From Guntersville, Alabama, our journey turned north once again as we finally left Alabama after more than 4 months in the state. Our destination was south of Nashville, near the town of Tullahoma (which just happens to be familiar since we used to live on Tullahoma Drive!). The only thing to note about the trip occurred as we were entering Lynchburg, Tennessee. Along both sides of the highway there were a large number of rectangular, three story gray buildings with parking lots but no cars. It looked like an abandoned military installation of some kind, but there were no signs giving any information about them. Just beyond this string of buildings was the entrance to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery Visitor Center so we assumed (correctly) that the buildings must have something to do with the distillery. Our destination was Barton Springs Campground which is another TVA campgrounds on the shore of Normandy Reservoir. It is a small campground with only about 20 sites, but ALL are pull through sites with electric and water hookups. Our site was on the shore of the lake, but since they had just began to refill the reservoir for the summer, there was 100 yards of pebbles before you got to the water. In fact, their swimming area was completely dry. It was a nice campground with only a couple of other occupied campers in the area during the week. It got a little busier over the weekend, but even then it was less than 30% full this time of year.
With rain forecasted for later in the week, we made plans for Tuesday and Wednesday. The Jack Daniel’s distillery really caught Kal’s attention when we drove by it on Monday, so she pushed to check out the tour. So around mid-morning we headed back to Lynchburg to the Jack Daniel’s distillery. We were surprised by number of tourists visiting the distillery, even during the middle of the week. We noticed that the parking lot was full on Monday and it was once again full on Tuesday. We did manage to find a spot in their overflow area and walked to the Visitors Center. They have done a wonderful job with the Visitors Center and surrounding landscaping making a very nice setting. We discovered that the regular tour is free, however, I insisted we pay for the tasting tour. We had about an hour before the tour began, so we spent some time looking through their small museum about the making of whiskey, the local culture, and history of the distillery. They do have a small gift shop where they sell some of the whiskey, which was surprising since this is a dry county. We did find out later that the county allows the sale of only special or collectable series, which means only their most expensive products in fancy containers. I am sure everyone purchasing the whiskey was buying it only to add to their collections, but it was too pricey for us.
Our tour was called at 11:30 and began with a bus ride through the historic downtown area of Lynchburg where you can buy literally anything with Jack Daniel’s logo on it and up to the rickyard where they make their own charcoal. Unlike other whiskies, Jack Daniels gets it distinctive flavors from filtering the raw distilled liquor through sugar maple charcoal. They literally drip the liquor into the charcoal and allow gravity to slowly pull the liquor through the finely ground charcoal. This process alone takes nearly a month. It is interesting that Jack Daniels not only makes its own charcoal, but also the white oak barrels needed to age the whiskey. We got to stick our heads into one of the ageing warehouses where they stack up the barrels 70 feet high in racks in those large warehouses we had seen the day before. There are hundreds of these warehouses scattered over the 2000 acres of the distillery since they age the whiskey for 4-6 years. It is the extreme temperature changes in these buildings that opens and closes the pores in the wood, creating the unique flavors in their whiskey. The rest of the tour includes the natural cave where they draw the spring water for the distillery, the original office, the vats where they cook the mash, the huge copper stills where they distill the liquor, the 30 foot tall vats of charcoal used to filter the liquor, and a small part of the bottling facility. The entire tour took over 1.5 hours and ended up at back at the Visitor’s Center where we were taken to their tasting room. We got to sip a very small quantity of five of their whiskeys. This started with their premium brand, Gentleman Jack, which is filtered a second time after the aging process in their charcoal. This process removes all of the “kick” or “finish” from the whiskey making the smoothest whiskey I have ever tasted! There was literally no finish at all, but all of the flavor. It was amazing!! We also got to sample one of their Top Barrel brands. I say “one of them” because everyone is different. These come from the top barrels in the warehouse which receives the greatest changes in temperatures making each barrel unique in flavor. While it still tasted like Jack Daniels, the flavors were certainly more intense and interesting. Did you know that you can actually buy an entire barrel of whiskey, which they will bottle and ship to you along with the barrel it came from! Finally we got a sample of the main brand “Old Number 7” for comparison, as well as, their Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire. They add honey to the Tennessee Honey which made it too sweet for my tastes and cinnamon to the Tennessee Fire which produces a lasting burn in your mouth long after the whiskey is gone. Even though they gave us a nice sip of each of the whiskeys, this was still enough for Kal to feel tipsy especially since it was now 1:30 and we had not had any lunch. So we ate lunch at the nice picnic area on the grounds and Kal felt good enough to drive back to the campground.
On Wednesday we headed to Murfreesboro to another National Park that we had not visited yet. Stones River National Battlefield is another Civil War battlefield that played a major role in the war. In December of 1862, President Lincoln was looking for a decisive victory to boost his announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in January. He ordered General Burnside to attack General Lee at Fredericksburg in early December, even though waging war in the winter is not a good idea. As we learned last year, this attack was a disaster for Burnside who got slaughtered in Fredericksburg. President Lincoln then looked to General Grant at Vicksburg, but the siege there did not provide any decisive actions. Therefore, he turned to General Rosecrans who had recently been promoted to command the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, Tennessee for a decisive victory. Therefore, the day after Christmas, 1862, General Rosecrans began the short march to Murfreesboro to confront General Bragg who had established winter quarters there not expecting any action until spring. The weather was terrible with rain and cold and with the Confederate cavalry harassing the supply lines it took General Rosecrans until December 30 to approach within 2 miles of Murfreesboro. By this point General Bragg had established his troops along Stones River and the two armies set up for battle. I found it interesting that the each division had small military bands that would play every evening and when one of the bands started “Home Sweet Home”, the bands on both sides took up the tune. Both Generals also had the same battle plan for the next morning, to attack the right flank of the opposing line and attempt to cut off their supply line and retreat. However, General Rosecrans planned his attack to start after breakfast, while General Bragg planned his for daybreak. Therefore, the Confederates were able to surprise the Union forces on the right flank during breakfast which caused a general rout of the Union back towards the Nashville Pike. By 10 am they had forced the Union right flank back three miles to the pike where the majority of the Union forces that were supposed to attack the Confederate right flank had been assembled. It would have been a total defeat except for General Sheridan’s division at the center of the right flank who had his troops ready at daybreak. They slowed down they Confederates at an area of limestone outcroppings now known as the Slaughtering Pens since he lost nearly a third of his men before they ran low on ammunition and had to withdraw. By this time the Union had regrouped along the Nashville Pike and the massed artillery stopped the Confederate advance. As opposed to later in the war when the Confederates would have hastily built defensive works to hold their position, the prevailing strategy at the time was to continue with offensive charges even across open cotton fields. The artillery cut them to pieces making this battle the scene of the highest percentage loss in the war and heavier casualties then either Shiloh or Antietam. The center of the Union line was now along the Nashville Pike at a location called Round Forest which was now the point of the “V” in the lines. The Union continued to hold this position throughout the day repelling multiple Confederate charges. Later this location would be renamed “Hell’s Half-Acre”. General Bragg assumed that General Rosecrans would retreat back to Nashville after this defeat and sent word to Richmond about his victory. However, General Rosecrans decided not to retreat and fortified his position. January 1, 1863 was spent recuperating and tending to the wounded by both sides and except for a few probes was uneventful. On January 2, General Bragg once again tried to dislodge the Union army by attacking the left flank at McFadden’s crossing. Even though the Union army had established a position east of the river they were quickly pushed back across the river. However, as the Confederates tried to achieve the bluff on the west side of the river they found the Union had amassed over 90 cannon to sweep them back to the river with devastating results. It was then General Bragg’s turn to retreat back to Murfreesboro which he soon abandoned for better defensive positions further south. General Rosecrans moved his army into Murfreesboro, providing President Lincoln with his much needed victory. He spent the next six months building a 250 acre fort, named Fort Rosecrans, that included the Stones River, the Nashville to Chattanooga Railroad, and the Nashville pike. This became the main supply depot to support the Union advance through Chattanooga and Atlanta for the rest of the war. Once again they had a nice driving tour, along with a CD that took you to the major locations of the battle. We really enjoy these CDs of the battlefields. Unlike other battlefields, this one is fairly small, but still took the better part of the day to explore.
The weather on Thursday progressively got worse throughout the day as predicted with severe storms building to the southwest through the evening. We ate an early supper and watched the weather on the TV. Around sunset they were tracking a tornado that should stay to our north and two more tornadoes that could threaten us to our southwest. Fortunately, the cells were moving almost due east, so it looked like we should be in between the two systems. When they put the county under a Severe Thunderstorm Warning, we headed to the bathroom where we listened to the broadcast on our weather radio and occasionally pulled up the radar on the iPad. Since it had gotten dark there was not much to see. After standing around for over an hour with little rain or wind we finally called it and went back to the RV. By this point the storm systems had weakened so the tornado risk was gone and even though we had some heavy rains later in the evening, there was nothing severe.
We spent Friday taking it easy in the campground, but decided to do something different on Saturday. We had noticed earlier in the week that the Normandy Fish Hatchery was going to have an open house on Saturday, so we decided to check it out. Neither of us had ever visited a Fish Hatchery, so it was all new and interesting. The employees were all very friendly and informative as we talk with a couple of them extensively about how the fish hatchery operates. At this fish hatchery they primarily produce walleye, stripped bass, a couple of trout varieties, and catfish, to stock the many reservoirs in the state. At the time they were producing walleye fry for transference to the holding ponds on the property. The most interesting fact we learned was that the stripped bass are actually a saltwater fish that spawns in freshwater and actually does very well in the deep water reservoirs in the state. However, they require a moving water column in order to successfully spawn and the water in these lakes does not have enough motion. Therefore, if you catch any stripped bass then it very likely came from this hatchery. It is also evident that without the hatchery there would be no stripped bass in Tennessee lakes, which I assume would be a disappointment to local fishermen since these fish can get very big!! We were also treated to hot dogs with all the trimmings and even though it was only 10 in the morning, we had to partake.