April 2017 – Hohenwald, Tennessee

We once again left a federal campground, this time TVA on the Tennessee River, to head east back to the Natchez Trace Parkway.  This time we had to stay in a commercial campground, but it was right across the highway from the entrance to the Parkway.  It was located half way between the state line and Nashville, the northern terminus of the Parkway.  This meant we could spend a day heading south and another day heading north.  The campground we stayed at, Fall Hollow Campground, is a small campground with only about a dozen sites down the hill from their B&B and barbecue restaurant.  All of the sites had full hookups, for a change.  With the creek running on two sides of the campground, it was a nice location.  Even though they did not put us into one of their pull-through sites, there was plenty of room to back into the site (which meant it only took two attempts).  There were two drawbacks to the campground.  They first was the fact that nearly 2/3 of the sites were occupied with seasonal or long-term campers which always makes for an interesting dynamic with our neighbors.  Hearing their life stories about why they had to move into an RV can be depressing.  In addition, the nicer sites with gravel instead of grass/dirt pads seemed to be reserved for use by a local RV dealer selling Oliver Trailers.  These small RVs were quite popular because there was 1-3 buyers staying at the campground for a single night trying out their new unit nearly every night of the week.  The second drawback was there was no TV reception.  NONE at all!!  Consequently, we spent the week binge watching the final two seasons of How I Met Your Mother.  We have now finally saw the entire series from beginning to end and we are both of the opinion it was one of the best sit-coms ever made.  I can understand why some people were not happy with the ending, however, I thought it was appropriate.  Besides, if you don’t like the ending you can watch the final episode with an alternate happier ending.

Campsite

On Tuesday we headed out on the Natchez Trace Parkway heading south to the Tennessee state line.  Even though the entrance to the Parkway was literally just across the highway, for the past year they have been doing repairs on the Parkway so we had to loop around to the south going about 10 miles out of the way.  Oh well.  This put us right into one of the main attractions of the Parkway, the burial site of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark Expedition fame.  Just a couple of years after returning from the Expedition, Lewis was the territorial Governor for Louisiana and was using the Trace to travel to D.C. with his journals.  Although never proven, it is highly likely he committed suicide rather than face the fallout he was facing in DC over misuse of federal funds to his trapping company.  In any case, they have put up a nice memorial at his gravesite.  Of more interest to us, though, was the possibility to hike a mile along the Old Trace.  The trace wound along the ridge until finally descending to Little Swan Creek where we returned along the creek.  Of course, this meant a fairly steep hike back uphill to the parking lot, but nearly all of the uphill stretch was only a paved road.  It was a nice 2.5 mile hike on a beautiful Tennessee morning in mid-April.  Other highlights were the remains of a large iron pit mine, Naptor Mine, which was in operation until the 1930s, and the location where the Trace crossed over the Buffalo River.  On the way back north we also took the opportunity to drive about 2 miles along the Old Trace.  This was a narrow, twisty, one-way road where they had paved they actual path of the Trace.  Except for a few tight turns that had us worried we would scrape a tree, it was an interesting way to get a feel for traveling on the trace.  The overlooks of the valley from on top of the ridge were nice as well.

On Wednesday, we traveled north on the Parkway to the Northern Terminus outside of Nashville.  Unlike the majority of the Parkway in Mississippi which was gently rolling hills, the Parkway becomes much more windy as it enters the southern Appalachians around Nashville.  Consequently, there are a couple of nice waterfalls you can access from the Parkway, Fall Hallow and Jackson Falls.  There are also a couple of pull-outs with nice views of the surrounding valleys.  At the location of the ferry across the Duck River is the Gordon House, the only remaining stand along the Trace.  The history of the house is interesting, but unfortunately, it is no longer open for tourists.  Other points of interest included the Tennessee Valley Divide, which was the original border between the state of Tennessee and the Chickasaw Nation, a memorial to the War of 1812, when the Trace was used by General Andrew Jackson to move his troops, and another opportunity to drive a couple of miles of the Old Trace.  However, this time the road was not paved which gave a better sense of what travel along the Trace would have been like.  In many places you could see the sunken nature of the road, as well as, side trails where they bypassed the deep mud of the Trace in places.  Thus ended our prolonged exploration of the Natchez Trace Parkway from Tupelo, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.  Of course, this is just over half of the Parkway from Jackson to Natchez, which we will explore next spring, most likely.

It was good that we got out on Tuesday and Wednesday to explore the Trace, as the rest of the week was nothing but rain.  It was just periods of rain and thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday, but Saturday and Sunday were none stop rain.  If it wasn’t pouring rain, it was at least drizzling the entire time.  We must have gotten over 4 inches of rain, but without a TV we never found out for sure.  In any case, suffice it to say that we spend the time relaxing in the RV.  I did sneak away one evening and ordered take-out barbecue ribs from the restaurant, which was excellent!!  Their barbecue sauce was some of the best I have ever tasted.

April, 2017 – Savannah, Tennessee

We left mid-morning on Monday, trying once again to be moved before the expected thunderstorms.  We traveled a bit more than an hour north to a TVA campground on the Tennessee River, south of Savannah, Tennessee.  We knew the campground was called Pickwick Dam Campground, but we did not realize that it was literally at the site of the dam and locks on the Tennessee River.  We would actually be able to watch barges going through the locks from the campgrounds.  After negotiating 3 switchback turns to get down off the dam, we arrived at the campgrounds at 12:30.  Of course, the campground staff were gone for lunch until 1:30.  As we found out later they have to leave at noon to take care of their pack of dogs at their home 45 minutes away.  In any case, we had a reserved site, which had our name on a card pin at the site, so we decided to go ahead and park the RV and then get checked in.  The site we had reserved was strangely laid out.  It was suppose to be a pull-through, but there was no way our long rig was going to fit parallel to the road.  However, the site was not deep enough to back-it in either.  So we were trying to back the RV into an angle so it would be on the gravel pad, but off the road.  After a couple of attempts, we just about had it when the camp hosts returned from lunch.  Once they saw what we were attempting to do, they graciously offered any of the unoccupied first-come sites, of which they were a lot.  So we picked out a very nice (and deep) site with plenty of shade and pulled the RV around to it instead.  Thankfully, we had not unhooked the RV yet, but even then it would have been worth it.  For some reason they made even this site a challenge to get into.  They had put wooden landscape timbers down each side of the drive in, which made it very difficult to back in the RV without hitting these timbers with the RV or truck tires.  It took a couple of shots, but I finally managed a very shallow turn into the site, so I would have room to swing the truck around and miss the timbers on the site across the road!!  Once we got the RV into the site, there was plenty of room for the truck to sit in front of it.  And the campground is beautiful with majestic old loblolly pine scattered throughout and well manicured grass underneath.  Although we were screened somewhat from seeing the river, this view added to the appeal of the campground.  They ONLY negative feature of the campground was the stench from the pulp and paper mill on the other side of the river.  Although there were some days when the stink was not to bad, for most of the week it was a surprise every time we stepped out of the RV!!

Campsite

As expected we had thunderstorms on Monday and some of Tuesday, so we spent the day doing laundry in town and cleaning the RV.  On Wednesday, we were ready to explore Shiloh National Military Park, its proximity being the reason we choose this campground.  Like all the other major battlefields we have visited in the past two years, the first impression you have is all the monuments and signs scattered everywhere you look.  We arrived just in time to watch their half hour movie about the battle and then headed over to the bookstore to purchase their driving tour CD.  We really like these CDs as they provided a lot more information then the interpretive signs along the driving tour.  In addition, this CD visited the stops along the tour in a more chronological order, which may not be as efficient in driving time, but makes a lot more sense.  Of course, this battlefield is itself confusing as it lasted over two days.  The first day seeing the Confederates nearly overrun the Union army and the second day seeing the Union army routing the Confederates over the same ground.  For those of you not familiar with the Battle of Shiloh, it occurred during the spring of 1862, when the Civil War was not yet a year old.  Especially after the stunning victory of General Grant in defeating Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively back in February, he was confident that another great victory would end the war.  By controlling the Tennessee River, he had river access to all of central Tennessee, as well as, northern Mississippi and Alabama.  Grant brought his Army of Tennessee upriver, that is south, along the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing where he was under orders to wait for General Buelle’s Army of the Ohio to march from Nashville,  Their objective was the critical intersection of two major railroads vital to the Confederacy at Corinth, Mississippi.  In the meantime, General Johnston had amassed another Confederate army at Corinth to protect the junction.  Since Pittsburg Landing was about 20 miles north of Corinth, Grant was confident that they were far enough from the nearly defeated Confederates that he did not bother to construct any defensive positions.  Rather he was going to spend his time training his troops, over half of which had never seen battle.  This was a big mistake!!  Rather than wait for an attack on Corinth, General Johnston marched his troops north from Corinth intending to defeat Grant before Buelle could join him.  However, due to the wet weather his one day march took three days instead and Buelle was getting close.  Still, the Union army did not know of the Confederates since they were not even sending out patrols and on the morning of April 6, they surprised the Union army.  Throughout the morning they continued to push the Union army back towards Pittsburg Landing with the heaviest fighting in the morning against Sherman’s command at Shiloh Church.  The Confederates continued to push back both Union flanks until they were able to surround a stubborn force in the Union center called the Hornet’s Nest.  The Confederates lined up over 50 cannon, the largest concentration of cannon during the war, and for over an hour pounded the Hornet’s Nest.  Once surrounded they captured over 2000 soldiers.  After a long day of fighting, the Confederates disengaged without taking on the final Union line at the landing where they would have faced over 50 cannons and the gunboats on the river.  They withdrew to the captured Union camps for the night believing they had achieved a great victory and would easily mop up any resistance in the morning.  That night in the camps must have been horrendous with the combination of the wounded and dying soldiers of both sides still on the battlefield along with continuous bombardment from the gunboats on the river and a severe thunderstorm after 10 that night.  However, Grant was not about to quit, since one of his six brigades had arrived from Crump’s Landing six miles down river by sunset and most of Buelle’s Army of the Ohio arriving over night.  Grant now outnumbered the Confederates by nearly 2-1 and most of the troops were fresh reinforcements.  The Union went on the counter-attack at dawn catching the Confederates by surprise this time.  Over the next day they pushed the Confederates back over the same ground they won the day before, until they retreated back to Corinth by the end of the day.  The Battle Shiloh was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War up to that point and convinced both sides that this was going to be a long and bloody struggle.

We spent Wednesday relaxing in the campground, but on Thursday we went to see the next chapter in the Civil War by visiting the Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth, Mississippi.  At the time of the Civil War, Corinth was just the junctions of two major railroads, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and consisted of about 100 homes plus inns and taverns for the railroad passengers.  The influx of tens of thousands Confederates soldiers in the spring of 1862 totally swamped the town.  Even worse, when the remains of this army returned to Corinth after the Battle of Shiloh, the entire town was turned into a large field hospital.  In addition to all the wounded, the swampy living conditions around the town and lack of clean drinking water ended up causing more deaths then the battle itself.  They had constructed defensive breastworks to protect the junction, but the number of able bodied soldiers was dangerously low.  In the meantime, General Halleck had come from St. Louis to take overall command of three Union armies, the Armies of Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi and greatly outnumbered the Confederates.  Halleck made a cautious approach to Corinth taking three weeks to move south from Pittsburg Landing building defensive trenches after each advance.  Once they got to Corinth by the end of May, the Confederates, now under the command of General Beauregard, decided they could not hold Corinth.  By acting like arriving trains were full of reinforcements, when in fact they were being used to move the wounded, cannon, and ammunition to Tupelo, and mounting fake wooden cannons they fooled the Union army and burned Corinth down as they retreated south.  On May 30, the Union took command of Corinth thus cutting a vital line of supply between the Mississippi River and Richmond.  The Confederates tried to retake Corinth in October, now under the command of General van Dorn.  They even managed to get a brigade into the town itself, but we eventually driven back.

Except for the Interpretive Center, there really is not a lot to see in Corinth as the battlefield itself was not preserved.  The Interpretive Center is located at Battery Robinett that saw the most intense action in the October attack.  They have reconstructed a part of the battery along with a cannon to show somewhat what it would have looked like.  The Interpretive Center has a real nice video about that summer in 1862 and a lot of good information about living conditions, as well as, the battle itself.  The National Park Service also had control over a few sites outside of town where you can see the remains of the defensive trenches dug by both the Confederate and Union soldiers (although the Confederates actually used slaves to dig the trenches).  There is also a small park commemorating the Contraband Camp of ex-slaves that came to Corinth during 1862-1863.  At it height there was over 6000 escaped slaves living in the camp where for the first time they worked for wages and grew crops for sale.  Within a year they were making a steady profit by their efforts and over 1000 had learned to read and write in the school they built.  It was truly a model for future Contraband Camps later in the war, although it only lasted until December, 1863 when the Union moved troops away from Corinth and the camp was moved to Memphis which was a more traditional refugee camp where they were not allowed to build their own self-sufficient community.

While we did spend the rest of the week at the campgrounds, we did get our bikes out and took a ride in a 3-mile circle on county roads around the campground.  The terrain is mostly flat, but it was still the farthest we have gone with the bikes without stopping.  While 3 miles is not really very far, it is at least a positive step for both of us.

April, 2017 – Tishimingo, Mississippi

Once again we only traveled about an hour north to our next location which was back on the Natchez Trace at Tishimingo State Park.  The RV sites at the State Park are located around the shores of a small lake in the center of the park and all had a concrete pad for the RV.  Unfortunately, the campgrounds are a bit old which meant most of the sites were marginal for any RV of our size.  Although the site we had reserved was technically deep enough for our RV, it was going to be tight.  More of a problem were the trees directly across the road that was going to make it very difficult to swing the truck around.  Once we saw that the concrete pad had a large ant mound coming out of the center of the pad, we decided to find another site.  Fortunately, in early April the campgrounds was less than 25% full and there should be a lot to choose from.  In addition, we had to begin with dumping our tanks as the black water did not drain at Whitten Park.  Pulling into the dump site was also a challenge as it was designed for an RV of our size and the turns were very tight.  Thankfully, the black water tank did drain, so we pulled up to a site a few down from the one we had reserved that was directly across from the restroom giving us enough room to swing the truck around.  I had an easy time backing the RV into the site, so we unhooked and we drove back up to the entrance station to let them know.  Unfortunately, this site was reserved for the upcoming weekend so we had to move the RV.  We got a list of available sites so we drove around the campground and picked out the best one for our RV.  After hooking the RV back up, we pulled around to the new site and once again I was able to back the RV in with little problem.  There were three things I did not like about this site.  First, the drop off behind the RV was once again a long distance which meant we would be unable to get to our bikes.  Second, the erosion around the concrete slab was bad enough that it was nearly two feet to the ground from the bottom of the RV steps.  We used some of the wood I carry to put under the pads to create a bottom step, so we made this work.  The third thing was the close location of the cedar tree on the right side.  Once we put out the slides for the living room it pushed against branches from the tree, which also was brushing the top of the RV whenever the wind blew.  This would have been alright, except it provided a perch for male cardinal that was convinced he was seeing a rival in the window!!  Beginning on Wednesday, when he first saw his reflection, he spent the entire day from sunup to sundown every day until Monday attacking his reflection.  We tried hanging paper from the top of the windows and tried to scare off the bird, but to no avail.  Sometimes he would fly from a tree branch into the window, although most of the time he would perch on the bikes at the back and fly up the window trying to get at his rival!!  I assume he did not hurt himself, but he sure wasted a lot of energy and was a source of distraction all week!!

Since we were once again right on the Natchez Trace, we spent two days traveling the Parkway.  On Tuesday, we headed south to Tupelo filling in that part of the Trace and on Friday we headed north through Alabama to Tennessee.  Some of the highlights heading south were the Pharr Mounds, Donivan Slough, and Dogwood Valley.  As you probably guesses Pharr Mounds are more Indian mounds found along the Trace.  The Pharr Mounds are a series of burial mounds that stretch over 200 yards.  They were built during the Woodland Period over 1400 years ago.  Unfortunately, there is not a path to the mounds, so you are restricted to viewing them from the pull-out itself.  Still it was a nice place for lunch since there was a restroom at the location as well.  Donivan Slough is a wetland area that drains off of the agricultural fields just off the Parkway.  Since the Parkway is very narrow along most of its length, the slough is really very small consisting of only a couple of acres.  There is a nice short trail that loops through the area with interpretive signs about the trees and ecosystem.  Dogwood Valley is a small valley that was known since the days of the Trace for its large dogwood trees.  There are still a large number of dogwood trees in the area, some of them impressive in their size for an understory tree.  Unfortunately, they flowered early this year, so even though early April should be the beginning of their flowering season, they were all already putting out leaves and there were few flowers to be seen.  I would have liked to see the valley in full bloom.  I did enjoy being able to walk some of the Old Trace again, especially at the beginning of the trail where the Trace was a sunken road going down the side of the hill into the valley.

Most of the trip north on the Trace on Friday was through the northwestern corner of Alabama as the trace approaches the Tennessee River.  Highlights included Freedom Hills Overlook, Colbert Ferry, Rock Spring, and the Cypress Creek picnic area.  I only include Freedom Hills in the highlights because it is the highest point of the Trace in Alabama at 800 feet.  There is a moderately steep paved path to the top of the hill where you would expect a nice view of the surrounding country.  However, they don’t want to remove the trees along the Trace going by below you, so the view is VERY limited.  In fact, you could see almost nothing over the tops of the trees.  Colbert Ferry at the Tennessee River was much more interesting.  There is nothing left of the Colbert Ferry Stand and the Ferry location is now under the Tennessee River, which is more of a lake due to all the dams.  However, there is a lot of interesting history surrounding this ferry.  Even though George Colbert was only half Chickasaw, he was a very influential Chief of the Chickasaw representing the Indians in their negotiations over land.  He was a very successful businessman operating multiple stands along the trace, the ferry across the Tennessee River, and many agricultural interests.  He even charged the federal government $75,000 to transport the army led by Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 across the river!!  However, he was still forced to relocate to Oklahoma with the Chickasaw in the 1830s where he remained an important Chief.  After crossing the John Coffee Memorial Bridge we stopped and watched a barge go under the bridge.  The best part of the day, however, was Rock Spring,  This is a half mile loop trail along the edge of an old beaver pond created at the mouth of Rock Spring.  I am not sure how old the beaver dam is, but it is still largely functional in creating a large pond.  There are many interpretive signs about the pond and surrounding ecosystem along the very nice walk.  Finally, we stopped at Cypress Creek picnic area for a late lunch and found a very pleasant spot.  The picnic area is along the creek which is a very nice clear water creek with a rock bed that burbled and splashed as it passed by the picnic table.  A very pleasant location.

While most of the rest of the week we spent in the campgrounds watching our Cardinal attack his reflection, I did get out on Sunday to check out the Disc Golf course in the park.  As expected the most notable features of the course were the rock walls and numerous trees to bounce the disc off of and I certainly found my share!!.  Starting with the second fairway which was up a steep rocky ledge with the pin drilled into the top of a rock, I knew I was in for a challenge.  Each of the next two fairways were over rocky ravines, but fairway 5 and 6 were especially noteworthy.  Fairway 5 started across a small ravine which was no problem, except when I got to the other side I could not find the pin.  I walked all the way over to the tee box for Fairway 6 with no pin.  The right side of the fairway was a rocky ledge falling off to the road below, so I walked back along the edge.  Low and behold I found the pin!!  They had situated it in a crack between two sheer rock walls.  The walls were 10 feet high with only about 4 feet in between them.  You had to throw the disc so it hit the back wall and fell into the crack.  Too high and the disc could sail all the way to the road.  I managed to make the shot by skipping the disc lightly off the front wall and falling into the crack.  Fairway 6 was again using the rocky ledge, only this time the fairway went off the ledge to a pin next to the road.  From the tee box you could not see the pin and if you threw it too far it could land on the road.  Once again I got lucky and my shot skimmed off a pine tree growing up from the bottom of the ledge.  Hitting the tree was not unusual for me, by the way.  The disc promptly died landing within two feet of the pin for my only birdie of the day.  The rest of the front nine continued along the road, before turning into the woods to head back to the start.  None of the back nine were all that exciting unless you like to try and guess which tree the disc will hit before it travels more than half way down the fairway!!  I had a lot of fun with the course, only getting disgusted when I hit a tree within 20 feet of the tee box, and it was a beautiful spring day to be playing in the woods in northeastern Mississippi.

March, 2017 – Fulton, Alabama

Thankfully, we only traveled about 40 miles from Davis Lake to our new campsite at another Corps of Engineers campground, Whitten Park, as the weather was threatening rain all day and opened up soon after we got set up for the week.  After a week spent on the Natchez Trace Parkway, we were back on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, although know it was a wide canal instead of a river, which meant it did not curve as much.  We did see a few barges on the waterway during the week, however, they stayed on the other side of the waterway from the campground so were easy to miss.  Once again we had a back-in site, but it was easy to get into with the bathroom facility right across the road providing a lot of room to swing the truck around.  The only problem I had with the site was the fact that it dropped off into a small ravine behind the RV, which meant it the bikes were now too high for us to get to them.  We had to put together a small platform using the small pieces of wood I carry in the back of the truck so I could reach the ladder to sweep off the roof before we left the following Monday.  Across the ravine was the Jamie L Whitten Historical Center, which not only commemorates the efforts of Congressman Whitten to fund construction of the waterway, but also nice exhibits about the Waterway, the Corps and its partners which included the US Forest Service, TVA, NCRS, and state agencies.

We really did not do much all week due to the weather.  Starting with severe storms on Monday, which produced pea size hail for the first time on our RV, but also two more fronts during the week.  This worst of the severe weather on Monday stayed mostly to our north, with only a brief hail storm that did not appear to do any damage to the RV, thankfully.  The worst storms on Thursday passed to our south and we saw very little rain, even though we were braced all day for bad weather.  The last front came through on Saturday and we once again missed all the bad weather which made a mess of Alabama.  In any case, we spent most of the week at the campgrounds watching the weather.

We did get out on one of the few nice days, Wednesday, to visit Brice’s Cross Roads National Battlefield.  This Battlefield is actually west of the Natchez Trace Parkway, so we had to travel back west to Tupelo to get there.  It actually predates the Battle of Tupelo by a month in 1864 and was the first attempt by General Sherman to eliminate the threat of Major General Forrest on his supply lines in Tennessee.  Major General Sturgis was ordered to take a force of just over 8,000 men to eliminate Forrest’s cavalry consisting of only 3,500 soldiers.  Sturgis wanted to surprise Forrest so he pushed his forces to quickly enter northeast Mississippi leaving Nashville on June 1, 1864.  However, heavy rain over the next 6 days meant the trip took 10 days and his command got seriously strung out.  So much for the element of surprise.  On the morning of June 10, a single brigade of Sturgis’ army ran into a Confederate patrol, which they decided to chase to the east of Brice’s Cross Roads.  At this point they ran into a brigade of Confederates who promptly pushed them back towards the cross roads.  By the time additional Federal cavalry could get into position at the cross roads, the rest of Forrest’s troops were also in place.  Without the Union infantry, the two sides were evenly matched and held each other off the rest of the morning.  By 1:30 in the afternoon, Sturgis’ infantry began showing up, exhausted from having the run the final couple of miles to the battlelines at the cross roads.  Forrest was known for his daring tactics and this battle became his most famous encounter.  While holding the Union forces pinned in at the crossroads, he had sent cavalry troops around both the extreme left and right flanks of the Union.  In a coordinated attack these units hit both extreme flanks.  Especially the skirmish on the extreme left of the Union lines, which was dangerously near the only bridge back across swollen Tishimingo Creek convinced the Union troops they were surrounded.  When Forrest ordered the cannon to unlimber and push up to point-blank range of the Union center, totally unprotected.  When they opened up on the Union center with canister against green Union soldiers, they broke.  This caused a general retreat of the Union forces back towards the bridge.  Unfortunately, someone in the Union army had ordered the supply wagons to cross the bridge, which they were still in the process of.  Now this single narrow bridge was clogged with those same supply wagons attempting to cross back over the bridge.  This bottleneck created a total rout of the Union forces as they attempted to escape the battlefield.  The Confederates continued to chase and attack the running Union forces for the rest of the day, including the cannon which ultimately were pushed by had for over 3 miles that afternoon, often without the support of any infantry.    Historically, it was one of the most perfectly executed battle plans in the Civil War where a Confederate force outmanned over 2-1 was able to rout the superior Union forces.  Although this meant the end of Sturgis as a field commander, it did accomplish it’s main objective, which was to keep Forrest from disrupting the Union supply lines in Tennessee.  It also led to the Battle of Tupelo the following month where the Union effectively eliminated the threat to their supply lines.  Although it did not completely eliminate Forrest and his cavalry from the war, they never again seriously threatened Sherman’s supply lines as he captured Atlanta and began his March to the Sea.

March, 2017 – Tupelo, Mississippi

For those of you that enjoy reading these blogs to keep up with the places we visit along the journey will be glad to know that after the past couple of months without much to report, we will have more locations to report on beginning this week.  For the last month and a half we have been following the Tombigbee Waterway staying at Corps of Engineers campgrounds.  For this week we headed a bit more to the west to the Davis Lake Campground on the Tombigbee National Forest.  This section of the National Forest straddles the Natchez Trace Parkway, upon which we will be spending a lot of time.  Once again, we did not travel very far as this campground was just over an hour from Aberdeen.  We took our time leaving, yet we still arrived at Davis Lake before 1:00 on a beautiful sunny afternoon.  Davis Lake Campground has only a single pull-through site, which cannot be reserved, so our reserved site was a back-in and angled in such a way that we had to circle all the way through the campground to get the RV headed the right way.  I knew backing in was going to be a challenge with large trees across the road that was going to make it difficult to get the truck swung around.  Thankfully, the volunteer running the campground came around in his golf cart and offered to trade our site with another site down at the lakeshore that would be much easier to get in.  None of the sites near the lake could be reserved, but operated on a first-come basis and since we were early on a Monday, we could have the site if we preferred.  There was no doubt it was a better site, however, we would have to wait until the family currently occupying the site left and they had until 2:00 to do so.  So we pulled the RV around to the day-use area parking lot and waited for about an hour and a half for them to leave.  It was definitely worth the wait.  The site was very easy to get into, we were within a stones throw of the bathroom, and the view of the lake out of the back of the RV was stupendous.  I can certainly understand why these sites close to the lake were in such demand.

Campsite

For those of you not familiar with the Natchez Trace Parkway, it is a 444 mile long national park that averages only 800 feet wide.  Speed limit is set at 50 mph (although motorists often want to go a good bit faster), the woods provide a screen of any houses, and cross traffic is controlled with over passes or bridges.  This makes for a very pleasant drive through the countryside of Mississippi, stopping only when you want to and there are plenty of reasons to stop.  There are over 100 historical, cultural, or natural points of interest along the Parkway, which means every few miles there is something to stop and take a look at.  Of course, most of these are simple pull-over areas with a single interpretive sign about something close by on the Old Natchez Trace, but there are a few hiking trails or paths along the Old Trace.  The Natchez Trace began as a loose association of Indian trails in the “southwest” wilderness in the 1700s.  By 1800, it had become a well used trail through the Indian lands of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations.  In 1801, President Jefferson, declared it to be a National Post Road, which meant it was widened and maintained for the delivery of mail.  There was not much trade along the road, as most of the territory was under the control of the three Indian tribes, the Natchez, Choctaw, and Chickasaw.  However, it was an important route for the mail and settlers traveling from Nashville to Natchez and New Orleans.  It also became an important route for the “Kaintucks” to travel back north.  Without initially going to the Visitor Center at Tupelo, we were not sure who these Kaintucks were.  Kal made an educated guess that they could be farmers and traders traveling north after taking produce and goods down the Mississippi River in the early 1800s and it turned out she was exactly correct.  Farmers and tradesmen in the Ohio River Valley would take their goods down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to be sold at the markets in Vicksburg, Natchez, and especially New Orleans.  Since these wooden flatboats could not make the journey back against the current, they would be broken down and sold for lumber.  With pockets full of money, the “Kaintucks” would then walk or ride back north using the Natchez trace.  This also meant there were a number of inns, known as stands, constructed along the trace.  This practice continued until the 1820s when steamboats made it possible to make the trip upstream much quicker, safer, and less expensive.  After the Indians were forced to sell their territory and move to Oklahoma in the 1830s the Trace fell into disuse, although sections were maintained for local needs and some of these sections played a role in the Civil War.

Exploring the Natchez Trace Parkway is going to take a long time and this spring will only cover the Parkway from here, north to Nashville.  We spent two days during this week exploring the Trace.  On Tuesday, we headed south from Davis Lake about half way to Jackson and Thursday was north to Tupelo.  Instead of mentioning everything we learned or saw along the Trace, I will only hit the highlights here with more details on the Natchez Trace Parkway page for those interested.  Tuesday began with a stop at two Indian mound sites that were an interesting comparison.  The first was Owl Creek Mounds which were constructed about 800-900 years ago during the Mississippian Era.  Of the 5 original mounds, there are only 2 remaining after they paved the county road through the middle of the site.  Although not as large as other Indian mounds we have seen in Alabama, these mounds had the traditional flat tops and likely had ceremonial structures on their tops.  It has been hypothesized that this could be the location where Hernando de Sota spent the winter, however, dating of the site indicates it had been long abandoned by the 1500s.  The other mounds are known as Bynum Mounds and were actually dated back to the Woodland era over 1200 years ago.  Excavations have identified that these mounds began as burial mounds which ties in with the Indian traditions about their origins.  The two remaining mounds are much more rounded and did not likely have any structures on their tops.

It should be noted that the Natchez Trace Parkway only roughly follows the path of the Old Trace, which tended to wind around the landscape.  Consequently the Old Trace crosses the modern Parkway numerous times and every once in a while, there is a pull-out where you can walk a short section of the Old Trace.  There were two such locations as we traveled south.  Where the ground is soft, especially as the trace descended towards a creek, the traffic on the Old Trace would often create “sunken roads” with banks up to 6-8 feet on either side.  I suspect that continued erosion as these road beds became drainage ditches over time would have contributed to the depth of these sunken areas.  In any case, they make it obvious that you are walking in the path of the Indians and Kaintucks from over 200 years ago.  Pretty cool.

KalOnOldTrace

Also by traveling south you come to a camping and picnic area named for the Congressman that pushed for the creation of the Parkway, Jeff Busby.  A short drive up the hill brings you to one of the highest points in Mississippi at just over 600 feet.  While not an impressive height, it does give a nice view to the east and west from on top.  We ate lunch there, took a mile long height along a nature trail that dropped from the top, and headed back to the campground.

The weather kept us from continuing our exploration of the Natchez Trace, although we did use the Trace to take a pleasant trip to Tupelo to go to the store.  On Thursday, we repeated this same trip north along the Parkway to Tupelo, although this time we stopped at each of the historical sites along the way.  This section of the Parkway runs through the heart of the Chickasaw Nation that controlled the area until the 1830s when they were forced to agree to a treaty to sell over a million acres to the federal government.  There were given “equivalent” land in Oklahoma and promises that they would receive the proceeds of the sale of the land, which they were decades collecting on.  Therefore, many of the historical sites related to the Chickasaw Nation and short lived Missions that provided education and Christianity to the Indians.  Of the three largest Chickasaw villages, the largest, know as Old Town, was close to the Trace and is near the present town of Tupelo.  Just south of Tupelo, the NPS has created a nice set of exhibits about a typical Chickasaw Village.  Along with interpretive signs and a short nature trail, they have used paving stones to outline a typical summer and winter homes and a wooden stockade that they Indians would go into to defend the village.  The stockade would not surround the village, but only provided a location to hide within when attacked.  There is also a trailhead for a 4 mile hiking trail to the Visitor Center.  Since it also goes to the next stop along the Parkway at Old Town Creek about 2 miles away, I decided to take the trail and meet Kal at the next stop.  While it was a pleasant walk on a warm spring day through the woods, it never got out of sight of the Parkway itself and had another road on the other side for the second mile of the trail.  I suppose I should not have been surprised since the Parkway is only a couple hundred feet wide.  The only interesting thing that happened on the hike was that I actually got stopped by a train where it passed under the Parkway!!

We continued on up to the Visitor Center where we had lunch and finally learned the full history of the area and the Natchez Trace.  They have a very nice movie about the Trace that gives a very good overview of what you will find along its entire length.  Over the 444 miles of the Trace, it crosses through 6 distinct ecosystems and 8 major watersheds at travels from the Southern Appalachians to the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.

We decided to also take the opportunity to visit the NPS site for the Tupelo National Battlefield, as it was only a couple of miles off the Parkway in Tupelo.  In fact, the site is right across the street from the Kroger we went to the day before without realizing it.  This is not surprising since the urban sprawl of Tupelo has completely occupied the battlefield,  The National Park site is only an acre site with a monument, two cannons and a couple of interpretive signs.  As it turns out this monument is on the very edge of the battlefield, if even on the original battlefield itself.  It obviously took only a couple of minutes to visit.  I got some quick pictures and we left to return to the campground.  For those of you interested, the Battle of Tupelo is also known as the Battle of Harrisburg.  The original town of Harrisburg was essentially abandoned by the time of the Civil War with residents moving to the new town of Tupelo where the railroad was located.  The Battle of Tupelo took place in July of 1864 in support of Sherman’s battle to capture Atlanta.  This campaign was dependent on the supply line which consisted of a single track railroad from Nashville to Atlanta.  Confederate Major General Forrest’s mounted infantry was attempting to destroy this railroad and in response Sherman sent Union troops to eliminate this threat.  In June, Brig General Sturgis led a sizeable force into Mississippi to eliminate Forrest, but was roundly defeated and almost captured at Brices Cross Road, that we will visit next week.  Following this defeat, command was given to Major General A J Smith with another sizeable force.  Rather than falling into the same trap as Forrest, Smith came cautiously south and set up a strong defensive position at Harrisburg.  This threatened the Mobile and Ohio Railroad at nearby Tupelo and the Confederates had to respond.  The attacks on July 14 were uncoordinated and across open ground against a fortified position.  Multiple attempts were all repulsed, even an attempt after dark.  Instead of pressing his advantage, General Smith decided to withdraw on July 15 citing low supplies and ammunition.  The Confederates gave pursuit resulting in a surprise attack in the afternoon as the Federal troops were making camp along Old Town Creek to the north.  Once again the Confederates were quickly repulsed and Smith was able to withdraw to Memphis.  Even though neither Sturgis or Smith were able to destroy the Confederate army in the region, they did take the pressure off of Sherman’s supply lines and seriously reduced the threat, which was the more important goal of the campaign.

MonumentFromCar

Since we are going to have a lot of opportunities over the next few weeks to explore more the Natchez Trace, we decided to just take it easy over the weekend in the campground.  Except for doing laundry and cleaning the RV, we really did not accomplish anything notable.