Note: There are a TON of great sources about the Siege of Vicksburg, which took place from May 18 to July 4, 1863. I’m not going to even attempt to write about it here. I barely scratched the surface. If you want to know more, I encourage you to seek out information about it.
Vicksburg, Miss. is about 2.5 hours from Shreveport, La. Vicksburg National Cemetery (VNC) went on my road trip list as an important stop. But there was one grave nearby that I wanted to visit first for the sheer novelty of it.
I’m sure a number of people who visit Vicksburg do so to visit the Civil War battlefield and VNC, which is a Union burial ground. But nearby is Vicksburg City Cemetery (also known as Cedar Hill Cemetery), which is the home to approximately 5,000 Confederates that have been re-interred there from other places, of which 1,600 are identified.
I had heard about Old Douglas from different web sites over the years, and his story intrigued me a great deal. It’s not often you hear about a camel being part of a war on American soil. But in this case, it’s true.
The U.S. Camel Corps
As the story goes, Jefferson Davis got the idea for putting dromedary camels into use by the military in the 1850s. He admired their stamina and ability to go without water. As U.S. Secretary of War in 1852, Davis helped to establish the U.S. Camel Corps and about 33 of them were brought over from the Middle East.
By the late 1850s, about a hundred camels were stationed in Texas. They performed better than horses and mules on rocky slopes. Their feet needed no shoeing, they didn’t need much water, and they were very hardy.
In the case of Douglas, he was a gift to Confederate Col. W. H. Moore by First Lt. William Hargrove. Moore assigned Douglas to carry the instruments and supplies of the 43rd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regimental Band. You can read more about that here.
Douglas’s first active service commenced under General Sterling Price in the Iuka Campaign near Corinth. Douglas quickly attained legendary status by causing a stampede among the horses. However, Douglas endeared himself as a camp favorite, befriending young soldiers who proudly carried their new title, “The Camel Regiment.”
The1862 Battle of Corinth was a tragic day that ended with 12,000 casualties. He also served at the Central Mississippi Railroad engagement and the Siege of Vicksburg.
From May 18 to July 4, 1863, Vicksburg was the sight of an estimated 35,825 casualties. During one of the skirmishes, a Union sharpshooter intentionally shot and killed Douglas on June 27, 1863. As the back of Douglas’ cenotaph states, it is highly possible the starving Confederates ate their camel comrade. So I’m betting his remains are not actually there. Still, Douglas is honored like other veterans with a marked grave in Vicksburg City Cemetery.
Vicksburg National Military Park Monuments
After saying goodbye to Douglas, we headed over to nearby VNC. The cemetery is located within the Vicksburg National Military Park. Covering about 40 acres, it holds the remains of 17,000 Civil War Union soldiers, the largest number of Civil War interments of any national cemetery in the country. Of that 17,000, only 5,000 have been identified. Covering ground once manned by the extreme right of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s XV Army Corps during the Siege of Vicksburg, it was established by an act of Congress in 1866.
VNC also contains the remains of veterans of the Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, the First and Second World Wars, and the Korean War. Vicksburg National Cemetery was closed to burials in 1961.
Vicksburg National Military Park was established in 1899. America’s leading architects and sculptors were commissioned to honor the soldiers and sailors that fought throughout the Vicksburg campaign. The park’s earliest state memorial was dedicated in 1903, and more than 95 percent of the monuments that followed were erected prior to 1917. Today, more than 1,400 monuments, tablets, and markers dot the landscape.
Some of the monuments are for specific state’s regiments that fought in the war. Others are large ones representing each state. I’ve included photos of some of them below.
The Michigan monument is quite impressive. The memorial is a 37-foot tall obelisk made of White Bethel Granite. The lower third was cut from a single piece of granite weighing 40 tons. The cost was $10,000 and it was dedicated on Nov. 10, 1916.
Wisconsin’s monument is made from Winnsboro, S.C. granite and stands 122 feet tall. A bronze statue of “Old Abe” the war eagle, mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, sits atop the monument. It was erected at a cost of $90,644 and dedicated on May 22, 1911.
The Missouri monument is one of two state memorials at Vicksburg National Military Park dedicated to soldiers of both armies. The height is symbolic of the 42 Missouri units, 27 Union and 15 Confederate. It stands where two opposing Missouri regiments clashed in battle.
The monument features a bronze figure which represents “The Spirit of the Republic,” as well as bronze reliefs depicting both Union and Confederate soldiers. The sculptor was Victor S. Holm. The memorial was erected at a cost of $40,000 and dedicated on Oct. 17, 1917, during the National Peace Jubilee.
I was personally interested in seeing the Illinois state monument. My husband, Chris, has an ancestor from Illinois who fought at Vicksburg and I was hoping to see if his name was inscribed inside of it.
Illinois’ memorial was erected by the firm of Culver Construction Company with William B. Mundie contracting the designers and sculptors. The design was by W. L. B. Jenney and the sculptor was Charles J. Mulligan. Ironically, granite from Stone Mountain, Ga. forms the base and stairway. Above the base is Georgia white marble. The 47 steps in the long stairway are for each day of the Siege of Vicksburg.
Modeled after the Roman Pantheon, the monument has 60 unique bronze tablets lining its interior walls, naming all 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign. The monument stands 62 feet in height and originally cost $194,423.00 paid by the state of Illinois.
I walked up the steps and entered the coolness of the memorial. It didn’t take me long to find Abraham Newland’s name. A native of Durham, England, Abraham arrived in America as a teenager. Before the Civil War, he was a coal miner. He served as an orderly sergeant with the 124th Illinois Infantry, Company D. He is not buried at Vicksburg because he survived the war and went home to his family in McDonough County, Ill. He died in 1919 at age 81 and is buried in Illinois.
U.S. Colored Troops (USCT)
Nearly 175 regiments of over 178,000 free men and former slaves served during the last two years of the Civil War. Following months of training and physical labor, black troops were finally allowed to prove themselves in a major battle.
By spring 1863, Port Hudson, La. and Vicksburg, Miss. were the only remaining Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River. On May 27, 1863 the First and Third Louisiana Native Guards were ordered to take a section of the Rebel earthworks at Port Hudson. They charged across 600 yards of open ground, only to be cut down by canister and musket fire. Despite their attempts, the assault failed. Nearly 200 black troops were killed or wounded.
At Milliken’s Bend, La., three regiments of black troops were tasked with guarding a supply depot and nearby military hospital. On June 7, approximately 1,500 Confederate troops attacked the post with hopes of distracting Union forces besieging Vicksburg. As the Rebels attacked, the hastily trained and ill-equipped black troops resorted to fighting with bayonets and clubs in hand-to-hand combat. After the arrival of Union reinforcements, the outnumbered Confederates retreated, leaving the depot and hospital in Union hands.
About 40 percent of the burials at Vicksburg National Cemetery were soldiers in the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). Until my visit to VNC, I had never seen so many USCT graves in one place before.
For much of the USCT, little information is available. But thanks to the hard work of others, I was able to find out about a few of the soldiers whose graves I photographed while at VNC.
Private Marshall Moore enlisted at Louisville, Ky., on June 27, 1864. He gave his age as 19, his occupation as farmer, and his birthplace as Anderson, Ky. Private Moore served in the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry. He died of disease on Feb. 6, 1866 at Vicksburg.
Andrew “Andy” Treadwell was a private in the 55th Regiment, Co. K. of the U.S. Colored Infantry. He is listed on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. His FindaGrave.com memorial lists his activities during the war in great detail. He died on Jan. 7, 1866.
According to the U.S. Burial Registers, Military Posts and National Cemeteries, 1862-1960, King Vance enlisted in the 64th Infantry, Co. H in December 1863. According to U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1863-1878, he was a farmer and stood 5 feet, 5 inches tall. He died in Vicksburg on Oct. 14, 1865. The cause of death was dysentery.
Some areas are marked with plaques explaining what state and units the soldiers buried there belonged to. Below are soldiers who belonged to Iowa’s 31st Infantry, 2nd Brigade, First Division, 15th Corps, Sharpshooters Line.
Others did not have signs that I could see.
Vicksburg National Cemetery undoubtedly deserves more time than we had to explore and learn about it than we did. I think by this point in our road trip, we were both a bit worn and weary. I would like to go back and spend some more time under less hot and humid conditions when I can wander the hills a bit.
Our next stop was Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson, Miss. I’ll have a new post ready for you about that in a few weeks.