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August 24, 2018
Vicksburg, Mississippi: Lincoln Meets Davis


After our amazing experience in Natchez yesterday, we expected today’s stop in Vicksburg to be much more low-key.

Vicksburg played a pivotal role in the Civil War. President Lincoln knew that whoever controlled the Mississippi River – the country’s main trade route – would control the war. He called the port city of Vicksburg “The Key to the South.” Union General Grant couldn’t penetrate Vicksburg’s hilltop location. Instead he laid siege to city, shelling the hilltop with 2,000 mortars a day for 47 days. Confederate General Pemberton finally surrendered on July 4, 1863 – one day after General Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg.

These two events are considered the turning point of the Civil War. If Pemberton had not surrendered, Vicksburg could easily have been the bloodiest battle of the war. Vicksburg did not celebrate Independence Day again until 1945.

In 1876, a flood caused the Mississippi River to change course, and Vicksburg was cut off from the river. In 1903 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River into the old channel, giving Vicksburg access to the Mississippi River once again. As a result, our steamboat left the Mississippi and traveled up the Yazoo to visit Vicksburg.

We were not interested in the premium bus tour of battle monuments. We were not even interested in the hop-on hop-off bus. Instead, we did our own walking tour of the city.


Vicksburg had done a lot to welcome visitors. A wall of murals lines the riverfront. (The American Queen is in the background, on the Yazoo River.)


A public park next to the dock evokes the skyline of steamship smoke stacks that once defined the riverfront

    
The Old Depot Museum had several model train displays and a 250-sq ft diorama of the Vicksburg Battlefield


We saw this amazing photograph of Grant’s and Pemberton’s grandsons meeting in 1937. But keep reading for an even better encounter!


The Lower Mississippi River Museum


The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum describes how the soft drink originated in Vicksburg in 1894

    
The streets and sidewalks of Vicksburg are paved with bricks!

Almost as a second thought, we decided to walk further to see Anchuca Mansion. (“Anchuca” is a Choctaw Indian word meaning “happy home.”) It was simply one more historic house, but we had some time to kill.

As we toured the house, a well-dressed gentleman in a straw fedora started telling us additional stories about the furnishings, including the incredible hand-embroidered carpets. He turned out to be Tom Pharr, the owner of the house. Tom told us how he had once worked in the house when he was a teenager. Years later and now living in Atlanta, his mother Betty informed him that the house was up for auction. Tom decried the fact that the inhabitants of Vicksburg were letting another historical treasure go by the wayside. His sister said, “You’re from Vicksburg too. What are you doing about it?” Tom ended up buying the house, and is slowing restoring it.

    
Anchuca Mansion and its owner/proprietor, Tom Pharr


Tom recently acquired one of the only two surviving Confederate flags from the Battle of Vicksburg. (Yes, that is the Confederate flag. The more familiar “X-patterned” flag is actually General Lee’s military flag, which has unfortunately been repurposed incorrectly by political groups.)

Tom and his mother Betty ended up giving us a private tour of the house. When Gail mentioned that she is a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln, Tom got excited. “A great-grandson of Jefferson Davis is going to be here any minute to deliver a tour.” Sure enough, less than a minute later, Bertram Hayes-Davis – great-grandson of the President of the Confederacy – came walking into the house.

We had a great time chatting with Bert and his wife Carol about family trees, Civil War history and lecturing aboard cruise ships (which Bert has also done). We exchanged business cards and hope to reconnect in the future, possibly at an annual gathering of presidential descendants they told us about.


The descendants of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Union President Abraham Lincoln… together at last!

We ended up having another spectacular day. We are just amazed that we keep having lucky encounters with incredible people.

    
On our trip we will not make it to Lake Itasca, where you can walk across the Mississippi River. This scale model at the Lower Mississippi River Museum is the next best thing!

 

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