Returning the Vicksburg National Military Park to its 1863 Appearance

A local television station, WAPT, reported this morning that the Vicksburg National Military Park is going ahead with plans to remove approximately 80 to 90 acres of trees to return the land to its 1863 appearance. The article states that the area to be cleared covers an area bounded by the Illinois Memorial, Battery DeGolyer, and the Louisiana State Memorial. The work is expected to be finished by spring 2012. If anyone wishes to read about the project, the article can be found here: http://www.wapt.com/news/29762639/detail.html.

I used Google Maps to Pull Up an Overhead View of the Area to be Cleared - I added blue markers to indicate the roughly triangular area to be cut. The bottom marker is located at Battery DeGolyer, the top marker at the Illinois Monument, and the left marker at the Louisiana Monument

When the Siege of Vicksburg ended in July 1863, the battlefield was a scarred, barren place, and most of the trees had been cut down or blasted to bits by artillery fire. After the war ended, much of the Vicksburg battlefield reverted to the farmland that it had been before the conflict. After the Vicksburg National Military Park was created in 1899, the battlefield remained mostly open terrain without any major obstructions to the historic sightline. This changed to 1933 when control of the park passed from the War Department to the Department of the Interior.

This image of the Illinois Monument and Shirley House was taken in 1910. It illustrates how open the terrain was in the early part of the 20th century

This image was taken in 2009 by the author, standing at Battery DeGolyer and looking toward the Illinois Monument. The heavy curtain of trees that blocks sight of the Illinois Memorial will be soon be removed by the National Park Service

The park was faced with severe erosion problems, and to deal with them four Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established on the battlefield. More than 800 men, most of them Mississippians, worked in the camps, installing drainage ditches, laying and maintaining sod, installing concrete gutters, and terracing hills. Once the CCC had completed their landscaping, trees and vegetation were planted in the park to help hold the soil in place.

CCC Workers terracing Fort Hill at Vicksburg in 1935 to prevent erosion

In 1936, 60 percent of the Vicksburg National Military Park was characterized as sparsely wooded or open ground. The tree planting done by the CCC, combined with the growth of trees already present, gradually changed the appearance of the park over time. By 2008 over two-thirds of the park was covered in forest, significantly impacting the historical landscape and making it difficult for visitors to understand how the battle unfolded. The National Park Service has already taken small steps to deal with the problem by removing trees at Fort Garrott and the Railroad Redoubt. The latest area to be targeted for tree removal was the scene of intense fighting during the siege, and a restored landscape will give visitors a much better understanding of what took place there during the summer of 1863.

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