Vicksburg, located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, was the site of a key Union victory which, coming a day after the end of the Battle of Gettysburg, marked a crucial turning point in the American Civil War. But it didn’t come easily to the Northern forces: several land and water assaults were repulsed by the Confederates, and the town’s population endured a 40 day siege before finally capitulating. This pivotal event in American history can be explored at the Vicksburg National Military Park, and all around the town itself, where a handful of attractions evince a certain quiet Confederate nostalgia.
As well as Civil War history, Vicksburg is home to various sites exploring other aspects of Southern heritage, including an excellent museum on African American presence in Mississippi. Southern cooking is showcased in a few terrific restaurants, and accommodation is provided in a string of gorgeously unique antebellum bed and breakfasts. Vicksburg is 45 minutes west of Jackson and an hours drive from Jackson-Evers International Airport.
Vicksburg was at the epicenter of one of the Civil War’s most significant campaigns. Situated on bluffs above a large bend in the Mississippi River, it was ideally placed to prevent Union supply lines from reaching the south, and was highlighted by Lincoln as a key position required to drive forward the Union campaign. It was eventually captured, after several failed assaults by land and water, a series of daring diversions, and a 40-day siege. The National Military Park exploring this complex and crucial conflict has a Visitor’s Center, reconstructions of both Confederate and Union experience, and living history demonstrations through the summer. And the city of Vicksburg is also packed with monuments commemorating the war – its very streets are shaped by the trenches and fortifications built during the desperate Confederate defence.
The Old Court House, a grand antebellum structure built in 1858, was an imposing symbol of Confederate resistance during the Siege of Vicksburg. It occupies a commanding hilltop position, with four porticos atop 30-foot ionic columns looking down on Vicksburg as if they contain the city’s soul. Inside is a beautifully upholstered museum exhibiting a number of historic displays, which belie a certain unspoken fidelity to the town’s Confederate past: Confederate flags which were never surrendered and the tie worn by Jefferson Davis on his inauguration as Confederate President are among the collection’s most celebrated items.
The Ameristar Casino is located in a huge riverboat, with 70,000 feet of gaming thrills bobbing on the gentle currents of the Mississippi River. It’s got hotel accommodation, a bakery, a steak restaurant, and a varied buffet dishing out breakfast, lunch and dinner. There’s also a blues-themed bar with frequent live music and great bourbon, a dangerous temptation if your pockets are jingling with winnings from the casino floor.
Walnut Hills promises passionately prepared and authentic Southern cuisine, dished out in a gorgeous 1880 building which is characteristic of Vicksburg architecture. At the core of the cooking are two simple dishes – fried chicken and mac ‘n’ cheese – while the menu showers down other Mississippi staples including okra, shrimp creole, coleslaw, creamed corn, green beans, rice, black-eyed peas and collard greens. The restaurant is enlivened by many thoughtful details, such as the round tables which you can book for buffet-style meals, where several representative dishes are shared among your group.
Anchuca Mansion is a storied old bed and breakfast, built in 1830 and expanded in Greek Revival style with a grand columned facade in 1847. It survived the siege of Vicksburg, providing shelter for casualties of the conflict, and was the site of one of President Jefferson Davis’s last public addresses to the people of Vicksburg after the Civil War. Guests today can choose between a small selection of elegant and grandly upholstered rooms, filled with period antiques and named after previous occupants of the house. This elegance extends to a lovely cafe within the inn, serving good coffee, sandwiches and cakes.