Vicksburg Riverfront Murals Pt. 2

“The World’s Art Park and Best Marked Battlefield”

The Vicksburg National Military Park, established by Congress on February 21, 1899, commemorates the campaign, siege, and defense of Vicksburg during the Civil War.  The 1,800 acres of the park are dotted with over 1,300 monuments, making it the “art park of the world.”

The most impressive of the memorials is the Illinois Monument, which was dedicated on October 26, 1906 and modeled after the Roman Pantheon.  On its walls are 60 bronze tablets which record the names of the 36,325 Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg campaign.

The memorial was designed by William L. B. Jenney, who served as General Sherman’s chief engineer during the Vicksburg operations, and cost $194,423.92.

The Shirley House, to the right of the monument, is the only building in the park that survived the siege.  Built in the 1830’s as Wexford Lodge by attorney Nicholas Gray, the house remains a part of the battlefield’s landscape today.

The idea for the park can be credited to Civil War veterans of the Blue and Gray Association who, in 1895, formed the Vicksburg National Military Park Association.  Veterans helped to mark the park, resulting in its recognition as one of the world’s most accurately marked battlefields.

“A Century of Christian Service to Man and God”

The Sisters of Mercy have contributed to the health, education, and spiritual well-being of the residents of Vicksburg since the arrival of six nuns in 1860.

The Cobb House (c. 1830) became their first home and a school for 70 students.  During the Civil War, the Sisters closed the school to travel throughout Mississippi nursing both Union and Confederate soldiers.

After the war, the Sisters reopened the school and continued their ministry of nursing in the decades following, nursing the city’s residents through several yellow fever epidemics. 

Their nursing contributions expanded over the years to include a nursing school and to culminate in the modern Mercy Hospital.  

The Sisters continued to expand their spiritual mission by building a convent in 1868 to house their ever-growing number of nuns, a building that is one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Mississippi.

The “Sisters School” also continued to expand with the construction of an auditorium in 1885 and an academy building in 1937.

The Sisters of Mercy have left a lasting legacy in Vicksburg.

“African-American Contributions”

From the earliest settlers to Vicksburg, African Americans have made significant contributions to social, educational, religious, economic and political progress.  

Vicksburg was home to Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American U. S. Senator, the first President of Alcorn State University and the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church: the first AME church in Mississippi (1864), the home of the first African American Masonic Lodge in the state (1875) and Campbell College (1890), the first college in Mississippi to be established by blacks.

Other important leaders made great strides in education including Rosa A. Temple, J. G. H. Bowman, William Demby and Dr. Jane McAllister, the first black woman to receive a PhD in education in the United States.

Other African Americans provided spiritual guidance: Rev R. T Middleton, Dr. John J. Morant, and Rev. Kelly Rucks.  Leading the field of dentistry at the turn of the century was Dr. D. D. Foote, while his contemporary, W. E. Mollison, helped organize Lincoln Savings Bank and practice law.

The first black embalmer in Mississippi was William Henry Jefferson, who, along with his wife Lucy, were actively involved in community affairs including membership in a number of fraternal and social societies.  

These and many additional African American community leaders helped to improve the quality of life for the residents of Vicksburg and have left a lasting legacy.

“The First Bottling of Coca-Cola”

On a summer day in 1894, Joseph Biedenharn, a candy merchant and soda fountain operator, had an idea that would reshape the soft drink industry.  He took the popular fountain beverage, Coca-Cola, put it in bottles, and delivered it to rural areas outside of Vicksburg.

It was the first time Coca-Cola had been sold in bottles.  Mr. Biedenharn created a totally new concept of marketing the beverage and established the cornerstone of the independent network of franchise bottlers who now distribute bottled Coca-Cola all over the world.

Born in 1866, Joseph Biedenharn was the eldest of eight children and, in his teens, became part of the candy business founded by his father and uncle.  Later, he and his brothers Will, Harry, Lawrence, Herman, Ollie, Albert and sister Katy acquired franchises to bottle Coca-Cola in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The building located at 1107 Washington Street, where the first bottling took place, was built in 1890 and is operated today as the museum interpreting this important moment in our nation’s history.

“The Worst Maritime Disaster in U. S. History”

The Sultana, a side-wheel steamboat built in Cincinnati in 1863, was 260 feet long and was designed to carry only 376 people along with its cargo.

On April 24, 1865, the Sultana docked in Vicksburg to pick up Union soldiers recently released from Confederate prisons.  The Federal Government paid steamboat lines $5 per soldier for the trip to Cairo, Illinois.  

Prior to its arrival in Vicksburg, it was discovered that one of the four boilers was leaking.  Instead of taking the time to replace the boiler, and perhaps lose the commission to ferry the men, a metal patch was placed over the bulge in the boiler.   The time that it took to make repairs allowed for more soldiers to crowd onto the decks of the boat until it overflowed with more than 2,300 souls.

The Sultana made several stops along its northward journey up the Mississippi.  When it was 7 miles north of Memphis in the early morning hours of April 27, three of the four boilers exploded.  Over 1,700 people were killed in the explosion, the fire that followed, and in the swift flood waters of the Mississippi.

The accident is said to be the worst maritime disaster in American history.

Information courtesy of and if you’d like to see pictures of the entire murals in their original state, please stop by this site and check them out.

Part 2 of Vicksburg Riverfront Murals, Vicksburg, Mississippi.

You can see where the water is seeping through the floodwall in some of these murals close to the bottom, due to the flood of 2011.

Day 29 of my Project 366.  Happy Leap Year!


Author: Carol B Sessums

Writer, Editor, Coffee Addict, Lover of Mountains. Lives to shrink the planet, one story and connection at a time.

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