Originally written in April 2014 – Part of the Deep South series
After the euphoria we felt in New Orleans, anyone could think that only a tornado could impress us for the rest of the trip. Thankfully, that was not necessary as we only had to visit a couple more places that brought us back to the real world pretty quickly.
Allow me to revert to where we "were" before the trip started. The more I read about it, the more I wanted to see examples of "antebellum" ; i.e., buildings from before (ante) the war (bellum in Latin). I was particularly interested in seeing the plantations. As I have mentioned on previous posts, the South fell pretty quickly to the Union, which meant that the destruction was minimal relatively speaking. As the trip progressed, I realized that going to see any plantation would, in effect, represent the embellishment of slavery, a part of US history which was (and still is) terrible. So, yes, you guessed, I chose not to go to any. This was in itself a feat as the best preserved plantations tend to be close to New Orleans. In hindsight, I regret my decision slightly, as history should always be remembered, no matter how good or tough it was… I guess I'll just have to go back with my mam one day.
Instead, we chose to go somewhere that was definitely a lot higher in David's list – a swamp full of alligators. We got onto a boat and we navigated the canals. It really looked like forests that had been flooded and we saw all kinds of animals: wild boars, raccoons (that approached the guide to get marshmallows) and of course alligators. They were in the middle of their hibernation, yet we saw 3 or 4. It really is true when they say that water is life. Also worth a mention was the tour guide, who was a biologist and who shared a lot of information about the fauna and flora of Louisiana. After the swamp, we got back into the car towards Baton Rouge (Louisiana's capital), to get into a National Park
The Natchez Trace is a very old "itinerary" with a lot of paths from prehistoric times. These were used by the American Natives as well as animals, who had to emigrate due to the seasons, dangers, etc. Along the way, you can find bits of history such as Emerald Mound, a hill created by an indigenous tribe to host a temple on the top. The views are spectacular. The Natchez Trace is full of mounds and I would have loved to see many more, but the reality is that the itinerary is 440kms long and we had to start heading towards our next stop in Mississippi.
Vicksburg is right on the border between Mississippi and Louisiana. The town is not extremely big today but at just 180 years old, the city has been pivotal in the US history books. There are 2 different rivers that go through the town: the Mississippi and the Yazoo and the town is particularly well known thanks to:
1) The Civil War
4) Coca Cola
About point number 2, there's a lot of documented history: Ku Klux Klan and Red Shirts attacks, particularly after the war… Clearly ignorant and intolerant people could not deal with a changing society.
Gaming… Well, what can I say. All American border towns that I have ever seen always have casinos or hotels with casinos in them. In fact, we stayed in one of them and got a room the size of our apartment in London for the nifty price of GBP25. No, we did not have to go to the casino and play anything. Historically speaking, all of the US has had a love and hate affair with betting: there have been periods of embracing it, as well as periods of ban… I guess this is similar to their view of alcohol through the years?
Coca Cola… Well, I know I wrote quite a lot about this very famous drink in my Atlanta post. What I did not know back in Atlanta was that it was first bottled in Vicksburg!
Anyway, the post is about "Bellum", so let's go back to the subject. After a very comfortable night in a luxurious, cheap roo, we got into the car to drive through the National Park of Vicksburg. Don't worry, I'll explain now what's so special in there.
I already mentioned the strategic positioning of the town: flanked by 2 rivers, one of them being the biggest in the US. Remember that during that time all business and transportation of goods was done through rivers, hence the importance of the town. From the very outset of the war, the Union realized that the best way to win the war would be by controlling the Mississippi (and the Tennessee, but they realized that much after). This would imply splitting the South in two, which was the ultimate goal of operation Anaconda (think of the suffocating attack technique these snakes have). The attack had to start from the North and the South at the same time.
New Orleans was captured by a Union captain who had roots in Minorca, Spain. Captain Farragut took many of the most important cities using the Mississippi. He took Natchez, Baton Rouge and many others but he suffered a setback, which prevented him from being able to lead all troops in Vicksburg. He was present, though. Taking Vicksburg could change the direction of the war and both sides knew this. There were 6 months' worth of naval attacks which eventually allowed access of troops into Vicksburg. Towards the end, a siege that should've lasted a couple of days, lasted months and became one of the most important battle of the Civil War, second only to the one in Gettysburg, which ended only the day before. The battle of Vicksburg became SO important that the US Government asked the veterans for help in establishing a National Park on the site at the start of the XXth century. They had to go and visit the place and indicate exactly where each battalion had been as well as where the main attacks had taken place.
This was done on the actual battle ground and they did a great job. Today, it's a perfect map of each of the movements. The fact that you can walk or drive through it, spend some time reading the plaques and understanding how the battle unraveled is incredible. Seeing the graveyards is spooky. All the soldiers that died on the grounds (and there were many of them) are still there. Even in death they are separated by which side of the conflict they were in and as Bertrand Russell said:
"War does not determine who is right – only who is left".
See you in the next post.