We finished the Natchez Trace Parkway then drove back north to visit Vicksburg, Mississippi – site of a major Civil War battle. By the Spring of 1863, Vicksburg was the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, considered the single most important economic feature of the continent. President Lincoln determined that ‘Vicksburg was the key, and the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…’
After 2 major assaults on Vicksburg led by Major General Ulysses S. Grant were repulsed by the Confederate Army with heavy casualties, Grant decided to lay siege to the city on May 25. The Confederates held out for more than 6 weeks but with dwindling supplies and widespread sickness, finally surrendered on July 4. The fall of Vicksburg coupled with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee’s army in the battle of Gettysburg, fought just days earlier (July 1-3), marked the turning point of the Civil War.
Vicksburg National Military Park, like Gettysburg and Chickamauga, is outstanding. There are countless statues and monuments along the 13 mile driving tour. Also within the park is the U.S.S Cairo Gunboat and Museum, which is a fascinating exhibit. The U.S.S. Cairo was one of seven ironclad gunboats named in honor of towns along the upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. These powerful ‘city class’ ironclads were formidable vessels, each mounting thirteen big guns (cannon). On them rested Union hopes to regain control of the lower Mississippi River and split the Confederacy in two.
On Dec 2, 1862, the Cairo led a small flotilla up the Yazoo River, north of Vicksburg, to destroy Confederate batteries and clear the channel of torpedoes (underwater mines). As the Cairo reached a point seven miles north of Vicksburg, it was rocked by two explosions in quick succession which tore gaping holes in the ship’s hull. Within twelve minutes the ironclad sank into 6 fathoms (36 feet) of water without any loss of life. The Cairo was discovered in 1956 and finally raised in 1965. Many of the ship’s artifacts were recovered and are now on display in the museum. If you have any interest in the Civil War, Vicksburg National Military Park should not be missed.
After Vicksburg, we travelled east through Jackson, Mississippi’s capital (not a lot to see), then on to Selma, Alabama. Selma is best known for the 1960s Selma Voting Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery protest marches, beginning with ‘Bloody Sunday’ in March 1965 and ending with 25,000 people entering Montgomery at the end of the last march to press for voting rights. The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was the starting point and on March 7, six hundred protesters attempted to cross the bridge; fifty were hospitalized when met by armed troopers. Two weeks later, Dr. Martin Luther King led a court-approved march, this time with federal protection. It covered 54 miles and reached the State Capital on March 25. In a speech before the 25,000 protesters, King said, ‘The march of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ Feeling the historical significance, the Bear’s hair stood on end when crossing the Pettus bridge…
We carried on to Montgomery and immediately located Chris’, who was celebrating 99 years in business. Chris’ is legendary for its hot dogs and chili sauce, and has served the likes of FDR, Martin Luther King Jr, Elvis Presley, Jimmy Stewart, and Clark Gable among others. Our waiter told us that Hank Williams wrote the song ‘Hey good lookin’ while sitting in a booth at Chris’. Chris’ is definitely an old school, hole-in-the-wall establishment in every respect. Papa Bear decided to get the ‘one and one’ (a hot dog and hamburger) and had it ‘all the way’ (mustard, onions, sauerkraut and chili sauce). It came with fries and a sweet tea, and for 8 bucks, it was sloppy deliciousness.
We then moved across town to stay with our good friends Rob and Sheila, who had graciously invited us for Thanksgiving. Their century old home in the historic district of Cloverdale was really impressive (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Helen Keller once lived in houses around the corner), and the Bear got to meet some new friends.
We were really looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner in the south, particularly after the recent presidential election, and opportunity to potentially experience a big family dinner with contentious (drunken) political conversations. So just after people took their first few mouthfuls, and sensing there were both Republicans and Democrats around the table, Papa Bear tossed out, ‘So we’re just visiting from Canada, but we heard there was a recent election. What does everybody think?’ After a moment of awkward silence, everyone laughed and for the most part, kept their opinions to themselves. The dinnertime civility was a bit disappointing but the meal was awesome…
The following morning, Rob proudly showed off his Danish heritage by cooking up some delicious (sugar-free) Æbleskiver. [Sorry Rob, your Æbleskiver were much better looking than any Papa Bear has ever made so forgetting to add sugar had to be pointed out.]
Not to be outdone, Papa Bear brought out some Gammel Dansk and the 2 Danish brothers toasted the Viking Gods…
Later that weekend, Rob and Sheila, took us to their lake house retreat on Jordan Lake, about a 45 minute drive from Montgomery. The overnight visit, together with some other family members, included a cruise on the lake, mounting a large ‘lights-up’ Santa, and a night of hotly contested board games. It was a terrific place with a view that would make any Ontario cottage owner envious (particularly the measly $700 annual property tax rate).
We had an absolutely wonderful visit with Rob, Sheila and the rest of the family and were truly grateful for their incredible hospitality – many thanks and skoal!