Candlelight Cairo tour set to mark 150th year

Published 11:29 am Monday, December 3, 2012

Vicksburg residents can get an up close and personal look at the USS Cairo Saturday during a special evening candlelight tour of the Civil War ironclad.

The event commemorates the 150th anniversary of the boat’s sinking in the Yazoo River in 1862. Vicksburg National Military Park hours will be extended for the event.

“This tour is set up the same way as the Shadows of the Past candlelight tour we had in November,” said Will Wilson, park guide and interpreter. “Park employees will be dressed in period military uniforms and costume to explain the history of the Cairo and what happened to it.”

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He said the tour will take place at the Cairo, where six stations will be set to explain the boat’s past. The boat sank on Dec. 12, 1862.

Tours will be held every 30 minutes from 5:30 to 7 p.m. The event is free, Wilson said, but reservations are required. People can make reservations by calling the Cairo at 601-636-0583. Each tour is limited to 20 people.

“We’ll have someone dressed up as a Union sailor, and another dressed up as a Union naval officer,” Wilson said. “A Vicksburg resident will dress up as George Yost, a boy who was on the Cairo, and we’ll have a civilian from Vicksburg and a Confederate Navy sailor. They will give people different viewpoints about the boat and the sinking.”

Visitors to the tour will enter the park’s Fort Hill entrance off Fort Hill Drive, where they will park their cars and walk to the Cairo. Wilson said visitors for the tour should arrive before their scheduled tour begins.

Built in Mound City, Ill., the Cairo was commissioned in January 1862. It was sunk by an electrically detonated torpedo, or mine, in the Yazoo River about seven miles north of Vicksburg on Dec. 12, 1862.

“That was the first time in the United States that an electrically operated torpedo successfully sank a warship,” Wilson said. “You could say that it was the first time an IED (improvised explosive device) was used against the U.S.”

The Cairo was raised in 1964 by Operation Cairo, a group of private citizens. It was cut into three sections, hauled to Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula for repairs. The vessel was transported to the VNMP in 1977 and partially reconstructed.