We drove the 3 hours to Vicksburg, MS and got into our campground with plenty of daylight. We picked a camping spot within biking distance of the Vicksburg National Military Park. We’ve been to the park before but always missed seeing the USS Cairo Museum. It is a Union gunboat sunk in 1862 that sat at the bottom of the river for 102 years and now has been restored.
The only campground available was connected with the Ameristar Casino and about 5 miles from the military park and south of Vicksburg. As soon as we were set up, we got on our bikes to ride to Vicksburg and preview our riding route to the park. In 1862 Vicksburg was on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. That’s terrific for views and for defending against Union gunboats, but means there are lots of ups and downs when riding along the river. We enjoyed the short steep climbs up the bluffs and once again were impressed with the T50's performance. The T50's 1 by 9 gearing got us up every hill, The chainring is 38 tooth with an 11 by 34 cassette and 155 mm cranks. I did have to do a little slaloming occasionally on the steepest hills.
Google Maps offered a route along the river that I thought might be picturesque. It turned out to be a gravel road that wove its way through a graveyard of heavy machinery and ended in an oil refinery. The scenery was spooky and interesting.
The refinery was closed to the public so we had to turn around and retrace our ride and then ride up a very steep hill to get to a higher road. Once we got into Vicksburg, we were impressed with the brick roads and the varying architecture, from tiny shacks to grand mansions. It was getting dark, so we turned around and headed back to the campsite for dinner and a little gambling at the casino. We took a seat in the VIP room, not realizing it was reserved for high rollers, but the kind waitress let us stay and we enjoyed the last bit of sunset over the Mississippi River with dinner before losing 10 dollars on the roulette table and heading back to our RV for a sleep.
We awoke excited for our tour of the Vicksburg Battlefield. The 5-mile ride to the park was a little rough at times. We stayed to the sidewalks and were grateful for the sure footedness of the T50. We’d been to the battlefield before for brief visits in a car, but the park is ideal for cyclists. The 20 miles or so of roads in the park are smooth and the scenery is gorgeous. The battles and Siege of Vicksburg took place over a wide area, most of which is preserved.
Once we got into the park, we watched a video that outlined the battle and then we filled our water bottles and rode off. The park roads take you first along the Union side and then through the Confederate positions. The roads in the park are open to vehicles, but the few automobiles we encountered were going very slowly.
There are hundreds of beautiful monuments set in rolling grassy hillsides. Along with the monuments are placards explaining the parts of the battle that took place there. Most of the monuments were put there by the states where the soldiers came from. We stopped frequently to admire the monuments and think of the men who died there.
The road itself took us on a lot of ups and downs. Jim’s phone measured about 2000 feet of climbing in the 30 miles we did. We were glad to have the T50's disc brakes on some of the fast downhills and we were once again impressed by the capability and comfort of the T50 to carry us wherever we wanted to go.
At the apex of the park, is the USS Cairo museum. The USS Cairo was an ironclad Union gunboat that was sunk near Vicksburg in the first use of underwater mines and finally raised up off of the bed of the river more than 100 years later. (I liked the t-shirt in the gift shop that said “100 years at the bottom!") Many of the artifacts are extremely well preserved so you can get an idea of what life was like for the 148 sailors and officers aboard. Despite the fact that the boat sunk in 12 minutes, all of its occupants were rescued by other nearby boats. The ship itself has been reassembled. It’s a rare opportunity to get a feel for the scale and workings of the ironclads we’d read about and seen pictures of in history books.
Just after the USS Cairo Museum is the cemetery. It is a lovely, sad place and we spent a lot of time there reading a few of the names of the 20,000 soldiers who died and were buried there.
The return along the Confederate lines was just as scenic. After we’d ridden every road in the park and even stopped beneath the tree where the surrender terms were made, we headed back toward downtown Vicksburg.
The City of Vicksburg suffered not only through the siege and loss at Union hands, but it also lost the Mississippi River just a few years later when the great Mississippi suddenly changed courses on April 26th of 1876, going further south (near where our campground was) and leaving most of Vicksburg high and dry. Despite that, Vicksburg seems to be growing and has a beautiful downtown with a revival of art and music and now looks over the smaller Yazoo river.
We rode to a restaurant and brewery and had an early dinner in a artsy, interesting building. The dining room was open to the street and we enjoyed the beautiful light of the western sun before pedaling back to our RV.
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