Monday, June 17, 2013

Defending the Mississippi: Remembering the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg

Despite the early hour I was quite comfortable in a short sleeved shirt. In fact, it was actually near-perfect weather, which only added to the serene and cathartic predawn atmosphere. It was an unusual way for most people to begin their 30th birthday, but for me, setting up cameras to film and photograph the soon to be rising sun over Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi really wasn't that strange. Given that I had to be away from my wife and any other family and friends and spend my 30th birthday working, I felt blessed indeed to begin my day in such a beautiful setting. I would have loved being in Vicksburg for the park's commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the famous siege no matter what, and I always enjoy watching the sun rise, but there was something special about that morning. Perhaps it was the knowledge that I was getting paid overtime for every minute I spent out in the field on my birthday (that certainly didn't hurt), but I think there was something more. National parks are all about connecting to the resource and as I watched the sun rise on May 25, 2013 Vicksburg and I experienced a significant connection.

I had ended the previous evening by photographing the full moon as it rose over the battlefield, and despite the few hours of sleep in between, I had decided it was worth getting up early the next morning to try and catch the moon as it set and the sun as it rose. It turned out that it was too overcast where the moon was setting, but as I drove toward Fort Garrott (a favorite spot in the park, if for no other reason than the noteworthy similarity in name), I knew the sunrise was going to be something special. I had been out two days earlier with a similar purpose and captured some beautiful pictures and video and it was easy to tell that I would be able to do so again.

This Photo Album on the Vicksburg facebook page was the last one I posted. It is made up entirely of shots that I captured of the moon rise on May 24 and the sunrise the morning of May 25.

I also filmed and edited this Video of the Sunrise that same morning. In it you see 45 minutes of video sped up x 4500. It was the first time I had ever tried anything of this nature, and I thought it turned out pretty well.

The trip to Vicksburg was a unique one in many ways. to begin with, we flew instead of driving, which brought with it a whole host of new concerns and complications. We did manage to arrive in one piece with all of our luggage despite having to fly to Orlando in order to switch planes to fly to Jackson, Mississippi. I really wasn't sure what to expect when we got to Vicksburg. I knew very little about the park and did not have especially high expectations for what it would have to offer.

Thus I was genuinely amazed when we arrived and discovered that Vicksburg is truly an unknown gem of the National Park System. It is a stunningly beautiful park that encompasses much more land than I expected. To give you some perspective, the tour road through the park is sixteen miles long. The park has more than 1500 monuments and markers, more than any other battlefield, including Gettysburg. There are, quite literally, photographic opportunities around every corner.

Vicksburg also had a much more low-key schedule than many of the events I have covered and we were there for nine days, which gave us ample opportunity to take advantage of unique photographic and video opportunities much more so than we have at other events. 

I did a lot more video work at Vicksburg, and consequently took far fewer pictures. It was a lot of fun to get to do video again though, something I haven't done since living in Oroville. I am continuing to work on several more videos concerning different elements of the event, but here are four of the videos that one of the other member of our team and I put together so far:

Placement of Flags in the National Cemetery

In Honor of Memorial Day

Artillery Thank You

Portraits of Vicksburg

It was a fun and interesting week filled with memorable scenes and moments. Those moments began even before we set foot in the park itself. I knew we were staying in a hotel, and I figured that would mean sharing a room with one of the other rangers. I was quite surprised upon checking in to discover that I had, not only my own room, but a suite all to myself for the duration of our stay. It was, without question, the nicest accommodation I have experienced thus far!

Another gem of Vicksburg is the U.S.S. Cairo, an old Union ironclad that was pulled from where it had sank in the Yazoo River and put on display in the park. We had a lot of fun photographing and videoing the ship and came away with some special images, including these two, in which I appear in the pilot house of the ship.

We also had a chance to see the mighty Mississippi River in all its glory, which immediately made it clear why Vicksburg was so important to the Confederacy.

Special guests for the weekend included Doug and camels Richard and Abraham of the Texas Camel Corps to represent Douglas the Camel, the famous Mascot of the 43rd Mississippi at Vicksburg.

Among the interesting people I met and photographed were the Governor of Iowa and former Governor (Haley Barbour) of Mississippi. We additionally convinced country music star Trace Adkins to pose by the Louisiana State Memorial for us (you may have noticed him in the Portraits of Vicksburg video), since his ancestor was a member of the 22nd Louisiana Infantry.

It was a memorable week and stands out as a highlight of my Park Service career thus far. Now we are only a few weeks away from Gettysburg!

For more images of the commemoration take a look at this album of Vicksburg Pictures.

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