Vicksburg National Military Park has more than 1350 monuments, plaques, tablets, and markers commemorating people and incidents during the Civil War siege that ended today in 1863. Many of those markers note places where the 27 Union and 15 Confederate units from Missouri were based or fought. The large Missouri monument is at a place where two Missouri units fought each other.
The monument was dedicated in 1917 after a special commission was appointed by the Governor to determine the position of Missouri troops during the siege, which began after Union attacks for a week in mid-May left 110 Union soldiers from Missouri and 113 Missouri Confederates dead. The report says 971 Missourians from both sides were wounded, 525 from the attacking Union side. More would die during the siege. Total casualties at the end of the Vicksburg engagement reached 19,000 killed and wounded.
The Missouri monument is situated between opposing army positions.
And the Union side under Francis Preston Blair Jr., is marked just over the crest of the hill tot he right of the memorial.
Frank Blair Jr., was the son of one of Lincoln’s top advisers and the man who built Blair House, across the street from the White House.
The Missouri Memorial is one of the biggest state memorials in the park and is one of two Missouri memorials on Civil War Battlefields—the other one is at Shiloh and was dedicated in 1971. It’s the only memorial that is dedicated to soldiers on both sides of the battle.
Not far from the Missouri monument is another symbol of Missouri’s presence. It’s the remains of the ironclad U. S. S. Cairo, which was built at Carondelet, south of St. Louis at the time, by James B. Eads, who is best known for building the Eads Bridge several years after the war.
The Cairo was one of six ironclads that made up the first ironclad ships of war in the history of the U.S. Navy. It was sunk in the nearby Yazoo River in December, 1862 at a time when Union forces were trying to figure out the best way to attack Vicksburg. The remains of it were raised a century later and re-assembled on a wooden frame so visitors can walk through the boat today and get an idea of what the first American ironclad ships of war were like.
When General John Pemberton finally surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863, he mused that he might have won the battle if he had had 10,000 more Missourians.
But there’s something a little odd about a couple of the markers at the battlefield. Visitors arriving at the visitor center parking lot are likely to walk past two stone monuments that list the states that had troops involved in this battle. The one for the Union Army lists eight states.
And the one for Confederate Army lists seven states.
But Missouri is MIA on the monuments that visitors first see at the park. Generals from Missouri– Grant, Sherman, and others–were on the winning side. And the Pennsylvanian who commanded the losing side wished he had ten thousand more men from Missouri.
It’s a curious part of the park which has memorials within it honoring soldiers from fourteen Confederate states and eighteen union states and tombstones for a number of Missouri soldiers buried at the Vicksburg Military Park Cemetery. We don’t know how many are there because seventy-five percent of the Civil War dead buried there are unknown—13,000 of the 17,000 burials of casualties at Vicksburg and at other battle sites in the southeast United States during the war. No Missouri Confederates are buried there although two or three Confederate soldiers were mistakenly buried there in the late 1860s. It’s the nation’s largest cemetery for Civil War Veterans.
Confederate soldiers who died of bullets or disease at Vicksburg are in the Soldiers Rest section at Cedar Hill Cemetery in the city of Vicksburg. That includes Missouri General Martin Green, who was killed by a Union sharpshooter on June 27, a week before the surrender.
The Cedar Hill Cemetery also contains the remains of “Old Douglas,” a Confederate camel. He was assigned to a Mississippi unit at the time of his death. He originally was part of a War department experiment with using camels as beasts of burden in the Southwest in the 1850s, replacing mules that couldn’t go without water for long periods of time. He belonged for a time to Missouri’s own Confederate General Sterling Price who used him in the Iuka Campaign and the Battle of Corinth in 1862. He was transferred to the Mississippi regiment soon after. A Union sharpshooter killed him at Vicksburg.
There’s some doubt about how much of Douglas is there. Conditions inside the Rebel lines in the latter part of the siege were pretty bad. Some reports say Douglas provided some much-needed meat for the troops.
The reason for the separate cemetery burials for Union and Confederate troops explains why Missouri has a Confederate Cemetery at Higginsville. Congress passed a law in 1862 establishing national cemeteries for soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” That excluded casualties from the rebelling states. As years went by, Congress modified the law so that it would cover former Confederates who later honorably served in the United States military. The National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri is said to be the only such cemetery where Union and Confederate soldiers are buried side by side.
Arlington National Cemetery, which was installed on the front lawn of Robert E. Lee’s mansion, has a special section for Confederate soldiers. They’re clustered around the Confederate Memorial was dedicated in 1914. Before the memorial was established, several Confederate dead were buried along with Union soldiers but for many years, decoration of their graves on Decoration Day, or as we now call it, Memorial day, was forbidden.
President McKinley changed the policy in 1898 when he announced that decorating Confederate graves represented “a tribute to American valor,” starting the process that led to the memorial dedication in 1914.
The Missouri Memorial at Vicksburg is almost a century old and shows the signs of its age with some cracked and crumbling stone and damaged to its bronze panels. The legislature has appropriated $375,000 dollars for those repairs and Governor Nixon has signed the bill.