Guest Tour Memory: Civil War Mississippi River Campaign | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

Guest Tour Memory: Civil War Mississippi River Campaign

We have had many guests who have traveled on a tour with Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours tell us that it was a memory of a lifetime. As we are all armchair travelers for the moment, we are inviting you to share your favorite memory while on one of our tours. Today, we share guest Judy Rigler’s photo and sentiments about her experience on our Civil War: Mississippi River Campaign Tour.

Civil War Mississippi River Campaign Tour Memory

“The Mississippi River Campaign” was the sixth military history tour we have taken with Stephen Ambrose Tours, to include the Civil War, World War I, and World War II tours. We’ve traveled with them to England, Belgium, France, Sicily, Italy, Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima. We always thought we were not “tour people,” but Ambrose made believers of us with the company’s well-planned historic tours and attention to detail. We quickly learned that Ambrose tours could take us to places we’d never know about on our own, and the historians have all been outstanding. We generally try to add a day or two on the front and back end of the trips, so that we may enjoy being tourists on our own as well as amateur historians.

Prior to beginning this trip, we stayed on Beale Street in Memphis, where the music surrounds you and the seafood is terrific. From Memphis, we headed out on historic roads such as the Natchez Trace to battlefields, museums, and cemeteries in Corinth, Tupelo, Vicksburg, Natchez, and New Orleans with about 20 other travelers and Mark Bielski, our wonderful Ambrose historian. While in New Orleans, we enjoyed oysters prepared three ways and met up with an old U.S. Navy Preflight buddy of Erik’s, who took us to the famed Emeril’s Restaurant.

There were plenty of highlights on this trip, but my favorite part was my stint as a Confederate soldier at the Port Hudson State Historic Site in Louisiana, the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi that was the scene of a 48-day siege, the longest and one of the bloodiest in American history. After we watched the museum’s film,  the  docent asked for four volunteers to re-enact a cannon firing. Three guys volunteered. Erik looked down at his shoes and kept quiet, but my hand flew up. Who wouldn’t want to be the only girl soldier to fire that cannon?

We recruits changed into Confederate uniform jackets, gloves, and hats (which look remarkably like the hats the Smurf cartoon characters wore!) and headed out to the grounds, where the old cannon was hauled out and prepared for battle. Each of us received OJT for our duties; my job was to take the small leather hood from my nifty “man bag,” place it on my thumb, strap it down, and secure the hole in the top of the cannon to prevent smoke and powder from escaping while two soldiers cleared the barrel and inserted the charge, and then to signal my fellow Rebel on the other side of the big cannon (actually Tom Sutton, a pediatric cardiologist from Minnesota!) to “pull the plug” and set off the charge. 

BOOM! The cannon contained only 20 percent of what would have been loaded during the actual battles a century and a half ago, but I can still hear the deafening roar, which made all of us jump three feet in the air and lose our hearing for several minutes. The heavy smoke from the blast obscured the entire battlefield and gave new meaning to the military term “the fog of war,” as it would be just about impossible to distinguish friend from foe in the choking haze.

What a trip. We can’t wait for the next one, when we can all get back to traveling once more.

Judy Rigler
Albuquerque, NM

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