History comes alive at VNMP

Published 8:05 pm Saturday, June 30, 2018

Five days before the 155th anniversary of the surrender of Vicksburg, visitors to the Vicksburg National Military Park had the opportunity to step back in time.

The streams of visitors touring the park Saturday came from Vicksburg and other states to recall history in the park and talk with re-enactors to learn about life during the siege, the life of a cavalry trooper and hear the tale of Old Douglas, the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Regiment.

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“This is an awesome place,” said Terry Jennings of Wichita, Kansas, who with his family was visiting the park on their way home from Florida. The family stopped at the Great Redoubt to talk with re-enactors from the 1st Mississippi Cavalry.

“We’ve always passed through here (Vicksburg) many times but never stopped and gone through the park; this is great,” he said.

At the Shirley House, Tony Morgan, dressed as a Union soldier, and Nathan Friday, as a Confederate, greeted visitors as they approached the front door.

Morgan said he wasn’t representing any particular unit, “But if I were, I guess it would be the 45th Illinois, which occupied the Shirley House. They were miners; they dug the tunnel to blow up the 3rd Louisiana Redan.” Friday, who also wasn’t representing a particular unit, said he would have represented a member of the 3rd Louisiana.

“The Shirley House is a very popular stop,” Morgan said, “because it was the only building left standing (on the battlefield). It’s not open much, but when it is open people love to come here.”

Inside the house, Madison O’Rourke, dressed in period costume, was talking with visitors. O’Rourke, who moved south from Michigan, said she has done living history before at the Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and she is in her first year doing programs at the park. She said her period dress was much more comfortable than the 1920s costumes she wore up north.

The wool men’s soldier’s uniforms, she said, are a different matter. “I’ve portrayed a man with the cannons,” she said. “Those costumes are hot.”

At the Old Superintendent’s Quarters, two camels from the Texas Camel Corps were enjoying the shade of several trees near the building as Camel Corps founder and director Doug Baum talked about Camel Corps and Old Douglas. Old Douglas, the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi, carried the unit’s band instruments. He was killed by a Union sharpshooter during the Siege of Vicksburg.

Baum said the popular story of Old Douglas is that he was one of a group of camels brought over to the United States by then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to see if they would perform better than horses in the Southwest, where the U.S. Army was fighting Indians.

New research, he said, indicates a possible different tale. He said researcher Jim Huffman, who lives in Biloxi, found a newspaper ad from the Mobile, Alabama, Daily Register listing a group of animals for sale by a Portuguese ship captain in Mobile that included 30 young camels “well-suited for plantation work.” The camels sold in Mobile, he said, came from the Canary Islands, where they had been used for plowing for 400 years.

“I believe that is a more logistical possibility that this young Lt. William Hargrove (of the 43rd) bought a camel,” he said. Hargrove, Baum said, was from Lowndes County, Mississippi.

“He enlisted in the 43rd and he brings Old Douglas along with him. I think most folks are now in agreement that Old Douglas came from Mobile and that shipment of camels, rather than one of the federal camels from the 1850s in Texas.”

Not far from the Old Superintendent’s Quarters, members of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry were seeking some shade on a hill overlooking the Great Redoubt monument and the solidary tent nearby.

Member Tim Craddock said the living history unit was formed about 2 1/2 years ago. He said the re-enactors carry weapons used during the period, adding swords were discarded by the cavalry later in the war.

The 1st Mississippi, he said, was part of Gen. John C. Pemberton’s command but became separated during the Battle of Champion Hill and was reassigned to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who was supposed to try and relieve Pemberton. The relief never occurred.

“We were looking to get into a fight and help our brothers in Vicksburg, but it didn’t happen,” Craddock said. “There was one unit of cavalry that fought at Vicksburg, Smyth’s Partisan Rangers.”

Saturday was the only day for visitors to see the camels and the 1st Mississippi Cavalry.

The Shirley House will be open periodically between Sunday and Wednesday.

The VNMP’s cannon crew and the gun crew from Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park will hold cannon demonstrations Sunday through Wednesday at Battery deGoyler at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., and re-enactors will be present during the day to talk about life as a soldier during the Civil War.

The surrender program will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and discuss the surrender and its legacy.

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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