We visited the Vicksburg National Military Museum on our way to Memphis from New Orleans. This National Park is a wonderfully well preserved and maintained historic civil war battle site.
The U.S.S. Cairo, a noted Civil War ironclad, is now preserved as part of a special display on the northern edge of the battlefield. Once a powerful Union vessel, she is remarkably well preserved and offers visitors a unique opportunity to actually step aboard a warship that is more than 140 years old.A “super weapon” of her time, the Cairo was constructed as part of a plan by the Union to develop a flotilla of ironclad gunboats that would be used as both defensive and offensive weapons on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. More powerful than anything then afloat on the interior rivers, these seven vessels helped change the tide of the war in the Mississippi valley. Constructed at Mound City, Illinois, and commissioned in January of 1862, the Cairo saw action at the Battles of Plum Point and Memphis. In the latter action, she helped devastate the Confederate river fleet in a battle that was as stunning to Southern hopes as it was destructive to the Confederacy’s fleet. As Union authorities cast their sights down the Mississippi, they realized that the Yazoo River just north of Vicksburg played a vital role in the city’s defense. The river had been fortified by the Confederates and plans to take Vicksburg from the north necessitated a clearing of Southern opposition from theYazoo. On December 12, 1862, the Cairo was sent up the Yazoo River. As the flotilla reached a point seven miles north of Vicksburg, Confederate artillery batteries opened fire.The captain of the Cairo was Lieutenant Commander Thomas Selfridge, Jr. He ordered his men to clear for action and turned the ironclad to engage the Southern cannon. He had no way of knowing that the Confederates had anticipated a naval attack and had planned for it. “Torpedoes” (what we now call mines) had been placed in the Yazoo. As the ironclad turned to open fire on the Confederate shore batteries, electric charges were sent down the wires connecting the mines to shore and two massive explosions lifted the Cairo from the water. Water poured into the ironclad, but almost miraculously the officers and crews did not panic but instead evacuated the vessel with no lives lost. She sank to the bottom of the river in just twelve minutes, the first warship in history to be sunk by an electronic mine.The disaster proved critical and the Union expedition up the Yazoo ended in defeat. The Cairo remained on the bottom of the river for a century. A footnote to the Vicksburg Campaign, she was all but forgotten. In the 1960s, however, a massive effort was undertaken to salvage the vessel after it was realized that she was still largely intact and buried in the mud on the bottom of the Yazoo. The enormous size and weight of the Cairo prevented her from being raised in one piece, so she was cut into three sections and brought to the surface in pieces. The three sections were then carried to the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, where the wreck was carefully cleaned and preserved. In 1977, Cairo was moved to Vicksburg National Military Park as an outdoor exhibit. Since then, she has been the focus of a major preservation effort and is now the centerpiece of an outstanding museum complex within the national park. Walkways provide visitors with the extremely rare chance to actually step aboard a real Civil War ironclad. The cannon are still in place and visitors and the points where the mines exploded are clearly visible.
As you can tell I was enamored with the USS Cairo.
We reached or purpose for going to Memphis around 3pm- Graceland. The tour was unexpectedly high tech. They gave each attendee their own iPad and headphones. The tour was narrated and switched from room to room automatically as you entered, triggered by a sensor. Not everyone in our group even knew what Graceland was but they are all big Elvis fans now.
We stopped in for dinner at Marlowe’s. This has to be the best restaurant in Memphis. It is so unpretentious yet full of history and memorabilia. The staff is super friendly and the food outstanding. Particularly distinctive was the barbecued spaghetti and Mississippi mud cake.
Tonight we checked out Beale Street in downtown Memphis where our hotel is within walking distance. The area is phenomenal with bars, restaurants, street performers and shops all humming with patrons and onlookers. There were live musical acts in almost every bar and courtyard. All were open so you could easily hear the cool tunes as you strolled down the street.