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29 best things to do in Vicksburg, Mississippi

Vicksburg is known as the Key City because of its strategic location during the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln said, “Vicksburg is the key. The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.” On July 4, 1863, Union General Ulysses S. Grant put the key into the Union’s pocket. Confederate General John Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg after a 47-day siege. 

Ironically, Vicksburg and Warren County had voted against secession as late as December 1860.

Now Vicksburg celebrates its past and looks firmly to the future. The city’s biggest attractions center around the battle that signaled the Confederacy’s downfall, but that’s not all Vicksburg offers. It’s a road tripper’s delight: Vicksburg is on the Great River Road, the Hot Tamale Trail, and the Mississippi Blues Trail

Vicksburg is an hour west of Jackson, the nearest major airport, and 3.5 hours northwest of New Orleans. In this article, we’ll start with Vicksburg’s historic importance and then move on to the places that explain it.

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You’ll need a full weekend to enjoy Vicksburg. The battlefield alone requires several hours of exploration. Couple the battlefield with downtown museums, antique stores, and antebellum homes to fill your long weekend. Surrender to Vicksburg’s charms and join the fun!

Table of contents

Vicksburg Campaign | Siege of Vicksburg | Surrender | No Fourth of July in Vicksburg | Mississippi River abandons Vicksburg | Old Town Tours | Old Court House Museum | National Military Park | USS Cairo | National Cemetery and Soldiers’ Rest | Old Depot Museum | Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum | Riverfront Murals | Lower Mississippi River Museum | Catfish Row Museum | Children’s Art Park | Wings on Washington | Outdoor adventure | Casinos | Entertainment | Eateries | Shopping | Lodging |

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Vicksburg and the Mississippi River Campaign

Captain David G. Farragut forced New Orleans to surrender in April 1862. Six months later, the Confederacy controlled only the 244 river miles between Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Louisiana. Fortunately for the Confederacy, the stretch included the Red River, preserving a link to Texas and northern Louisiana. 

Related: The Union cut off the Port of Mobile when Farragut forced Fort Morgan to surrender in 1864.

Grant's armies manuever to cross the Mississippi River in this map.
In this map, blue indicates the Union and red the Confederates. The Union meanderings show Grant’s attempts to cross the Mississippi. (The Vicksburg Campaign/Center for Military History)

The Siege of Vicksburg

In November 1862, the Union began the Vicksburg Campaign. They tried to cut off Vicksburg for months by blowing levees, cutting canals, and seizing railroads, but nothing worked. 

Finally, Grant and Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter found an undefended crossing at Bruinsburg on April 30.

Map showing the Vicksburg campaign to the east of the city.
Vicksburg is west of the map, which shows the Union victories at Raymond, Jackson, and Champion Hill. (The Vicksburg Campaign/Center for Military History)

The Union then captured Jackson, Mississippi, on May 14 and won the Battle of Champion Hill two days later to Isolate Vicksburg. After two assaults, the Union settled into a siege.

In response, Vicksburg’s citizens moved into caves. Ground sweet potatoes became “coffee” and mules and rats became meat for the table.

Related: Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian, married a Virginian, and followed her Confederate allegiance. Before the war, he served at Fort Leavenworth.

Map of the Vicksburg fortifications
Vicksburg’s fortifications extend beyond the current preserved battlefield. (The Vicksburg Campaign/Center for Military History)

Pemberton surrenders

Pemberton surrendered 30,000 starving soldiers. Five days later, the Union Port Hudson fell after a 48-day siege. Its fall cut the Confederacy in half. Lincoln said, “The Father of Waters now goes unvexed to the sea.”

Roxie’s reliable report: One hundred twenty Union soldiers earned the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Vicksburg Campaign. The Confederacy also had a Medal of Honor. Commander Isaac Newton Brown of the CSS Arkansas earned the Confederate Medal of Honor during the Arkansas’ run through the Union fleet.

General Ulysses S. Grant sculpture atop a pedestal reading "Illinois."
Illinois identifies its favorite general, Ulysses Grant.

Vicksburg refuses to celebrate the Fourth of July

After Pemberton’s surrender, the city ignored Independence Day for 81 years. Celebrations didn’t fully resume until the Bicentennial. 

However, the city made an exception on July 4, 1947, when future President Dwight Eisenhower came to Vicksburg. He spoke before the Warren County Courthouse to celebrate America’s World War II victory. Fifty thousand people attended the festivities.

Ironically, Eisenhower later vetoed a proposed expansion to Vicksburg National Military Park.

Related: Walk in Eisenhower’s footsteps in his hometown, Abilene, Kansas. Ike decided to run for a second term when he could climb “Cardiac Hill” on a golf course in Thomasville, Georgia.

The mighty Mississippi abandons Vicksburg

Grant cut canals to divert the Mississippi from Vicksburg. His attempts failed, but an 1876 storm accomplished what Grant’s soldiers failed to do. The storm’s massive flooding carved a new channel south of the city, stranding its waterfront. 

In response, the Army Corps of Engineers diverted the nearby Yazoo River into the Yazoo River Diversion Canal 25 years later.

Let’s explore the Key City now.

Enjoy these guided tours from Viator.

1. Vicksburg Old Town Tours

Start your Vicksburg adventure on Bertram and Carol Hayes-Davis’s Vicksburg Old Town Tours. The various tours last at least 2.5 hours. The tour navigates the city’s historic neighborhoods and antebellum mansions wearing wartime wounds.

The white Federal-style cupola atop the Old Court House Museum.
The Old Courthouse Museum sits on Vicksburg’s highest point and Confederate generals watched battles from its cupola.

2. Old Court House Museum

The 1858 Old Courthouse Museum explains Vicksburg’s history. Vicksburg built a replacement courthouse in 1939, and the former courthouse became a museum in 1946. The collections range from pre-Columbian artifacts to a large Civil War memorabilia collection and beyond.

Red, white, and blue Co. 1:2, Miss. V.I. Yazoo Rifles canteen cover with the Spanish-American War slogan, "Remember the Maine."
The Old Courthouse contains memorabilia from many of the nation’s wars, like this Spanish-American War canteen cover, and Vicksburg cultural icons like the steamboat Sprague.

Bronze plaque indicating the site where Jefferson Davis began his political career.
Jefferson Davis gave his first political speech on the Old Courthouse grounds.

Future Confederate President Jefferson Davis began his political career at the courthouse in 1843. He lost his first Congressional election but won a seat in 1845. A few months later, he resigned to fight in the Mexican War under his former father-in-law Zachary Taylor.

A car is visible through the granite Vicksburg Memorial Arch.
The Vicksburg Memorial Arch honors those who fought and died during the Vicksburg Campaign.

3. Vicksburg National Military Park

Driving and walking any battlefield gives visitors a better understanding. Attend the park’s living history and ranger programs and reserve a battlefield guide.

The Visitor Center and USS Cairo are open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The tour road opens at 8:30 a.m. daily with the last entry at 4:40 p.m. The gates close at 5 p.m. Walk the park from sunrise to sunset. The park’s shape is like a giant comma, but some of the entrenchments are outside the park.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Save time when you pay entrance fees before you arrive. If multiple national parks are on your agenda, purchase an interagency pass online.

Women standing at the base of a grassy hill below the marble Illinois Memorial.
The Illinois Memorial honors every Illinoisan who served in the Vicksburg Campaign, including Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant.

The art park of the world

The battlefield is dotted with over 1,300 monuments to various states’ soldiers. One Civil War veteran called the battlefield “the art park of the world.”

Interior of the Illinois Memorial with a mosaic floor, bronze plaques listing the soldiers, and marble ones listing the commanders.
The Illinois State Seal mosaic occupies the center of the tiled floor. The soldiers’ names encircle the base of the walls with the commanders’ names above.

Illinois Memorial

The Illinois Memorial stands 62 feet high. To enter the pantheon, climb 47 steps—one for every siege day. It lists every Illinois soldier at Vicksburg. It cost $194,423.92 in 1906, or $6.7 million in 2024. It’s the only one that people may enter.

Roxie’s reliable report: The memorial is not wheelchair accessible. However, if you are a veteran or your ancestor is listed within, notify park staff. They will try to get you in.

Related: The Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois manufactured Union munitions.

The Vermont marble Iowa Memorial has two curved wings with a bronze statue in the center.
The Iowa Memorial features bas-relief sculptures and an equestrian sculpture, “The Color Bearer.”

Iowa Memorial

Illinois’s temple is the most spectacular, but the Iowa State Memorial’s reliefs also stood out. The six bronze reliefs depict Vicksburg Campaign battles. It cost $100,000 in 1912, equal to $1.3 million in 2024.

“The Color Bearer” carries Old Glory to lead his Hawkeye brethren into battle. Color bearers had to ride unarmed and were a frequent target.

The "Spirit of the Republic" stands between two wings on the Missouri Memorial.
The Missouri Memorial shows the “Spirit of the Republic” perched on the bow of the Ship of State.

Kentucky and Missouri: Brother against brother

The Kentucky and Missouri monuments are the most poignant. Forty-two Missouri units fought at Vicksburg — 27 Union and 15 Confederate. Missouri’s monument stands where two Missouri regiments fought each other. “The Attack” at left shows charging Union troops. “The Defense” shows Confederate troops defending against the charge. It cost $40,000 in 1917, equivalent to $1.02 million in 2024. 

Bronze life-size sculptures of Lincoln and Davis face each other at the Kentucky Memorial.
Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis converse at the Kentucky State Memorial.

Both sides’ presidents, Lincoln and Davis, were born in Kentucky. Their sculptures symbolize Kentucky’s division. The Kentucky memorial is one of the last, dedicated on October 20, 2001. Kentuckian Sarah Bowers found a Confederate memorial, but nothing to commemorate all Kentuckians. In response to the lack, her organization designed and installed the monument.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Kentucky State Memorial is not on a park road. Instead, it stands in a large field between Union and Confederate Avenues at the park’s southern end. Look for a small sign indicating the turnoff. Watch for the first lot after Stop 15, Hovey’s Approach. Walk 0.1 miles on a level path beside busts of Kentucky’s generals who fought at Vicksburg. Former Vice-President and 1860 Presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge is the most famous. His subordinate, Benjamin Hardin Helm, was Lincoln’s brother-in-law.

An enslaved Black field hand and a Black Union soldier help a wounded Black soldier beneath a canopy of trees.
The African-American Memorial honors the First and Third Infantry Division of African Descent, later changed to the United States Colored Infantry.

First and Third Mississippi: Fighting for their freedom

Don’t miss the African-American Monument. A field hand and a soldier support a wounded soldier. The field hand signifies the enslaved past, while the soldiers represent a free future secured in battle. The Black soldiers defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Milliken’s Bend.

Related: Milliken’s Bend was Black soldiers’ second Civil War battle. Fort Scott‘s First Colored Kansas Infantry won the first one at Island Mound, Missouri.

The sloping brick walls of the USS Cairo Museum with a flag waving above.
The USS Cairo Museum is part of the Vicksburg National Military Park. The Navy Monument is visible on the hill above the building.

4. USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum

Two exploding mines sank the 13-gun USS Cairo in 36 feet of water on December 12, 1862.

Sloping armored sides of the USS Cairo with a pair of cannons poking through gunports.
The USS Cairo’s slanted walls helped divert enemy fire. To keep the engines running, coal heavers and firemen had to stock a ton of coal per hour.

The Union rescued the sailors, but silt eventually buried the ship. The Cairo was part of the Brown-Water Navy, which patrolled the major rivers supporting the Army. In 1965, divers rescued the last pieces of the Cairo. A dozen years later, it returned to Vicksburg​.

Related: James Eads of LeClaire, Iowa, designed the Union gunboats.

Rows of brown tombstones denote Union soldiers' graves at the Vicksburg National Cemetery.
Rows upon rows of tombstones mark Union soldiers’ final resting place. Many of the national cemetery’s graves hold unknown soldiers.

5. Vicksburg National Cemetery and Soldiers’ Rest

Over 22,000 Civil War soldiers rest in Vicksburg cemeteries. Seventy-five percent of the national cemetery‘s 17,000 Union dead are unknown. Another 1,600 of the 5,000 Confederates in the Soldiers’ Rest section of Vicksburg City Cemetery are unknown.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: The 0.75-mile Cemetery Road is open to vehicles at the national cemetery, but the best way to experience the cemetery is to walk from the USS Cairo Museum.

The red brick Federal-style Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Station is now a museum.
The Old Depot Museum inhabits the former railroad depot.

6. The Old Depot Museum

An impressive collection of models resides in the Old Depot Museum. Enjoy precise model train layouts and a collection of model ships and boats. 

Meticulous diorama of the Siege of Vicksburg.
Detail of the Siege of Vicksburg diorama. Pemberton’s headquarters are on the left with the citizens’ caves in the hill below. Soldiers fire on each other elsewhere on the battlefield.

A 250-square-foot diorama includes more than 2,000 miniature soldiers. The diorama alone is worth the admission.

The original Biedenharn Bottling Co. exterior
Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum exterior.

7. Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum

I collect Coke memorabilia, especially bottles. Of course, the Biedenharn (BYE-den-harn) Coca-Cola Museum was on my must-see list. In 1894, Vicksburg’s Joseph Biedenharn was the first person to bottle Coke.

Bottling equipment like tables, tanks, and a rotating bottle capper.
Workers filled individual Coke bottles by hand from a large tank.

View the original bottling equipment and Coca-Cola memorabilia. In the restored candy store, savor ice cream, fountain Cokes, Coke floats, and Coke souvenirs.

Related: Twenty-two years later, Will and Lena Deppish’s Crown Bottling Company of Junction City, Kansas, became the first company west of the Mississippi to bottle Coca-Cola. 

Painting of the steamboat Sprague docked at the Vicksburg wharf.
The Sprague is the topic of one of the Vicksburg Riverfront Murals.

8. Vicksburg Riverfront Murals

Vicksburg’s history is beautifully depicted in 32 Vicksburg Riverfront Murals on the city’s levee.

“The Steamer Sprague in Port” commemorates the largest stern wheel towboat ever launched. It measured 318 feet long and 61 feet wide. The Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works built it in 1901. It pushed a steam-powered record tow of 60 barges. The tow stretched 1,125 feet long, 312 feet wide, and weighed 67,307 tons. Unfortunately, the boat also recorded the most lost tows, 53,200 tons of coal above Osceola, Arkansas. It also rescued 20,000 people during the April 1927 Mississippi River flood. 

The citizens of Vicksburg turned the Sprague into a theater for the melodrama Gold in the Hills. The Sprague burned in 1974 and sank five years later.

Related: See more Dubuque-built boats at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque.

Gray concrete tower behind the Vicksburg levee with flood level marks
On the river side of the levee, flood markers show the height of Vicksburg’s most severe floods. Look for the original flood wall section.

Roxie’s reliable report: The 1927 flood was Vicksburg’s worst ever with the river expanding to 80 miles wide. The unshown 1993 flood reached 51.47 feet.

Three-quarter wall covered with a Mississippi River topographical map and a red banner reading, "Lower Mississippi River Museum."
Entrance mural at the Lower Mississippi River Museum.

9. Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi River Museum

Call “All aboard” at the MV Mississippi IV, part of the free Lower Mississippi River Museum (LMRM). It was a towboat and the flagship of the Mississippi River Commission.

A barge passes the MV Mississippi IV. The view also shows the boat's deck, the Old Depot Museum, and the railroad.
Yazoo River Diversion Canal from the MV Mississippi IV’s pilothouse

Experience life for the crew and passengers on the boat docked next to the museum. Climb up to the pilothouse for an excellent river view. Exhibits explain life on the Lower Mississippi for various communities, farming families, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Watch the river’s fish species in the 1,515-gallon aquarium.

The Mississippi River Flood Model recreates the river with astroturf and concrete.
Test your hydrology skills here.

Roxie’s reliable report: Play hydrology engineer at LMRM’s outdoor Mississippi River Flood Model. Alter the river’s course by opening and closing dams and other features. 

Brady Tonth, Jr.'s airline pilot hat and jacket.
Black aviation pioneer Brady Tonth, Jr., is one of the featured Vicksburg residents at the Catfish Row Museum.

10. Catfish Row Museum

In the early 20th century, “Down on the ’Berry,” a busy Black entrepreneurial district, enlivened Mulberry Street. Then, David Cohn‘s book Where I Was Born and Raised said, “The Mississippi Delta begins in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis and ends on Catfish Row in Vicksburg.” Now, a museum and a children’s art park are called Catfish Row. 

The Catfish Row Museum showcases Vicksburg’s diverse culture. It features Vicksburg residents like civil rights activist Myrlie Evers-Williams, philanthropist Francis Vick Willis Johnson, Black entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, and Black aviation pioneer Brady Tonth, Jr. Before the Christian and Brough Building became the museum, the site’s Monte Carlo Club hosted blues and R&B acts. 

Children play in the Catfish Row Splash Park.
Cool down in the Catfish Row Children’s Art Park.

11. Catfish Row Children’s Art Park

The name says the park is for children. Don’t believe it; you’re never too old to play in the water. The splash park is modeled on the steamboat Sprague.

Roxie’s reliable report: Catfish Row is completely accessible.

12. Wings on Washington

Capture your Vicksburg adventure by taking flight at the Wings on Washington. Find a Vicksburg cultural collage and stand between a pair of wings to fly.

13. Opt for outdoor adventure in Vicksburg

The Mississippi River Trail runs through downtown Vicksburg. Rent a bike from Battlefield BicycleBlue Cat Guide Service will bring anglers to prime fishing holes. Explore the water with Quapaw Canoe Company’s canoes and kayaks.

Casinos line a bend of the river.
The riverboat casinos line the Vicksburg river bank.

14. Test your luck at four Vicksburg world-class casinos

Visit Vicksburg lists four riverfront casinos. Thousands of slot machines and gaming tables await you.

15-18. Let Vicksburg entertain you

Every year since 1936, the Vicksburg Theatre Guild (VTG) produces “Gold in the Hills.” The melodrama holds the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest-running show. VTG also presents three more productions annually. Buy show tickets in advance to avoid box office lines. VTG accepts no reservations, so arrive early.

The Westside Theatre Foundation also regularly produces theatrical performances at the Historic Strand Theatre. Watch the monthly movie at The Strand and attend film festivals.

Enjoy live blues at The Biscuit Company of Vicksburg and Key City Brewery and Eatery.

Burger with onions, pickles, and green beans.
Relish the burgers at Rusty’s Riverfront Grill.

19-25. Where to eat in Vicksburg

Our top qualification for restaurants is a river view. Second is the Southern cuisine we love. And, we want top-notch seafood. Vicksburg has all three.

10 South Rooftop Bar & Grill

Sunset on the Mississippi is magical, and nowhere has a better view than 10 South. Try the redfish and drink a Mississippi Sunset. Park on the fifth floor of the Clay Street parking garage.

Rusty’s River Front Grill

Rusty’s has a wall full of awards and they are well earned. You’ll love the Captain’s Platter and the bread pudding.

Solly’s Hot Tamales

Since 1939, Solly’s has served hot tamales on the Hot Tamale Trail. Through four owners, the recipe has remained the same.

Main Street Market Cafe

Everything is made from scratch at Main Street Market. The menu changes daily, but the amazing gumbo is a staple. Dinner is by reservation only, so call early.

Walnut Hills Restaurant

The choice is easy here. Eat the famous fried chicken, followed by the pecan praline pie.

Divine Donuts

Divine Donuts, in three Vicksburg locations, offers 30 yeast-raised and cake donut varieties. They also have fresh-made sandwiches and kolaches. Grab some hot tamales, and you’ll be set.

The Tomato Place 

The Tomato Place disguises itself as a roadside produce stand. Instead, it offers a full menu with in-season vegetable sides. Eat the iconic fried green tomato BLT with avocado. Chase it with fresh-squeezed lemonade. Remember to bring home some produce.

25-27. Shopping in Vicksburg

​Browse Vicksburg’s fun shops. 

H.C. Porter Gallery

Porter’s paintings begin as black-and-white photographs. Using serigraphy, she screens them onto paper and begins painting. She says her “characters have gone through a variety of experiences.” Buy her mixed-media original works at her gallery.

Levee Street Marketplace

Levee Street Marketplace features antiques, jewelry, food, clothing, and much more.

Michel’s Record Shop

Whether you want to create music or listen to music, Michel’s has you covered. Buy guitars, amps, CDs, and vintage vinyl.

28-29. Best places to stay in Vicksburg

Consider these fun Vicksburg historic homes’ lodging options.

Duff Green Mansion

Experience haunted elegance at the Duff Green Mansion. Jefferson Davis and Grant both danced at balls in the ballroom. Supposedly, a soldier haunts the kitchen turned operating room. Visit the cave where Mary Lake Green (lady of the house) had to deliver her first child, Siege. 

Anchuca Historic Mansion

Anchuca, Choctaw for “happy home,” was Joseph E. Davis’s last home. Four years after the war’s end, Jefferson Davis made one of his last public addresses from the front balcony while his brother lived there. Try the Surf and Turf at the on-site restaurant, where overnight guests receive priority seating.

Want more options? Try the ones above.

The sun, an orange ball of fire, drops behind the tree-lined Louisiana shore.
The sun goes down behind Delta, Louisiana, across the river from Vicksburg.

Roxie’s reliable report: The rivers are the best attraction in Vicksburg. For a free 360-degree view, stop at Louisiana Circle or Navy Circle in the national military park. Sunset is the best time to visit. 

Book your trip

Let’s add your trip to your calendar! Roxie’s reliable recommendations will get you ready.

Plan your flight and book your tickets:

Plan your overnight accommodations anywhere from national chains to private homes with:

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