Sunday, July 3, 2011


We visited the Vicksburg National Military Park yesterday. I had originally thought that there was just something "wrong" about visiting a Civil War battlefield during the 4th of July weekend, but when I learned that Pemberton surrendered to Grant on July 4, 1863, thus ending the battle (seige) of Vicksburg, somehow it seemed fitting.

Interesting side note: July 4th was such a painful day for Vicksburg that it took over 80 years for them to start celebrating it again! As said on the Old Courthouse Museum's website: "On July 4, 1863, the victorious Union Army marched into Vicksburg, and the United States flag was raised over the courthouse.  Having to surrender was bad enough, but doing it on Independence Day made things worse for the citizens, and they didn’t forget the pain of surrender.  The city did not celebrate the holiday again for 82 years – July 4, 1945, at the end of World War II was the next official celebration in Vicksburg."

Vicksburg National Cemetery, burial ground for 17,000 Union soldiers
One of the most beautiful and moving stops on the battlefield tour is the Vicksburg National Cemetery, where of the over 17,000 Union soldiers buried there, 13,000 are "unknown". Many of the Confederate soldiers were buried in Vicksburg's Cedar Hill Cemetery.

I have noticed that cemeteries seem to be all around me here in the Delta and they show up in very unexpected places. Well, that is a nice way to put it...very weird places would be more like it.

For example, right here in rhe Rolling Fork, MS area, there is a cemetery in a corn field; another one behind a gas station on Highway 14; and another one next to a church. In Louise, the only cemetery I can find is along a creek bank. In Tunica County, a mound cemetery sits just a few feet off Highway 61.

In Memphis, cemeteries are behind stone walls, on the edge of town (or at least what used to be the edge of town), and are very formal, reverent places.

Down here, cemeteries seem to sprout up wherever they are needed. They are in the middle of something else. They just appear and seem to be a part of normal life.

I am used to putting death in its place. Because it is behind a wall, on the edge of town, I can deal with it when I want to deal with it. Down here, it just appears..totally unexpected...totally part of something else, like a corn field or a gas station. It cannot be avoided. It cannot be ignored.

Here in the Delta, death is not relegated to a part of town. It is not pushed off to the side. It is not forgotten. It is, indeed, always present. When death is always present, life takes on a different meaning and purpose. It is easier to remember that life is precious, all be it limited, when you have cemeteries that unexpectedly appear and remind you.

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