Historical parks, cemetery believed safe from water

Published 11:44 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

Flood waters began to creep across areas of North Washington Street Wednesday afternoon, but low-lying graves of veterans buried in the National Cemetery just feet from the old truck and business route are not expected to be threatened, Vicksburg National Military Park Superintendent Mike Madell said.

The lowest point of the cemetery sits behind a brick wall on a slight rise above the road, across and just south of Anderson Tully Lumber.

“If the water does not get any higher than what they are predicting, based on inundation models, we would not expect it to get to the wall,” Madell said. “They seem to be holding to that 57.5 foot prediction so we are pretty confident now the flood won’t affect the cemetery.”

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The 116-acre national cemetery, one of the largest Civil War burial sites in the United States, was established by Congress in 1866 and contains 17,000 Union Civil War dead, including 13,000 unknown.

Where the flood could affect the park is at the Mint Springs Bayou just south of the cemetery, Madell said. Stabilization of the bluff above the bayou was completed in February, which has turned out to be a very timely overhaul of an area prone to erosion caused by the river, he said.

“That’s exactly why we did that support work,” he said. “The bluff stabilization will prevent that now.”

As the Mississippi River rises, water backs up into the bayou which then drains quickly, and that has caused sloughing and threatened graves in the southern section of the cemetery.

The project, which cost $2.28 million, was paid for by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

One of the park’s newest sites is across the Mississippi River at the Grant’s Canal satellite location. There, the Connecticut state monument sits tucked in behind the Louisiana mainline levee with the rising water just on the other side.

Madell said he inspected the site about a week ago.

“Our expectation is that the levee will hold,” he said. “We haven’t heard the Corps express any concern about it.”

Levee seepage could require cleanup after flood waters recede, but Madell said the three-section granite monument would probably not see any damage.

The monument was erected and dedicated in 2008 following nearly 10 years of effort by descendants of the 9th Regiment Connecticut Volunteers, the “Irish Regiment” that labored in June and July 1862 trying to dig a canal across DeSoto Point near Delta, La., so Union boats could bypass Vicksburg and the Confederate cannon on its bluffs.

Farther south, historical artifacts in the museum at Grand Gulf Military Park, a state property in Claiborne County, were packed and moved to higher ground last week as the flood moved into the area and caused officials to close the park.

Assisted by curators from the VNMP and the Natchez National Historical Park, Grand Gulf officials and volunteers salvaged items including period documents, antique books, antebellum gowns and Civil War and Native American artifacts from the museum, which is expected to take on 5 feet of water.

A short distance west of Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, the road leading to Grand Gulf Military Park has been closed where water has topped the roadway.