The Vicksburg Campaign Trail Feasibility Study
by Harlan D. Unrau
The surrender of Vicksburg—the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy"—on July 4, 1863, was a significant milestone in the ultimate success of the Union army and the reunification of the Nation. Followed by the fall of Port Hudson 5 days later and 125 miles downriver, the Northern objective of the war in the West—the opening of the Mississippi River and the severing of the Confederacy—was at last realized.
Command of the waterway enabled uninterrupted passage of Union troops, supplies, and commerce from the Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico. It also isolated Texas, Arkansas, and most of Louisiana, States that the South was heavily dependent upon for supplies, munitions, foodstuffs, and recruits. The strategy behind the Vicksburg Campaign was wide-ranging and brilliant, employing long and difficult flanking maneuvers and logistical operations, cavalry raids, skirmishes, pitched battles, naval engagements, and siege warfare.
Public interest in the surviving resources associated with the Vicksburg Campaign led to the enactment of the Vicksburg Campaign Trail Battlefields Preservation Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-487). This law authorizes the National Park Service to study how to manage, preserve, and interpret Civil War battlefields and related resources along the Vicksburg Campaign Trail in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Legislation has been introduced to add Kentucky.
A meeting of National Park Service historians and representatives of the respective State Historic Preservation Offices or State historical commissions was convened in Corinth, Mississippi, August 28-29, 2001, to draft a comprehensive list of resources along the trail. To encourage the widest possible involvement, eight public meetings were held between March 4 and May 30, 2002. Public comments were also solicited through the media; a brochure, The Vicksburg Campaign Trail: Exploring Partnerships for Preservation and Interpretation; a Website (www.nps.gov/vick); and meetings with current and potential partners.
The dominant themes that emerged were a passion for Civil War heritage, a vision of the Vicksburg Campaign Trail as a unifying theme for the region, and a recognition of the economic benefits of promoting heritage tourism. While the study is not complete as of this writing, the principal recommendation is expected to be the creation of a new national initiative. The initiative would provide a management structure for Federal, State, and local interests and promote collaborative programs for the more than 500 sites identified along the Vicksburg Campaign Trail. An advisory committee would be established to serve as the "lead managing partner" for administering the Vicksburg Campaign Trail Initiative.
Consultations between National Park Service historians and State representatives evaluated the significance of the 500 historic sites identified along the trail using criteria developed by the National Park Service's American Battlefield Protection Program and adapted for use in this feasibility study. All sites were ranked as follows—
Tier One: Decisive/Major
Sites associated with decisive battles that had a direct, observable impact on the direction, duration, conduct, or outcome of the Civil War or major battles that had a direct, observable impact on the direction, duration, conduct, or outcome of the Vicksburg Campaign.
Tier Two: Formative
Sites associated with battles that accomplished a limited campaign objective of reconnaissance, disruption, defense, or occupation and that had an observable influence on the direction, duration, or conduct of the Vicksburg Campaign.
Tier Three: Limited
Sites associated with battles that achieved a limited tactical objective of reconnaissance, defense, or occupation and that had little or no observable influence on the direction of the Vicksburg Campaign.
War-related activities, especially those associated with civil wars, do not occur exclusively on battlefields. Thus, there are numerous important associated nonbattlefield Civil War sites in the Vicksburg Campaign Trail region that together with the battlefields tell the broad story of the Civil War and its effect on the Nation's citizenry and localities. Associated sites include arsenals and armories; camps/contraband camps; cemeteries; fortifications/military posts; headquarters buildings; homes of Civil War participants; hospitals; iron works, furnaces, and factories; prisons; schools; and vessels.
All Tier One sites were evaluated against the National Park Service's criteria for new units in the National Park System. Inclusion is not recommended if resource preservation, interpretation, and public enjoyment opportunities can be provided by other means.
Recommendations for Tier One sites may include inclusion in the National Park System as detached units of Vicksburg National Military Park or expansion of existing National Park units to preserve significant resources not currently protected. Options also include National Park Service technical assistance and aid in identifying funding sources, organizations, partnerships, or potential cooperative agreements that could assist existing State parks, private landowners, or other governmental entities to manage, preserve, and interpret sites. Public acquisition of sites and transfer of their management to Federal or State agencies is another alternative.
Sites not categorized as Tier One sites will be examined to determine appropriate mechanisms for resource preservation, interpretation, and development for visitor use. This process will involve evaluating alternatives such as continued management by State or local governments, the private sector, or other Federal agencies, or identification of partnerships that would provide for more effective resource preservation and interpretation.
About the Author
Harlan D. Unrau is a cultural resource specialist with the Denver Service Center, National Park Service. He can be reached at Denver Service Center, National Park Service, P. O. Box 25287, Denver, CO 80225-0287; Telephone (303) 969-2254, E-mail Harlan_Unrau@nps.gov.