RAYMOND — Exactly 138 years ago, on April 30, 1863, federal troops under General U.S. Grant sloshed ashore on the east bank of the Mississippi River near Port Gibson. After months of trying, the Union army was finally on dry ground in Mississippi — its eyes trained on Vicksburg.
Moving northeast then west, Grant’s army fought five pitched battles and conducted a major siege operation lasting a month and half before Vicksburg fell on July 4, 1863. It was arguably the greatest campaign of the Civil War, and was an essential component in the Union victory.
The campaign left behind a trail of war-ravaged communities — Port Gibson, Raymond, Bolton, Vicksburg. It would take years for those communities to recover.
Now, ironically, Grant’s path to Vicksburg is being looked to as a source of community and economic development. After years of planning, the inaugural “Discovery Tour,” promoting the Vicksburg Campaign and Historic Trail, was held April 20-22, 2001, and a major reenactment of the battles of Raymond and Champion Hill will be held May 4-6. It all adds up to hoped-for increased tourism dollars.
In 1997, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Grant’s Vicksburg campaign trail one of the most endangered Civil War sites in the United States. While historic preservation on the grounds of pure cultural heritage is important, many see such sites as a potential to fill local coffers.
“Let me be frank. I believe it’s our responsibility to preserve our historical and cultural sites in Mississippi,” said Raymond Mayor Isla Tullos. “But I see the Vicksburg Campaign and Trail as an economic development tool. Historic and cultural tourism is our niche here in Raymond, as well as in Port Gibson and other rural communities in the area. The trail is an attempt to tap into those tourists who are interested in American history and attract new tourism dollars to our community.”
Tullos is currently serving as president of the Friends of the Vicksburg Campaign and Trail, a 501(c)(3) organization formed in 1997 to create a management entity to hold, manage, restore, interpret and market the sites of the Vicksburg campaign. The trail currently consists of 200 miles in Louisiana and Mississippi, with 16 tour stops stretching from Grant’s Canal, on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River opposite Vicksburg, south through Louisiana to where Grant crossed the river near Port Gibson, then northeast and west through Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Clinton, Bolton and Edwards to its terminus at the Vicksburg Military Park.
Friends of Vicksburg campaign spent about two years doing research and “testing the waters,” and also landed grants that enabled the group to create an attractive, full-color map tracing the entire route.
“Every year, thousands of tourists visit the Vicksburg Military Park. What we want to do is lure some of those tourists to our communities,” Tullos said.
The group’s efforts obviously have been well spent. On April 20-23, the “unveiling” of the Vicksburg Campaign and Trail was made via the “Discovery Tour.” A group of nearly 100 were on hand at the Windsor Ruins near Port Gibson, many more were on hand at various other stops along the way and several local eateries opened for Sunday diners and saw a brisk trade.
One thing Tullos said the group was working on was more coordination with Louisiana. While two tour stops are in Louisiana, plenty more could be developed. But Louisiana showed lukewarm interest. That may change, however.
“We had some people from Louisiana come in over the weekend for the Discovery Tour,” she said. “They left saying Louisiana would be a bigger part of this in the future. Another thing we’re looking at is marketing in the Midwest. There’s a lot of interest in the Midwest in historical sites, and Mississippi has long been an attractive vacation destination for them. I think the future of the Vicksburg Campaign and Trail is great, and I’m looking forward to it becoming an annual event.”
In 1998, with limited promotion, thousands of Civil War reenactors and spectators converged on Raymond to re-stage the battle that was fought there May 12, 1863. The event was successful, drawing participants from not only all over the United States, but also Canada and Europe.
On May 4-6, the Friends of Raymond, a 501 (c)(3) organization aimed at preserving the Raymond battlefield, will host Vicksburg Campaign II, consisting of reenactments at Raymond and Champion’s Hill, just west of Bolton. In 1998, the event drew 2,300 reenactors and 12,000 spectators. For this year’s event, organizers have already drawn more than 3,000 reenactors, and are anticipating some 15,000 spectators.
“The whole idea is to bring awareness of preservation that needs to be done to protect our historical sites and heritage,” said David McCain, president of the Friends of Raymond. “The 1998 event allowed us to invest the proceeds in infrastructure that we had to have to support tourists coming into Raymond and the area. This year, we hope to bring in about $10,000 to invest in preservation efforts.”
While Vicksburg Campaign II and the Vicksburg Campaign and Trail were separate events, there was coordination between the two groups and events, and McCain said he sees both efforts as complimentary and a big positive for Raymond, the area and Mississippi as a whole.
In addition to reenacting the battles, other features include cave dwellings like those used by citizens during the battles and a march by Confederate reenactors through downtown Raymond in conjunction with the Raymond Country Fair (May 5, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m.). Admission is $5 per person per reenactment, with public parking at $2 per vehicle.
For more information on Vicksburg Campaign II, visit www.raymondms.com.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com or (601) 364-1016.