The historic port of VICKSBURG straddles a high bluff on a bend in the Mississippi, 44 miles west of Jackson. During the Civil War, its domination of the river halted Union shipping and led Abraham Lincoln to call Vicksburg the “key to the Confederacy”. It was a crucial target for General Ulysses S. Grant, who eventually landed to the south in the spring of 1863, circled inland and attacked from the east. After a 47-day siege, the outnumbered Confederates surrendered on the Fourth of July – a holiday Vicksburg declined to celebrate for the next 81 years – and Lincoln was able to rejoice that “the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea”.
As the Mississippi has changed course since the 1860s, it’s now the slender, canalized Yazoo River rather than the broad Mississippi that flows alongside the battlefield and most of downtown Vicksburg. The core of the city, a bare but attractive place of precipitous streets, steep terraces and wooded ravines, has changed little, however, despite the arrival of permanently moored riverfront casinos. Downtown, especially Washington Street, is being restored to its original late-Victorian appearance, though most of its finest buildings were destroyed during the siege.