A moment in history|Military park unveils $142,000 plaques

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2008

A dozen new historical tablets were unveiled Tuesday morning at the Vicksburg National Military Park by federal dignitaries and country musician Trace Adkins at a ceremony celebrating a $142,000 National Park Grant made possible because a local nonprofit group raised half the total cost. 

“You can’t do a lot of things in life that will touch people generations from now. This is work that will do it,” said John Nau III, a Texan who donated $35,000 toward the effort and is also a board member of the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign. “We have crossed the first goal line, but there are more in front of us.”

Adkins kicked off the ceremony by singing the national anthem, which was followed by remarks from keynote speakers Mary Bomar, director of the National Park Service, and Dirk Kempthorne, secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. Both had high praise for VNMP and its superintendent, Monika Mayr, and congratulated the nonprofit Friends group for raising $71,000 toward replacing the markers and refurbishing monuments and memorials.

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“Today, here in Vicksburg, we are enjoying the first fruits of the National Park Service Centennial Initiative,” said Kempthorne, describing the push to have national parks ready for another century when the agency has its 100th birthday in 2016.

Kempthorne emphasized that events in Vicksburg and Gettysburg, both Civil War battle sites in 1863, led to preservation of the United States.

“Twenty-thousand men were killed or wounded here. These brave soldiers — on both sides of the line — deserve to be honored and deserve to have their stories told. In telling their stories, we are telling the story of our nation, and this project ensures their stories will be told.”

The money will be used to fund the replacement of markers removed in 1942 as part of the scrap metal drive to help support America’s efforts in World War II. Along with the 12 tablets unveiled Thursday, 10 will be replaced in the future, Mayr said, and the money also will help preserve 47 statues in the parks as well as other monuments. Wording on the markers describes unit positions and relates events that took place at specific places.

VNMP Historian Terry Winschel said about 150 tablets were taken for the scrap metal effort, and another 150 have been lost through the years by everything from fallen trees and car crashes to vandalism.

The park was created in 1899 by Congress. In earlier decades, veterans of the siege here returned to assist in placing the markers on actual battle lines. States and individuals erected monuments honoring the troops. Kempthorne pointed out that America’s Civil War parks contain the largest outdoor art collection in the world.

For Adkins, who traveled to Vicksburg from his home outside Nashville, the ceremony had a personal connection. A native of Springhill, La., Adkins recalled a bit of his family history, specifically his great-grandfather, Henry T. Morgan, who fought with the 31st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry during the Siege of Vicksburg and was captured along with the garrison when the city surrendered to the Union on July 4, 1863. One of the tablets Adkins help unveil was that honoring the 31st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry.

“This is hallowed ground, and we should never forget the sacrifices made here. Don’t take it for granted,” Adkins said, directing his comments to students in attendance. “You have the opportunity to come here, but you also have the responsibility to make sure it’s always here for kids like you to come visit.”

The National Park Service Centennial Initiative is a 10-year challenge to public and private partners to raise matching funds for up to $100 million in NPS grants to enhance and maintain national parks. Thus far, Bomar said 110 projects at 76 parks have met the challenge, including Vicksburg.

“We have 170 friends groups to our national parks today like the one here in Vicksburg. They provide that extra measure of care that makes a good park a great park,” said Bomar. “Today, as we dedicate these tablets, we refuse to let the memory of these soldiers slip. The National Military Park will continue to tell their story.”

Landman Teller, president of the Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign, said the $71,000 raised to earn the NPS Centennial Initiative grant is just the first effort in what the group hopes will be many contributions made to the VNMP. The nonprofit group has been in existence since February, and along with Nau’s contribution, also received $11,000 from the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. The remaining money came from smaller donations made to the group since it formed.

Following the ceremony, the Friends hosted a reception for visiting dignitaries, politicians and donors at the Old Court House Museum.

The Vicksburg National Military Park has nearly 1,400 tablets, monuments and historical markers in the park and throughout the city. It features the largest national cemetery for those who fought in the Civil War, and is one of 391 parks managed by the National Park Service.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com.