VICKSBURG FACTS: Vicksburg’s soil has many useful qualities

Published 8:00 am Friday, August 5, 2022

By Vera Ann Fedell | The Vicksburg Post

Did you know that the loess soil in Vicksburg has unique characteristics?

According to the National Military Park Service website, loess soils covered and shaped most of the landscape in our community. During the Pleistocene Ice Age, glaciers in Canada and the northern United States of America would grind onto the bedrock and other debris to create a “flour-like” soil. Then the finely gradated soil was washed down the Mississippi River as the glaciers melted and dispersed onto flood plains. 

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Due to the soil being so refined, the wind would pick it up and transfer it among the high eastern bluffs of the river. Eventually, bluffs developed among the north and south ends of the Mississippi River. 

The loess soil has benefited Vicksburg and Mississippi in many ways. For farmers close to the river, the soil was great for agriculture since it is rich in nutrients and drains well. Historically for Vicksburg, loess soil served as a form of protection during the Civil War. Loess soil prefers to remain in an upright stance and will erode if not at a 90-degree angle. The soil was easy to burrow through and create cave-like shelters when bombing shells and shrapnel exploded into the city during the Siege of Vicksburg. 

Most of these caves were in a “T” or “Y” structure, which allowed the soil to maintain its vertical stance and slow down the erosion rate during the Siege. Some of these caves were six feet deep into the soil and even included a one- to two-foot indention that allowed the cave resident to stand fully erect, as stated in “My Cave Life in Vicksburg,” by Mary Webster Loughborough. 

While during the Seige, the soil was able to withstand hours’ worth of shellings and shrapnel. However, there were several instances where the cave fell in and sometimes caused fatal causalities. As told in “My Cave Life in Vicksburg,” there was a moment during the Seige when one man was buried alive in his cave. 

Also during the Civil War, the loess soil served as a form of protection for the soldiers. Both the Confederates and the Union soldiers created trenches during the Seige of Vicksburg since, once again, the loess soil was able to maintain its vertical stance. According to “America’s Civil War: Digging to Victory at Vicksburg” by Michael Morgan, the Union would use trenches not only as protection but as a way to travel within Vicksburg, such as the Third Louisiana Redan. Many of these trenches were reinforced with canes and other accessible materials to help build more trenches. 

Over the years, the soil began to erode, causing all the shelter and protection provided to those during the Civil War to disappear.