Park’s project is everybody’s project

Published 2:29 pm Thursday, March 16, 2023

As we reported last week, the staff at the Vicksburg National Military Park is preparing to embark on a very ambitious project to repair a major slide area and learn more about the United States Colored Troops buried in a section of the National Cemetery.

As most residents will remember, severe rain storms in 2020 caused a landslide in the National Cemetery that exposed graves and destroyed a road. Since then, park officials working with representatives from the National Park Service and the engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District to develop a plan to remove the affected graves and repair the landslide damage.

And in the process, park officials have reached out to the community to partner with local officials and academics to help them develop a program that will better tell the history of the siege and of the U.S. Colored Troops who fought for their freedom and in the case of some troops served garrison duty during the occupation of Vicksburg after the city was surrendered.

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According to the information from the park, 46 percent of the men who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops were from the Mississippi Valley. Many of the men who served their occupation in Vicksburg stayed after their enlistments and became permanent residents. Some became farmers, and others owned businesses or worked in other occupations.

The work that will be done at the park will help give us and tourists a better understanding of the men who put on a uniform and fought for their freedom and then tried to enjoy it after the war. It’s a history we won’t find in detail in a high school history book.

I’ll have to admit I never heard about the U.S. Colored Troops in school. I had to stumble upon it while reading about the Buffalo Soldiers after I was out of college. That should not be the case. This is something that our children should learn; and regardless of race this is our history and we should embrace it and learn about it.

True, the story of our country has some very disagreeable chapters and they’re not pretty or easy to digest but it’s our history and we need to learn it and teach it so those who follow us will be able to understand and take the steps to correct the problems we’ve faced for decades.

Now, as for the park project. This is something the public needs to get involved with — everybody, not just the history buffs. For years, there have been many people who have taken the park for granted; now is the time to get enthusiastic about it again.

I’ve said in the past this park is a jewel and an important part of our economy. How important?

Here’s a “what if” to ponder.

Before the siege, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston considered abandoning Vicksburg and combining his and John Pemberton’s units.

Where would Vicksburg be today if Johnston had succeeded and Vicksburg was abandoned and left open for Grant?

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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