The Great South - Down the Mississippi


The journey along the Mississippi river from Napoleon, on the Arkansas shore, to Vicksburg, the largest town in the State of Mississippi, discloses naught save vast and gloomy stretches of forest and flat, of swamp and inlet, of broad current and green island, until Columbia, a pretty town on the Arkansas side, is passed. Below Columbia the banks of the river are lined with cotton plantations for more than one hundred and fifty miles.

Vicksburg, the tried and troubled hill city, her crumbling bluffs still filled with historic memorials of one of the most desperate sieges and defences of modern times, rises in quite imposing fashion from the Mississippi’s banks, in a loop in the river made by a long delta, which at high water is nearly submerged. The bluffs run back some distance to an elevated plateau. In the upper streets are many handsome residences.

Vicksburg, Mississippi

The Court House is located on the summit of a fine series of terraces; here and there a pretty church serves as a landmark; and the remains of the old fort from which “Whistling Dick,” a famous Confederate gun, was wont to sing defiance to the Federals, are still visible on a lofty eminence. From the grass-grown ramparts one can see, in the distance, the canal projected by the Federals during the siege; can overlook the principal avenue,—Washington street,—well lined with spacious shops and stores, and unhappily filled at all hours with lounging negroes; can see the broad current sweeping round the tongue of land on which the towns of De Soto and Delta stand, and the ferries plying to the landings of the railroad which cuts across North Louisiana to Shreveport; can see the almost perpendicular streets scaling the bluff from the water-side, and masses of elevators and warehouses down by the river, where the white stately packets come and go. There is evidence of growth; neat houses are scattered on hill and in valley in every direction; yet the visitor will be told that money is scarce, that credit is poor, and that tradesmen are badly discouraged. The river is so intricate in its turnings that one is at first puzzled on seeing a steamboat passing, to know whether it is ascending or descending; at the end of the “loop,” near the mouth of the Yazoo River, and at the point where Sherman made his entrance from the “Valley of Death,” is the largest National cemetery in the country, in whose grassy banks repose the remains of sixteen thousand soldiers.

The view from the slopes of the cemetery, reached by many a detour through dusty cuts in the hills, is too flat to be grand, but ample enough to be inspiring. The wooded point, the cross current setting around it, the wide sweep away towards the bend, are all charming. The old Scotch gardener and sexton told me that twelve thousand of the graves were marked “unknown.” The original design contemplated the planting of the grounds with trees bordering avenues intended to resemble the aisles and nave of a cathedral. This was impracticable; but oaks have been planted, and the graves are covered with flowering plants and shrubs.

View from Vicksburg Cemetery
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The section of Vicksburg between the cemetery and the town is not unlike the park of the Buttes Chaumont in Paris. Grapes grow wild in the adjacent valleys, and might readily be cultivated on the hillsides. A simple marble shaft in the cemetery is destined to commemorate the spot where Grant held his famous interview with Pemberton.

The municipal government of Vicksburg since the war has been in the bands of carpetbaggers, maintained in power by ignorant negroes; but at the election held in August of this year, the adventurers were driven out, and men of intelligence and honesty were placed in office by the white voters. Many white people who ordinarily vote the Republican ticket are said to have voted with the Democrats, simply because they were desirous of seeing the city government reformed. The negroes hold many offices in the surrounding country; they are the county clerks and other officers of importance. They will learn a good lesson from the recent defeat of their false guides.

Vicksburg has acquired a not altogether enviable notoriety as a town where shooting at sight is a popular method of vengeance, and shortly before my second visit there, three murders were committed by men who deemed it manly to take the law into their own hands. There is still rather too much of this barbarism remaining in Mississippi, and it has not always the excuse of intoxication to palliate it. The Vicksburg method is not the duel, but cold-blooded murder. The laws of the duello are pretty thoroughly expunged in Mississippi, although I was not a little amused to learn from Governor Ames that the people in those counties of the State bordering on Louisiana, which are ultra-Democratic, refused to aid the Governor and his authorities in securing duellists who steal out from New Orleans to fight on Mississippi soil, on the ground that the “d—d Yankees want to do away with duelling so as to make their own heads safe.” Mississippi is a sparsely settled State, and in some of the counties life is yet as rough as on the south-western frontier. But that people should encourage open and deliberate murder in a city of fifteen thousand inhabitants, where there is good society, and where churches and schools flourish, is monstrous.

Vicksburg was once the scene of a terrible popular vengeance, when a number of gamblers, who persisted in remaining in the town against the wishes of the citizens, showed fight, and having killed one or two townsmen, were themselves lynched, and buried among the bluffs. The town gets its name from one of the oldest and most highly respected families in Mississippi,— the Vicks,—whose family mansion stands on a handsome eminence in the town of today. Col. Vick, the present representative of the family, is a specimen of the noble-looking men grown in the Mississippi Valley—six feet four in stature, erect and stately, and possessed of the charming manner of the old school. The picture which our artist has given of him does justice only to the fine, manly face; it cannot reproduce the form and the manner. Mississippi raises noble men, and they were wonderful soldiers, showing pluck, persistence and grip.

Gambler's Grave at Vicksburg
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Col. Vick of Vicksburg
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Nineteen lines of steam-packets ply between New Orleans and Vicksburg, and from Vicksburg up the Yazoo River. The scene in the elevators at the river side, as in Memphis, is in the highest degree animated. Thousands of bales and barrels roll and tumble down the inclined plane to the boats, and the shouting is terrific.

The railroad from Vicksburg to Jackson, the Mississippi capital, runs through the scene of some of the heaviest fighting of the war, crossing the Big Black River, and passing Edwards and other flourishing towns, set down betweeen (sic) charming forests and rich cotton fields.

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