Visiting Grand Gulf Military Park
Grand Gulf Military Park is located northwest of Port Gibson, Mississippi, about seven miles west off U.S. Highway 61 on Grand Gulf Road near the Mississippi River. This site, part of the Mississippi state park system, preserves the site of the April 29, 1863 Civil War battle between the Union Ironclads of Admiral David Porter and Confederate forces led by Brigadier General John S. Bowen. This engagement was part of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign.
Grant’s plan was to put his invasion force ashore at Grand Gulf and proceed inland after the Rebel defenses were neutralized by the gunboats. Bowen had two fortifications called Fort Cobun and Fort Wade located about a mile apart high on the bluffs above the river and equipped with heavy guns, plus supporting infantry and light artillery. The seven vessel flotilla attacked about 7:50 a.m. on April 29th. Porter’s ironclads successfully put Fort Wade’s guns out of action, but Fort Cobun was another story. It was located on higher ground upstream from Fort Wade and the naval bombardment could not silence the Confederate batteries there. Porter finally broke off the attack about 1:30 p.m.
The invasion was stopped, but only momentarily as Grant was informed of a suitable landing site at Bruinsburg a few miles south of Grand Gulf. Porter had his gunboats and troop transports steam past Grand Gulf, while Grant’s ground troops marched downriver on the Louisiana side. The transports carried the infantrymen across the river at Bruinsburg on April 30th and May 1st, and the troops marched inland. With a large invasion force to his south, Bowen withdrew his forces from Grand Gulf.
Grand Gulf Military Park
There is a museum at the park with Civil War artifacts as well as other local history items of interest, including a homemade submarine said to transport bootleg liquor during prohibition. The location of Fort Wade’s ammunition magazine has been excavated. A union heavy mortar found in the area is on display at the Fort Wade site. The area contains a lot of well preserved earthworks, as well as a cemetery and buildings dating back to before the Civil War when Grand Gulf was the location of an up and coming town. By 1860, the town had been nearly wiped out by weather, a yellow fever epidemic, and devastating flooding; the war finished it off.
Fort Cobun is reached by driving north a mile to the end of the road. Fort Cobun’s parapet is well preserved, as are other earthworks within the fort. Towering above Fort Cobun is Point of Rock which is exactly that: a high rocky point that was used as an observation post by General Bowen. At the time of the battle, the main channel of the river was below the fort; since that time, the channel has moved away from the fort’s location.
Grand Gulf Military Park is a good example of a Civil War site worth visiting that is outside of the big National Battlefield parks, and is only about 40 miles or so from Vicksburg. It’s the location of an important event in the Vicksburg Campaign, and is easily reached unlike some other sites in the campaign.
For more information, visit the Grand Gulf Military Park website.