It’s 8:30 a.m. and I’m sitting in the pleasant, window-lined breakfast room of Anchuca, a pre-Civil War mansion in Vicksburg that is now an elegant B&B. I’m enjoying a great breakfast—Vidalia onion and ham quiche, cheese grits, thick-sliced country bacon, and a cup of fresh fruit—but there’s a piece of paper in front of me that’s making me a bit anxious.
It’s a list of all of the things I’d to see and do today in Vicksburg, and it runs to some 30 items. There is, of course, Vicksburg National Military Park, the city’s biggest draw. Then there are historic homes—more than a dozen of them. There are galleries, shops, and museums. There are parks and restaurants.
There’s no way I’ll be able to get to all of these places, but could I get to most of them?
* * *
9:15 a.m.: I arrive at the visitor center of Vicksburg National Military Park, which commemorates the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, a turning point in the Civil War. The Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau has arranged for me to have a two-hour guided tour of the park. I’m greeted by Gary Millett, who will be my guide.
As we drive along park roads that follow the Union and Confederate lines, Gary keeps up a running narrative, explaining the strategic importance of Vicksburg and recounting the momentous events of the spring and summer of 1863. His knowledge of the park and the siege seem encyclopedic. We stop frequently to look at sights such as cannons, trenches, historical markers, and monuments. When we swing through antebellum neighborhoods of Vicksburg, Gary describes how the town’s increasingly desperate populace coped during those terrible 47 days.
The two-hour tour stretches to three hours, but this sprawling park deserves that much time.
When we arrive back at the visitor center, I thank Gary, then hop back in my car and head to my next destination.
12:30 p.m.: I turn into the parking lot of The Tomato Place, which sits along U.S. 61 just south of Vicksburg. This ramshackle roadside spot is part produce stand, part café, and part craft gallery. I had stopped here yesterday evening on my way into Vicksburg, but it was just closing.
I browse among displays of vegetables and fruit from local farms and gardens, locally produced honey and sorghum, homemade jams and preserves, and boiled green peanuts. I chat with the owner, Luke Hughes, then take a seat in the small, colorfully painted dining room and enjoy a BLT, sweet potato fries, and a smoothie made from fresh blackberries and bananas.
1:45 p.m.: Back in Vicksburg, I stop at Navy Circle, a bluff-top spot offering a panoramic view of the Mississippi River and the two impressive bridges that cross it side-by-side. I meet a nice young couple from Belgium who are traveling from Memphis to New Orleans. I snap their picture and they snap mine.
2:05 p.m.: I arrive at Cedar Grove, one of Vicksburg’s best-known antebellum mansions. (Like Anchuca, it’s now a B&B.) It’s been carefully restored and contains many original furnishings. I take a self-guided tour, wondering what it would be like to live in such a grand home.
Afterwards, I stroll around the surrounding Garden District, checking out other historic homes such as Ahern’s Belle of the Bends and The Corners. Then I remember something that I had meant to see in Cedar Grove. I return to the house and head straight to the parlor. There it is: a Union cannonball that has been lodged in the wall since the Civil War.
2:44 p.m.: A few blocks north of Cedar Grove, I make an unplanned stop at Solly’s Hot Tamales. Several people I’ve met on this road trip have mentioned this venerable spot—it’s been around for more than 50 years—and I’d like to sample the tamales. The problem is, I’m not the slightest bit hungry, since I finished lunch just over an hour ago. I decide to order a half-dozen and save them for later. (To read about my first taste of Mississippi hot tamales, click here.)
3:05 p.m.: I step into the H.C. Porter Gallery on Washington Street in downtown Vicksburg. Lauchlin Fields, the director of the gallery, explains how this well-known local artist uses photos, silk-screening, and acrylic paint to create her bold, brightly colored paintings of Mississippi people and places.
3:15 p.m.: I walk a block south and peer into the window of Yesterday’s Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum. Dozens of old dolls stare back at me from their shelves. Since time is short, I decide not to go in.
3:17 p.m.: I cross the street and enter the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum, which occupies the former home of the Biedenharn Candy Company. Here, in 1894, Coca-Cola was bottled for the first time by Joe Biedenharn. The museum has some interesting old photos and bottling equipment, but most of the space is devoted to unexciting memorabilia such as old Coca-Cola trays, signs, bottles, and knick-knacks.
3:40 p.m.: A few doors south of the museum, I climb a flight of stairs to The Attic Gallery. Nearly every square inch of this funky place is filled with paintings, sculptures, pottery, and other art objects such as decorated lamps and birdhouses made of bottle caps. A harried but helpful employee explains that the gallery specializes in “outsider art”—that is, art created by self-taught artists.
I could spend hours looking around, but I suddenly remember that a museum I’d really like to visit closes at 4. Or is it 5? I scramble back down the stairs and race to my car.
4:10 p.m.: I arrive at the old Warren County Courthouse, a majestic 1858 Greek Revival building perched atop one of the highest hills in Vicksburg. It houses the Old Court House Museum, which, fortunately for me, stays open until 5 today. I take a quick tour of the museum, which is divided into a half dozen or so themed rooms. The highlight for me is the Confederate Room, which brings the Siege of Vicksburg to life through displays of Civil War uniforms, flags, correspondence, rifles, cannonballs, and shells.
4:55 p.m.: I drive a few blocks to the Duff Green Mansion, a stately Palladian-style home built in 1856 and now operating as a B&B. I walk up to steps to the porch, which is framed by intricate wrought-iron railings and columns. I’d like to see the inside of the mansion, but when I ring the doorbell no one answers.
5:10 p.m.: After a short drive back to downtown Vicksburg, I park on Levee Street, step across some railroad tracks, and walk along the concrete floodwall that contains the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals. The 32 murals portray key events, people, and places in the city’s history. They’re really nicely done.
I cross Levee Street and stroll through the Art Park at Catfish Row, a children’s park that includes a playground, gardens, a splash fountain, murals painted by kids, and a colorful steamboat-themed play area. It’s an inviting place, but right now it’s deserted.
6:00 p.m.: I arrive back at Anchuca for a brief rest.
6:30 p.m.: Bill Seratt, the executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, picks me up at Anchuca and we drive to Rusty’s Riverfront Grill for dinner.
Bill is excellent company, and the food is great. After sharing appetizers of fried asparagus and fried green tomatoes, I have blackened flounder on salad, followed by a dessert of bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
8:30 p.m.: Bill drops me off at Anchuca. After being on the go for most of the past 12 hours, I’m exhausted. I collapse on my bed.
I try to relax, but I keep thinking there’s something I’ve forgotten to do. And then it hits me: the tamales from Solly’s—I never got around to trying them. They’re sitting in a bag on the desk. Even though I’m full, I have a few bites. Wow, are they good.
After these last few tastes of Vicksburg, I’m finally ready to call it a day.—Brett Gover
For more photos from Vicksburg, visit our Flickr site.