The trip north from Pickwick Dam to the Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee was not as fast as it could have been as we decided to travel lesser state highways that stayed close to the Tennessee River at it meandered north towards the Ohio River. Still it took less than 2 hours to make the trip. As you expect our GPS unit took us to the headquarters of the state park which is just off I-40. As it turned out this in the extreme northern part of the park, which is about 48,000 acres! It is a VERY large state park dating from the Depression when it was purchased and worked over by the CCC and WPA. Consequently, we had a slow 15 mile drive back to the south through the park to find the RV campground. As it turns out it is only a couple of miles outside of Lexington, Tennessee which made the trip to the store much shorter. If we had known this ahead of time, we could have saved close to half hour on the trip. In any case, the campground on the shores of Pin Oak Lake is very nice. All of the sites are laid out well with plenty of room between sites and the usual picnic table and fire ring. Our site was right on the corner of small loop which meant we had nearly a straight shot backing it up into the site. In comparison with the trouble I had at Pickwick Dam, I was able to back the RV up quickly and in a single shot. It also turned out that all of the sites in the park have sewer hookups which is another plus. The only downside was the love-struck cardinal which saw his reflection in the RV and truck windows as a rival. By the end of the week I even had him trained so I could anticipate where he would attack next and be there to scare him away. It never did any good, as he was always back for more.
Tuesday promised to be a warm day with temperatures in the low 80s, so we got an early start of explore the Civil War Battlefield at Parker’s Crossroads that Kal found searching the internet for things to do in the area. Parker’s Crossroads is actually just a few miles west of the state park, however, without roads going west, we had to travel south to Lexington before we could head north to Parker’s Crossroads. They have done an excellent job preserving the battlefield even though I-40 cuts through the middle of it. They have a nice Visitor Center as well, although I was disappointed with the small museum and second rate video about the battle. We also purchased the CD for the driving tour, which only cost $1. This was good since all it contained was word for word the information you read on the many interpretive signs in the tour. This is a relatively small battlefield that pitted Brigadier General Nathan Forrest against Colonel Dunham and Colonel Fuller on December 31, 1862. Along with a couple stops highlighting important locations during the battle, the most important are the first and last stops. At both stops there are paved trails about a mile in length with many interpretive signs along the trail. The first stop gives a good overview of the background and events leading up the battle along with the Parker’s farm at the center of it. The last stop is the most important as it circles through the Union position with signs about all the important things that occurred during the battle. There is another paved trail to the north of the interstate that visits all the Confederate cannon positions during the battle.
The battle at Parker’s Crossroads occurred at the end of 1862 which was a very good year for the Union in the Western theater of the Civil War. In April, General Grant won the battle at Shiloh gaining control of the Tennessee River and captured the critical railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi. Following the fall of Fort Donelson in January, the Confederates also gave up Nashville with hardly a fight in February and General Rosecrans was planning an assault on Chattanooga. Using the rivers and railroad, Grant was quickly moving and supplying his forces taking Memphis and threatening Vicksburg along the Mississippi. To counter this, General Bragg ordered Brigadier General Forrest to command a force of 1800 cavalry and cannon to infiltrate western Tennessee and destroy as much of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as possible. On December 10, he crossed the Tennessee River at Clifton and immediately routed the forces at Lexington, He then moved towards Jackson, where he was outmanned by over 10-1 using a number of tactics to convince the Union forces there that his force was much larger then it was. After making feint towards Jackson, he turned north and quickly began destroying train depots, supply dumps, tracks and bridges north along the railroad. By December 20 he was near the Kentucky state line and decided he had done all the damage he could and turned back south to outrun the pursuing Union army. By this point his raid was VERY successful as it would take nearly 6 months to repair the damage he inflicted. By this point he was likely the best supplied force in the whole Confederate army with modern Union rifles, increasing his cannon from 4 to 9, and his fighting force up to 2500 soldiers by recruitment of Confederate sympathizers along the way. On the morning of December 31, Colonel Dunham was determined to block Forrest from reaching the Tennessee River and he moved his 1500 man force to a position northwest of Parker’s Crossroads. Forrest used his enhanced supplies to advantage and simply lined up his cannon to drive the Union back to the crossroads. Forrest knew he needed to defeat Dunham quickly as Colonel Fuller was moving south with more than 1500 men as quickly as they could. Again using his advantage of cannon he began pounding the Union soldiers who had taken up position behind a picket fence which was a mistake because the flying splinters from the fence probably did more damage than the cannon shells. He also moved cannon to both the right and left flank to rake down the Union line. Dunham’s cannon were completely useless since they only had four to begin with, one of which was lost at Hick’s field earlier. After a couple of ineffective rounds they also ran out of ammunition. This was certainly not a problem for Forrest who continued to bombard them with no plans to charge their position. While this was going on, Forrest sent a force around the Union right flank through a ravine to capture the Union supply wagons and attack their rear. Dunham led a group to drive off this rear attack, thereby splitting his forces in two. At this point Forrest ceased firing and sent in a messenger to demand Dunham’s surrender, which he refuse both times. However, his men on the front line believed they were surrendering and had started to raise white flags. Just in the nick of time, Fuller showed up while this was going on and attacked Forrest’s rear capturing a lot of their horse holders since this was a cavalry force to begin with. Now Forrest found himself between two Union forces, at which points, he orders them to “Charge them both ways!”. He leads 75 mounted soldiers against the left flank of Fuller, which disrupts them long enough for Forrest to retreat with nearly his entire force. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Dunham’s men were already beaten and did not put up any resistance to Forrest’s retreat south around their position. Forrest made it back across the Tennessee just ahead of a very large force coming from Jackson and reported back to General Bragg with more men, cannon, and every other supply than he left with. The raid was so successful that General Grant pulled back to Memphis and delayed his attack on Vicksburg until the following summer.
Wednesday was not nearly so exciting as all we did was travel a couple of miles to the Pin Oak Lodge where we took in a couple of miles hike through the Tennessee woods. It was a nice hike and I hope to do more of it over the summer.
We spent Thursday doing laundry and cleaning the RV in preparation for leaving on Friday for Birmingham.
Kal’s father decided not to have a formal memorial service for her mom, especially since nobody left of his generation would be able to make it. However, Kal along with her brothers decided that the family needed to get together anyway, so everyone made plans to meet at their parents home on Saturday. Jenny rented a car in Orlando and spent Friday driving up to stay with some friends of hers in Atlanta and drive over to Birmingham to spend the day on Saturday. William caught a plane to Asheville on Friday where he was picked up by Nikki to spend the day driving to Birmingham. Mark and Pam drove in from Dallas and we drove south from Lexington. Kal and I met Will and Nikki at a sports bar in Birmingham where we enjoyed watching a English Premier League Football game while enjoying some craft beer. From there we met up with Mark and Pam, along with Phil and his family, for dinner at Kal’s parents house. We spent the night at a nice Best Western nearby and came back to spend the day with Kal’s dad and all his immediate family once Jenny arrived from Atlanta and Phil’s son Jared and wife Joy came over for the day. Along with some family friends who stopped by later in the day we had a very nice family get together that we have not been able to do for some time. We all gave toasts to grandma and even threw in a birthday celebration for all the May birthdays. It was great seeing all the family and I think we all did a lot of good for Kal’s dad who lost the love of his life. On Sunday we all traveled back to our families and work and we returned to our campsite in Tennessee.