On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John Pemberton surrendered at Vicksburg. After a 47-day siege, Union Gen. Ulysses Grant had prevailed. Five days later, the Union won at Port Hudson. Vicksburg’s fall made Port Hudson’s situation impossible. The Confederacy had been cut in half. As President Abraham Lincoln said, “The Father of Waters now goes unvexed to the sea.”
Pemberton surrendered on Independence Day thinking he would get better terms. The Union rejoiced. On the day Vicksburg surrendered, Gen. George Meade pushed Robert E. Lee out of Pennsylvania after the Battle of Gettysburg.
But Vicksburg saw no reason to celebrate. For 81 years, the city ignored the holiday. Celebrations didn’t fully resume until the Bicentennial. (Ironically, Vicksburg and Warren County had voted against secession as late as December 1860 [PDF].)
Now Vicksburg celebrates its past and looks firmly to the future. The city’s biggest attractions center around the battle that signaled the Confederacy’s downfall, but that’s not all Vicksburg offers. It’s a road tripper’s delight: Vicksburg is on the Great River Road, the Hot Tamale Trail, and the Mississippi Blues Trail. (The route we recommend for a Mississippi River road trip: Memphis to New Orleans is a musical paradise.)
You’ll need a full weekend to enjoy Vicksburg. The battlefield alone requires two to three hours to explore. Come on: Surrender to Vicksburg’s charms, and join in the fun!
Things To Do In Vicksburg
Old Courthouse Museum
The Old Warren County Courthouse will orient you to Vicksburg’s story. Jefferson Davis, the eventual Confederate president, launched his political career at the courthouse. Confederate generals watched Vicksburg’s bombardment from the courthouse. While the generals watched, the citizens were living in caves. The newspaper printed its editions on salvaged wallpaper. Interestingly, neighboring Natchez offered little resistance and was spared destruction.
Pro Tip: Buy actual historic articles, not replicas, from the gift shop. We bought a battle-used Minie ball.
Vicksburg National Military Park
Driving and walking any battlefield gives visitors a better understanding than simply reading about it. Feeling the terrain under your feet explains more than any book. Hire a battlefield guide, and they’ll explain even more.
The battlefield is dotted with over 1,400 monuments to state soldiers’ sacrifices. The Illinois Monument is by far the most spectacular, but the Iowa Monument’s reliefs also stood out. Illinois’s monument stands 62 feet high. Climb 47 steps — one for every siege day — to enter a pantheon. It lists every Illinois soldier who fought at Vicksburg. Kentucky and Missouri’s monuments are the most poignant. Forty-two Missouri units fought at Vicksburg — 27 Union and 15 Confederate. Missouri’s monument stands where two Missouri regiments fought each other. Both sides’ presidents, Lincoln and Davis, were born in Kentucky. Sculptures of both men symbolize Kentucky’s division. They seem to be having a conversation, symbolic of the nation’s reunion.
Don’t miss the African-American Monument. A field hand and a soldier support another — wounded — soldier. The field hand signifies the enslaved past, while the soldiers represent a free future secured in battle.
Pro Tip: Don’t be content with a superficial experience. Let your mind see what the battlefield would have been like. Imagine having to fight your way through the canebrakes and up the sides of Vicksburg’s bluffs. Sight down the cannons’ barrels and imagine having to fire them.
USS Cairo Gunboat And Museum
Seven miles north of Vicksburg, two explosions ripped apart the USS Cairo on December 12, 1862. The boat sunk in 36 feet of water. All the sailors were rescued, but silt buried the ship. The Cairo was part of the so-called Brown-Water Navy, which patrolled the major rivers in support of the Army. In 1965, divers rescued the last pieces of the Cairo. In June 1977, it returned to Vicksburg. The partially reconstructed gunboat and its artifacts are on display within the military park.
Vicksburg National Cemetery And Soldiers’ Rest
Over 22,000 Civil War soldiers rest in Vicksburg cemeteries. Seventy-five percent of the 17,000 Union dead in the national cemetery are unknown. Sixteen hundred of the 5,000 Confederates buried in the Soldiers’ Rest section of Vicksburg City Cemetery are unknown. Pause to reflect on the losses when you look over the Mississippi River at the national cemetery.
Pro Tip: At the national cemetery, the .75-mile Cemetery Road is open to vehicles, but the best way to experience the cemetery is to walk from the USS Cairo Museum.
The Old Depot Museum
An unbelievable collection of models resides in the Old Depot Museum. See dioramas of the battle, incredible model train layouts, and a comprehensive collection of model ships and boats. They are all lovingly crafted.
Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum
I collect Coke memorabilia, especially bottles. Of course, the Biedenharn (BYE-den-harn) Coca-Cola Museum was on my must-see list. In 1894, Vicksburg’s Joseph Biedenharn was the first person to bottle Coke. View the original bottling equipment and numerous Coca-Cola memorabilia items.
Pro Tip: Buy Coke souvenirs and drink a Coke float in the gift shop.
Vicksburg’s history is beautifully depicted in the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals on the city’s levee.
Pro Tip: On the river side of the levee, flood markers show the height of Vicksburg’s most severe floods. Look for the original flood wall section.
Lower Mississippi River Museum
All aboard at the MV Mississippi IV, part of the Lower Mississippi River Museum (LMRM). The little ship was a towboat and the flagship for the Mississippi River Commission. Experience life for the crew and passengers on the little ship. Exhibits explain life on the Lower Mississippi and a 1,515-gallon aquarium displays the river’s fish species.
Pro Tip: Play water engineer at LMRM’s outdoor Mississippi River Flood Model. Alter the river’s course by opening and closing dams and other features.
Catfish Row Children’s Art Park
The name says Catfish Row is for children. But you’re never too old to play in the water. The splash park is modeled on the steamboat Sprague (SPRAYG). We had great fun standing at the wheel and exploring the art.
Pro Tip: Catfish Row is completely accessible.
Opt Outside At Vicksburg
The Mississippi River Trail runs right through downtown Vicksburg. Rent a bike from Battlefield Bicycle. Blue Cat Guide Service will bring anglers to prime fishing holes. Explore the water with Quapaw Canoe Company’s canoes and kayaks.
For more time outside, pencil in one (or a few) of these 10 picturesque hikes in Mississippi.
See A Concert At Bottleneck Blues Bar
Check the schedule for concerts at Ameristar Casino’s Bottleneck Blues Bar.
Best Restaurants In Vicksburg
Our top qualification for restaurants is a river view. Second is the Southern cuisine we love. And, we want top-notch seafood. Vicksburg has all three.
10 South Rooftop Bar And Grill
Sunset on the Mississippi is magical, and nowhere has a better view than 10 South. Try the redfish and drink a Mississippi Sunset.
Pro Tip: Park on the fifth floor of the Clay Street parking garage.
Rusty’s River Front Grill
Rusty’s has a wall full of awards, and they are well earned. You’ll love the Captain’s Platter and the bread pudding.
Solly’s Hot Tamales
Since 1939, Solly’s has served hot tamales on the Hot Tamale Trail. Through four owners, the recipe has remained the same. Except now you can get a Fiesta, the tamale equivalent of a taco salad.
Main Street Market Cafe
Everything is made from scratch at Main Street Market. The menu changes daily, but the amazing gumbo is a staple.
Pro Tip: Dinner is by reservation only. Call early.
Where To Shop In Vicksburg
Levee Street Marketplace
Levee Street Marketplace features antiques, jewelry, food, clothing, and much more.
Capt. Tom’s Shop And Design Studio
Show off Capt. Tom’s meticulous furniture craftsmanship in your home. Plus, take a painting class and bring home your own masterpiece.
Michel’s Record Shop
Whether you want to create music or listen to music, Michel’s has you covered. Buy guitars, amps, CDs, and vintage vinyl.
Adolph Rose Antiques And Collectibles
If the smell of old books is sweet perfume, if the sight of vintage signs stirs your blood, if vintage silver is your desire, then Adolph Rose is the place for you to shop.
Best Places To Stay In Vicksburg
Duff Green Mansion
Experience haunted elegance at the Duff Green Mansion. Jefferson Davis and Ulysses Grant both danced at balls in the ballroom. Supposedly, a soldier haunts the kitchen turned operating room. Visit the cave where Mary Lake Green (lady of the house) had to deliver her first child.
Enter an island paradise at the Margaritaville Hotel. Ask for a room with a river view.
The Mississippi River is the best attraction in Vicksburg. For a free 360-degree view, stop at Louisiana Circle or Navy Circle in the national military park. Sunset is the best time to visit. Want more Southern road trips? Consider our scenic Virginia road trip: Arlington to Virginia Beach, our spicy Cajun road trip: New Orleans to Avery Island, and our Alabama civil rights road trip: Anniston to Selma.
Editor’s Note: Our sources for the historical information referenced in the first paragraph of this article can be found here and here.