Crossing back into Mississippi from Arkansas started the miles and miles of cotton fields and the cradle of nearly every American musical style from gospel, blues, and jazz to country and rock n'roll. We passed many a birthplace or gravesite of famous Southern blues singers including Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Bessie Smith and W.C. Handy. We attempted to find live music but most "juke joints" had very late hours.
We did make one stop at a cute little museum-the boyhood home of Muppet-master Jim Henson. The good-natured curator was a wealth of information about the collection that honored Henson, Kermit the Frog and his other creations.
Vicksburg, MS was certainly worth a two-day stop to explore the many Civil War battlefields and try to get a better understanding how Vicksburg stubbornly opposed the Union thus becoming one of the longest siege in U.S military history-47 days before surrender.
|the battlefield was wide-open space and the Union built trenches and tunnels to reach the Confederate armies|
One of our information books said "because the surrender occurred on July 4, 1863 until the end of World War II Independence Day in Vicksburg was celebrated only by African Americans".
Along the roadway were over 1,300 monuments, statues and markers, many of which were placed by surviving veterans in the immediate years following the battles. Red markers designated the Confederate defense lines and blue signs indicated the advancing Union assaults. This really presented a good picture in our mind of the overwhelming battlefield and the thousands of lives lost.
|Lots of advancing and retreating over the many days|
|nearly 20,000 casualties combined|
Vicksburg was not all compelling history and we enjoyed the River Casino boats, creole gumbo, and the best Mint Julep ever made!
|the drink must be served with fresh mint in an ice-packed silver cup|
Natchez, just above the border with Louisiana, is the beginning of the beautiful antebellum plantations and homes. Before the Civil War, Natchez had the most millionaires in the U.S. being owed to the slave-picked cotton plantations across the river in Louisiana lowlands. Oddly the plantation owners who were dependent on generations of slaves, opposed secession and sided with the Union. Why? They realized that the Union and old Whig traditions offered the best route for protecting their economic interests. We had very mixed emotions about visiting a Plantation home and were fortunate to find one that is part of the National Park Service.
|this is a "Revolving Game Table"-the stem of the card table would fit on the round cushion and the chairs could swivel|
|large mahogany fan that hangs from the ceiling that a young slave boy, called a punkhawallah, would stand in the corner during mealtime and gently pull on the rope that would create a slight breeze yet not put out the candles.|
We finally made our way into Louisiana....
|we "followed" this paddlewheel riverboat for several days. This is a 21-night cruise from St. Paul, MN to New Orleans|
...avoiding New Orleans as we've spent considerable time there before, choosing instead to stay at St. Bernard State Park on the Mississippi River. It was still unbearably hot and humid so we focused on "windshield sightseeing".
|the campground was an oasis among neighborshood ghosts of Katina devastation|
|rebuilt homes were on very high stilts while most houses that were on the ground remained empty and abandoned|
|big homes and even single wide trailers were on stilts|
|factories, the hospital and even the fire station were all elevated|
|we took a small car ferry back and forth across the Mississippi River to finish up on both east and west sides|
|Up in Minnesota at the beginning|
|At the bottom in Louisiana|
|giant freighters and tankers line up waiting their turn into New Orleans. We counted 6 here|
|look what was coming around the bend - it was huge!|
Our three weeks along the Great River Road was long, hot and at times difficult to navigate but full of interesting and new learning. The contrasts from forests to swamps, shanties to mansions, main street USA to empty ruins of towns, canoes to riverboats to giant freighters was mixed with some of the best food, culture and music around. Clearly our U.S. history has been greatly influenced by the mighty Mississippi.