My family and I recently took a road trip to Destin, Florida. On the way down there, we stopped at the Civil War battlefield of Vicksburg.
The Siege of Vicksburg (May 18-July 4, 1863), in which Major General Ulysses S. Grant forced Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton to surrender, was a turning point for the Union in the Civil War. Notice the Fourth of July date as the end of the siege. The town did not celebrate Independence Day for many years after the battle as a result. The siege also ended just a day after the failed Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.
This was only my second visit to a Civil War battlefield and my first trip to the site of a major battle. The nice thing about visiting Vicksburg is that you can see quite a bit in a short period of time. We only had about an hour to spend there, but I feel like we saw most of the park. There is a drive-through tour, and you can go at your own pace. It didn’t cost us any admission fees to get in.
We saw several cannon and memorial markers. We also went inside the Illinois State Memorial, which was modeled after the Roman Pantheon. The stairs and base are made of granite, while the columns and dome are made of marble.
The highlight of the visit was getting to see the ironclad ship, the USS Cairo. We got to go onto the boat and get up-close views. That alone was worth the trip. I took pictures of the ship, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who hasn’t seen it.
After Vicksburg, we got back on the road and headed toward Destin. We stayed in a condo within walking distance to the beach. The beach that we went to had a more family-friendly atmosphere than say Miami Beach, but not entirely so. The sand was very white, and the water was a greenish blue, thus the name, Emerald Coast. My favorite part of the ocean is just sitting in the sand and listening to the waves roll in. Few things are more relaxing than that sound.
U.S. Route 98 is the main thoroughfare for the beaches in and around Destin. Traffic is very congested, especially in the evenings. There is plenty to do along that strip including: other beaches, adventure parks, water parks, restaurants, and shopping centers. ￼There are also pirate and dolphin cruises, as well as parasailing and other activities. The Buccaneer Pirate Cruise is terrific if you have kids. This was one of the highlights of the trip. The Baytowne Wharf area is also worth checking out.
It’s a good idea to bring your own chairs and umbrella for the beach or you will have to rent them. I’d also recommend taking an inter-tube, body board, and snorkeling mask if you plan to spend a lot of time in the ocean.
There are multiple stores along U.S. 98 where you can buy beach supplies. If you have kids with you, it’s a good idea to take shovels, pails, and other beach toys so they can play in the sand. We also took snacks and drinks as well. I saw some people with pop-up tents and canopies even though there was a sign which said that they weren’t allowed. Obviously, you’ll need plenty of sunscreen. And don’t forget life jackets if you have young kids.
At night, we went crab hunting on the beach. There were several other people that did the same. Be sure to take flashlights and a bucket. We also had headlamps for the kids. This is a unique experience.
On our way back, we stopped at Mobile, Alabama, to go to Battleship Memorial Park, where we toured a WWII battleship, the USS Alabama, and a WWII submarine, the USS Drum. In addition, the park had planes and helicopters on display, including an SR-71 Blackbird. Pictured below is an F-4 above the sign at the entrance of the park.
This stop was another highlight of the trip. If you enjoy history or military things, I’d highly recommend it. There are admission fees unless you are active duty military or 5 years old or under.
We spent about two hours here. We toured both the battleship and the submarine. Re-enactors in uniform answered questions that we had. We went below deck and saw the galley, the sleeping quarters, the ship store, as well as many other things.
If you get hungry or feel the need to buy a souvenir, the park also has a snack bar and a gift shop.
This was a fun vacation, and I think I enjoyed the unexpected stops along the way as much as I did the beach. That’s the great thing about road trips. You can stop and see whatever interests you along the way.