I mentioned the USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum and Vicksburg NMP in yesterday’s post. And although there’s nothing “atomic” about the sites, they are definitely worth visiting.

The USS Cairo was one of seven Union (the North–I still get the Union and Confederate confused…I know) gunboats used for the purpose of getting control of the Mississippi River from the Confederate (the South) forces. Now, I really, really don’t care for military history, particularly of the Civil War, so we I won’t really be mentioning much more about the military aspect of the place.

But as for the coolness factor. I’m certainly game to talk about that. The USS Cairo is quite possibly THE definition of steampunk, except, you know, real. You can practically see Will Smith and Kevin Kline coming up with some fantastic contraption beneath deck. And you can visit it!


The USS Cairo was buried under mud and silt after sinking in the Yazoo River (the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers join at Vicksburg) for over 100 years before being lifted and restored.  It sits not far off the Mississippi River under an enormous tent. Parts of the the boat (ship? I can’t remember the distinction) have been restored, parts have been left as is, and you can walk all over the whole thing! It’s all positioned in such a way that you can look out on the Mississippi River and imagine yourself attempting to take the Mississippi from Johnny Reb and his friends.

Something I hadn’t realized before visiting the site was the incredible size of the ships used on the Mississippi during the Civil War, and the fact that some of the ships were made from iron. Now maybe you realized ships were made from iron, but I certainly didn’t. The USS Cairo had several vulnerable areas plated with iron, which may by why we’re able to see it as a museum today.

In addition to the USS Cairo itself, there’s a museum. I’m more of a living/experiential museum lover, so although the museum was great, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as the USS Cairo itself.

The USS Cairo Gunboat and Museum are part of the larger Vicksburg National Military Park, which is also an interesting visit.

Vicksburg, MS, was the site of a 47 (!) day siege during the Civil War. Vicksburg NMP is a BIG park. Not Yellowstone big, but there’s a lot to see, and I really didn’t see much of it. I got my stamp at the visitor’s center, and bought some cool Civil War paper dolls, a deck of cards with Confederate generals on them,  and a topsy-turvy doll pattern. A) I don’t know why I bought these things, and B) Man, this is why I’m poor.


I also drove the 16-mile tour road, stopping at all 15 of the tour stops. The tour road is basically a winding road through a large, naturally landscaped cemetery. There are monuments, and historic buildings, and gravestones, and battle markers all over the place. And the entire place didn’t make me feel very good, as I suppose should be expected of a place where more than 2000 people died. So, I spent time, absorbed some history, but didn’t go much beyond that because of the sombre vibe of the place. I am not cut out to be a tourer of military sites.


I drove to Vicksburg on the Natchez Trace, which is beautiful! The Natchez Trace is a road. It’s a pretty road, but it’s still a road. The National Park Service describes it as:

The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 444-mile drive through exceptional scenery and 10,000 years of North American history.  Used by American Indians, “Kaintucks,” settlers, and future presidents, the Old Trace played an important role in American history. Today, visitors can enjoy not only a scenic drive but also hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping.

Which yes, I agree with that description, 100%. It’s so pretty! I think it’s even prettier than those “leaf peeper” drives in the Northeast during the fall.

While driving the Nachez Trace I noticed a sign for Windsor Ruins. Anything with ruins in the name is definitely going to get my attention.While following the signs for Windsor, I came across Alcorn State University (Medgar Evers and Alex Haley went there). Now, I felt pretty lost. I was in the middle of rural Mississippi, and was following signs, some of which had buckshot holes, to some ruins. This was one of my, “no Google Maps” trips, so I relied only on my paper atlas and the buckshot riddled signs for guidance. I continued on. And I’m glad I did!

After a few more miles of winding, forest and kudzu enclosed roads, I spotted another Windsor Ruins sign, at a dirt road. I turned down the dirt road, into the forest and OH MY GOD–I saw the most amazingly beautiful place I’ve ever seen. (Really.)



The Windsor Ruins are what’s left of the largest antebellum house in Mississippi. Basically all that’s left are enormous columns configured in a large L-shape and a few pieces of ornate iron. It’s more akin to a Greek or Roman temple than any site I’ve seen in America.

The story of the Windsor Ruins is a sad one. They Windsor house was completed in 1861 and was one of the most beautiful and extravagant houses in the South. It was located not far from the Mississippi River and quickly became a destination and landmark along the shore. Wonderful parties were held at the house. Mark Twain even mentions her in Life on the Mississippi.

A house completed in the South in 1861 along the shores of the Mississippi River was sure to become a target during the Civil War. But guess what? Windsor survived the war unscathed, her roof-top observatory (!) even being used by Confederate troops as a lookout on the Mississippi, supposedly because she was too beautiful to burn.

So how did the Windsor House become the Windsor Ruins? At a party in February of 1890, it seems a careless guest enjoying the home from the observatory, dropped a cigarette. The house burned quickly and completely leaving little but the columns and the staircase (which is now at Alcorn State University).

The Windsor Ruins have been used in several movies including Rain Tree Country and Mississippi Burning.

So what’s it like to visit the ruins? Well, after spending an hour or so at the site on the way to Vicksburg, I cut my time at Vicksburg short, and went back many miles to visit the site again, at sunset.

I wanted to go inside the ruins. Yes, the whole site is just columns, but it’s chained off and there are “do not enter the ruins” signs posted. But, rebel that I am. I HAD to go inside. To do what, you ask? Well, I hopped over the chain, and went and sat, cross-legged right smack in the middle of the ruins. For a long time. While the sun went down. Luckily, my second visit of the day was peaceful, unlike the school bus full of loud, teenage visitors that marred my first visit. (I know, they have the same right to be there that I do, but man they harshed my mellow.)

It may sound newagey and weird, but that evening was the closest I’ve felt to zen, sitting there in the middle of all that history and beauty.

Since then, any time I want to relax, to fall asleep at night, to not murder my co-workers, this is where I go in my brain. It is my happy place. Which when you think of the history of the place, and my absolute non-connection to the site, is really kind of weird. Whatever. It works for me.

Windsor Ruins


  1. Blathering says:

    Now I know why you mentioned the Wild Wild West on Twitter the other day.
    And it’s fascinating to me that you can’t remember which is which in the Civil War. I know all the war stuff maybe because of history-dad and 4 brothers.
    Love the new blog!


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