Construction ahead Mint Springs stabilization work to impede traffic at park cemetery

Published 12:05 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cars and trucks will be barred from the Vicksburg National Cemetery beginning early next month so a construction company can stabilize a bluff officials say is being eroded by the Mississippi River.

“When the water rises in the Mississippi (River), it will back up into Mint Springs, which is a tributary to the river,” said Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Mike Madell. “It soaks in to the bottom of the bluff and weakens it.”

The $2.28 million project at Mint Springs Bluff, which will be handled by the Schnaubel Foundation Company, aims to stabilize the bluff and prevent future sloughing. The exact date of the road closure hasn’t been nailed down, but Madell said it probably will be around July 6.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Click to download map

“When money comes available, we’ll re-create the historic walls and turn the cemetery more toward the appearance that it used to have,” Madell said, adding no graves have been lost due to the erosion.

A 220-foot-long, 186-foot-tall wall will be constructed just south of the cemetery using a nail-matting system.

Workers will begin drilling into the ground and, once the desired depth is reached, rods will be placed inside.

“Once they grout those in there, they’ll shoot shotcrete on the face of it,” said Russell Bryant, the construction management representative for the park. “When it’s all grouted, that’s what will stabilize that bluff and help keep it from sloughing off.”

Throughout the construction, cars may be parked at the USS Cairo parking lot, and visitors can walk into the burial ground.

Madell said there’s a “very, very remote chance” a burial will have to occur during construction.

“It is a closed cemetery,” he said. But “there are a few outstanding reservations. We’ll adjust accordingly if that happens.”

The contract says Schnaubel Foundation has 270 days to complete the work. Funding for the project will come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the federal stimulus package.

Madell said the park has received about $6.3 million in stimulus money. A total of $1.5 million in stimulus funds has been used to repave Cemetery Road, and renovations of the Shirley House have begun.

Established in 1866, the National Cemetery serves as a central burial ground for Union soldiers and sailors of the Vicksburg Campaign and Siege. The cemetery contains more than 18,000 gravesites and holds the largest interment of Civil War soldiers and sailors in a U.S. national cemetery with 17,000, of which 13,000 are unidentified. An estimated 40 percent of the total burials are U.S. Colored Troops.

Mint Springs, named for the mint plants that grow alongside it, starts at the north end of the park, where Union Avenue and Graveyard Avenue meet, and flows west, crossing Connecting Avenue and Washington Street before feeding into the Mississippi River.

During the Civil War, Mint Springs was a vital water source for Union and Confederate soldiers, said park historian Terry Winschel.

“Oftentimes at night, soldiers of both armies actually congregated around the waters of Mint Springs in a self-proclaimed truce,” he said.

Legend has it that Mint Springs is also where the mint julep drink originated.

“I repeat that story all the time,” Winschel said. “Whether it’s gospel truth or not, I don’t know. We’ll take the credit for it.”