The Siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days. You’ll learn about this epic Civil War battle during your visit, but there’s so much more to this Mississippi River town beyond the historic sites. Check out downtown’s museums, including one dedicated to America’s favorite soda. Go ahead and touch Tiffany stained glass windows – it’s allowed! And fill your belly with the flavors of the Delta. Here’s how to spend your time in Vicksburg.
The writer was hosted.
Fun is definitely abundant in Vicksburg, Mississippi along with so much more. SheBuysTravel found dots connecting one story to another in this charming Southern river town. Art and history telling each other’s stories. People with deep connections to the past running museums and walking tours. Chefs cooking in the same restaurants for decades. Churches with worship and open doors to demonstrate their place in Civil War history.
I started thinking differently about the Civil War while seeking things to do in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This river town, worth a stop on a Southeast road trip, opens interesting doors with people stories and lived history, art both massive and whimsical, and Southern cooking with deep traditions.
Outdoor options mean the kids can also run around doing lots of the fun things to do when visiting Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Battlefield is not the only way to think about Vicksburg National Military Park. Art park is also. And that does not diminish respect for Union or Confederate lives lost here.
Peace and reconciliation themes fill Park Ranger descriptions of 1,300 monuments and markers here. 1,300!
Some are really big—90 feet of white granite for the Minnesota obelisk and a climb of 47 steps to the Illinois Memorial–a Roman temple large enough to hold the name in bronze and stone of every Illinois soldier in the Vicksburg siege and campaign.
Siege is a fact that matters in the history of Vicksburg. It lasted 47 days, hence the number of steps.
Highlights of the Park
Forty two feet high is the stone slab (stele in monument speak) of the Missouri Monument, and a lovely winged bronze young woman almost that tall reaching skyward.
Teaching the kids about Greek and Roman gods and goddesses works all through this art park. Missouri’s “Spirit of the Republic” looks a lot like Nike of Samothrace in the Louvre.
Don’t expect only uniformed men on sculpture horses; the Vicksburg campaign is a women’s story too with female sculptors and stowaway soldiers–girls masquerading as boys.
Assign the kids to do a little research about Jenny Hodgers who slipped into the Illinois ranks as Albert J. Cashiers.
Visits can be self guided with CDs, brochures and an app from the National Park Service with details about all America’s parks, including Vicksburg National Military Park.
A car fee of $20 is expected; come by foot or bicycle and pay $10, or $15 on a motorcycle. Each lasts seven days.
Licensed Battlefield Guide is an earned status only here and Gettysburg. Hire one for two hours for $60.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Decide if you want the family to talk about sculptors or soldiers and battles or big rolling hills. Details about all of them are available. Vicksburg National Military Park: Art of Commemoration is a particularly excellent book.
Mississippi River Town
Sorting out the mighty Mississippi River and the Yazoo River in Vicksburg is a great reason to stand and gaze from a high bluff at the Mississippi Welcome Center on Washington Street.
Pretend you’re Mark Twain. He didn’t know the Mississippi would suddenly change course here, but local people do and they’ll talk about the overnight shock of it.
Two bridges, barges, breezes — and eons of tales about life along this river.
This bluff overlooks the Mississippi River. Stand here.
In downtown, the backdrop of flowing water framing the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals is known as the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Those 32 murals tell the history of Vicksburg in big dimensions.
In a long line, they fill the flood wall on Levee Street.
Nearby, the Catfish Row Children’s Art Park is wide open for running and jumping, and some whimsical play areas.
Some people choose an outfitter with canoes and really explore. Quapaw is the name of the canoe company in Vicksburg.
Seems the USS Cairo is the only Ironclad rescued after sinking and available to board today. Only one anywhere so Vicksburg is an incredible opportunity. The walkways are sturdy, the signage informative and the sense of wonder is enormous.
Imagining ourselves on that ironclad, sinking in 12 minutes after being struck by two torpedoes in December of 1862, is a stunning opportunity to live within history.
The USS Cairo Museum is also in the Vicksburg National Military Park, and next to the Vicksburg National Cemetery. Easy-access restrooms are in the museum.
Interesting fact: 17,000 Civil War Union troops are buried in the cemetery and only two Confederate soldiers.
The other 5,000 are buried in Cedar Hill, the city cemetery, in a section arranged by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Museums in Historic Downtown
Downtown Vicksburg blends an array of museums with boutique shopping opportunities and interesting eateries. A few blocks presents it all.
Six museums in a downtown strikes me as impressive. So does the chance to select from eight bed and breakfast inns. And multiple art galleries.
The first time Cokes were ever put in a bottle was 1894 in Vicksburg. The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum tell the full story.
On the same street is a vastly different experience: the Vicksburg Civil War Museum with a stunning mission statement.
“Your personal interpretation of history does not change history.”
“Your being ashamed or filled with pride does not change history.”
A wall of documents – reasons-why letters from each state which seceded from the Union is a jarring read. They’re no doubt available via the internet, but to stand in a city which had been under siege for 47 days and read those letters is a whole different experience.
Plus, the founder, collector, owner of this massive collection of artifacts and memorabilia is Charles Pendleton who is quick to note, “I am sure that I am the only Black person in the world to host a Civil War show.”
The Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum, the Old Courthouse Museum and the Old Depot Museum, featuring a diorama of the siege of Vicksburg, are all also within easy walks, and all of these are part of the Vicksburg Attractions Passport.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Bracing for kid reactions when announcing “We’re going to some museums” should also include running around the children’s art park and next to the Levee Street flood control wall.
Stained Glass Church Windows
Former Yanks and Rebs — or somebody — called for reconciliation in a Vicksburg church built in 1880. Turn your back to the altar in the Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity to see how.
Side-by-side long slender stained glass windows present flags from both sides of the Civil War.
Historians say this is one of the first instances in which troops of both sides were memorialized in the same space.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a good place for the family to talk about peace and forgiveness in a place of history at a moment in time of polarization.
Tourists flock to the church from all three river cruise boats that stop on the Mississippi River’s Yazoo Diversion Canal. Thirty-three stained glass windows are a big reason why, six of them by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
Rub your fingers (really, my tour guide said we could) on the window titled “Music.” This angel’s harp strings are made of copper, and rise out of the glass. The dress of “Hope” on a nearby window ripples and flows in three dimension.
This is an active church but the docent quality of the tour information feels like a museum. Become an expert in recognizing Tiffany traits versus other stained glass artists.
He put the colors of paint inside the glass, not on top. Opalescent is the term for that. Faces, hands and feet are the only painted parts on a Tiffany window.
B and B of Oak and Stained Glass
No need in Vicksburg to save the stained glass for church. Sleep with it. Eat with it. Read a book or sip a cocktail with it.
Oak Hall Bed and Breakfast is how to do that.
Stained glass windows? 32, and all original 1910. Oak? All quarter sawn which means it’s highly figured and incredibly lovely.
The military park artisans influenced the community as well. This is a great city to connect dots, if that suits your traveling family fancy.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Connect a visit to the Illinois Memorial at Vicksburg National Military Park (47 steps, remember?) with an overnight at Oak Hall. Really. What a teaching moment. The same artisan was involved in both – Louis Mellet.
Oak Hall is the place to assign kids counting tasks. The owners have documented 15,000 nail heads in the main floor original oak floors. Kids no younger than seven, please.
The history-loving owners also say they’re willing to share deep secrets about removing wallpaper.
Great-Great Grandson of Jefferson Davis
Personal, with insider information — that’s the way to think about Vicksburg Old Town Tours.
So insider that the leader is the great-great grandson of President Jefferson Davis! He knows stories, and has the family documents and even the Confederacy leader’s rocking chair to back it up.
Bertram and Carol Hayes-Davis even live in the district of historic homes where they stroll telling tales of the 47 day siege, of people in the neighborhood then and now and moments in the history of Vicksburg.
Walking tours include an invitation inside their house, half of which is antebellum 1840 era and half is 1870.
“We really believe in preservation,.” Carol says.
Christ Episcopal Church is on the tour, where a worship service was held every day of the siege even with continuous shelling. Many citizens hid in caves.
Population of Vicksburg then: 5,000. Number of troops in the city: 30,000.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Numbers like those make math part of travel. Can the kids picture five members of your family with 30 soldiers lining up in your yard?
The Duff Green Mansion & Inn is a go-inside part of the tour with permission to sit on the furniture while gazing up at 15 1/2 foot ceilings. This 1856 home is now an inn; during the Civil War it was a hospital for Confederate and Union troops and therefore not destroyed.
Hearing the history from Bertram and Carol Hayes-Davis creates space to consider various viewpoints. He’s protective of family, for certain, but not the least bit strident or demanding of agreement.
The art in Vicksburg is as distinctive as its ways of connecting history.
Look for works by William Tolliver lots of places. He was born in Vicksburg in 1951, impoverished and self-taught with art books from the library. Tolliver’s paintings of African American life are prized museum and private collection works today.
The Attic Gallery exudes stability and funkiness all at the same time. Fifty years this gallery has been open, and its walls are jam packed with the energies of Southern folk art.
H. C .Porter Gallery is much younger but filled with the deep personality of the blues. Painter, printmaker and photographer H. C. Porter interviewed and photographed 31 Delta blues musicians in their homes.
You’ll find her in the gallery, and feel the presence of each musician in her beautifully illustrated book “Blues @ Home: Mississippi Living Blues Legends.” The stories behind and within each interview are stirring too.
Think about staying here, in the Airbnb room above the gallery.
Some of the Eateries
The Tomato Place on the side of Highway 61 South is a flavor to experience—taste and sight. This side-of-the-road fruit stand started small, cobbled together a few more fruit stands and learned how to serve memorable fresh and local foods. I used to think I recognized a superior tomato sandwich, but here I learned better.
Anchuca is one of Vicksburg’s antebellum homes, and a place to tour, stay or dine. My fish chowder was exquisite.
Dinner time is busy, but tours of Anchuca can be arranged in the day, and it’s a handsome place in an 1820s neighborhood
The Vicksburg theme of exquisite stained glass continues in this home which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The chef at Walnut Hills draws from 39 years of experience in her neighborhood restaurant. Herdcine Williams believes in fresh food from the Delta to the Gulf, truck farmers to fishermen and oystermen plus long-lived friendships.
Meat and three veggies is the style, with enormous cakes and pies. I took my cake slice with me to savor later.