Steamer’s replica latest to join museum display|[01/02/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2008

At the outset of the Civil War, Confederate President Jefferson Davis reportedly asked Thomas P. Leathers, famous steamboat man and fellow Warren County resident, to head up the South’s naval operations on the Mississippi River.

Leathers declined the post, but did serve the Confederacy by transporting troops and running supplies on vessels that included a steamer known as the Natchez No. 5.

Almost 150 years after the collaboration between Davis and Leathers, two 21st century sons of the South have partnered to produce a replica of the No. 5, and it is now on display at the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum.

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Museum curator Lamar Roberts received the model from its creator, Bill Atteridge of Arcadia, La. Atteridge built the replica at Roberts’ request after discovery of the likely remnants of the steamboat, which sank or was scuttled in the Yazoo River in March 1863.

The model of the No. 5 is one of about 250 boat and ship models at Roberts’ museum, which also introduces visitors to the campaign for Vicksburg through maps, artistic renderings and “The Vanishing Glory,” a 30-minute film that retells the story of the battle through the eyes of participants.

The museum is located adjacent to the Battlefield Inn at I-20 Frontage Road and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As its name implies, the Natchez No. 5 was the fifth in a line of steamboats, all of which were owned by Leathers and christened in honor of the Indian tribe, not the city 70 miles south of Vicksburg.

The No. 5 is less famous than its immediate successor, the Natchez No. 6, which lost a famous Mississippi River race in 1870 to the Robert E. Lee. Still, it has been described as among “the more significant of the Civil War steamers sunk in the Yazoo River system” because of the role it played in the conflict between the states.

According to a report cited by Roberts, it was the No. 5 that ferried Jefferson Davis to Vicksburg from his home on a Mississippi River island after Davis learned of his election as president of the Confederacy. Davis then continued his journey to be inaugurated in Montgomery, Ala., the new nation’s first capital.

Following that trip, the vessel was used to move soldiers to Memphis. But, after that city and New Orleans fell to the Union army in 1862, the No. 5 and other vessels were taken up the Yazoo River and used for transportation there.

It was on that Mississippi River tributary that the Natchez No. 5 burned on March 13, 1863, either accidentally or, as Roberts believes, to keep it from falling into the hands of advancing Yankee forces.

“Wherever (boats in the Confederate service) were, if a Union boat got anywhere in the vicinity, the Confederates would fire the boat,” he said.

And so, by fate or design, the Natchez No. 5 rested undiscovered on the bottom of the Yazoo until last summer, when a Delta man and officials from the Vicksburg National Military Park found apparent wreckage of the steamer.

Roberts said that development prompted him to research the vessel and assign the model project to Atteridge, who has built about 130 of the models on display at the Battlefield Museum.

The model of the No. 5 has already elicited compliments from museum visitors such as Philip Hungate, a San Diego man who is also an amateur model-maker.

Hungate praised the replica’s “simplistic detail. A lot of times you can add too much to one of these models,” he said. “This one is accurate without being overwhelming.”