Philip II of Macedonia in a message to Sparta: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.

Sparta’s reply: “If.

east bank of mississippi riverI was planning this trip for months. Ever since I read Ron Chernow’s book, “Grant,” which followed Ulysses S. Grant through the ups and downs in his life. It’s still the best book I’ve read, and I wanted to trace his campaigns. I picked Vicksburg as my first travel destination because it was one of his first big engagements after the vicious Battle of Shiloh in 1862. The Battle of Vicksburg was the last in a long series of battles in the Western Theater. Grant beat the Confederates at Fort Donelson and Henry, which pushed them back towards Vicksburg. Vicksburg is located on the east bank of the Mississippi River and was the last major port on the river held by the Confederates. If Grant could take Vicksburg, the Confederacy would be cut off from supply lines in the west, and rebel states such as Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas would be isolated from the rest of the South.

(According to the National Park Service, “At the time of the Civil War, the Mississippi River was the single most important economic feature of the continent – the very lifeblood of America. Upon the secession of the southern states, Confederate forces closed the river to navigation, which threatened to strangle northern commercial interests)

mississippi riverThe trip took about six hours, stopping only in Jackson to fill up on gas. I got off the interstate and passed the Vicksburg National Military Park, heading towards the older parts of Vicksburg. It was getting close to dusk as I went down Main Street into the old historic part of downtown. My destination was the Duff Green Mansion on 1st East Street. I found this bed and breakfast while searching the Internet for old historic antebellum homes in Vicksburg. My adrenaline started pumping as I drove down the street, spotting the top portion of the mansion on my left. It was huge, the spitting image of a time-period historic home. It was perched on one of the many hills strategically placed around the town, with a partial view of the Mississippi River.

duff green mansionI immediately began to panic as I approached the entrance to the mansion on the left. I didn’t consider the parking situation when I planned for the trip. Nor do I ever. The front of the mansion had a gated, small parking ‘area’ that could fit three or four small-medium cars at most. I imagined the stress of parking my truck in one of those spots. 

The mansion looked to be two stories with a basement/kitchen floor underneath and a courtyard on the south side of the mansion. It had a wrap-around balcony on the first and second floors with a set of stairs leading from the ground level to the first floor. I parked my truck in the first available spot, located right inside the gate and to the left of the stairway leading to the front doors. I felt like Austin Powers as I threw my truck in reverse and forward over and over again, trying to get the ass end of my truck out of the entrance to the mansion grounds. I could have simply pulled out and parked on the side of the street, but of course, that didn’t cross my mind at the time.

duff green mansionAfter spending an abnormal amount of time trying to park, I got out of my truck and walked up the stairway to the massive front doors of the mansion. I peeked through the rectangular-shaped windows on either side of the front doors, trying to see if this was where the office was and/or if any other guests were inside. It looked like the lights were on, but I couldn’t see anyone inside or outside. I couldn’t find a doorbell, so I rapped the oversized door knocker. I waited a minute and then tried the doorknob and click; it was open. There was a long hallway leading to a revolving staircase.

“HELLO…” I announced to nobody.

I walked through the door and was blown away by the mansion’s interior. It felt like I walked back into the 1860s. I won’t lie, I had my doubts about this trip, but not anymore, I was sold.

historic ballroomI wandered to the left, where there was a big open arch doorway. I entered the dream-like ballroom with its cherry red walls and large bay windows. I read about this room. It was the ballroom that both Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant danced in back in the day. Everything looked historic, full of antiques, period furniture, and books, accented with works of art. It was hard to imagine this type of setting when reading books about the 19th century. Now, I felt like I could.

I walked through the room like a kid in a candy store, giddy with excitement. I sat on the couch in the middle of the room and imagined what the scene would’ve looked like before the battle came to Vicksburg in 1863. The home had that smell, that historic smell you can’t replicate. I made my way back to the hallway and across to the next open room. I entered the dining room, where I encountered a large dining room table dressed to impress with more fine silverware than I’d ever seen. It was arranged like they were preparing for a big banquet or something. I didn’t learn table etiquette, so I hope this isn’t a formal group dinner I’m unaware of. 

I was in the house for about ten minutes when I felt a pang of anxiety creep in as it dawned on me, “Maybe I’m in the wrong house, and I’m just wandering through a random person’s home like an asshole. This is Vicksburg. There’s a ton of old historic bed and breakfasts.”
I went from ecstatic to terrified in a split second. I got more nervous as I made a bee-line to the front door. Scenarios began to shoot through my head. I wore a black hoodie, dark blue jeans, and dark brown hiking boots. I was the spitting image of a house intruder from 48 Hours. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a similar episode.

I walked through the front door with a purpose and flung myself down the stairs. When I got to the ground floor, I saw another car parked in front of me.
“I’m good.” I thought to myself. “The office must be in the basement.”

I walked around the stairway and found double doors leading into another hallway. The door creaked as I opened it. There were three, maybe four rooms facing each other on both sides of the hallway, with another set of double doors at the opposite end. This has to be the front office. I walked through the double doors, and to my left was a desk with a woman sitting behind it. Ms. Sharp greeted me and asked if I was Michael. She gave me some brochures of the area, a rundown on places to eat in the area, and a set of keys to my room and the mansion.

She explained that the room I originally booked was being worked on by maintenance, so they moved me to another room, a room dubbed “Little Annie’s Room.”

“Ah, Little Annie’s Room…” I thought to myself. Doesn’t sound creepy at all.

She led me through the double doors to my room, the first on the left.

“This is Little Annie’s Room. It was named for little Annie Green. She was born and died in the mansion at the age of 6, in this room, hence the name. Breakfast is at 7:00 am. It’s a really good breakfast, so don’t miss out, and we’ll start a home tour at 9:00 am.”

I responded with, “Thank you, ma’am, I think.”

duff green mansion little annie's roomShe smiled and closed the door behind her. Sweet, well, this is a first. I unloaded my luggage and jumped right into bed. I was beaten from the road, and it was cold. I didn’t take any of my clothes off. The more layers, the better, I thought. I started to doze but woke to ensure I had a quick conversation with Jesus to avoid a meeting with Little Annie’s ghost. 

My alarm went off at 6:30 am, and I sat up, feeling like a block of ice. I got up threw even more layers on, and jumped back into bed. Usually, I’ll go through a routine of stretching, coffee, reading emails and/or news, but it was too cold for any of that. I waited till the last possible moment and finally dragged myself through the door towards the front of the mansion. I walked through the double doors and was immediately shocked by the cold wind blowing. Dammit man. I hauled ass up the stairs and tried to open the front door. This time, it was locked.

Didn’t Ms. Sharp give me keys to the mansion? – I thought, knowing damn well what the answer was.

Yeah, she did, on the same key chain as my room key that I conveniently locked in my room when hastily left. Good start, man.

I knocked on the door, softly at first, but it was freezing balls outside, so I banged a little harder. I peeked through the window and saw someone approaching the front door from the dining room.

“Left your key?” – Guy.

“Affirmative.” – Me.

For whatever reason, I envisioned a breakfast like any hotel breakfast, like the Hilton, where there’s some kind of buffet. This was different. This was a sit-down uppity breakfast. Sonofabitch. From the looks of it, I was the last of the guests to arrive, and everyone was already seated, waiting for breakfast to be served. Panic gripped me as I scanned for a place to sit. It was like starting high school again. Who will be my friend? Luckily, a lady in the back corner waved her hand towards me, and I quickly bee-lined to her table.

“Thank you, ma’am,” – I exhaled with relief.

I introduced myself and met the family of four sitting around the table: a husband, wife, and their two daughters, both younger, maybe high schoolers. We exchanged stories on how we got to Duff Green, and I got to know a little bit about their family. They were staying in one of the rooms on the second floor, the Siege Room, where a cannonball flew through during the battle for the city. They were awesome people. The father was a former Naval Officer, and their family was just passing through Vicksburg on their way home to Michigan. This was just something they did on long trips. I told them a little bit about myself, and I think they were a little surprised that I was by myself and that I was there to hike the battlefield. 

What I thought was going to be a nightmare turned out to be a great breakfast where I got to meet some interesting, kind people. The actual breakfast itself was delicious but foreign to me. It was a couple of different courses, I guess is what you’d call it. Chicken, biscuits, grits, fruits, etc. Not my usual breakfast, but excellent nonetheless.

After eating about half of the food served to me, I thanked everyone at the table for their company and headed out to the front of the mansion. I was hoping to catch someone near the entrance to the basement floor since I locked my keys in the room.  Luckily, I walked in with another basement dweller and made my way to the office.

Ms. Sharp let me into my room and reminded me about the tour at 9:00 am.

I jumped in the shower, and it was cold AF. I must have been the last to shower on the mansion grounds. I shook as I dried off, then immediately threw on my long johns, two additional layers, a jacket, and a beanie. I really despise the cold, which is why I live in Florida.

I made my way back up the stairway, this time with keys in hand, and met the rest of the group at the base of the revolving staircase. Harry Sharp, one of the mansion’s owners, was getting ready to begin his tour of the home.

Over a two and a half-year period, the Sharps completely restored the mansion to her former glory. The combined efforts of the U.S. Department of the Interior and The Mississippi Department of Archives and History helped ensure the accuracy of the restoration.

The Duff Green Mansion was built in 1856 by Duff Green for his new bride Mary Lake. The mansion was built for entertaining in the grand antebellum lifestyle. That life was short-lived by the Green family when the Civil War reached Vicksburg in 1863.

antebellum home in vicksburg

2nd Floor air flow vent

During the battle of Vicksburg, the Duff Green Mansion became a hospital for the Union and Confederates. The home was struck numerous times by cannon balls, and Green, in a last-ditch effort to save his structure, designated his home as a hospital. Doing so, saved the house and many surrounding buildings from further destruction. The basement/kitchen floor (where my room was located) was used as an operating space. The ground floor was used for recovering Confederate soldiers, and the top floor was reserved for Union troops. Hundreds would be treated in the mansion – with many losing their lives.

Once the war was over, the Greens leased the mansion to the federal government as a Veterans hospital for troops to recover from their wounds before returning home. The Greens finally got their mansion back in 1866. They lived there until 1880 when Duff passed away on the premises. Mary then sold the property. The mansion would go on to become an orphanage, retirement home, and a center for the homeless operated by the Salvation Army.

As we walked through the mansion, I saw the evidence of the home’s trials during the Civil War. Blood stains are still visible on the floor, and you can still see the damage from cannon balls. It was an incredible look into the past.

Chamber pot with a picture of Union Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler at the base.

I cornered Harry after the tour and asked him a bunch of questions I had piled up during the tour. He answered them patiently, as I was probably annoying but extremely excited to speak with a descendant of a Civil War soldier from Vicksburg. When he found out I was a Marine, he countered me with his own questions. Ghosts in the mansion came up towards the end of our conversation and he asked if that sketched me out.

I told him I was just another soldier or Marine recovering from the war, just like they were. And I kind of felt protected in the house, almost like it was sheltering me.

After the tour, I grabbed a cup of coffee in the shared community space and headed down to my room, where I packed for the mission of the day, Vicksburg National Military Park. I was excited. I planned on hiking the 16-mile battlefield route. I checked my camera, ensuring I had extra batteries, lenses, SD cards, and tripod, and loaded it all into my truck. Thankfully, most other guests had already left, so I had little trouble getting my truck back onto the road. I put the battlefield address into my maps app even though the battlefield was pretty close. I’m really familiar with getting lost on the road so better safe than sorry, I thought.

My GPS led me up, down, and around the hillsides, through the back roads, and up to the high points along the east bank of the Mississippi. I had that gnawing feeling that I was going the wrong way. And alas, I was. 

USS Cairo

I went the wrong direction and pulled into the back entrance of the park which leads to the Vicksburg National Cemetery and the USS Cairo Museum. The Vicksburg National Cemetery includes 116 acres and holds the remains of 17,000 Civil War soldiers, a number unmatched by any other national cemetery. The USS Cairo was one of seven shallow-draft City Class river ironclads. During the battle, she prowled the Mississippi River and connected shallow waterways, threatening Confederate supply lines and shore batteries.

USS CairoWhile conducting operations on December 12, 1862, the USS Cairo was rocked by two explosions and sank in six fathoms (36 feet) of water without any loss of life. In June 1977, the vessel’s remains were transported to the park and partially reconstructed.

uss cairoThe ship was massive. I may be starting this battle tour the wrong way, but any frustration was washed away as I took in the immense size of the ironclad in front of me- game time. I pulled out my Rebel T6 camera and went to work.

1 Comment

OldSarg · June 15, 2019 at 11:18

Very cool!

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