(a 9 minute read)

A guided tour is the best way to visit Vicksburg National Military Park’s historic battlefield, the USS Cairo Gunboat & Museum, and the Vicksburg National Cemetery.

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This post is the fifth installment of a 6-part Mississippi Road Trip series. The first segment entitled How My Books Landed in the de Grummond Collection at USM details the backstory of my drive from Central Florida to Hattiesburg. On the second leg of my journey I traveled to Historical Natchez, Mississippi, where I toured 4 of this city’s grand antebellum homes. Part 3 is the story of my drive on the Mississippi Backroads Between Natchez and Vicksburg where I visited a ghost town, walked the cinematic Windsor Ruins, and ate the worlds’s best fried chicken. Then I learned How to Spend 36 Hours in Vicksburg, Mississippi. And finally, I visited highlights from several Civil Rights and Literary Driving Tours in Jackson, Mississippi.

Vicksburg National Military Park


Although Vicksburg, Mississippi, is a great destination for music, dining, shopping, and even gambling, let there be no doubt that Vicksburg National Military Park is the city’s most prominent attraction.

As well it should be.

In addition to the historic battlefield, the park is also home to the U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat & Museum, and the Vicksburg National Cemetery.

It should come as no surprise that, as an amateur history buff and an obsessive collector of National Parks Passport stamps, Vicksburg NMP had been on my bucket list for years. I always assumed that when I finally made it to the park I would collect a unigrid (NPS official brochure and map) at the Visitor Center and do a self-guided tour like I always do. Little did I know that when it finally happened, as a guest of Visit Vicksburg, I would be accompanied by a personal licensed tour guide and chauffeur.


Word on the street had it that as tour guides go, David Maggio was the best of the best, and my experience soon proved the accuracy of his reputation. After breakfast, I met David at the Vicksburg NMP Visitor Center to begin the park tour. So that I could give him my undivided attention and have freedom for photo ops, David climbed behind the wheel of my Mountaineer, and we proceeded through the Vicksburg Memorial Arch and onto Union Avenue.

Vicksburg Memorial Arch

To fully immerse oneself in a visit to a historical site, it is always best to have a basic understanding of what happened there. Upon my request, David was kind enough to contribute two brief histories to this article. This is a good thing on two accounts. It prevents me from including historical inaccuracies in the text, and it gives our readers a taste of David’s guided tours.

The Siege of Vicksburg: A Brief History

by David Maggio

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln said, “See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” The President realized the Mississippi River was the most important economic feature of the continent, and to regain control of the River, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was dispatched with the 43,000 man Army of the Tennessee to Vicksburg to take the city from Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton and the Confederacy. After five successful battles leading toward his goal, Gen. Grant made two failed assaults to take the city on May 19th and May 22, 1863. Because of these failures, Grant decided to lay siege to the fortress city. The Union artillery pounded the Rebel lines all day, every day, and Union gunboats on the river continuously bombarded the city. Civilians in the city suffered along with the soldiers defending the town. Creatures from cattle to birds began to disappear, and the suffering continued. Finally, after 47 days of starvation and deprivation, Confederate Gen. John Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg to Grant on the country’s 87th Independence Day, July 4, 1863. Upon hearing the news, President Lincoln proclaimed, “The Father of Waters again flows unvexed to the sea.”

The most memorable highlights of our drive along Union Avenue were David’s detailed tour of the Illinois Memorial, seeing the adjacent battlefield now cleared of trees and brush for historical accuracy, and hearing David tell the story of Thayer’s Approach on location at the tunnel while facing the Confederate fortifications above.

Vicksburg NMP Union Avenue Gallery

The U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat & Museum


The U.S.S. Cairo was an unexpected highlight of our park tour. Somehow the sight of this gunboat resurrected from the river just blew me away. Historical sites and memorials are great, but nothing compares to tangible artifacts, especially when they are the size of this leviathan. Of course, having David along to share the details of the ironclad’s design and and the story of its demise brought the experience to life.

The U.S.S. Cairo: A Brief History

by David Maggio

The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven city-class ironclads designed by Samuel Pook and built by James B. Eads to retake control of the Lower Mississippi River from the Confederacy. They were named city-class vessels because all were named for cities on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers: Cairo, Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, PIttsburgh and St. Louis. Each of the seven ironclads were 175 feet in length, 51 feet wide, and amazing as it sounds, the tonnage fully loaded was 888 tons, although they had a draft of only 6 feet. The boats averaged 14 inches of white oak, covered with 2 1/2 inches of iron plating. These vessels were designed to travel in the waters of the inland rivers, brown-water navy, as opposed to the oceangoing blue-water navy. The ships burned coal at a rate of one ton per hour, heating water to create steam that operated two steam engines which turned the paddle wheel at a rate of 6 knots. There was a crew of 17 officers and 158 sailors. On December 12, 1862, the Cairo was operating in the Yazoo River 7 miles above Vicksburg, when it was rocked by two explosions from torpedoes (underwater mines) that tore two massive holes in its hull. Within 12 minutes the ironclad sunk. Not found until 1956, and finally raised from its watery grave on December 12, 1964, today the Cairo is restored and on display in the Vicksburg National Military Park.

U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat & Museum Gallery

Vicksburg National Cemetery


Most of the National Park System Civil War battlefields I have visited have associated cemeteries. The Vicksburg National Cemetery holds the remains of 17,000 Union soldiers, and two Confederate soldiers who were mistakenly buried there in the 1860s. 75% of the soldiers buried in the cemetery are unknown and their graves are marked by square numbered granite markers. Unlike other national cemeteries, no space is available for future burials

Vicksburg National Cemetery Gallery

Ways to Tour Vicksburg NMP

The basic entrance fee to Vicksburg NMP is $12 per vehicle, and the pass is valid for seven days. Additional fee information may be accessed at this link.

According to the NPS Vicksburg NMP website, there are several options for touring the park:

  • a self-guided tour using the Official Park Brochure and Map (free with park entrance fee)
  • a cell phone driving tour using numbers provided at tour stops (free with park entrance fee)
  • a QR code mobile app for scanning at waysides throughout the park (free with park entrance fee)
  • the Civil War Trust Vicksburg Battlefield App® Guide (free download from the App Store and Google Play)
  • a guidebook entitled “A Self-Guided Tour of the Battlefield” ($4.95)
  • two audio tour CDs available for purchase at the Visitor Center bookstore ($11.95 & $29.95)
  • and then there is the best way . . . .


The Best Way to Visit Vicksburg NMP

Hiring your own personal tour guide is the BEST way to visit Vicksburg NMP hands down!

Here’s why:

  • The licensed Vicksburg Battlefield guides are experts in their field, having passed multiple written and oral exams on every topic pertaining to the Vicksburg campaign.
  • Each guide is different, bringing their own perspectives, specialties, and personalities to craft a unique tour for their clients.
  • They are your personal chauffeurs, driving your car through the park, leaving you distraction-free to enjoy your guided tour and hands-free for photo ops.
  • Guides are flexible, allowing you to decide which park locations to visit and how much time you spend at each location.
  • Hiring a tour guide from Vicksburg Battlefield Guides is extremely affordable! A 2-hour guided tour is only $40 for up to 6 passengers in one vehicle. You may add additional hours to your tour for only $20 per hour.

Availability information and reservations can be made through the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau by calling  (601) 636-3827 or the Vicksburg NMP Visitor Center at (601) 636-0583.

Map It!

We Would Love to Hear From You

Jerry and I enjoy dialogue with our readers, especially when they share stories and tips from their visits to National Parks. Have you ever visited Vicksburg National Military Park? If so, we would love to hear about your experience. We invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and we always respond!

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A Southern Mississippi Road Trip Series


Part 1: How My Books Landed in the de Grummond Collection at USM

How my Books Landed in the de Grummond Collection at USM Backroad Planet

Part 2: Visit Historical Natchez, Mississippi

Visit Historical Natchez Mississippi Backroad Planet

Part 3: Mississippi Backroads Between Natchez & Vicksburg

Mississippi Backroads Between Natchez & Vicksburg-77848

Part 4: How to Spend 36 Hours in Vicksburg, Mississippi

How to Spend 36 Hours in Vicksburg Mississippi Backroad Planet

Part 6: Civil Rights and Literary Driving Tours in Jackson, Mississippi

Civil Rights and Literary Driving Tours in Jackson, Mississippi

Bonus: The Haunting Town of Rodney, Mississippi

The Haunting Town of Rodney, Mississippi: A Photo Essay Backroad Planet

Helpful Links

Visit Vicksburg

Vicksburg National Military Park

U.S.S. Cairo Gunboat and Museum

Vicksburg National Cemetery

Vicksburg Battlefield Guides

Vicksburg NMP Tour Options

Vicksburg NMP Unigrid Map (PDF)

Civil War Trust Battle App® Guides

National Parks Passports: My Not-So-Secret Obsession

The Best Way to Visit Vicksburg National Military Park 1
Howard Blount is founder and co-owner of the travel web site Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Recently retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.