McPherson in spotlight for Utica re-enactment|[4/17/06]
Published 12:00 am Monday, April 17, 2006
UTICA – One Civil War enthusiast is gathering troops to keep up people’s interest in local history. At the same time, he is bringing to the fore a tidbit about his hometown of Utica and its role in the Vicksburg Campaign.
“There is a lot of history here,” said Burt Strickland, erstwhile artillery commander of the First Confederate Legion. “Raymond’s destiny was decided here.”
It’s the first time any real focus regarding the Civil War has been put on Utica, about 30 miles southeast of Vicksburg.
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“This is to keep the interest up and get a good solid foundation of support,” he said.
The town’s significance to the campaign arose on May 11, 1863, when Union Maj. Gen. James McPherson received a note from Gen. U.S. Grant ordering him to move into the town of Raymond and capture it. The defeat of Raymond was a significant battle leading up to the Siege of Vicksburg, which ended on July 4, 1863, Strickland said. In order to encircle Vicksburg with ground and naval forces, other area towns had to be secured to prevent an attack from the rear.
Strickland, along with other members of Stanford’s Mississippi Battery, a group of Civil War enthusiasts from across Mississippi, will host an artillery encampment – complete with cannon demonstrations, re-creations of tent camps and cooking demonstrations – May 6 on his 200 acres at Circle “W” Plantation.
The former pre-Civil War plantation, where his family has lived since 1942, is only about a mile from where he said McPherson camped before capturing Raymond. He said the location “provides a historical time line of an American Civil War encampment.”
Terry Winschel, historian for the Vicksburg National Military Park, said bringing living history to Utica will help educate people about sites in the area used during the Civil War.
“It will give us a better chance to preserve the sites and help link different sites used during the campaign with one another,” he said.
Winschel believes by focusing on the significance of other communities, such as Utica, the park, which encompasses only part of the actual area’s battlefields, may offer more depth and understanding of the campaign to visitors.
Strickland said the Stanford Battery has been involved in re-enactments and living history programs all over the Southeast. The Raymond Battlefield in Raymond has been a recurring site for them, but now that the Friends of Raymond are postponing re-enactments so they can make improvements, they believe it’s important to keep activity in the region.
“We’ve got to keep the interest,” he said. “It’s our history – I’ve always been fascinated with it. There was some good and some bad, but it’s still our American history. It’s something we need to keep alive.”