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Vicksburg, 150 years later

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 11:14 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, June 19, 2014 1:13 p.m. CST

During the closing days of the regular legislative session of 2011, all legislators received several emails and letters from Iowa members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.  At issue was the need for funding for the restoration of the massive Iowa Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi.

During the summer of 2011, I drove to Vicksburg, and was appalled by the condition of the white granite structure, constructed by an act of the Iowa legislature in 1906, to commemorate the valor of Iowa soldiers from 38 Iowa infantry, three artillery and three cavalry regiments.

In total, Iowa had 55 combined regiments in the Civil War, with our men and boys playing a pivotal role in the taking of Vicksburg, which the Confederacy surrendered to General Grant on July 4, 1863.  This July 4th shall be the 150th anniversary of the fall of Vicksburg, and its surrender to Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

I, along with historians from the National Park Service, prepared a comprehensive plan and cost estimate for the restoration of the monument, with the intent of the General Assembly accepting the financial costs, and work completed for the formal dedication which would occur on the Saturday prior to Memorial Day, 2013.

During the 2012 legislative session, I introduced legislation for the restoration of the monument, which included massive amounts of tuck pointing, and removal for repairs and patina restoration of six massive bronze relief sculptures, and a life-size bronze equestrian statue.  These had been vandalized over the past century, and the memorial in its condition was an embarrassment to the state of Iowa.  The legislature approved my legislation, and the appropriation made to accomplish the task in time for the intended dedication.  Governor Branstad was excited about the project, and I recall no resistance.

Artisans of the National Park Service from Virginia spent the summer and fall working on the Iowa Monument.  The delicate work, being done by Park Service perfectionists to the appropriate integrity of historical standard, was beyond my expectations.

The last week of May of this year was selected by the National Park Service for recognition of the Vicksburg National Military Park.  More than 10,000 visitors were recorded in attendance.  Close to 500, of which approximately 200 from Iowa, were present at the Iowa Monument on May 25th when I and Governor Branstad were honored to give the keynote addresses during its rededication.  It was a somber, yet delightful experience.

Lincoln called Vicksburg the “key” to the Union’s domination of the Mississippi River, the primary route of the Confederacy shipping supplies to their troops.  The Iowa Monument is dedicated to the Iowans who fought and those that died during the battle and siege of Vicksburg.  The beautiful and sacred military cemetery at Vicksburg contains the mortal remains of 3,896 known soldiers, and the graves of 12,704 whose simple stone is engraved “Unknown.” 

Vicksburg was by far the greatest test of the strength and intrepidity of Iowa’s soldiers.  Iowa’s regiments were singled out by President Lincoln and Generals Grant and Sherman as the deciding factor in the defeat of Confederate General Pemberton. Upon being notified of the Union’s success at Vicksburg, Lincoln stated, “The Father of all waters [Mississippi River] now goes unvext to the sea.”