Grand Gulf lies in Claiborne County, Mississippi along the great river below Vicksburg. The park honors not only the Battle of Grand Gulf, but the history of the small town which once had nearly a thousand residents. Originally settled by the French in the early 1700s, Grand Gulf really took off with the emergence of the cotton industry. An inland railroad was even built to transport that important crop to waiting steam boats on the river. By the mid 1800s, the town had become prosperous with two newspapers, a hospital, a school, several churches, and a number of businesses. That all began to change with a series of disasters that hit Grand Gulf. First, a yellow fever outbreak took many of of the city’s residents. Second, a devastating tornado ravaged Grand Gulf. Third, and perhaps the final blow, occurred when the Mississippi River began to change course between 1855 and 1860. The mighty river destroyed a total of fifty-five city blocks. By the Civil War, the population of the once prosperous and proud Grand Gulf had been reduced to barely 158 people.
The bluffs and position of Grand Gulf on the Mississippi River made it an important position in the campaign for Vicksburg. Confederate General John Pemberton ordered General J.S. Bowen to move his troops to Grand Gulf and fortify the position. Within a few weeks, Bowen’s men had constructed two forts named Wade and Cobun with heavy mortars and connecting trenches. General Grant decided to try a new strategy against Vicksburg. Instead of attacking it from the north, he would move his army and fleet south of the city and attack from below. In order to do this, he needed to take care of Grand Gulf and it’s fortifications. On April 29, 1863, Grant began his attack on the city. Admiral David Porter’s seven ironclads were ordered to take the position through a bombardment. Four of his boats would attack Fort Wade, which was the lower fort, while the other three would open up on Fort Cobun. Advancing to within 100 yards, the Union ships attacked about 8:00 a.m. The fight would continue until 1:30 p.m. Although Fort Wade was silenced, Fort Cobun continued to be a threat. The Federal navy fired more than a thousand shots into the fortified Confederate positions. Most of his fleet had been damaged and he suffered almost 80 casualties. Porter then decided to withdraw his ships and declared, “Grand Gulf is the strongest place on the Mississippi.”
After conferring with Porter, Grant decided to move his men further south and cross below Grand Gulf. Once Bowen realized he was flanked, he withdrew his forces from the now almost dead city. He would have to face Grant on other battlefields. The fighting at Grand Gulf was over.
In May of 1962, the Grand Gulf Military Monument Park was officially dedicated to preserve the memory of Bothe the town and the battle. Located 10 miles northwest of Port Gibson off Highway 61, this 400 acre part is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes a cemetery, museum, hiking trails, camp grounds, and a number of restored buildings. The park is open 7 days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.