“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.” – Abraham Lincoln
I took pictures of the outside of the USS Cairo, walked around the starboard side and I was shocked to find a bridge leading inside of the ship. I entered the ironclad, imagining I was a sailor during the battle, rushing to man one of the many gun ports on the main deck. It was amazing inside. It felt like I was looking at a massive sea animal from the inside out. Interpretive panels explained the different parts of the boat as I walked along the main deck to the other side, then around the back to see where the mine had detonated against the hull. I took more pictures then crossed back over the bridge leading to the museum.
The museum had some great exhibits. I could spend hours, days, in a museum. Time, however, would not allow. I went through all of the artifacts on display, took more pictures then made for the exit. I was worried about running low on time considering I hadn’t even made it to the battlefield park yet. On my way out I dropped by the front desk to pick up a brochure and get directions from an adult.
The conversation started with the Ranger explaining to me, “Usually people start the battlefield tour at the beginning where the main visitor center is located”.
“Ugh yup.” – was all I could muster.
The Ranger pulled out a map of the battlefield and explained to me that I had come in through the back entrance and that I needed to drive back the way I came and get back on Old Hwy 27. Makes sense. I thanked him and left thinking, “pull it together man”.
I left the way I came and followed the Rangers instructions to a T. I was relieved when I saw the Visitors Center on my left. I pulled in, found a parking spot and walked the immediate grounds for a little bit; taking in the scenery. I went to the visitor’s center to get another map of the tour route. The battlefield is huge so I knew there was a very good chance I would get lost at some point. But on the other hand, I could think of no better place to get lost.
To say the battlefield had a lot of monuments would be an understatement. Vicksburg National Park is one of the most “monumented” pieces of real estate in the world. The monuments, sculptures, tablets and statues began appearing when Vicksburg was established as a park in 1899. Each monument offers testimony to the courage and sacrifices of both Union and Confederate soldiers. It’s because of the 1,300 sculptures and markers that earned Vicksburg National Military Park the title of the world’s largest outdoor art gallery. That’s a lot to visit in one day so I had my work cut out for me.
The one-lane, one-way loop road through Vicksburg National Military Park is split between Union Avenue and Confederate Avenue. The entrance passes through the Memorial Arch along Union avenue where I started my adventure.
47. That’s how many steps I climbed to get to the top of the Illinois State Memorial. At 62’ tall, The Illinois Monument sits atop the highest the point of the park and has a Neoclassical design. The forty-seven steps that make up the staircase symbolize the forty-seven day of the siege of Vicksburg.
When I got to the top of the staircase, I turned around and had a clear view in all directions of the rolling hills where 110,000 men once fought, over 37,000 of which were wounded or lost their lives. The view was stunning. The steps led to the doorway of the Memorial that is always kept open. Inside the floor has beautiful décor beneath a vaulting dome. The center of the dome is open, allowing rain or sunshine to pass through. Along the marble wall there were hundreds of names etched onto bronze plates. It was pretty powerful. In my opinion, it was hands down the best monument in Vicksburg National Military Park.
Next to the Illinois Memorial is the Shirley House, a white frame structure that is the only surviving wartime structure within the park boundaries. The home was owned by James and Adeline Shirley and was almost destroyed in May 1863 as the Confederate defensive lines were being dug and Union troops were closing in. Confederate soldiers were ordered to burn down all the buildings on the Shirley’s property, but the soldier who was ordered to set fire to the house was shot and killed before he could do so.
When the Union troops moved in, the Shirley House became the headquarters of the 45th Illinois Infantry. The soldiers “dug in” to protect themselves from Confederate artillery fire. The house was damaged during the battle, but not destroyed. That was pretty shocking to me considering how close it was to the Third Louisiana Redan, a fortified position along the Confederate lines named for its defenders, the 3rd Louisiana Infantry. A “Redan” is an arrow shaped embankment forming a part of a larger fortification.
To try and avoid more casualties, one of General Grant’s strategies was to dig trenches towards the Confederate forts, dig a tunnel underneath the defensive position, then pack enough gunpowder to blow a hole in the line so that Union troops could rush in. The first trench operation of the siege would target the Third Louisiana Redan.
On July 24, 1863 the Union mining operation reached 40 feet under the Redan. It was filled with 2,200 pounds of black powder and on June 25th, fuses were prepared and the mine was exploded. At the same time, Union artillery and infantry began to fire all along the line. The 45th Illinois Infantry spearheaded the attack where a massive crater (12 feet deep, 40 feet wide) was made. The Confederates held their ground and eventually pushed the Union soldiers back to the Shirley House. I’ve heard some loud explosions in my time but I can’t imagine how loud that was when it went off.
By the time I made it to the last monument I was dead tired and starving. I picked up some food to go and made my way back to the Duff Green mansion. I managed, with a fair amount of trouble, to get my truck into a parking spot and then drag myself down to my quarters. I didn’t get undressed; I just ate my food in bed and drifted off into a deep sleep.
I woke up and could see through the curtain that it was getting dark out. I felt energized like I had slept the entire day. For some reason I felt the need to Google “night historic tours”; I just felt like I had the energy for one last tour before my departure the next the day. I scrolled through a number of locations I had already been to, but one stood out as a place I hadn’t been to, or heard of, and it was close… a couple of blocks from the mansion. It was the McRaven Mansion. I read a little summary on its historic significance, went to their website and found that they had a night tour at 9:30 PM. Sweet, like it was meant to be. I booked it, got up and took a shower.
I got out of the shower and got dressed as quickly as I could. I locked up my room and headed to the front door. The sky was dark now and the moon looked ominous. The parking lot was filled, so I assumed all the guests were in for the night. I opened my truck and was bombarded by empty water bottles, Starbucks Frappuccino’s bottles, and Nicorette boxes.
“Really dude, you need to get your life together.” – I thought to myself.
It would be more adult- like to just take the short amount of time to gather and dispose of the trash like any other grown adult would; but no, just like every other time, I picked everything up, and tossed it into the back seat. Maybe I’ll never learn.
I started my truck and put the address of the McRaven mansion into my phone, even though the place was right around the corner. I did my 19 – point turnaround to get out of the parking lot, then pulled out into the empty, semi-lit street. I reached my destination on the first try, shocking, and pulled into an empty parking space. To my front there was a fence with an abundance of overgrowth, that led up to an open gate flanked by a lamppost and a semi-lit sign. I couldn’t read it from where I was parked. There were no other cars and the neighborhood looked questionable. I began to rethink my life’s decisions.
I got out of my truck and approached the gate. Behind the gate was a cobblestone path that wound through overgrown hedges and trees leading up to the front yard of the mansion.
There it was, in all its nightmarish glory. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck as I took it all in. Maybe I should have researched this place a little more. I actually felt scared, like I was back in the shit, and that felt exciting for some reason.
I walked up to the entryway with its grand front porch in a Greek revival style. I gave two hesitant knocks on the unusual door knocker and took a big step back, having no idea what to expect.
I suddenly heard the crunching of footsteps on the cobblestone path behind me. My blood chilled as I slowly turned around to confront the noise.
Ambush – came to mind.
I caught my breath again as an older couple appeared through the overgrowth. The tour started at 9:30 so we had a couple of minutes to explore the outside of the property.
I was gazing up at the biggest tree in the yard when I heard the front door of the mansion creek open behind me. Out came our tour guide, Sharon, dressed up in an 1860’s formal outfit. She welcomed us in and told us there would be a quick 5-minute video on the history of the property.
The couple sat at the bottom of the flying wing staircase and I sat a couple of steps above them. I didn’t know these people but I wanted to stay close to someone. The house had a creepy vibe to it. Can’t explain it, maybe it was the lighting, or just how old it all was.
McRaven was built in three sections (1797- Spanish Colonial) (1836- American Empire) (1849- Greek Revival), and each section of the house is still furnished true to the time period in which it was built. Every room is lavishly furnished with museum quality antiques and artifacts valued in excess of $1,000,000. McRaven was featured in National Geographic Magazine as being “The Time Capsule of the South”. And I could see it. The transition from one period to the next. The entire tour I felt like I was walking through time.
McRaven Mansion also has a long history of war and brutality, no wonder it’s considered the most haunted home in Mississippi. It was built circa 1797, and many people called it home. The first portion of the home was built by a Highwayman named Andrew Glass. His main gig was robbing people on the Natchez Trace, then returning to McRaven House to hide his loot. Andrew was eventually killed by his wife on the top floor.
The property was then purchased by Sheriff Stephen Howard in 1836. Stephen and his 15-year old wife Elizabeth wanted to start a new family in the home and soon after, Elizabeth became pregnant. Unfortunately, child birthing back in those days could quickly take a turn for the worst. In this instance, it did, and Elizabeth died upstairs in the bed. Stephen was overcome with sadness so he moved out and sold the property to its next resident, John H. Bobb.
Mr. Bobb owned the home from 1837 to 1864. During the Siege of Vicksburg, John allowed his home to be used as a Confederate hospital. During that time many soldiers died in the home, their names lost to history.
While the Union occupation of Vicksburg was kicking off, tensions between the locals and Union soldiers were mounting in the city. On May 18, 1864, John got into a shouting match with Union soldiers passing by his home. When they threatened John, he took offense and retaliated. Finding a brick, he hurled it at one of the Union officers, hitting his mark and knocking the soldier out. The Union soldiers dragged their comrade away, vowing revenge.
Later that day, more soldiers returned and arrested John and his nephew. They were told they would be escorted to Union General Slocum’s headquarters. They were then led into a wooded area where there was an escape attempt. John was shot in the back and fell to the ground. The soldiers finished him off with a bullet to the face. History is so damn violent.
Sharon led us up the winding staircase to the second floor, telling us the stories behind each room. Civil War artifacts were laid out on an old hospital table in the 2nd floor hallway. Andrew’s room was pretty spooky. It had a Hannibal Lector feel to it. The shawl draped over the bed gave a creepy spider web effect. No bueno.
As we made our way down to the old kitchen from the original structure, Sharon shared the haunted history behind the home. Dr. Steven Reed and his wife Kendra, who bought the home in 2015, said as many 14 spirits are on the property.
Elizabeth Howard’s spirit is said to be one of those spirits. Her figure has been seen on the flying wing staircase and in the dining room. Leland French, the present owner, saw the ghost of William Murray (Owner in 1882, died in the home) on the staircase. French ran back upstairs and locked himself in Mr. Bobb’s bedroom. The next day he contacted a local priest and had the house blessed. Super normal.
It was truly fascinating to hear the stories of owners and visitors, and their encounters with the “spirits” that share the home. Sharon had her own experiences after working at McRaven for over two years. There’s no amount of money you could pay me to work there.
We ended the tour in the old kitchen from the original structure circa 1797. Sharon gave me a McRaven chip and bid farewell. I had enough of McRaven, now I just wanted to get into bed, at the other haunted mansion. Fantastic. Well planned Michael.