Geologic Activity

Vicksburg: Home to a World-Class Geologic Story

In addition to being a key source of Civil War history, Vicksburg National Military Park also is an important geologic resource to Mississippi and the Gulf region. Due to its rock strata and paleontological resources, the park helps tell the geologic story of the area.

Early on in our country’s history, geologists and naturalists were making their way to Western Mississippi to study the thick soils and the underlying bedrock. French naturalist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur visited Vicksburg in 1828 to collect fossils and English geologist Charles Lyell visited the area in 1846 and published his findings in A Second Visit to the United States of North America. Eugene Hilgard, known as the Father of Soil Science, did extensive studies on soils in western Mississippi in the mid-1800s. He also aided the Confederates by helping locate salt and other geologic resources during the war. Even John Wesley Powell, most notable as the one-armed geologist and captain who led the first expedition down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, collected fossils near Vicksburg while fighting for the Union during the Vicksburg Campaign.


So how did Vicksburg become a place of geologic significance? It all started 70 million years ago during the Cretaceous. At that time a structural trough, known as the Mississippi Embayment became increasingly active. This trough extended from the Gulf up through Illinois, with an axis that largely followed the Mississippi River. Throughout the late Cretaceous and into the Tertiary, this trough became filled with sediments with sources in the Appalachian Mountains due to erosion and transportation, and from the Gulf of Mexico during periods of higher sea-level. Over time, these sediments were compacted and cemented, forming the rock units we see today.

By the time the Oligocene came about, much of the inland sea that had formed in the embayment trough had filled with sediment. The shore of this inland finger of the Gulf was much closer to Vicksburg at this point, as the sea retreated south. It was during this time that rocks seen in outcrops in the park today were formed. These rock units make up the Vicksburg Group. The Vicksburg Group is important geologically because it records the last significant world-wide rise and fall of sea level.


The loess deposits of Western Mississippi originated to the north during a time when glacial activity was much higher than it is today. As the glaciers in what is now Canada moved, they would grind up the bedrock and other rock debris into a fine flour-like soil. As glaciers melted, this soil was washed down the Mississippi River and deposited on flood plains. Once dried, this powdery soil was picked up by wind before being deposited a second time up on the high eastern bluffs of the river.

Loess has several characteristic qualities that gave it a key role during the Vicksburg Campaign. These include its tendency to remain relatively stable when cut at 90 degree angles. It is also highly unstable when on a slope, which has led to many serious erosional issues both in and outside the park.

The geology of Vicksburg is dynamic and still changes the landscape today. Explore the links below to read more about the processes that shape the park and how those processes have impacted history.

Explore more about the Unique Geology of Vicksburg National Military Park:

Last updated: February 28, 2018

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3201 Clay Street
Vicksburg, MS 39183


601 636-0583

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