On my journey down I-20 I saw the exit for the battlefield in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I’ve been to plenty of battlefields and Civil War historic sites, but I’d never been to Vicksburg. I took the exit. This is the most impressive battlefield I’ve seen. It’s accessed by a driving tour. Quiet. It’s like a monument garden. Serene. Dignified. Trenches and dugouts. Memorials to men. Near the end of my drive, the next surprise.
The U.S.S. Cairo, an iron clad gunboat, constructed in 1862, sank in the Yazoo River while clearing the channel and planning to destroy the Confederate batteries. Two explosions tore a hole in the hull and the ironclad sank in 36 feet of water in less than twelve minutes. No one died in this incident, and soon the ship was forgotten as it lay in the Yazoo mud covered with silt and sand over the years. Encapsuled, the artifacts aboard were well preserved.
Its location was discovered in 1956, and in 1965, the ship was cut into three sections, raised, and carried on barges to a shipyard. There the armor was removed, cleaned and stored. The two engines were taken apart, cleaned and reassembled. A sprinkler system was put in operation to keep the white oak structural timbers from warping and checking. Weapons, munitions, naval stores, and personal gear of the sailors have been recovered and can be seen in the museum.
The ship has been placed on display at the Vicksburg National Battlefield, where work continues to restore it. I was so surprised to see how large it is, and what the structure looks like. I didn’t expect to see the remains of a naval battle in Vicksburg, but I’m so glad I did. I plan to return when it’s a destination and I can soak it all in.
If you’ve not seen the National Battlefield in Vicksburg, I recommend it.