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Vicksburg History

The cannon that sank the Cincinnati



The cannon after it was unearthed in 1936.

Next to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lower Mississippi Museum is a position tablet for a 10-inch cannon that was located there during the Siege of Vicksburg. This cannon was part of the Whig Office Battery complex, and this was one of the largest cannons in the Vicksburg defenses.

After the siege, the Union army built new fortifications to protect the city from being recaptured by Confederate forces. The cannons used by the Federals during the siege were needed elsewhere, so former Confederate cannon were used in the new fortifications.

The 10-inch cannon was moved to a fort that stood approximately where the old Coke Bottling plant was located on Washington Street. The Lum home had stood there but was torn down to make way for the Union fort.

The cannon after it was abandoned in Vicksburg. [Spiral Cannon as left at Warrenton Road within the corporate limits of the city at the surrender]; Abner L. Blanks (American, active 1870s – 1900s); about 1865 – 1870; Albumen silver; 84.XC.873.899

The cannon remained there for the rest of the war and was abandoned on the site when the war was over. For some reason, the cannon was buried there, probably because it was in the way, and a 15,400-pound cannon is not easy to move.

A letter written by Leila A. Lum was placed in the cannon barrel in a bottle. It read:

This cannon was buried August 18,1900 in the Lum Tract of ground. It was the Confederate cannon that sank the US gunboat Cincinnati while trying to run past Vicksburg during the siege. After the Yankees came it was placed in a Fort on the site where it is buried. The Lum property was owned by Mrs Ann Lum and was occupied by Genl USGrant as headquarters after Vicksburg fell. After Genl Grants removal from the city, the house was torn down and a Fort built by the US Government on this site. During the siege the gun was located at the corner of Washington and Jackson Streets. It was in that locality when it fired the fatal shot that sank the Cincinnati. The gun was buried by levee contractor, H.F. Garbish, who had the contract for grading the Lum property, was supervised by Mr.E.Bussey.

Years later, in 1936, the cannon was excavated and given to the National Park Service. The cannon now sits at Fort Donelson National Park in Dover, Tenn.


‘Are you dreaming, Artie?’ The story of the Balfour’s Christmas Ball



Couples dance to period music at a re-enactment of the Balfour Christmas Ball held each December at the Old Court House. The 2019 ball will be held next Saturday night, Dec. 14. The original ball occurred in 1862 at the Balfour House.

Do you remember the scene in “Gone with the Wind” when Miss Scarlett and Rhett Butler danced the Virginia Reel?

Folks will be doing the same thing Saturday night, Dec. 14, at the Old Court House Museum during the annual re-enactment of the Balfour Ball. (See details below.)

The original ball took place in December 1862 and was hosted by Dr. and Mrs. William T Balfour for Confederate officers, their ladies and other friends. The well-documented event reads like a dramatic script from a novel.

Lee Daniels recalled the events in writing for Gen. Stephen Dill Lee in 1904.

The story begins on the Mississippi riverbank, south of Lake Providence, La.

“I hears a boat coming,” an excited little girl told the two Confederate officers who sat in a shanty playing cards on Christmas Eve, 1862.

She insisted that the men, Maj. E.P. Earnhart and Maj. Lee Daniels, come outside and listen.

“Are you dreaming, Artie?” one of them asked.

“No, sah! I hears it say choo, choo, pat, pat,” the excited child replied, mimicking the sound of steam engines and the slapping of paddle wheels against the water.

Earnhart and Daniels walked to the porch of the little building, which was located on Horace Tibbots’ plantation about 11 miles south of Lake Providence. Listening intently, they could barely hear the sounds Artie had described, but they could discern something. They went to the riverbank where they waited about 30 minutes.

They could hear the sounds that were getting closer and closer, and eventually, “a monster turned the bend, two miles above us, and came slowly as if feeling the way,” Daniels wrote.

And then Earnhart whispered, “Here comes another.”

Some sparks flew out of Earnhart’s pipe and Daniels grabbed it and put out the tobacco, warning that those boats would fire a volley at the crack of a match.

Soon, the “large black devil was abreast of us, in easy gun shot from our double barrels, but suicide to fire. We counted, counted, counted in all seven gunboats, fifty-nine transports loaded with blue coats,” Daniels continued.

The night was cloudy, cold, and there was a drizzling rain. The two men waited until they were sure no more boats were in the flotilla, and then Daniels, who had been a telegraph operator in Vicksburg before the war, jumped on his little bay filly and practically flew to the telegraph offices, some three miles back in the woods, where he sent a message to the other end of the line.

Daniels was frantic. He knew that if he didn’t get the message through, unsuspecting Vicksburg would fall to the enemy. It took only 27 seconds to transmit the words, but to Daniels, it seemed that his friend on the other end would never answer.

Col. Philip H. Fall, also from Vicksburg, was on duty at the telegraph on DeSoto point, across the river from Vicksburg, when the message came through.

“Golly, old fellow, what’s up?” Fall answered when he got the first signal.

Almost half a century later, Daniels recalled the message, which he said was indelible in his brain after all those years:

“Great God, Phil, where have you been? I have been calling, (am I afraid I said half an hour instead of half a minute), and the river is lined with boats, almost a hundred have passed my lookout. Seven gunboats and fifty-nine transports chock full of men. God speed you, rush across and give the alarm.”

Fall tapped a reply. “God bless you, Lee, bye, bye we may never meet again.”

The Balfour House in Vicksburg today, where the first Balfour Ball was held in 1862.

Almost immediately, Fall was in a small skiff headed across the river to Vicksburg. It was a tempestuous night, and at times, it appeared the waves on the river would extinguish the colonel’s red lantern, which signaled the men who manned the batteries along the bluffs that he was a friend, not a foe. Had the light gone out, Fall might have been killed.

Despite the possibility of death, he was determined to make the crossing, for the city was in peril. Had the message not been sent when it was, the city probably would have been taken, for only a short time later, the enemy cut the telegraph wires.

The citizens of Vicksburg and the Confederate officers and men were completely oblivious to what was happening.

At the home of the Balfours on Crawford Street, the house was ablaze with lights, and the sounds of music and laughter filled the cold night air.

Suddenly, the door burst open, and a gray-clad courier, disheveled and muddy, pushed his way through the crowd calling for Gen. M.L. Smith, commander of the Confederate forces in Vicksburg. The crowd gave him a wide berth.

Facing the general, the courier breathlessly gave him the news: A flotilla of gunboats and transports had passed Lake Providence, headed toward Vicksburg.

The music had stopped, and in a loud voice, Smith exclaimed: “This ball is at an end. The enemy is coming down river. All noncombatants must leave the city.”

Then, the general turned to Fall, thanked him for the message and apologized for his harsh manner.

Immediately, men reported to their stations. By the end of the week, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou—north of town where 6,000 Southern boys soundly whipped Gen. W.T. Sherman’s 32,000 Union troops—was history. It was the first time Sherman had held an independent command Here he learned what he later proclaimed: “War is hell.”

The story might have ended differently had not an idle slave girl first sounded the alarm that broke up the ball.

The annual re-enactment of the Balfour Ball, now called the The Old Court House Confederate Christmas Ball, is Dec. 14 at the Old Court House Museum.

The event will take place in the courtroom from 7 to 9 p.m. There will be live music of the period, Christmas decorations, food and beverages. Advance ticket purchases are required and are $30 per person, available at the museum.

Though some will attend in period costume, other will be in their “Sunday best.” Ball gowns and tuxes are available to rent from the museum.

The event is a fundraiser for the Old Court House Museum. Call 601-363-0741 or email for more information and to purchase tickets.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Graves of the CSS Arkansas dead will soon be marked



Inset: Bryan Skipworth stands beside a plaque in Cedar Hill Cemetery that recounts the role of the Arkansas in the War Between the States. The names of the casualties from the ship, and often their states and ranks, are listed on the back of the plaque. The plaque was funded by the Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton Camp, Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Skipworth launched a one-man campaign to secure headstones for the men.

This is the second of two stories about the Confederate ironclad CSS Arkansas, which made Naval history here in 1862, and of the men who lost their lives fighting for their country.

After 147 years, 23 men who lost their lives at Vicksburg will have their graves marked.

It’s because of the work and bulldog determination of Bryan Skipworth that their graves at last are going to have tombstones in Cedar Hill Cemetery. He has been at work on the project for the last four years.

The men were among the crew of the ironclad CSS Arkansas, which took on the Federal fleet here in second year of the War Between the States. The vessel’s role in the war lasted only 21 days, but its accomplishments are unparalleled in history. Her story has been told many times, especially in a novel by James Street, “By Valour and Arms,” and there’s an engraving of the vessel on the Arkansas state memorial in the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Skipworth grew up in Redwood, where he heard his grandparents tell stories of the past. His great-grandfather, Edward Warnock, who was from Yazoo County, was a Confederate veteran.

He has always like local history, Skipworth said, “but I really got into it about five or six years ago when I joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

Two people really turned him on to the story of the Arkansas, he said: Wayne McMaster and Anna Leese Fuller.

McMaster is caretaker of Soldiers’ Rest, the Confederate burial ground in Cedar Hill Cemetery where most of the southern soldiers who died here are buried, and Skipworth volunteered to help him.

Fuller, who grew up in Vicksburg, is the daughter of Martha Price Leese and the late Grady Leese. She is a writer who lives in Virginia. She has a website about the Arkansas and another about Soldiers’ Rest. Fuller wanted photos of Confederate tombstones in Vicksburg, and Skipworth offered to send them. “She’s a night owl, and I work the graveyard shift, so I contacted her,” he said. They’ve never met, but because of their mutual interest, “we’ve become pen pals,” Skipworth said.

This unique stone—no doubt one of a kind—sparked Skipworth’s interest in finding the names of the other men who died while serving on the Arkansas. Hicks was a native of Vicksburg.

The photo that sparked Fuller’s interest was the tombstone for William Hicks who was killed while helping build the Arkansas. The stone is topped by the engraving of an anchor.

“That got me to wondering how many died on the Arkansas,” Skipworth said.

The history of the vessel had been researched for years, and it was know that some 75 to 80 men served on her. Imagine Skipworth’s surprise when he discovered more and more names until they numbered 230. Of that number, 23 were killed and are buried here. One was killed in a fight on the Yazoo and was buried in the river, and six others died while the Arkansas was coming past the Union fleet. The remainder died in the battle with the Essex at the Vicksburg waterfront.

One man died in a military hospital here, and in the records, a number was placed by his name. That number was an identifying grave designation in 1862, but no record exists that explains or conveys the numbering system, so the number has no significance today.

That one number, however, became a primary obstacle in Skipworth’s efforts to secure tombstones through the Veterans Administration. Though the lot where the men are buried and their names and ranks are known, VA officials insist there must be grave numbers, too.

Skipworth secured records from the Old Court House Museum telling of the men’s burials, and he found other records, too, including some very graphic accounts of the terribly mangled bodies. He supplied the VA with page after page of research, including drawings and photos of the cemetery plot, but it was all for naught—their minds were made up.

Undaunted, Skipworth turned to the private sector, and the stones have been paid for by the Mississippi Division of the SCV, by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the members of the Order of the Confederate Rose.

The markers, which weigh 270 pounds each, usually cost $350 each. They’re made by Columbus Marble Works in Columbus, Miss., a company that has been filling orders for grave markers from the federal government since the 1930s. The ordinary cost for the 23 markers from the Arkansas would be over $8,000, but the company provided these for $6,000. There was no shipping cost as Skipworth and McMaster drove a truck to Columbus to pick them up—more than three tons of marble.

Skipworth plans to put the stones in place himself sometime after the first of the year, and in late winter or early spring, there will be a dedication ceremony.

“Erecting the stones is a very personal project,” he said.

To read more about the Arkansas, visit the website

 Read the first story, ‘The Arkansas is coming’: A story of unmatched bravery.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Vicksburg History

The man who misspoke twice at Vicksburg



Brig. Gen. Martin E Green misspoke twice during the campaign for Vicksburg.

At the A.K. Shaifer House on the Port Gibson battlefield, the ladies were busy loading a wagon in fear that the Yankees were upon them.

Green assured them that the Yankees were still a ways off, but at that very instant, bullets started falling around them. The ladies quickly jumped into the wagon and fled.

Later during the siege, Green was in the hospital after being wounded. When he was told of conditions at the Stockade Redan on Graveyard Road where his troops were fighting, he left the hospital against the doctor’s advice.

When he arrived at the stockade, Green was told that a sharpshooter had been playing havoc that day and was warned not to expose himself, to which he replied: “Never a bullet has been molded that can kill me.”

With that, he stepped up to the firing line and was promptly shot dead.

Green was 48. He is buried in the Vicksburg City Cemetery in a corner of the George Marshall lot.

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