July 2008               


            July is not starting off real good.  It has been really hot and one of our air conditioners has quit working.  Dick called Camping World and they had one in stock, so we made an appointment to get it replaced.  We spent the afternoon in their waiting area and returned to Richmond with a cooler rig. 

            Dick had his last appointment with Dr. Hoover and we left Richmond on the 17th.  We got off without any problems but when we stopped at the Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 to make lunch we discovered that our kitchen window was shattered.  We think perhaps a truck may have tossed up a rock and the window was hit.  As the glass is double paned and safety glass, the window was still in place, just shattered.  We will have to try to get a replacement when we get to Pigeon Forge.  We also discovered that our water pump is not working.  We will pick up a new one when we get to Tennessee.

            We spent one night in Breaux Bridge, LA, then on to Vidalia, LA; where we checked into River View RV Park & Resort on the bank of the Mississippi River.  The town of Natchez, MS is directly across the river from Vidalia and we spent several days sight seeing in this historic town. 

            We visited the Melrose Plantation, a unit of the Natchez National Historical Park.  This home Greek Revival home was built in the 1840ís as the winter home of John and Mary Louisa McMurran.  They sold the home in 1866 with many of it furnishings. 

            One of the features of this home that we found interesting was that slave quarters were on the second floor of two of the outbuildings.  These quarters were for the house slaves.  Bells hung on the back of the house were connected to rooms in the mansion and used to summon slaves.   Other slave buildings have been recreated on the property and contain exhibits on slavery.  These quarters are much different from many of the cabins, etc that we have seen on other plantations.  The slave population at Melrose grew from 8 to 25, with slaves tending gardens, yards, livestock and keeping the grounds and buildings in good condition.  Although the land at Melrose was formerly cotton fields when the McMurranís built their home, cotton was not grown at Melrose until after the Civil war, when it was leased to sharecroppers.

            Another unit of the park is in Natchez, in the old commercial district.  It is the William Johnson House.  Johnson was the son of a mulatto mother.  He was freed by his master when he was 11.  It is presumed that his master was his father. 

            He married Ann Battles, a free woman of color and they raised 10 children.  He was trained as a barber and opened his first shop in 1830.  He eventually owned and operated three shops and a bath house.  His staff consisted of free blacks, apprentices and slaves owned by him.  It was not unusual during those times for free blacks to own slaves themselves.

Johnson constructed the brick building on State Street in 1840.   The family lived in the upstairs floors of the building and Johnson operated a barbershop on the first floor.  A dependency behind the main building was likely the kitchen and dining room and servants quarters. 

Johnson left behind journals that covered his life from 1835 to 1851.  These journals give an account of the life of a free person of color in his own words. 

The Natchez Indians lived in southern Mississippi from AD 77-1730.  The Grand Village in Natchez was the main ceremonial center for these people.  The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians contains three ceremonial mounds, a reconstructed Natchez Indian house and a visitorís center with exhibits.   We spent an enjoyable afternoon visiting the museum and park. 

We also visited the area of Natchez called Under the Hill.  This area below the bluff was infamous in the heyday of river travel for having saloons, etc.  Much of the area is now gone, eroded by the river, but a small street still remains with several old buildings.

We picked up the Natchez Trace Parkway when we left town.  The historic trace is now a National Park stretching from Natchez to near Nashville, TN, a distance of 444 miles.  It is a two lane, limited access road with 55 mph speed limits.  We found traffic to be very light and it was an enjoyable drive. 

The original trace was an Indian trail.  Around 1785, farmers from the north began sending their products south to Natchez.  Flat boats were used as transportation.  When they reached Natchez, they sold the boats for the lumber in them, the current of the river making it nearly impossible to pole the boats back north.  Either walking or riding a horse back home, they used the Trace.  By 1810 it had become heavily traveled.  Inns were established along the Trace and by 1820 there were about twenty of these in operation. 

Travelers had to withstand the swamps, insects, summer heat, hostile Indians and thieves when traveling the trace. 

At several points along the drive, you can see sections of the old Trace, many areas worn quite deep in the earth from the many travelers.  

We visited Mount Locust, one of the oldest remaining structures along the Trace. The farm was purchased in 1784 by William Ferguson and his wife Paulina following the jailing of the original owner, who began Mount Locust in 1780.  William died in 1801 and Paulina married James Chamberlin.  They continued farming and the property was home to 5 generations of Chamberlains until 1944.  Acquired by the NPS, restoration began in 1954.

Paulina kept the farm working following the death of William.  It provided a living for her and their 7 children.   Mount Locust was an inn for travelers along the Trace until around 1825, and then citizens from Natchez often stayed there to enjoy the quiet of the countryside.  When Pauline died at the age of 80 in 1849, Mount Locust was a thriving cotton plantation.  After the civil war, Mount Locust declined. 

After an enjoyable day on the trace, we stopped in Jackson, MS for a couple of days.  We visited the Mississippi State Capitol.  Construction began in January 1901 and completed in August 1903.  Designed by Theodore Link, it stands 402 feet wide with the dome rising 180 feet.  Construction cost was $1,093,641.  Renovations were made 1979-1982 at a cost of $19,000,000.

The base of the building is Georgia granite and the upper exterior walls are of Indiana limestone.  Both the House and Senate chambers contain small domes. 

Continuing north, we stopped for Millie to visit the Mississippi crafts center.  This center contains many arts and crafts on exhibit and for sale by state craftsmen.

Our next stop was Tupelo.  As most of us know, Tupelo is famous as the birthplace of Elvis Presley.  We both grew up in his era and wanted to visit his home here.  Elvis Aaron Presley was born in a tiny 2 room house on January 8, 1935.  The house was built by his grandfather and uncle.  He lived in Tupelo until 1948 when the family moved to Memphis. 

            He returned to Tupelo 9 years later where he performed at a benefit concert to raise funds to purchase the house and make a park.  The park now contains the house, a museum, chapel, gift shop, story wall and a car like the one the family used to move to Memphis.

            We toured the museum, home, and chapel.  These facilities are very tastefully done and we enjoyed visiting. 

            A park in town contains a marker commemorating the Battle of Tupelo, the last major battle of the Civil War in Mississippi.   Briceís Crossroads National Battlefield is located 6 miles from town.  Bethany cemetery next to the battlefield contains the graves of 95 confederate soldiers.

            Our next stop on the Trace was at mile 269 where the graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers are located beside the old trace. 

            We left the Trace around mile 300 and went west to the town of Savannah, TN.        We spent two nights there and visited Shiloh National Military Park. 

            The battle of Shiloh took place April 6-7, 1862.   Nearby Corinth, MS was an important crossroads of the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads.  Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had concentrated his forces in the area to protect the vital rail communications.  Union Generals U. S. Grant and Don Carlos Buell advanced southward to several the railroads in March. 

            Grant established his base at Shiloh Hill and his forward camps two miles away at a log church called Shiloh Meeting House.  Grant was given orders not to advance on the Confederates until Buellís troops arrived.  General Johnston planned to attack Grantís force before his reinforcements arrived, but heavy rain delayed the attack. 

            At nightfall on April 5, the Confederate forces, numbering 44,000; was finally deployed for battle.  On April 6, the Confederates stormed out of the woods and surprised the Union forces of about 40,000 camped around Shiloh Church.  The Union army was surprised, but soon rallied and the batter raged.  The Federals were pushed back, making defensive stands at Shiloh Church, the Peach Orchard, Water Oaks Pond and in an oak thicket named the Hornetís Nest. 

            Johnstonís troops soon became disorganized and lost coordination.  In the afternoon, Johnston was struck in the right leg by a Union bullet as he supervised an assault on the Union left and bled to death.  General P. G. T. Beauregard was placed in command of the Confederate army. 

            Grantís divisions retired to a strong position near Pittsburg Landing and at nightfall fighting stopped.  Buellís army arrived overnight.  Beauregard had planned to finish off the Union army the following morning, unaware that Buellís army had arrived. The Union army now numbered more than 54,000, hammering Beauregardís Confederates who were now barely 34,000.  Beauregard withdrew his command and returned to Corinth.  The Union troops did not follow and the battle was over. 

            The total cost to both sides was 23,746 men killed, wounded or missing.  More than America had suffered in previous wars and control of the railroad junction at Corinth still in doubt.  Beauregard eventually retreated to Tupelo in May, abandoning the most important east-west rail communication in the western Confederacy.

            We rejoined the Trace near mile 370 and continued our travels north.  We stopped at the tobacco farm.  This farm and barn contains exhibits on the growing of tobacco.  A section of the old Trace is accessible there also.

            Our last stop on the Trace was at the Gordon house and ferry.  From 1801 until traffic on the trace declined the Gordonís ran a ferry across the Duck River.  The house, date from about 1818 is not open. 

            We spent a couple of nights in Nashville, TN before going to our final destination, Pigeon Forge, TN.

            In Pigeon Forge, we checked into Kings Holly Haven campground.  The site we had been assigned was too small for our rig, so we were moved to another site.  The following day, the manager told us that the site we were in was reserved the next month; and we could stay there and move later or we could move to the site next to it and stay there until the end of October.  We elected to move that day.

            We are now settled in and will be reporting to work at Dollywood on August 1. 

(Lots of new photos in the gallery, take a look.  We couldn't link to all of them.)