Camp Williamson Rifle range nearly forgotten as part of Vicksburg history

Published 12:06 am Sunday, October 16, 2011

In some circles, “Vicksburg” is just about synonymous with “history,” but to one Vicksburg native, a chunk of the historical record is missing.

George Cronia, a retired Mississippi National Guard brigadier general, believes many people in Vicksburg do not know that 100 years ago, a Guard rifle range called Camp Williamson operated in the southern part of the city, off what is now — yes — Rifle Range Road.

Those who do know about the range likely do not realize the camp’s importance to Vicksburg, its civic pride and the economics of the day, Cronia believes.

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“Camp Williamson is a part of the history of Vicksburg,” he said. “The Vicksburg businessmen had a prominent part in this. It meant guardsmen even from out of state would be coming here for shooting practice.”

Cronia, 84, has actively researched the camp for about five years, but his interest in the site dates to the late 1950s, when he began attending Army-Navy Club meetings at the home for former rifle range caretaker, Capt. Florian Yoste. In the 1980s, his interest was sparked again.

“After I retired from my full-time position at the National Guard, a team of people came in from Oklahoma trying to get information about Camp Williamson and the Guard’s firing range,” he said. Cronia consulted the state adjutant general’s office and other sources and found not much was known about the site.

So he began looking on his own, talking with others who’d grown up in Vicksburg, men like his fellow Guard officer Lucius Dabney and friends Joe Gerache and James Earl “Sam” Price.

Warren County Tax Assessor maps dated 1929 place the rifle range in an area that on current maps extends south from the railroad tracks near Stouts Bayou through the western side of the Vicksburg Water Treatment Plant property, the east boundary of Harcros Chemical (formerly Spencer Chemical and Vicksburg Chemical) and a section of Hatcher Bayou to U.S. 61 South.