Vicksburg NMP: Mississippi’s Monuments

Apart from the large “person” monuments we looked at yesterday, the monuments that really catch the eye at Vicksburg National Military Park are the state memorials. The Park’s website lists the monuments, separated by which side of the war they were on, with Missouri’s one monument showing up in both the Confederate and Union lists:

Confederate


Alabama
Arkansas
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maryland
Mississippi
Missouri
North Carolina
South Carolina
Tennessee
Texas
Virginia

Union


Connecticut
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Missouri
New Hampshire
New York
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
West Virginia
Wisconsin

I would contend though that Mississippi should also appear in both lists, and that its two monuments are the only case of one state having a monument on both Union Avenue and Confederate Avenue.

This is the “first” and obvious Mississippi monument:

And this is what the Park’s website has to say about it:

The Mississippi State Memorial is located on Confederate Avenue at Milepost 12.3 of the park tour road. It was erected at a cost of $32,000 and dedicated on November 13, 1909 by Governor F. E. Noel and accepted by Blewett Lee. The bronze work was fabricated in Rome, Italy and shipped to New Orleans, LA on April 20, 1912. The memorial is constructed of Mount Airy, NC Granite and is 76′ high.

The bronze work represents various actions of the Mississippi troops during the Siege of Vicksburg. At the monument’s front is a statue of Clio, Muse of History. Sculpted by Frederick E. Triebel, the memorial was damaged by lightening in 1951. The memorial was repaired in 1954 by Western Waterproofing Company of Jackson, MS under contract with the State of Mississippi.

When I was looking at the monument, I noticed that the back side was exposed unfinished stones with lightning rod coming down two sides. Whether this was always quite this unfinished, or whether it’s a result of the 1950s repairs, I don’t know.

As you can see, the monument falls into the “obelisk with large decorated base” category, as do several other state monuments and the U.S. Navy monument we saw yesterday.

[At this point, I planned to go into a bit of detail about the history and symbolism of the obelisk, but when I googled it, I decided to just let y’all go off on that journey by yourselves. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of . . . interesting websites out there dealing with this topic.]

Unlike those monuments, the Mississippi obelisk rises out from a four-sided structure that resembles a Greek temple. As you saw yesterday and will see even more in the next couple of days, the imagery of the Vicksburg Park’s monuments is almost entirely classical, without any real Christian symbolism, at least that I could find. While of course classical imagery was back in style in the early 20th century and had been used in the service of Christian worship for a while, I am a little surprised that this most American of wars commemorated in a state known for its Protestant Christianity is commemorated almost completely with classical and pagan symbols.

Meanwhile, across the way on Grant Avenue on the Union side of the Park, stands a monument to Mississippi’s African American soldiers, who served in the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry regiments, African Descent, as well as to “all Mississippians of African descent who served in the Vicksburg campaign.” As I recall (and my memory is a little fuzzy), this last part about “all Mississippians” was added to include those who served on the Confederate side in some capacity, although there is quite a vigorous debate about whether those slaves serving in the Confederate lines were acting with any sort of independent agency.

Here’s what the Park website has to say about how this monument came to be in the Park, dedicated in 2004, almost 100 years after the “official” Mississippi state monument.

The African American Monument is located on the south side of Grant Avenue between milepost 4.3 and 4.4. Erected by the State of Mississippi at a cost of $300,000, including $25,000 contributed by the City of Vicksburg, the sculpture is the work of Dr. Kim Sessums, from Brookhaven, Mississippi. The monument consists of three bronze figures on a base of black African granite — two black Union soldiers, and a common field hand. The field hand and one soldier support between them the second soldier, who is wounded and represents the sacrifice in blood made by black soldiers on the field of battle during the Civil War. The field hand looks behind at a past of slavery, while the first soldier gazes toward a future of freedom secured by force of arms on the field of battle.

An NPS brochure places this monument in a larger context:

Of the more than 1,300 monuments in the park, this memorial is the first to honor black troops, and the first tribute of its type honoring African American soldiers placed on any of the Civil War battlefields administered by the National Park Service.

It’s interesting that while the NPS quote above fully acknowledges that this monument was funded by the State of Mississippi and the City of Vicksburg and it refers in another paragraph to the “Mississippi African American Monument,” the webpage label for this monument is “African American Monument” and it is not included in the list of the state monuments, shown above. This is unfortunate, since it plays along with the common misconception that only white Mississippians qualify as “Mississippi” while black Mississippians are in some sort of category on their own.

I’m probably stepping into something I’d rather not, but I have to say that it would be most helpful for the National Park Service to take this tiny little step toward acknowledging that the monuments to both black and white Mississippians are “Mississippi Monuments” since the Mississippi Legislature (composed of both white and black Mississippians) gave money–admittedly late and perhaps under pressure–for monuments commemorating the sacrifices of Mississippians on both sides of the terrible divide. It might blow everyone’s mind to have a fully recognized Mississippi monument on Grant Avenue, but if it’s one thing Mississippians love, it’s to be paradoxical.

This post is part of a five-part series about Vicksburg National Military Park. Want to read more?



Categories: Historic Preservation

1 reply

  1. I agree completely about African American monument. As it is the ONLY state monument to black troops in a National Military Park, the State of Mississippi should be recognized for that achievement.

    Like

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