Lincoln’s Journey of Remembrance to make stop in Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2008

In 1828, 19-year-old Abraham Lincoln was hired by a merchant in Rockport, Ind., to float a load of produce 1,085 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans on a small flatboat.  

In remembrance of Lincoln’s upcoming 200th birthday, a 12-person crew from Spencer County, Ind., will set sail Tuesday on a 60-foot pioneer-era flatboat to re-create the young Lincoln’s journey.

Dubbed the Lincoln’s Journey of Remembrance, the crew will make stops at 23 riverside cities across eight states, including Vicksburg, Greenville, Natchez and Lake Providence, La. While it took Lincoln three months to make the trip to New Orleans, the Journey of Remembrance will do it in just less than a month, ending the trip Oct. 5 in New Orleans. At each stop, the crew will set up an informational tent and historical exhibit about Lincoln.

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Bill Seratt, Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director, said a welcome reception is in the works for the scheduled 2 p.m. stop in Vicksburg on Sept. 28.

Few details are known about Lincoln’s 1828 river run. It is not clear if he actually stopped in Vicksburg — which had incorporated as a city three years earlier — but his eventual visit to New Orleans is widely considered to have been a historical moment of inspiration for the young man and future president.

“He witnessed a slave auction while in New Orleans, and that was an experience for him that really cemented his anti-slavery views. That’s why we think this is a really significant trip,” said Melissa Miller, education coordinator for the Journey of Remembrance. “We know Lincoln only took two such flatboat trips in his lifetime, and this one we’re re-creating was his first.”

Of course, Lincoln would later recognize the importance of Vicksburg during the Civil War, famously telling his civil and military leaders in 1863 that, “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” The siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days, concluding with the Confederates’ surrender on July 4, 1863, after which Lincoln said, “the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

If you go

Lincoln’s Journey of Remembrance will stop in Vicksburg at 2 p.m. Sept. 28 at the City Front. A welcome reception will follow.

Old Court House Museum Director George “Bubba” Bolm was unable to find any information about Lincoln’s 1828 journey down the Mississippi among the records and documents at the museum. But, local historian Gordon Cotton said wife Mary Todd Lincoln had relatives in Port Gibson and a brother who served as a Confederate general in Vicksburg.

To re-create Lincoln’s first known trip down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, the Journey of Remembrance crew spent two years building a flatboat similar to the vessel Lincoln would have sailed on in 1828. One of the most obvious differences from the original, however, is the twin 150-horse power outboard motors on the back of the flatboat.

It is not the first re-creation of Lincoln’s river trip that’s been undertaken. Fifty years ago, in honor of the late 16th president’s 150th birthday, the Rockport, Ind., Jaycees Club constructed a similar flatboat and sailed it to New Orleans. Several of the crew members who took the trip in 1958 will participate in the latest re-enactment as well, said Miller, with some of the crew dressed in period clothing.  

Lincoln was born Feb. 12, 1809, in a one-room log cabin on a 348-acre farm called Sinking Spring near Hodgenville in southeastern Kentucky. He lived in Spencer County from age 7 to 21, and his mother and sister are buried there.

Hundreds of events honoring Lincoln’s 200th birthday are scheduled across the country in the coming months, especially in his birth state of Kentucky, his adolescent homes of Indiana and Illinois, where he first became a prominent politician. Established by the United States Congress in 2001, the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission aims to celebrate the life and legacy of Lincoln. Thirteen states have created a state ALBC since.

On Feb. 11 and 12, the ALBC launched its two-year celebration of Lincoln’s 200th birthday, which will include a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in February 2009. Other tributes slated for the next two years include a redesigned 2009 penny series and five dollar bill, as well as four commemorative Lincoln stamps and a 2009 bicentennial commemorative dollar coin.