Living history: Volunteers carry on summer tradition at Vicksburg National Military Park

Published 11:32 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

This summer men, women and children will cover their ears and cringe as they wait for the roar of a cannon and, with a thundering explosion and a shock wave the Vicksburg National Military Park will kick off its Living History Program.

The firing of the 12-pound Napoleon cannon is just one loud explosive example of the park’s summer tradition.

The program planned and produced by park employees focuses on Civil War demonstrations by re-enactors, most of them are volunteers. They fire rifles and a cannon and they have climbed in a trench in years past to show how life was during the Siege of Vicksburg.

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Participants in the Living History Program learn to fire a replica Civil War era cannon and rifles while also learning the history surrounding the Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg. Participants also learn period military drill and how soldiers and civilians lived.

The park’s Living History crew is mainly comprised of teen volunteers.

“If we’re going to have anyone using black powder then they have to be of a certain age,” park ranger Will Wilson said. “It’s a National Park mandate.”

For special programs, such as the July Fourth program volunteer numbers swell.

“In the past we’ve seen the program get anywhere from 30 to 40 and throughout the summer those numbers will change, but we tend to have a steady group of around 20 who come out to participate in the program,” Wilson said.

Throughout the summer’s scorching heat, the volunteers show visitors how it was.

After the smoke clears from the last public cannon firing in August the participants still have work ahead of them.

They’ll have to strip down and clean the weapons, launder the clothes they’d worn throughout the summer and polish the cannon.

Many of the volunteers come back year after year, carrying on the tradition, helping continue the education of younger re-enactors and park visitors, keeping history alive.