‘Twas at the Siege of Vicksburg

Hanna and I took a field trip to St. Louis last Friday to see the Civil War in Missouri exhibit at the Missouri History Museum before it closes. It was nicely done with lots of information, artifacts and a number of interesting interactive touchscreen activities (that would in all honesty make great iPad apps). We discovered that we had been to many of the battlefields referred to in the exhibits, including Wilson’s Creek, Lexington, Pilot Knob, Pea Ridge (Arkansas), Shiloh (Tennessee), Vicksburg (Mississippi), and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania). A feature about James Eads’ ironclad warships reminded us that we had seen the USS Cairo during a family vacation.

The USS Cairo was sunk by a naval mine in 1862. Sections of the ironclad were recovered and reassembled at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

There is an interesting story leading up to our visit to Vicksburg. Like many good tales, it began long, long ago. Every family tree has its colorful characters; with a name like Jefferson Green Fields, my great-great-grandfather was predestined to be one. He had three known wives (with rumors of at least one more) documented through census files and marriage records. No divorce decrees have surfaced, thus it is possible that he was married to all three at the same time. JGF is known to have fought with the Confederate Army during the Civil War and later to have been a livery stable/general store owner as well as a circuit-riding Primitive Baptist minister.

Jefferson Green Fields
Jefferson Green Fields: Portrait of a Polygamist

I am a descendent of the second wife (family lore identifies her as Native American, but this is undocumented). In 2000 a grandson of the third wife contacted members of my family with an idea to reunite the descendents of JGF. He called it the “First Fields Family Union,” because never before having gotten the three branches together, it could not accurately be called a reunion. His idea was to meet the following summer in Memphis, Tennessee, where Jefferson Green Fields had enlisted in the Confederate army. My half-something-cousin-some-number-of-times-removed was also recruiting someone to write a paper about his experience in the War. Any guesses who volunteered?

I pored through Confederate payroll, parole and veterans records as well as books and websites about the Civil War. In summary, Jefferson Green Fields served as a teamster for the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery at the Siege of Vicksburg. At some point he was injured and hospitalized, but had returned to the battlefield by the time that General John C. Pemberton surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. JGF was taken prisoner and paroled. (Download the entire paper here.)

Phil and I thought it would be interesting to take the kids to Vicksburg before heading to Memphis. The Vicksburg National Military Park is huge, with memorials for every state with troops that fought there.

Missouri’s memorial is the only one dedicated to soldiers from both armies. Twenty-seven Union and fifteen Confederate units from Missouri fought at Vicksburg.

We found the spot overlooking the Mississippi River where the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery was encamped:

Joey (3), Hanna (13), Laura (5) and I enjoy the view at Vicksburg National Military Park, June 2001.

as well as a plaque commemorating JGF’s company.

Joey, Laura and I pose for an obligatory cannon photo in June 2001. The summer of 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg.

On to Memphis and the “Family Union.” (Sort of, anyway; descendents of the first branch declined to participate.) My paper was well-received by those who did attend, but an even bigger treat was in store for us. The 52nd Tennessee Regimental String Band was in town!

As Confederate reenactors, band members were both bemused and amused by the whole “Family Union” thing, but appreciated the explanation and treated us to a concert. Appropriately, they opened with ‘Twas at the Siege of Vicksburg.

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Note: The Civil War in Missouri exhibit at the Missouri History Museum closes June 2, however a traveling exhibit has scheduled stops in various Missouri cities and towns through 2015. See it if you have the chance.

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