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Mississippi Majesty in Vicksburg

Like a bejeweled queen atop her throne, regal and lovely Vicksburg sits high on a bluff overlooking the mighty Mississippi River.

It’s a prime position that has brought much change-making drama to this Mississippi town of 20,000, but there is more here to greet group travelers than century-old homes. Along with long-loved offerings like the National Military Park and a rich diversity of tour homes, Vicksburg now features two newer downtown institutions that sparkle as brightly as gems in a crown.

Travel planners would do well to allow time for their groups to explore sites from the city’s dynamic present, as well as its profoundly historic past.

Vicksburg National Military Park

A critical Confederate river port during the Civil War, Vicksburg was the site of a long, bloody siege by the Union Army that raged from May 18 to July 4, 1863. When the city finally fell, its loss split the South in two, delivered control of the Mississippi to the North and contributed to the Confederacy losing the war. Today, the 1,800-acre park, which was established in 1899, is the state’s top attraction, said Ashley Gatian, sales and marketing manager for Visit Vicksburg. “They welcome almost half a million visitors per year, and they are very well-versed in working with groups.”

Licensed step-on guides are available to lead two-hour, battle-centric tours through some of the key attractions in the park. They include the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum, featuring the restored vessel and plenty of historical artifacts; 20 miles of reconstructed trenches and earthworks; the pre-Civil War era Shirley House; and Vicksburg National Cemetery. Or groups can focus on the sculptures and architecture in the park, estimated to be worth a whopping $4 billion to $5 billion. The Art of Commemoration tour dives deep into the story of some of the more than 1,400 monuments and memorials that grace the park’s landscape, honoring the soldiers and sailors who fought on both sides of the history-making campaign.

Historic Tour Homes

Founded in 1811, Vicksburg blossomed into a bustling center for commerce thanks largely to its location on the Mississippi. Wealthy citizens built handsome residences, each more grand than the last, and a number still remain as tour homes. Two of the finest, Anchuca Historic Mansion and Inn and Duff Green Mansion, are just a block from one another in Old Town Vicksburg. Planners can arrange a drop-off at the former, giving groups the opportunity to stroll the charming neighborhood, lined with brick streets and lit by gas lanterns, on the way to the latter.

Anchuca was home to Joseph E. Davis, brother of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who is said to have given a speech from the structure’s front balcony. Groups can take guided tours and even enjoy an elegant tea on the property, which dates to the 1830s, that includes sampling goodies made in-house by Anchuca’s owner, a professional baker.

Duff Green has an equally notable past. Built in 1856, it served as a Civil War hospital and was visited by Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

“During the tour, the guide explains what it would be like to be invited to a party prior to the siege,” Gatian said. “So, you see the main dining room where the formal dinner would have taken place, the ballroom where Jefferson Davis once danced, and the ladies’ parlor and the gentlemen’s parlor. It’s wonderful.”

Catfish Row Museum

The Catfish Row Museum only debuted a few years ago. But like any particularly vibrant venture, it continues to expand and evolve. In June, the cultural institution cut the ribbon on a new demonstration/teaching kitchen, a continuation of its mission to showcase and explore Vicksburg’s diverse cultural heritage. Recent events there have included a demonstration of native cooking by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, as well as an exploration of the slow food concept by Nick Wallace, renowned Mississippi chef and winner of the Food Network shows “Chopped” and “Fire Masters.”

Meanwhile, the museum continues to host impressive rotating exhibits, from a recent Smithsonian traveling examination of democracy in voting to in-depth looks at Black history, women’s history and Vicksburg merchants. Set within the Christian and Brough Building, which was constructed in 1905 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Catfish Row Museum is “a great addition to our historic downtown,” said Gatian. “It’s a free museum to tour. I feel certain the owner, Linda Fondren, would be happy to meet with groups, as long as they book in advance and request a talk with her. There might also be a possibility of setting up something in the kitchen, depending on if a chef is available.”

Vicksburg Civil War Museum

The Vicksburg Civil War Museum, which also boasts a convenient downtown location, is an expansive storefront attraction with thousands of artifacts on exhibit that were culled from the private collection of owner Charles Pendleton. Unlike most other institutions throughout the country detailing the horrors of slavery and the War Between the States, “the museum tells the story from the Black perspective,” Gatian said. “Charles opened it in 2021, so it’s actually our newest attraction. He’s fantastic — he loves to welcome groups.”

Visitors can expect to be deeply moved by the museum, the exhibits of which begin with framed copies of succession letters drafted by 11 Southern states. Other highlights include a huge array of weaponry, such as cannons and artillery shells; the furnished enslaved person’s wood cabin, which Pendleton transported in pieces from an area farm and reassembled in the museum; and a 52nd United States Colored Infantry enlistment paper. Many of the signatures are simple Xs, indicating those brave souls willing to fight to death for their freedom were often unable to read or write.