Book gives look at park’s early years

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

Authored: Historian Terry Winschel stands Friday in front of the Illinois Memorial with his new book “Images of America: Vicksburg National Military Park.”

Authored: Historian Terry Winschel stands Friday in front of the Illinois Memorial with his new book “Images of America: Vicksburg National Military Park.”

From the time it was formed in 1899 until the Great Depression, Vicksburg National Military Park was totally different from the venue that now attracts an average of 500,000 to 600,000 people a year.

In its early years, the park featured dramatic views of open land that gave visitors the same view of fortifications and assault lines the Confederate and Union soldiers had during the 47-day siege of Vicksburg in 1863.

That view changed in the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal program designed to give unemployed young men and women jobs during the Depression, came to Vicksburg and began the process that produced the trees that now inhabit the park.

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But a new book by retired Vicksburg National Military Park historian Terry Winschel uses copy and old photographs from the Old Court House Museum, Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the National Military Park to take readers back to the park’s early formation and history and give them a look at what those first visitors said.

Winschel’s book, “Images of America: Vicksburg National Military Park,” published by Arcadia Press, is on sale at several locations in the city. Winschel will be at the Vicksburg National Military Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today signing copies of the book. He will be at Lorelei Books Jan. 31, and the Cinnamon Tree Feb. 2 for book signings.

Winschel said he considered doing a book on the park many years ago, but passed, adding, “last year, I had a call from Arcadia Press if I would be interested in doing a book on the park. I jumped at the opportunity.

“This is the formative years of the park,” he said. “From the formation of the Association of Veterans (who lobbied Congress for the park) to the CCC.

“I have chapters in there on the Association of Veterans and the people involved and their efforts through the establishment of the park commission, and chapters there on the construction of roads and bridges.”

He said the photos of the park’s early landscape “will be very enlightening to the people of Vicksburg who don’t remember this park prior to the planting of the trees in the 1930s.”

In its early, formative years, he said, the park was virtually a tree-free area.

“You had truly magnificent vistas throughout the park and could see between the union and confederate lines— the terrain and features that made Vicksburg such a natural fortress and it gave visitors a much deeper appreciation of the events that transpired here,” he said. “ I have a lot of early park landscape shots of the beautiful vistas”

There are also chapters on the Shirley House and the Illinois Memorial, from groundbreaking up to the early dedication ceremonies, and chapters on other state monuments and markers, again showing construction of other state monuments and dedication ceremonies.

Winschel said the parks treeless vistas were the result of needs of both armies.

“The confederates had clear cut the area to construct their fortifications and clear fields of fire, and formed obstructions of felled trees in front of their works,” he said. “When the Union Army approached from the east, federal soldiers cleared vast tracks of forest to open avenues of assault and construct battery positions.

“And of course, 100,000 soldiers, the combined strength of both armies, used an awful lot of firewood during the 47 days to cook their rations and boil their coffee, so this area was virtually tree-free thanks to the soldiers.”

The major work of the CCC, he said, was to sculpt the hillsides to eliminate erosion scars, and environmental science at the time said trees were the best source to stabilize the ground, so they hand-planted the dense forest that now marks virtually the entire park.

Winschel also discusses the work of Tom Willis, who petitioned local officials into preserving the long lines of fortifications and forts that still existed in the latter part of the 1800s, but was unsuccessful.

“Consequently, it was the veterans themselves who succeeded in such an effort when they agreed to the formation of what’s called the Vicksburg National Military Park Association,” he said. “It consisted of veterans from the north and south led by a former confederate general, Stephen D. Lee from 1895 until 1899 when the park was established.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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