Posts Tagged ‘Ulysses S Grant’

Appomattox, Va.
Visited: October 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 257 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Loungin’ in 1865WHAT IS IT?
Rural Virginia town where, on April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War.

BEAUTY (6/10)
The quaint village of Appomattox Court House remains locked in 1865, its buildings, roads, fields and trees. You see the town as Lee and Grant did.

The vivid natural colors are the only ineffective part of your time travel back to 1865. Our solution: take all your pictures in black and white. Then, and only then, will the setting match the photos taken at the time of the surrender.

Appomattox is one of American history’s most resonant names. It is one we memorize in history class, attach mythic-level importance to and lodge into our imagination. We see Lee and Grant on horseback, we see their forlorn faces, we visualize defeat and triumph, we know that it was here that they ended our bloodiest war.

Appomattox remains our place of closure. We flock to the reconstructed rural Virginia Court House village, we follow Lee’s retreat route, we know that Fort Sumter is where the War began, and Appomattox is where it ended. If only Reconstruction could have been so simple.

CROWDS (7/10)
More than a few other people were meandering their way back into 1865 and through the charming old village of Appomattox Court House. We half expected the diminutive U.S. Grant to appear.

The town of Appomattox is located at the point in Virginia furthest from an Interstate. Only twisty country roads lead here. It is not that the Site is far from anything, it is just not that close. Charlottesville and I-64 are 75 miles to the north via Virginia Route 20. Richmond and I-95 are about 90 miles to the east via U.S. Route 60 and Roanoke is about 75 miles west and over the Blue Ridge Mountains via U.S. Route 460. The nearest large town is Lynchburg, some 25 miles westward.

The Park site consists of a reconstructed 1865 historic village, which must be traversed on foot. The VC and the village buildings are about a ¼-mile uphill stroll from the parking lot.

Appomattox’s stellar Civil War bookstore takes up two rooms in Clover Hill Tavern kitchen, an original building built in 1819. Lee and Grant probably never stepped into this kitchen but they surely must have seen it and would probably be amazed and oddly flattered at the innumerable books that have been written about them.

While Michael browsed the shelves, Gab was transfixed for over fifteen minutes with So You Want to Be a Soldier: How to Get Started in Civil War Re-enacting. Has Michael created a monster? Probably not. Gab was just amazed with the elaborate costumes and historical proclivities of the so-called vivandieres, female companions of the legendary Zuoaves brigade.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $4 per person or a maximum of $10 per car. The fee is waived if you have the National Parks Pass.

We always appreciate when the Park Service posts additional Ranger in or around important buildings. Here, a Ranger stood inside the McLean House, site of the surrender, eager to answer questions. We talked for a good bit about the terms agreed upon in the surrender. Human interaction is so important in the give and take of learning and the knowledgeable educational Rangers are undoubtedly the Park System’s most prized jewel.

In addition to the excellent Ranger talk, we enjoyed the Museum exhibit that examined the accuracy of the paintings of the surrender and how they shaped our understanding of Lee and Grant. We also appreciated Appomattox’s many vignette-worthy anecdotes and the spectacular electric map. Robert E. Lee was surely no General Cornwallis.

Desk of SurrenderFUN (6/10)
To get to the Park Site, you need to walk up a short distance on an uphill dirt road from your car. The effect is to transport you back into time, into 1865. It works, but mainly because of the ace combination of original buildings and reconstructions.

The McLean House would probably have survived the 150 years had it not been a victim of its own fame. In 1893, speculators dismantled the building with hopes of rebuilding it in Washington D.C. as a Civil War museum. Their plan failed and the dismantled bricks and wood planks never left Appomattox. Weather eroded the building parts before they could be put back in place. The current version was finished in the 1940’s using the original blueprint and dozens of the surrender’s commemorative photos and paintings.

Appomattox is a must-see destination for any Civil War buff. For those uninterested, Appomattox will not spark any new desires. History notes that Grant suffered from a post-partum like depression after the surrender. The Civil War traveler might also feel a sad sense of closure at Appomattox. So, save your visit until you have seen all the Civil War sites, even those tiny State Park sites in Tennessee and Missouri. It is always best to delay the physical conclusion even if you know how the War ends.

TOTAL 52/80


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Vicksburg, Miss.
Visited: February 17, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 157 of 353

NPS Website; Local Website

Monument WayWHAT IS IT?
Site of Union Army’s May 18, 1863 to July 4, 1863 siege. The South’s surrender of Vicksburg gave the Union forces complete control of the Mississippi River.

BEAUTY (4/10)
Vicksburg NMP is shaped like the number 7 and contains over 1,700 acres. This shape follows the city’s high ground, contains miles of Confederate and Union earthworks and is generally narrow. The Park’s svelte character accentuates the innumerable Civil War Monuments. The remembrances are everywhere ranging from the grandiose neo-classical excess of the Illinois Memorial, replete with an open sunroof and a gold-plated eagle, to the subtle wrought iron intertwined circles of the Kansas Monument.

The most impressive monument to the Battle is actual U.S.S. Cairo ironclad gunboat, sunk in one of Grant’s preemptive raids in December of 1862 and dredged up from the bottom of the Mississippi River in the 1960’s. The boat sits under a huge white canopy fully intact, looking much as it did just prior to its demise. Displays in the nearby museum showcase items found during the salvage.

The Confederate forces surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, just a day after the Southern defeat over 1,000 miles to the northeast at Gettysburg. These are often considered the two most important battles of the Civil War.

While the Northern victory at Gettysburg was a turning point in the eastern theater of battle, their triumph in the west at Vicksburg was a fait accompli. The War’s western turning point had occurred a year and a half prior at Fort Donelson. Since then Grant had methodically pushed down the rivers into the South scoring many decisive victories.

U.S. GrantVicksburg was the last Southern stronghold in the west. Perched along a narrow stretch of the Mississippi, it was dubbed the “Gibraltar of the Confederacy”. After a few failed amphibious assaults, Grant bypassed Vicksburg, landing south of the town and defeating the Rebels at Port Gibson on May 1.

The Federals marched eastward to Jackson, Miss. taking the town on May 14, and then proceeded back to Vicksburg where they would besiege the town four days later. For 46 days, Grant bombarded the city with constant cannon fire. Town residents and Confederate soldiers built underground shelters and were reduced to eating rodents; neither food nor artillery could break the Northern lines.

Without any means of retaliation and further survival, the South’s capitulation occurred on the 4th of July, Independence Day; a holiday that many Mississippians had refused to celebrate until World War II because it coincided with Vicksburg.

CROWDS (6/10)
The Park is viewed primarily via a 16-mile auto tour route. The road is winding and isolated from Vicksburg proper. Parking might get tight along the route during the Park’s busier seasons, but we had no problem viewing whichever monuments we desired; there are enough for everyone.

The Vicksburg NMP entrance is located just off Exit 4 of Interstate 20. From every direction the route to the Battlefield is well marked. Vicksburg is a modestly sized located 45 minutes west from the State Capitol, Jackson, along Interstate 20.

The bookstore carries at least four books titled Vicksburg that ALSO have “siege” in the title. They are Vicksburg: Southern Stories of the Siege; Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege; Vicksburg: Southern City Under Siege and Vicksburg: A City Under Siege. There are plenty more books regarding the battle itself including the Confederate Roll of Honor which is just a listing of every Southern soldier who died here and the intriguingly titled My Cave Life in Vicksburg.

U.S.S. CairoThere is a section of books about Civil War Generals, many of whom did not even fight here and a section about Women and the Civil War. It is all here. If you have been desiring a frosted and embossed Vicksburg NMP Christmas tree ornament, you know where to come.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $5 per car or free with your National Parks Pass.

They were there but many of our questions were left either unanswered or accompanied with a reference to where we could find a response. We probably would have been better off asking one of the many Civil War buffs touring the grounds.

The introductory film is old, long and not so good. Since the Battle was not a traditional battle, the film tells the story with many abstract conceits. The camera zooms in and out of a man painting watercolors of the Mississippi while the viewer is asked to become the steadfast old river meandering its way into the Gulf. We wished we had meandered our way out of the theater. The film taught us nothing.

The auto tour is nice and the short explanations on the Park pamphlet help to fill in what exactly happened during the fight. The Museum holds original objects and does a much better job than the film in explaining Vicksburg especially in its detailing of the horrors endured by the besieged Southerners.

The U.S.S. Cairo Museum, located halfway through the driving tour near the National Cemetery, is a must-see. The personal objects, the ship itself and the salvaging method are fascinating.

Echo Ensues Inside Illinois MemorialFUN (5/10)

Your amount of fun at Vicksburg NMP is directly proportional to your interest in the Civil War. Kids might have fun at the U.S.S. Cairo but the rest of the auto tour is bound to be a snoozer. There are not any hiking trails through the Park, but we did see a few people walking along the auto tour road. We enjoyed Vicksburg NMP mostly because of Vicksburg’s charming downtown. Before, during and after the auto tour we sipped excellent, strong black coffee laced with a tad of Southern Pecan flavoring at the Chocolate Derby on Washington Street.

History places Vicksburg alongside Gettysburg as seminal American moments. Does visiting the Site add anything more to your understanding of the siege? Of course. Even though the Mississippi River has completely changed its course, the high ground remains as it was in 1863, complete with lines of cannons. Even though old town center has been rebuilt, one can only imagine the streets lined with antebellum mansions.

TOTAL 49/80

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Dover, Tenn.
Visited: February 11, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 150 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Mother Bickerdyke and AssistantWHAT IS IT?
The first major Union victory of the Civil War, one that saw the emergence of two of the War’s greatest heroes, U.S. Grant from the North and Confederate cavalry hero, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is located along a pleasant bend in Lake Barkley p/k/a the Cumberland River. Two looped hiking trails weave their way along the former river and through the now peaceful woodland forest. Fort Donelson has its share of monuments but is not nearly as cluttered as the more famous Civil War battlefields. There are not thousands of cannons and not every troop movement has been marked with a placard.

The Land Between the Lakes in northwestern Tennessee was a vital strategic location. In February of 1862 they were not yet man-made lakes, they were the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers; two of the three rivers that allowed easy access into the entire western potion of the South, the other river being the Mississippi. Control of the rivers meant control of the War.

On February 8, U.S. Grant captured Fort Henry, along the Tennessee, and proceeded to march 12 miles east to Fort Donelson, which protected the Cumberland. Vicious fighting ensued but by February 16, Grant’s army emerged victorious and the Federals had control of both rivers. Through tough negotiations, the Brigadier General earned his nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant” here.

Union control of the rivers marked the beginning of the end of Confederate hopes in the War’s western theater. It is not a preposterous leap to say that the South lost the War at Fort Donelson. In fact, we just did.

Every Civil War site we have visited claims to be the turning point and the most important Battle ever and at every place we buy the line until we travel on. So until the Shiloh, Corinth and Vicksburg reviews, Fort Donelson was the War’s preeminent fight.

CROWDS (6/10)
We arrived on the Battle’s 143-year anniversary to few other tourists, just a handful of re-enactors preparing tents for a mock encampment.

Confederate CannonEASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)

Fort Donelson NB is located approximately 35 miles west of Interstate 24 and the charming town of Clarksville, Tennessee. Take U.S. Route 79 the entire way from Clarksville to Dover where there will be signs leading you to the Battlefield. We ventured into town before going to the Site, lost track of Route 79 and found ourselves driving the wrong way. So be alert, Route 79 is not that easy to find.

Smaller than most Civil War stores, but still well-stocked. Most books are dedicated to Fort Donelson and its relevance to the war. The usual regimental histories are here. Those new to Tennessee can pick up guide books and state-specific resources. Copies of personal effects, such as flutes, metal pipes, and toothbrushes made of bone are all for sale.

We spent more at least ten minutes staring at a huge U.S. topographical map, complete with raised mountain ranges, behind the Ranger’s Desk. It’s a good thing it wasn’t for sale in the bookstore; we’d never be able to get it home.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

Two rangers were stationed at the Visitor Center. Two costumed interpreters inhabited the Dover Hotel. Several other staff could be heard via the Ranger’s walkie talkies, assisting the re-enactors and preparing for the big weekend.

Fort Donelson NB was the sixth Civil War we visited and the first not to have a newly remodeled Visitor Center and film. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the old displays and film. There are no regularly scheduled Ranger talks or tours.

We were lucky enough to be at Fort Donelson during anniversary weekend and enjoyed a talk with some living history re-enactors dressed as nurse Mary “Mother” Bickerdyke and her assistant who were holding court in the Dover Hotel. Once we got over the fact that these ladies were speaking in the first person about events which occurred over 100 years ago, it was a pretty nice conversation, even though Gab stumped Mother with one of her first questions, forcing the older woman out of character to consult with her assistant. Sorry!

FUN (6/10)
Our plan was to sneak into the Dover Hotel, get a few snapshots of the site where Grant accepted the Confederate surrender, then leave. We were glad that Mother Bickerdyke’s assistant engaged us in conversation. Our reluctant one word responses turned into a ten-minute discussion on the role of women, particularly nurses, on the battlefield and in post-War society. This was a refreshing change of pace.

Anniversary EncampmentWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (4/10)
Only under two circumstances: if you are vacationing at the Tennessee Valley Authority-created Land Between the Lakes or if you are a Civil War buff. An understanding of Fort Donelson as perhaps the most important strategic battle of the War Between the States is sufficient; you do not need to venture into rural northwestern Tennessee.

TOTAL 48/80

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