(NOTE: I didn't remember any of this from school; we watched the movie at the Visitors Center and there are lots of signs in the park.)
During the Civil War, both the North and the South wanted control of the Mississippi. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was in charge of the Union offense, and CSA Lt. Gen. John Pemberton* was in charge of the defense at Vicksburg, MS. The Confederates were on top of a bluff above the river, and were able to protect their position by shooting down at people. By mid-May, Grant tried two assaults uphill, lost a lot of men, then decided on a siege. After 46 days, the South had a really low morale problem: no hope of reinforcements and 10,000 soldiers were suffering from disease and malnutrition. Pemberton decided to surrender. Good thing he did because the Union soldiers were digging trenches and tunnels to get inside the Confederate fortifications, and in a couple more days they'd have broken through.
Vicksburg National Military Park was created in 1899. In the early 1900s, veterans from both sides came back for a memorial jubilee, and marked where they fought. There are over 1,330 commemorative markers, plaques, tablets, monuments and memorials in the park. That's pretty impressive. (Thankfully we didn't stop to read every one.)
Markers are along the lines of "We slept here".
There are monuments too, although I'm not sure what the difference is. I think a memorial might be a monument, but maybe a monument can be a memorial. It's possible they're synonyms...or maybe it's just a case of identity theft.
There are statues of officers who were killed in battle. I'm not sure if they're monuments or memorials, maybe both.
The 16-mile battlefield tour starts along Union lines. Numbered stops along the way have information signs (which are different than all that other stuff). You can find out even more if you listen to the cell phone tour. There are trees now so it's not as open as it was in 1863--and, of course, none of the markers, plaques, statues and memorials were there then. But you can still see the hills, and where some of the Union trenches were.
We kept seeing a lot of kids--turns out they're local freshmen on a field trip. Their teacher had them walk the Union lines Saturday, and the Confederate lines Sunday. At each stop, he'd give mini-lessons about the battle. He told George he'd taken over 2,000 kids through the battlefield! What a great way to learn American history, especially in your own backyard.
About halfway, there's a museum for the U.S.S. Cairo, an ironclad ship that was sunk just north of Vicksburg. You can even see where the mine hit it.
It was Junior Ranger Day so we got to see some of the new recruits in training.
Vicksburg National Cemetery has over 17,000 graves (not all from the Civil War). More than 13,000 are unmarked. The Confederate soldiers are buried outside the park.
Go here for a slide show of Vicksburg Natl Military Park
*I didn't know this: Lt. Gen. John Pemberton's nephew was the inventor of Coca-Cola.