Driving through Vicksburg is upsetting. More upsetting than visiting the Preston Castle in Ione, or the mausoleums at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, or the Old Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver.

Unlike most places that promote their haunted-ness, I consider those places listed above actually haunted because at some point while visiting I wandered through or experienced something creepy.

Vicksburg is on a wholly different level from all these places. The hills remember the carnage and they periodically re-live these moments. That’s the only way I can explain it. They moan, they cry out, they yell, they rush, they get cold, they spit out strange things, and they are unbelievably beautiful and unsettling at the same time.

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I kept catching people running out of the corner of my eye. I could hear people shouting and dying whenever I stopped to take photos. I saw a shadowy pair of legs standing near a slab of cement in a field; just legs, no body. I felt myself getting angry for no reason… only to have it disappear. It’s like the hills absorbed all the events and emotions felt in 1863 and now spit it back out periodically.

I’m glad Vicksburg is a national park because I couldn’t imagine people actually living on that land. The only thing that should be on that land is memorials.

The Memorials

As you enter the park, you immediately see gads and gads of marble statues. Each state placed a memorial where their soldiers fought. Some are small, some are large, some are massive and overwhelming.

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There are also red and blue signs throughout showing you where the battle lines were… and whether they were Confederate or Union. People come to the park frequently to follow these battle lines and study troop positions. Roughly, one half of the park is blue and the other half is red.

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At the top of the Wisconsin memorial is Old Abe, the Wisconsin Civil War mascot.

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The eagle followed the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry into battle at Vicksburg and became an important symbol for Wisconsin and the Union. The opposing troops called Abe the Yankee Buzzard and put a bounty on him. He became a frequent target for enemy fire.

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But, Abe survived the battle and many others… and elicited controversy when people fought over whether he was a male (Abe) or female (Abigail) bald eagle. This debate raged for well over a century as politicians and activists periodically used the bird’s gender to promote their cause.

Recently, DNA tests confirmed that Abe was indeed male.

Digging Underground

While soldiers were fighting above ground, people were living underground. Because of the shelling and gunfire, caves were the safest place for civilians to live during the siege. People did the best they could to make life in the caves comfortable but it was hard without proper food, water, or basic necessities; some resorted to eating pets or small animals when the city ran out of food.

According to the small museum at the site,

Single family caves had only one or two rooms, others were huge and accommodated as many as 200. To avoid entrapment and induce air circulation caves often had several entrances. Cooking took place outside the entrances.

Amenities were preserved in the caves with carpets, furnishings and wall niches for books, candles, and flowers. jane Bitterman described her underground quarters as "far more pleasant that the people imagine".

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If you’re interested in reading first hand accounts, there are a fair number of stories, letters, and diaries published from the Siege of Vicksburg: