I have never considered myself a Civil War geek, although my house was built in the 1860s, but I have always been interested in US History. When I was in four I created a pageant for my class of Lincoln’s last fateful trip to the Theater, and when I student-taught I had an American Studies class, and I was paying attention – I really was. But I never expected to be personally moved by Vicksburg Battlefield.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the first day of fighting on the Somme. I’ve read that anywhere from 57-60,000 British Soldiers died on the first day of fighting. It eclipses the Siege of Vicksburg in numbers of casualties, and I am sure that walking those trenches and earthworks makes the hair on your arms stand up. Certainly that is what happened to me at Vicksburg.
Walking the landscape it was clear to me how the people of Vicksburg could have held the city. Geography would have been to their advantage.
Last week my brother told me that my great-grandfather was at Vicksburg, with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry. Knowing that, it was easy to find his name on the wall of those who served from Wisconsin. Initially I looked for his name among the musicians as the only photo that I have seen of him from that time has him depicted with an over-the-shoulder sax horn. But I found his name in the listing of the soldiers.
I had not anticipated how this would feel. Whether it was the heat (it was hot, it was midday) or whether it was relief that he returned to Wisconsin and fathered all those children. Still, it was overwhelming to know that he was a part of the history of this place at that time.
Down at the river, the ironclad Cairo has been raised from her muddy grave. The museum is impressive, filled with the everyday objects of life aboard the vessel. It went down fast after it hit a mine in the river, but all hands were saved. Under a giant marquee tent is the preserved wreckage. I love all the engineered lumber used in the reconstruction of the ribs of this ship.