monument, but refused to put her name on it because it was on “Yankee” soil. Mr. Harris also shared stories about women who served during the Civil War, such as Jennie Hodgers, who was known as Albert Cashier, a man. He also told them “the rest of the story” about some of the generals who fought during the Battle for Vicksburg and what happened to them after the war. The students then explored the USS Cairo, an ironclad ship that was sunk by the Confederate troops on the Yazoo River. The Cairo sunk in 12 minutes without the loss of life. The students were also able to see the Military Cemetery. Vicksburg National Cemetery has 116 acres, and holds the remains of 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers, a number not found in any other national cemetery.
After the Military Park, the students went to the Old Court House Museum. Vicksburg’s battle was the turning point in the war and its role helped make the displays at the museum. The Old Court House Museum is where local planter Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, launched his political career. The displays brought the Siege of Vicksburg alive through the personal belongings, anecdotes, and relics left behind around Vicksburg.
Everything the students saw and learned about the Battle for Vicksburg strengthened the belief that the Civil War was a horrible and vicious war that was fought by brave and admirable men and women on both sides.