Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Exploring Mississippi - Natchez to Vicksburg

We're still hanging out along the Mississippi River, most recently taking in the historic cities of Natchez and Vicksburg. While exploring Natchez we had a comfortable spot at the Natchez State Park about ten miles north of the city. The campground with electric and water is a reasonable $13.00, with the “old guy's discount” that is. It was a quiet, forested home for a few days.

We began our Natchez time looking around the city, poking into anything that caught our attention. Had catfish for lunch at a grill “Under the Hill”, the area under the bluff where shipping took place when the river was a major transportation hub of the country. The Natchez community presents a vivid historic picture, the barges gliding down the river, the blues bars and restaurants, the stoic old churches, the preserved mansions and the contrast of the poorer areas of the city. Actually, in the early 1800s, 13 of the 16 millionaires in the country lived in Natchez due to the economics of cotton. To get a little better flavor of the history, we visited the Natchez National Historic Park which preserves the spacious and impressive Melrose Plantation. This grandiose home and its grounds are picturesque.

It gives an overview of the entire scope of the society as it was in the 1800s, leading up to the Civil War. The guided tour of the mansion provided some insight into the lives of slaveowner and slave. We walked through the elaborate surroundings of the home and then into the slave quarters just behind the mansion.

So close but so far away. Many of the landowners owned multiple plantations in addition to their mansion(s) in town. Their slaves worked every day of their lives, performing every service without question.

Then we went downtown to see the exhibits at the William Johnson House. Mr. Johnson was a "free person of color" who owned several barber shops and ventured into other types of business. He was a successful member of the community and had many white clientele.  Mr. Johnson revealed a great deal about the times through his diary that he wrote every day for 16 years, covering every kind of business transaction and everyday encounters between 1835 and 1851. He bought land, made loans and discussed politics and life. Included in his transactions was the purchase and sale of his own slaves. How can this be? It just was. There is no way we can understand or explain it.  We spent a considerable time reading listening and looking at his family home and the interesting displays.

All this reading and thinking sure makes one hungry, too. Wanted to say that if you are in Natchez a great place for bar-bq is The Pig Out Inn on Canal Street downtown. Enjoyed it.

The next stop was Vicksburg, just 75 miles north of Natchez on Highway 61. We stopped for the night at the AmeriPark Casino RV park. The rate is $22.50, including two breakfast buffets worth $14.00. The park's a friendly and clean place and the casino's food was excellent.

Continuing our history touring, we decided to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park. The Battle of Vicksburg was critical to the outcome of the Civil War. Control of the Mississippi meant the passage of troops and supplies. The horrendous siege lasted 46 days, until the Confederates surrendered on July 4, 1863. It's a long and sad story told well in the visitors center and by a huge number of markers on the battlefield explaining each event.  Taking the 16 mile tour of the battlefield lined with memorials is a sobering trip. There are bunkers built to defend the city of Vicksburg by the Confederates and trenches where the soldiers made their shelters.  As you drive, it's plain to see the terrain that would have been treacherous for those poor men, all of them desperate for victory. 

We were amazed at the elaborate memorials. For instance, the Illinois memorial in our photo. Here's just a glimpse at the outside. Inside it is lined with bronze plaques with the name of each Illinois soldier who fought at Vicksburg.

Another notable aspect of several memorials were the women used as symbols. They are denoted as “Monumental Maidens.” For example, here is a photo of the “Spirit of the Republic” on the Missouri monument. She guides the ship of state through troubled waters. The Missouri monument is 42' high, in honor of the 42 units of soldiers, Union and Confederate, that fought at Vicksburg. The park is a reminder of another annal in the struggles for freedom, however each participant defined it.
We're moving up the highway again now, following Highway 61, the Blues Trail. See you down the road.

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