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 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 03:25 pm
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TimK
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I spent last week in Vicksburg and would like to share some thoughts.

First, I think we can agree that Vicksburg was a very important part of our history. Many people think it to be more critical and important to a Union victory than even Gettysburg. That is opinion and can be discussed someplace else. My issue, and not to take anything away from the battlefield and the people that work there, is the trees.

Maybe the problem is with the name. Vicksburg was a battle - a very important and ferocious battle and siege. To include the name "Park" in the title, I believe gives people a wrong impression. It seemed most people that were there while I was there were there for recreation, not to study a battle. If I could, I would change the name to "Vicksburg National Battlefield". I can dream.

Concerning the trees - the trees were not there in 1863. The trees were not there in 1899 when the veterans came back to place their monuments and markers to help commemorate this hallowed ground. The trees were planted there, I believe in the 1930's by the CCC (I may not have this totally correct). With the semi-modern trees there, it is very, very, difficult to understand the battle and the assaults that took place on May 19 and May 22, as well as the siege. It is now, for environmental reasons, nearly impossible to remove the trees to have the battlefield look as it did in 1863.

Personally, I love trees. I consider it a crime to take down a tree for frivolous reasons. But this is different. This is a battlefield - not a park. The trees - at least the trees inside the tour road - should be removed. The topography is awesome and presently (except in three or four places), cannot be seen or felt. Speaking my concerns with both the superintendent and the chief historian, I was told that although sympathetic, removing the trees will not happen. I was told that 90 acres of the trees will be removed because of others that have the same concerns as me. Ninety acres out of over 1800 - not enough in my opinion.

Having said all this, I would not stop it from visiting again, and I would certainly recommend that Vicksburg be included on a history buffs itinerary. Vicksburg is a gem - although one needs to look past the trees to see it.

I have more, but I've rambled enough. Anybody else have an opinion? I would love to hear about other people's experiences at this magnificent "battlefield".

Thanks Joe, for the forum to let me vent.



 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 04:07 pm
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9Bama
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You are correct, the trees are all consuming. To look at a battery placed as it was during the battle/siege and see that a dense forrest is only 20 yards away from the muzzles leaves one in confusion. The prioblem is one of erosion. The soil type is I believe a volcanic dust that will not erode when cut vertically, but will erode badly from bare ground. The trees were planted in an attempt to control erosion. Now the NPS doesn't know what to do about the problem. When planted, they were saplings and were pretty and did control erosion. They grew up!
I have discussed that very issue with the park folks and they are as concerned as we are, but are afraid to create a bigger problem if they wholesale cut the forrests. Of course, they could always plant Kudzu :) too awful to even dwell on...



 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 04:27 pm
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barrydancer
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I'm of two minds. The historian in me would like the field preserved as it was in 1863. The quasi-environmentalist in me doesn't like the death/destruction/relocation of so many plants, animals, and insects just for a better view.



 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 04:36 pm
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TimK
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Bama, I'm going to guess that we spoke our concerns to the same people, because the response is very familiar. I absolutely understand the erosion problem, and if I had a voice back in the 1930's, I probably would have agreed that saplings were the best way to control the problem. However, they now know (at least according to conversations with the historian), that saplings were not the best solution. I was told that they have now learned that water runs along the roots of the trees and creates a different kind of erosion issue. They now believe grass to be the best erosion solution and have actually proven this in an area in the south loop. It is now environmentalists and residents of Vicksburg (people that have never seen the battlefield without trees) that will not budge on restoration. I would not, and am thankful, the park never considered kudzu.

One more complaint, and then I would be happy to talk about the "awe" of this battlefield. There are two monuments, thanks to the construction of I-20 and our friends at Wal-Mart that are totally unaccessible. They are the 26th Indiana Infantry and the 19th, 20th, 34th, and 38th Iowa Infantry monuments. The interstate cuts off access from the north, and the city allowed the scraping off the south side of a ridge for the construction of the "Superstore". Only cliff climbing skills or a helicopter could get you to these monuments. Unbelievable and very frustrating.

I would like to say, through all this complaining, that this really is an awesome place to spend time. My frustrations really were only a small part of the trip. I came home exhausted and much more knowledgeable about this battle and siege.



 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 04:42 pm
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TimK
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Barrydancer - I absolutely have the same issues in my head. I would not do anything just for the sake of doing it. But this is a battlefield - not a park. The veterans did not come back to Vicksburg 30 years after the battle to trees for commemoration. This is a battlefield - hallowed ground. It should, in my opinion, be represented as such.



 Posted: Fri Apr 8th, 2011 06:31 pm
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9Bama
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Tim, I agree that we probably talked to the same folks,but several years apart. I have not been back in 2 years, and that conversation dates back to about 2004 or so..the grass on the south loop is beautiful, and when we were there, there was a disturbance on the hillside... backhoe there... our guide, when asked what was going on, said that some bones had probably been found. they find them all the time.
It's unfortunate, but the govt did what they thought was best in the '30's... turned out is was not the best solution and now we have groups with competing interests at work. I would come down on the side of making the field look like a battlefield instead of a primal forest. There are lots of forests ( and I am a lover of forests and the wild), but there are very few places like Vicksburg.
BTW, the very same fight goes on at Gettysburg.. they have to thin timber during the winter when onbody is lookin!



 Posted: Sat Apr 9th, 2011 12:15 am
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pamc153PA
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I have never been to Vicksburg, unfortunately, but I tend to feel the same way about trees where trees weren't at the time of the battle--which is two ways.

The most experience I have had with this is at Gettysburg. I originally began to learn the battle and spend a lot of time there before the tree cutting to return the battlefield to 1863 conditions began. I was well-used to it tree-covered when the felling started, and although part of me wanted to see what the battlefield really looked like at the time of the battle, and although as viewsheds opened up I developed a whole new perspective of parts of the battle that just never made sense hidden behind mature trees, it was kind of bewildering to me to come back after a few months and see space where there used to be woods. I did a lot of my first learning of the battlefield on foot, and it was rather pleasant to walk the woods, whether they were historically correct or not. My old forestry classes made me appreciate the trees even more. I wasn't ever one of the nay-sayers; I think it was more nostalgia.

So though I generally agree with the "return it to 1863" idea, even I have to admit to a sort of "whoa--too much too soon" feeling when I returned to the park in March after several months and found Culp's Hill looking, well, almost clean-shaven! I'm almost dreading how Powers Hill will look once they do work there. I'm not exactly used to saying, "The Triangular Field--well, the field that USED to be triangular before they cut all the trees and made it more like a huge rectangle from Warfield Ridge to Devil's Den." I do get a little thrill when they uncover Confederate earthworks like on Seminary Ridge near the old Arsenal, and I do like the idea of seeing the battlefield the way my ggggg-uncle from the 153rd PA did, but it's always my own personal little battle to not miss the woods and the walks through them too much! I have to remember, too, that we really can't view the past through the present's eyes and be fair to the prevailing thought at the time, like the CCC's tree planting at Vickburg or the "parklike" setting at Gettysburg. It's just better to figure out how to fix it! 



 Posted: Sat Apr 9th, 2011 12:17 am
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pamc153PA
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bama,

I thought they cleared the trees in the winter because the ground was frozen and didn't get all chewed up by the equipment as much. . . although, now that I think of it, I could see the other reason!



 Posted: Sat Apr 9th, 2011 01:45 pm
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9Bama
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pamc153PA wrote: bama,

I thought they cleared the trees in the winter because the ground was frozen and didn't get all chewed up by the equipment as much. . . although, now that I think of it, I could see the other reason!

I am going by what a battlefield guide told me at one of our trips to G'burg.  My comment was "almost" a direct quote...some comments withheld in the interest of peace :)



 Posted: Sun Apr 10th, 2011 12:55 am
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TimK
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And as irony would have it - I was in Vicksburg for Park Days and part of what the volunteers did was plant trees. Go figure.

As bama and probably others can attest, Vicksburg is a different type of CW National Park. At Gettysburg, Shiloh, Antietam (because of the new trails), Chickamauga, etc., visitors are allowed and encouraged to get off the beaten path. Because of the fire ants, poisonous snakes, and God knows what else, it is strongly advised that visitors stay on the main roads in Vicksburg. It is near impossible to stray to get a better feel of the land.

In just about every other instance, I would argue just as strongly if not more to keep the trees. They are beautiful. I would not even argue that the battlefield be fully restored. I just think that because of the way the battlefield is, the trees on the interior of the park road loops should be removed.

It is a battlefield. As I was walking along the roads I was thinking that I probably couldn't walk more than five steps without walking on a spot where a soldier gave the ultimate for their cause. I also wondered how many people that were simply using the battlefield roads for exercise and recreation would have the same thoughts. I would bet not many.



 Posted: Mon Apr 11th, 2011 10:43 pm
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Captain Crow
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It's been a couple of years since I last toured Vicksburg. I love the place, love the history, and hate those darn trees! I carry a compass when I tour a battlefield just so I can keep my geographical perspective re: troop movements etc. Unfortunately even that didn't keep me from becoming disoriented while driving those curvy tree-lined roads.



 Posted: Sun May 8th, 2011 02:53 pm
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Wrap10
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Vicksburg is one of my favorite parks, and is probably a very close second to Shiloh for me. Like I think pretty much everyone has said already, I can see both sides of the tree issue at Vicksburg. Shiloh is very similar, in that it's a beautiful park and the trees contribute to that, but it can also make it difficult to get a sense for what happened during the battle. You could forgive a first-time visitor for wondering why anyone would point a cannon at all those innocent and beautiful trees just a few feet away. :)

I've seen a few early 20th Century pictures from Vicksburg, and like Tim says, you can see that the park was more open at that time than it is now. It's the same for Shiloh. The trees and underbrush were not as thick and overpowering as they are now. You had better lines of sight, or so it looks like from the pictures. Part of me would like to see it that way again at both parks. But when I think that, part of me also says not so fast with the chainsaw there, big boy. Those trees are what make Shiloh and Vicksburg the Shiloh and Vicksburg that I know and love. You go messing with that, you might regret it.

Even so, I think some sort of compromise must be possible, even though it certainly wouldn't be easy or quick. Plus, I don't think you have to cut down everything. At Shiloh, for instance, thinning out some of the underbrush would go a long way in helping to re-establish some of 1862 sight lines. Easier said than done, but still. At Vicksburg, thinning out some of the trees between the lines would do much the same thing. Maybe not all of them, but enough so that folks could get an idea of what it would have looked like in 1863.

I do have to disagree just a tad with the idea that Vicksburg is not a park, even though I do agree that it's a battlefield. I think it's actually both, and that it was meant to be both. The same holds for the other battlefield parks. In fact, that whole subject is somewhat fascinating to me. I posted a note about it a while back on the Shiloh board that I run, about the dichotomy underlying the idea of something being a "battlefield park." I still think that's about the most ironic description a person could come up with, and yet it fits perfectly. And that duel nature is something that I think all of us sense when we visit one of those battlefield parks. Even if we aren't always consciously aware of it. For lack of a better way of putting it, there's a 'something' underneath the calm and tranquil exterior of a park like Vicksburg or Shiloh. That 'something' is the stark nature of the battlefield, which forever lurks within, and as part of, the undeniable beauty of the more visible park. It's not really something you can see. It's something you quite simply sense.

Perry



 Posted: Mon May 9th, 2011 11:05 pm
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TimK
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Perry - Concerning the slight disagreement about whether Vicksburg is a park or a battlefield or both - I understand where you are coming from. It is a matter of semantics. My thinking came from this - ask somebody what comes to mind when you say the word park. Most people would say a place to enjoy recreation, with ballfields, soccer pitches, and playgrounds. Then ask people what they think of when you say battlefield. I don't think you will get the same answer.

If you visit a Memorial Park, it is a cemetery first and foremost - not a park in my mind. If you visit a Military or Battlefield Park, it is a battlefield and should be treated as such. I've pulled out my lunch and enjoyed eating at picnic tables at a few battlefields, and the word "Park" is in most CW battlefield site's names, so maybe they are parks in that sense. But I would sincerely have a problem with somebody that pulled out a frisbee. I suppose my issue comes with the people, and I have seen many of them, that don't feel that "something" underneath that you speak of and have no respect for where they are (see Kennesaw Mountain).



 Posted: Tue May 10th, 2011 03:25 am
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9Bama
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TimK wrote: Perry - Concerning the slight disagreement about whether Vicksburg is a park or a battlefield or both - I understand where you are coming from. It is a matter of semantics. My thinking came from this - ask somebody what comes to mind when you say the word park. Most people would say a place to enjoy recreation, with ballfields, soccer pitches, and playgrounds. Then ask people what they think of when you say battlefield. I don't think you will get the same answer.

If you visit a Memorial Park, it is a cemetery first and foremost - not a park in my mind. If you visit a Military or Battlefield Park, it is a battlefield and should be treated as such. I've pulled out my lunch and enjoyed eating at picnic tables at a few battlefields, and the word "Park" is in most CW battlefield site's names, so maybe they are parks in that sense. But I would sincerely have a problem with somebody that pulled out a frisbee. I suppose my issue comes with the people, and I have seen many of them, that don't feel that "something" underneath that you speak of and have no respect for where they are (see Kennesaw Mountain).

Very well said. too often folks get the attitude of " its public property so I can do anything I want to"  and out come the frisbees, and the other  playgorund activities. I don't even like to see the joggers. Those places, and there are few of them and there are many recreational parks, are indeed hallowed ground. Peolpe struggled fought bled and died on the very fields they "play" on and it is disrespectful.



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