American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Southern States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1900


VICKSBURG
THE CITY ON THE WALNUT HILLS
By H. F. SIMRALL


VICKSBURG has no colonial traditions. The Walnut Hills on which it stands, near the northern margin of that portion of Mississippi which was successively under the sway of France, Great Britain and Spain, could not be settled and improved until long after the region about Natchez. The city is, in fact, of modern origin. The county of Warren was not organized until 1809, and Vicksburg had no real existence until it became in 1836, second after Warrenton, the county seat.

To understand the late origin of the town, one should study the colonial history of Mississippi. By the discovery and exploration of the Mississippi in 1680-82, France claimed all the territory drained by the river and its affluents from the source to the mouth, and also all territory east and west drained by streams that entered the Gulf of Mexico. The French colony was planted at Biloxi on the Gulf coasts, which was made the capital. Shortly afterwards the capital was transferred to Mobile and finally located at New Orleans. Settlements spread slowly along the shores of the Gulf and up the Mississippi River, penetrating but a short distance inland on account of the contiguity of hostile Indians.

During the eighteen years of British control that followed the French and Indian War, an impulse was given to emigration from Great Britain, and from the older colonies some settlers came who desired to avoid participation in the Revolutionary War. In 1779-80 Spain drove Great Britain out of the territory west of the Mississippi, acquired by the treaty which closed the French and Indian War, and held and controlled the same for fifteen or more years, with the colonial seat of authority at Natchez. By the treaty of peace with Great Britain at the close of the Revolutionary War, the Mississippi River on the west and the 31st parallel on the south were declared the boundaries of the United States.

During the Spanish possession and control of the lower Mississippi River, serious protests and diplomatic representations had been made to Spain against the onerous exactions and tributes which she imposed on commerce from the upper valley and imports through New Orleans. To haul the tobacco, wheat, corn, pork and other bulky products of the region across the mountains over dirt roads to Baltimore, the nearest seaport and market, was hardly possible. The Mississippi River was the quick and easy highway to New Orleans and tide water. Spain was under treaty obligation to allow free navigation of the Mississippi, and to deal liberally at New Orleans with commerce from the upper valley, but she shamefully set at nought her obligations, until, in sheer exasperation, the people of Kentucky and Tennessee were on the point of fitting out a military force with which to open the river to free navigation and commerce and to drive Spain from New Orleans. The Federal Government rose to the emergency, and Spain, obliged to choose between war or cession, concluded in 1795 a treaty of cession, by which she surrendered the territory in question and agreed to retire within six months after ratification of the treaty.

Georgia, claiming that her colonial limits by the charter of 1735 extended by parallel lines westward to the Mississippi River, in 1785 organized in southwest Mississippi a county called Bourbon, and appointed justices of the peace, who, however, never attempted to exercise their functions. In 1795, the year the treaty was made with Spain, Georgia sold to four of the speculation land companies enormous acreages of land in what is now Alabama and Mississippi.

The first relief, permanent and secure, from all the discouragements to emigration was furnished when the Congress of the United States, in 1798, organized a territorial government for Mississippi and applied to it all the benefits, advantages and privileges of the Ordinance of 1787 for the government of the territory northwest of the river Ohio, except the clause of the sixth article, which prohibited slavery. Georgia in turn promptly yielded up her territorial and political claims to the United States for pecuniary and other considerations.

From the date of organized authority, population rapidly poured in. The Bayou, Pearl and the Big Black ceased to be the outer confines of the new settlers. They spread rapidly over all the lands which the Indians had ceded. As settlements were carried east of the Walnut Hills a town at that point became a necessity for trade. A town was laid off on the plantations of William Vick and John Lane into blocks or squares by parallel streets north and south, east and west. The building of a town on the bluff at the southern extremity of the delta and of easy access to the uplands eastward was a natural response to the needs of commerce. Its growth and development have kept pace with the increase of agricultural production of the region tributary to it. The Vicksburg of today is specially adapted to the manufacture of cotton, lumber and metals into finished goods. Raw material is abundant and available. Transportation by water and rail to home and foreign markets is adequate to meet the largest demands. When the Isthmian Canal shall have been constructed, the ports on the Gulf will be nearer the Orient than the ports on the Atlantic, and unusual impulse will be given to manufactures and agriculture.

Large plants for the utilization of cotton seed are in full operation at Vicksburg; match and furniture factories are actively at work. Other enterprises are slowly building up, and the natural and economic advantages of the city for manufactures are becoming more apparent.

The public buildings of Vicksburg - CourtHouse, Post Office, churches, schoolhouses, and hotels - are typical and creditable. The CourtHouse, situated on one of the highest eminences, towers above the surrounding buildings and is pleasing to the eye from every point of view. The tradition is that it was planned and designed by a slave belonging to the contractor who built it. The United States building is handsome and commodious. The city abounds in churches. It is provided with an excellent system of waterworks and electric street railway service. The system recently adopted of free education for both races has from time to time been so enlarged as to its curriculum of studies and improved as to its methods, that it has superseded private schools, except an educational establishment for both sexes under the control of the Roman Catholic Church.

Vicksburg has been the home of several of the State's ablest men, who have proved large factors in making history. S. S. Prentiss was an orator of national reputation and an eminent lawyer. Others worthy of mention are: Judge W. L. Sharkey, one of the most learned jurists of the Southwest; Governor John J. Guion; Governor McNutt; Walter Brooks; United States Senator George Yerger; a great lawyer, Joseph Holt, in later life Attorney General of the United States. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States, Senator in Congress and a gallant and distinguished soldier, lived the greater part of his life in Warren County, a few miles south of the city.

We now come to that period in the history of Vicksburg, when, during the Civil War, for a time the even current of commercial and business life gave place to a series of events, perhaps the most notable and far reaching in influence on the shifting fortunes and results of the great conflict. The bluffs at Vicksburg are of pre eminent importance as a strategic point to the complete control of the great river which almost divides the continent from south to north, penetrates the upper valley nearly to the great chain of lakes, and with its affluents affords about fifteen thousand miles of navigation. No object contributing to the final issue of the war could have presented itself to the great leaders on both sides of the conflict as of more urgent need than the possession and control of the Mississippi. In 1862, movements were begun against the fortifications which the Confederates had placed on the Cumberland and Tennessee and the upper Mississippi. So important and urgent did this appear as a necessary means to a speedy and successful close of the war that operations were begun very early to drive the Confederates from the river, and were conducted both from above and from its mouth. The close of the year 1862 found the Federal naval and military forces dominating the river from the north as far south as Vicksburg, and from the south as far north as Port Hudson. A campaign, supported by the fleet, was undertaken on the east side of the river. The Federal forces moved from the Yazoo River along the banks of the Chickasaw Bayou with a view of gaining a foothold on the bluffs above the city. A battle, stubbornly contested, was fought, and resulted in the defeat and repulse of the Union forces. It demonstrated the impracticability of capturing the city by attacking the army entrenched on the bluffs.

The following year a much larger army was convoyed down the river by a fleet of gunboats, and landed at Milliken's bend, sixteen or seventeen miles above the city, on the west bank of the river. A tentative a n d unsuccessful effort was made by Gen eral Grant to divert the river across the peninsula by cutting a canal, so as to pass his vessels of war and transports below out of reach of the batteries on the bluffs. Meantime a furious and incessant cannonade was kept up between the gunboats and shore batteries. Finally a large part of his fleet, under cover of the darkness of night, succeeded in passing the batteries, with the loss of one vessel and serious damage to others. This movement on the water, followed by the marching of the army down the west bank, unmistakably indicated to General Pemberton, Confederate commandant, the plan and purpose of the campaign. He promptly withdrew the most of his army from the breastworks, crossed the Big Black River, and so disposed his men as to retard or arrest altogether the march of General Grant. General Pemberton's plan was to form a junction with General Johnston, who was on his way to take part in the defence of Vicksburg. General Grant succeeded in interposing his army between Johnston and Pemberton, gave battle to Johnston at Jackson, and obliged him to fall back northward to Canton. Heavy and obstinate battles were fought at Baker's Creek, Champion Hills and at Big Black. Pemberton, failing to unite forces with Johnston, deemed it prudent to recross the Big Black, return and reoccupy his trenches round the city. General Grant followed and closely invested the Confederate works, placing his army behind breastworks and in trenches. Two or three gallant assaults made on the Confederate works were met with determined courage and repulsed with great loss of life. The control of the river by the gunboats, above and below, made the reception of reinforcements or supplies from the west or from any source by water, impossible. The land forces spread around the fortifications cut off succor from the south and east, so that it became a mere question of time, before starvation would compel a surrender without more waste of life in hazardous and bloody assaults. When Pemberton marched to the Big Black, the supply of food in the city was low; on his return his army was placed on short rations. Constant service on the fortifications, inadequate food supply and midsummer heat developed a great deal of sickness, so that when the surrender was made on the 4th of July, after a siege of forty days, provisions were about exhausted, and one third or more of the garrison were on the sick list, unfit for military duty. It is perhaps not out of place to say that in no campaign of the Civil War was there higher courage or greater devotion to soldierly duty displayed than here, by both participants. The events of the siege derive their true significance from the circumstance that they constituted the fatal blow which broke the Confederate power and hastened the war to its end.

The National Cemetery on the bluffs, just north of the corporate limits of the city, is, taken all in all, perhaps the most attractive patriotic cemetery in the South. The visitor to the city always seeks it first. Nature has given to it sublimity; art and landscape engineering have imparted all the freshness and loveliness that flower and shrub and tree can give. Here rest sixteen thousand soldiers who lost their lives in the service of their country in and around Vicksburg. Such care and veneration for those who fell under the national flag while a grateful tribute to valor and heroism serve at the same time to keep ever fresh and active sentiments of martial valor and a warmer pride in all that adds glory to the country and illustrates its military prowess.

Nothing could more strongly and nobly testify to the fact that all the issues and controversies which culminated in a long and bloody war have been closed and settled and relegated to the past than the measures now in process of execution to convert the trenches and bastions around the city of Vicksburg into a park beautified by all that landscape engineering and art can do to make the place attractive. That which appeals today with so much force to the sensibilities of Americans is not so much the mere transformation of the rugged hills, as that the place so wonderfully transformed is and will ever be a perpetual witness that sectional discords and strifes have disappeared from our national life, and that henceforth the great family of States and Territories, with their seventy or eighty millions of people, are members and citizens of a common country, protected by the same flag, the emblem of sovereignty to all.

Historic towns of the Southern States

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