johnny February 11th, 2009
During our trip down the Natchez Trace, we took a daytrip a bit west towards Vicksburg. Jenn and I are both into museums and historic attractions, but neither of us is all that into the nuts and bolts of particular battles. So, why would we go to Vicksburg, where you spend several hours driving around the battlefield and reading about the intricate details of the battle including the number of casualties at each battery of guns? Well, mostly because we have an America the Beautiful pass and hate to pass up a chance to get into something for free that might entertain us for the day.
The military park really is a pretty drive and not a bad way to spend the day. However, after the first six or eight miles, I think we were both pretty well bored with the dry descriptions of troop movements and casualty counts. Don’t get me wrong, this era of our history is very important and shouldn’t be discounted, but I really had a hard time reading similar descriptions repeatedly, none of which you could really sink your teeth into except perhaps the description of tunneling into earthworks in order to blow them up, which is something I thought had died out a few hundred years earlier. This same area had the wonderfully colorful description of a slave who was ‘blown to freedom’ when a mine was touched off below him.
Luckily for us, not much further down the line, we reached the main attraction as far as I was concerned: the USS Cairo. This was a city class, ironclad steamship that was sunk during the Civil War by a Confederate ‘torpedo’. It was, in fact, the first ship to ever be sunk by a torpedo, which was really a bit more like an underwater claymore from what I could understand as it was a stationary charge that required troops to fire it when a ship was next to the torpedo.
The Cairo went down in 1862 and the crew destroyed the chimneys in order to hide her location. The wreck was discovered in 1956 and various artifacts were brought to the surface. The Cairo was eventually brought to the surface in sections from 1961 until 1965. What’s left has been pieced back together and treated to preserve it’s integrity. Where the original wood has rotted away, some areas have been restored with a lighter colored timber to show that they are non-original.
Visitors are allowed to walk through the Cairo and see this historic ship from the inside out. There is also a museum that houses many of the artifacts originally discovered with the ship. Overall, just touring the USS Cairo and neighboring museum, perhaps with a stop at the Vicksburg visitor center is well worth the time. The sixteen mile drive through the park? I’m sure it would be very interesting to a Civil War buff that wanted to appreciate how the battle played out, but to me it was just a pretty drive once we gave up on trying to read all the placards and monuments.