Vicksburg is situated on the plateau overlooking the Mississippi in north latitude 32 thirty-two degrees, twenty-one minutes, thirty-three seconds and west longitude thirteen degrees, fifteen minutes. A series of terraces mark the approach to the Hill city from the Mississippi bottom and from the bayous, giving it natural drainage in four general courses. The delta country stretching northward and the rich agricultural regions to the east and south are tributary to the city, while her railroad and steamboat facilities place her on a plane with the prosperous city of Memphis further north, bringing her within six hours’ distance of the Red river country of Louisiana, Shreveport, one hundred and seventy-two miles; within seven hours’ distance of the Texan cotton-fields, Marshall, two hundred and eleven miles; within twenty-four hours of Chicago, Illinois., seven hundred and forty- eight miles; and Cincinnati, Ohio, seven hundred and nineteen miles; thirty hours of Washington, D. C, one thousand and fifty-four miles, and forty hours of New York city, one thousand, two hundred and eighty-two miles. The population in 1850 was two thousand six hundred and seventy-eight, in 1860, four thousand five hundred and ninety-one, in 1870, twelve thousand four hundred and forty-three, in 1880, eleven thousand and in 1890, thirteen thousand two hundred and ninety-eight.

In the matter of the sanitary condition of the city, Dr. Brisbane’s report, made a few years ago, contained important points, among which are the following:

“Second to no other attraction or element of importance is the health of a town and the advantages or otherwise of its sanitary features and condition. The prospective citizen, with children to educate, is particular to estimate the educational advantages; the manufacturer and investor inquire as to taxes, encouragement offered and water or other facilities; the artisan and mechanic are specially interested in the number of factories and industries; but all alike, with one voice, demand the proof of health and sanitary guarantees of any community that invites his presence. The health of cities and growing towns, competing for attention and development, is the constant theme with their respective editors and public-spirited citizens. The sanitary condition and advantages of a community are prominent bases on which its merits and attractions are pushed and heralded with all the energy of modern booms. With any of them, in this respect particularly, Vicksburg eagerly invites comparison. The sanitary committee is one of the most important and active committees of the board of mayor and aldermen. There is a health officer, a salaried official, who acts in conjunction with the sanitary committee, and also a board of health, composed of prominent local physicians. During the summer months, sanitary inspectors are employed, and as a rule a special sanitary officer is regularly appointed by the city council. In addition, the regular police are also required to make sanitary reports, and even the fire department is not exempt when called upon to do sanitary duty. The whole is governed by a series of carefully drawn ordinances and regulations, which show to what a high degree this important part of careful municipal government has received attention. Vicksburg, like every center, has a large floating population, attracted by the construction of railroads, levees and other works of like character, and the sick and dying from this large class find an asylum in the state hospital, located at Vicksburg. The causes of death given in the records show to the discerning mind certain facts worthy of notice. For instance, there is a notable absence of the malignant forms of malaria so generally attributed to this section of country as a cause of death. There is also a comparative absence of deaths caused by typhoid fever, and likewise a very limited number of deaths under the head of contagious and infectious diseases.”

The temperature of winter seldom descends to seven degrees, and that of summer seldom exceeds seventy degrees. The change of seasons is so gradually accomplished that there is a spring and a fall distinct in character from such imaginative seasons in the North.

Vicksburg may be said to date its beginning to 1783, when the Spaniards completed Fort Nogales, garrisoned the post and armed the redoubts known as Fort Mount Virgie, Fort Gayoso and Fort St. Ignatius. For almost a century before, the site was known to Canadian and French travelers and prior to 1729 to the first colonists of the Natchez district, whose farms spread out to the Yazoo and to Walnut hills.

On March 23, 1798, the commander received orders from the governor at New Orleans to evacuate the position and return to Natchez. A few days later a company of United States troops, under Major Kersey, took possession of the works and changed the name to Fort McHenry. Its occupation was continued for a short time, when it was allowed to be used for civil purposes and became the home of Anthony Glass, Sr. Its location, ten thousand feet above the courthouse of Warren County, is today known as Fort Hill. The national government recognized the historic character of the place and there located the national cemetery.

The open woods, six miles east of Vicksburg, beyond the great canebrake, were selected by Newet Vick about 1811 as a homestead farm; but preferring to cultivate the land on the river front, he built a cabin for his Negroes at the intersection of Washington and Belmont streets of the present city, and opened a plantation there that year. Foster Cook came before him in his interest, but cannot be said to have preceded him as a settler. It was Mr. Vick who conceived the idea of planting a town on Walnut hills; but dying in 1819, his plans were not carried out until 1821, when his son-in-law. Rev. John Lane, a Methodist preacher, like the pioneer himself, had a plat of the village made. Immediately after the land was surveyed and the United States land office opened at Washington, Miss., in January, 1816, the Vicks entered the site of Vicksburg in regular form, and twenty years after the place was chosen as the seat of justice for Warren County. The first store was started at Vicksburg by Hartwell Vick, a son of Newet Vick, the proprietor of the place, in about 1820. He continued about four years, and was then succeeded by Foster Cook and partner, George Wyche, under the firm name of Cook & Wyche. They did a large business and supplied planters in many adjoining counties.

Several years ago a number of prominent citizens and capitalists of Vicksburg obtained a charter from the legislature of the state of Mississippi and organized under it the Vicksburg Wharf and Land company, This company acquired by purchase for cash all the lands south of Vicksburg, covering a river front of over a mile and a half and controlling what is known as the lower landing. This property consists of several hundred acres of land and covers as large an area as that at present occupied by the city of Vicksburg. As the growth of the city has been for years in a southerly direction, and has already reached the estate of the company, it naturally follows that in the event of Vicksburg increasing to double its present size and population and there are strong indications of such a happening, then the property of the Wharf and Land company would become the site of a city as populous as Vicksburg now is. In 1880 Vicksburg had a population of twelve thousand, and in 1886 of eighteen thousand, thus showing a healthy and steady growth. The building of the Louisville, New Orleans & Texas railroad has given new impetus to the city, and that road is now erecting immense construction and repair shops immediately adjoining the lands of the Vicksburg Wharf and Land Company, which must materially increase the demand for the company’s lots. The transfer across the Mississippi river of the cars of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific system is also made over the property of the company, and at this landing the various boats plying on the Mississippi and Yazoo and their tributaries connect with the Vicksburg & Meridian, Vicksburg, Shreveport & Pacific, and Louisville, New Orleans & Texas railroads.

The Vicksburg Wharf and Land Company have laid out their property as an addition to the city of Vicksburg, and are at work having an electric street railroad built to it. In the meantime little or no effort is being made to dispose of the lots, the company realizing that at an early day these lots will command very liberal prices, owing to the various advantages possessed by their location both for business and residential purposes. A few lots have been sold at prices ranging from $1,500 to $2,000 each, and residences are now being erected on them. The stock of the company is not on the market. The secure position of the company, the cash value of its lands, and the stolidity with which the stockholders have held on to their shares from its earliest inception have obviated the necessity of running the capital into the millions. This amounts to $300,000 only. It is understood that this stock has never changed hands from the original holders, who have been so satisfied with the investment that they have never cared to part with it. The exceptional situation of this property, its numerous advantages for residential purposes, commanding as it does a magnificent view of the river and the surrounding country for miles, while it has in addition to the landing every railroad centering in Vicksburg immediately at its base, must make it at an early day the most sought-for and the best tract of land in and around Vicksburg. The stockholders of the company are all substantial business men. Among them are: Thomas Rigby, ex-president of the Vicksburg and Meridian railroad; A. D. Mattingly, coal merchant; J. B. Mattingly, mill owner; Thomas M. Smedes, and Eugene Martin, all of Vicksburg; Colonel Wooldridge, Lexington, Ky.; the German Security bank of Louisville, Ky. The late Col. A. B. Pittman, of Vicksburg, was also a stockholder.

The surrender of Vicksburg, July 3, 1863, to the troops under Grant, and the defeat of Lee’s army at Gettysburg on the same date, by the troops under Meade, abolished doubt in the minds of impartial observers. North and South, and pointed to the fact that, were the Federal authorities inclined to end the war, every division of the Confederacy could be garrisoned by their troops before the close of that summer. Early in the struggle the importance of Vicksburg as a strategic point was recognized by both sides. The fall of New Orleans, in 1862, gave the Federals virtual possession of the Mississippi River up to Vicksburg, down to which operations had also cleared the way from above. On the 18th of May a portion of Farragut’s fleet, under Capt. S. P. Lee, appeared before the city and demanded its surrender, which was promptly refused. Every effort was made by the Confederacy to retain a strong force here. Ten thousand troops garrisoned Vicksburg at this period. On the 28th of May, General Williams, who had occupied the opposite side of the river, attempted, by means of a dug canal, to leave the city high and dry, but the uncertain stream declined to desert the city, and the scheme was a failure.

After a vain bombardment, on the 28th of June Farragut’s fleet was compelled, by falling water, to descend to New Orleans. General Sherman’s operations from the Yazoo quarter were equally fruitless. Grant’s attack, on the 19th of May, 1863, was gallantly repulsed, but he invested the city with an overwhelming force of seventy thousand men, while the fleet cooperated from the river.

On July 3, 1863, after enduring for forty-seven days and nights the horrors of bombardment, and menaced by the pangs of hunger, Vicksburg, through General Pemberton, in command of the town, was allowed honorable terms of capitulation, and the brave struggle of the inhabitants against the inevitable was at an end. Rather less than seventeen years later, on April 12, 1880, Grant again entered Vicksburg not this time at the head of a victorious army, but amid the plaudits of the citizens, as their invited guest, they having chivalrously forgotten the bitterness of the past and joined the whole South in welcoming the great Federal captain.

After the siege, Vicksburg struggled manfully to regain its prosperity. The reconstruction period was successfully passed through, but a disastrous fire in 1866 caused great loss of property. In 1876 the Mississippi river, most fickle and inconstant of its kind, voluntarily accomplished the task in which the Federal engineers had failed. It reached across the narrow isthmus opposite, which has ever since remained an island, while Vicksburg now stands on the borders of a lake, two miles from the main current and only reached directly by navigation during the four or five months of high water each year. Two years later, in common with other Southern cities, Vicksburg had a terrible visitation of yellow fever. Another great fire in 1883 laid a portion of the town in ruins, and as a fitting climax to this series of misfortunes, the collapse of the Mississippi bank the same year took from luckless depositors a million dollars of hard-earned money. However strange it may seem, there is a gleam of satisfaction in recalling these unhappy incidents, for they serve to set forth more eloquently than volumes of argument the strength and elasticity of the town and the unconquerable will of the people. Vicksburg has been tried in the crucible and has come out of the dread ordeal better in every way.

With the possible exception of Arlington Heights at Washington, no national cemetery in the United States can compare with that of Vicksburg, situated about two miles north of town. All that nature and art could do has been here accomplished to afford a noble resting place for over sixteen thousand Federal soldiers. Until the building of the Valley road there was a splendid wide drive from the city to the cemetery. The railroad somewhat affected the drainage and caused a slight caving in of the sides. Congress appropriated $10,000 for restoring this road in 1880 and it was made a beautiful boulevard with shade trees on each side.

The Convent and Academy of St. Francis Xavier, opened in 1860, was converted into a hospital for soldiers in 1861, and the teachers became hospital nurses there and in the principal military hospitals throughout the state. In 1863 the Federals took possession of the buildings, but they were restored to the sisters after peace was insured.

A movement was inaugurated at Vicksburg in May, 1889, to hold a reunion of Federal and Confederate veterans in May, 1890. Prominent men of the state were asked to serve upon the executive committee, such as Governor Lowry, Gen. Stephen D. Lee, Col. Charles E. Hooker, Gen. E. C. Walthall, Gen. J. Z. George, Ex-Gov. John M. Stone, Hon. T. M. Miller, Private John Allen, John R. Cameron, Gen. W. T. Martin, Gen. S. W. Ferguson, Col. Stockdale, and also distinguished ex- Federal soldiers, then citizens of the state. Their action insured success, and the Northern Decoration day of 1890 was solemnly celebrated at Vicksburg, the Blue and Gray uniting in extolling the valor of their soldiers.

The history of the part taken by the people of Warren county and Vicksburg in the Mexican and Civil wars is portrayed in the general history of the state, and there also is related much of their social, religious and commercial progress. In the brief sketch of Warren County, the character of the country, the names of its pioneers, and other facts of local interest are given, so that it is unnecessary to refer to such names and events in the sketch of the city.

The building of the county courthouse in 1858, twenty-two years after the people declared Vicksburg to be the seat of justice, and thirty-seven years after the town was surveyed, may be considered the beginning of her commercial progress. That courthouse was erected in 1858 and completed in 1861, after plans by William Weldon. It is a two-story brick (in stucco) building, which cost over $100,000. It holds the position of an ancient citadel, and like such old buildings is classic in style, the Ionic columns giving it a beauty which the colonial cupola cannot destroy. The site is terraced, and bounded by heavy stone walls. Within, the prevailing ideas of antebellum days in the South are exemplified; for the high ceilings and large rooms tell of the disposition of the people to seek light, air and space a disposition now made subservient to economy.

The Federal building is a Florentine- Romanesque study, authorized by the last congress. The Convent and Academy of St. Francis Xavier is a great square palladium house, with a Gothic frontal or central pavilion, and is considered one of the finest educational buildings in the whole South. The Main Street public school building is a semi-Gothic house, with central tower and lantern. As a house where light and ventilation are the first objects it is a success, but from an architectural point of view the style should never show itself in the United States. There is something definite in the form of St. Aloysius’ Commercial College. It is an adaptation of the Florentine school, and retains many of those features which the master, Palladio, proclaimed to be necessary. The quoin stones in the piers of the corner pavilions or projections, the pilaster strip, the Italian voussoirs and key-stones are all definite, and the construction substantial.

The residences are rather in the Queen Anne style than in the classic, and in this respect Vicksburg differs materially from the sister city of Natchez.

There are eight white churches here. The Catholic church of St. Paul’s has a very rich interior. There are three priests, of whom Father Petre is the chief, while among the congregation many of the best families of the city are always to be seen. The Catholic population of Vicksburg is over four thousand. The two Episcopalian churches, Holy Trinity, and Christ’s, are fine specimens of ecclesiastical architecture, the tall spire of the former being greatly admired. The Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists have also convenient places of worship, while the Hebrew fraternity possesses a well-appointed synagogue. The colored people pay their devotions in six churches of different denominations. St. Paul’s church is a large, gothic structure, with central tower, surmounted by a small spire, springing from within an arcade or parapet. The tower corners and buttresses are capped and each carries a pinnacle. Some years before the war a chime of ten bells was placed in the bell-tower and the interior decorated. The building suffered, of course, during the bombardment in 1863, but all damages were repaired and the decorations of the interior improved. The Baptist church presents a style of semi-gothic architecture which obtained about the middle of the first half of the century, when the sects increased in wealth and influence, as they did in numbers. A central tower with brooch, Gothic only in the formation of doors and windows, leaves it an independent architectural conception of 1879. The Church of the Holy Trinity is a Norman Gothic house, with tower, including finial or cross, two hundred and eleven feet in height. Pilaster strip and corbel tables are extensively used, giving it a Tudor appearance. Christ church was erected in 1841-2, after the Elizabethan idea of the Gothic style. It is the same in style as those buildings erected in the United Kingdom and the British colonies in the eighteenth and in the first half of this century by the British government. The Methodist church, built in 1850, is a very independent conception of Architect Thomas Hackett. It is a combination of the Roman, Gothic and colonial, a strange combination, of course, but evidently in accord with the ideas of those who worshiped in it forty years ago. The Presbyterian building is Gothic of the Tudor school, as has all the unfinished character of that school, the buttress merging into a pilaster and vice versa. The synagogue is altogether too uncertain in its architectural features to be credited to any known style.

The Cotton exchange, organized in 1874, was incorporated in 1886. The Exchange building was purchased from the Mississippi Valley bank representatives in 1886 for 120,000. This is an Italian house with a well-proportioned Corinthian colonnade or portico, entablature, parapet, carrying statuary. The receipts of cotton are estimated at from sixty thousand to eighty- five thousand bales annually, including the greater part of the long stapled cotton produced in the tributary territory.

The first term of the United States court opened in July, 1887. The city is largely indebted for this to the Hon. T. C. Catchings, who represented the district in congress. It not only effects a great saving in the expense and inconvenience hitherto involved in the journey to Jackson, but will bring more people and more money to Vicksburg. On a hill close to the town the water-works contractors erected in 1887 a standpipe one hundred and forty feet high, twenty feet in diameter, with a capacity of three hundred and twenty-five thousand gallons. Just outside the city thirty or forty four-inch drove wells were sunk to a depth of three hundred feet. Eighty hydrants were supplied to the city, each capable of throwing a stream fifty feet high. Twelve miles of piping were laid in the streets that year, the main pipes being sixteen inches in diameter. Besides the immense boon to the general public, the improvement in sanitary arrangements, and the advantages that accrue to the manufacturers, it is estimated that the water-works effect a reduction of nearly one-half in the rates of insurance. The capacity of the pumping machinery is stated to be four million gallons.

The Hill City Electric Light company erected a plant in 1889, at a cost of 128,000, for lighting the city and private buildings, and added to the arc an incandescent system, at a cost of over $20,000 additional. The Thomson-Houston system is used, and furnishes excellent illumination for public and private purposes. Fifteen miles of wire were laid at once, and one hundred and five arc lights introduced; but one thousand incandescent lights were subsequently added and the foundations of electrical light established.

The Vicksburg Hotel company selected plans presented by Sully, Toledano & Patton, which called for a five story commercial building, with romanesque ornament, an octagonal tower one hundred and thirty feet high, at the northeast corner, and the height for the building proper of one hundred feet. The estimated cost of the building alone is $70,000, and of the building and site, $110,000. No commercial building in the state compares with it either in beauty or appropriateness of design, and its erection marks a new era in Vicksburg’s architecture. All the requirements of light and ventilation are perfectly met. The first floor contains the main rotunda, 41×64 feet, six stores fronting on Clay street, and the bar and billiard room in the rear, fronting on an alley twenty-five feet wide; also the office, baggage room and laundry. On the right side of the main entrance are the elevator and grand stairway. The office or rotunda is lighted from a dome two stories high. On the second floor the entrance is into a large hall or reception room looking into the office below. Immediately in the rear of the dome on this floor, the dining hall, 39×82 feet, is located, as well as the ladies’ ordinary, children’s dining room, kitchen and servants’ rooms. The third, fourth and fifth floors are devoted entirely to the one hundred bedrooms, many of them en suite.

Many other new buildings have been erected on historical sites, and throughout the city the hum of the builders is heard. Old dwellings and stores have been remodeled within the last few years, and in all things the inactivity of the old town of a few years ago is compensated for by the activity of the people of the present city, who are determined to raise Vicksburg to that position which its location and the resources of the adjacent country fit it to occupy.

Bovina and New Town are other towns in Warren County.

Back to: Mississippi Counties, Cities and Towns, 1891

Source: Biographical and Historical Memories of Mississippi, Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1891