Vicksburg – a key Mississippi port during the Civil War

We visited Vicksburg as it was another major battle site in the Civil War.  Vicksburg is situated at what was then a sharp curve of the Mississippi River (the river has since changed course and mostly bypasses the town) with high bluffs overlooking both the river and the surrounding countryside.  Ravines and ridges made natural fortifications.

The Confederate commanders knew that Vicksburg would be a major site during the war – the Union’s intention was to occupy the entire length of the Mississippi River, effectively cutting the south into two halves.  So, they built up the natural fortifications by moving vast amounts of earth to create steeper slopes and higher ridges, and also put large branches of trees on those steep slopes to further confound any troops trying to scale them.

The Union attempted several times to break into the city, but the natural and man-made fortifications repulsed them each time.  So, they decided on a seige instead.  The Union held the river and surrounded the city, not allowing any supplies to come in and constantly bombarding the city with cannon and gunfire.  After 47 days the Confederate army surrendered the city.

Several ships built as “ironsides” ships were involved in the battles and seige.  One, the Cairo, was sunk in the river where it sat for 102 years before being raised and partially restored.  This ship is on display and it was very interesting to see the design of the ship and the artifacts that were recovered.  The crew abandoned ship very quickly as it was sinking, but no crew died during the evacuation.

Here are pictures:

 

Shiloh and Corinth – two Civil War battles

Jeff loves the history of the Civil War, so we’ve see several Civil War battlefields this year.  At Shiloh we saw a fairly small area that was the scene of a very bloody and desperate battle in the spring of 1862.

General Grant and his army were marching south with the intended destination being the Mississippi river port of Vicksburg.  While near Shiloh, in southwestern Tennessee, he was given orders to stop in the area and wait for General Buell and his army to arrive, then they would continue their southward march together.  Grant was ordered to NOT engage the enemy while waiting for Buell.

But, the confederates learned that Grant was in the area, having landed with his troops at the Pittsburg Landing of the Tennessee River.  The confederates also learned that there was another army on the way to meet Grant.  They decided they needed to attack before the second army arrived and drive Grant and his army into the swamps to the northwest where they could be defeated.

The battle started near a small log church called Shiloh and lasted 3 long days.  The number of dead and wounded from both sides was staggering – higher than the number of casualties for all previous wars that the U.S. had participated in altogether!

It seemed for a while that the confederates would win the battle, but Buell’s troops arrived in time to assist, and the confederates lost this battle.  Grant and his army continued the march south, where they next intended to take the railroad junction at Corinth which would cut the supply line to the confederate army.

At Shiloh there was an auto tour that we drove, to see the different areas where the armies fought and to see the monuments and descriptive plackards that were placed in various places.

We also visited Corinth which is not far away.  The battle at Corinth was a different story altogether.  As the Union army approached the confederate general knew there was no way he could win – they were vastly outnumbered and his men were sick with disease.  So, he pulled out.  The Union army occupied the town for several months.  In October of that year the confederates under the command of General Van Horn decided it was time to get the crucial railroad junction back, so they attacked.  They were repulsed, however, after visious fighting.  The Confederate army left, the Union army remained, and the townspeople had to deal with the large numbers of confederate dead and wounded.  One woman wrote in her journal that every home was crowded with wounded laying the floors in every room, sometimes so thick you couldn’t walk without stepping on them.

Right in the area where the battle of Shiloh was held, there were several Indian mounds from a previous civilization.  We were able to walk up to the top of one mound that overlooked the Tennessee River, and learned a little about the culture that thrived there for hundreds of years before white man arrived.

Here are pictures:

 

The Grand Ole Opry

While in Nashville we definitely wanted to visit the Grand Ole Opry.  We checked the schedule and found that by extending our stay by a couple of days we could see a show featuring the Charlie Daniels band (The Devil went down to Georgia) and Brad Paisley.  We like both of these artists, so we decided to shorten our next couple of stops so we could see that show.

We were not disappointed!!  First, the Opry is no longer held in the original building which was quite small and right downtown.  The new theatre is large and outside of town which made getting there much easier!

Shows at the Grand Ole Opry are all broadcast LIVE on the radio and have been for years.  The Grand Ole Opry is the longest running live radio show ever.  And they do put on quite a show.  One aspect that is unique is that they don’t have one “BIG” name and maybe an opening band.  The Opry often has 8 or more performers.  Some are old favorites…in addition to the Charlie Daniels band we got to see Randy Owens from the group Alabama.  Some are new performers – we saw two young girls (both 19) who were performing at the Opry for the first time.  They were “Maddie and Tae”.  They also had two performers that we’d never heard of but if you watch the TV show Nashville you would recognize them.  We didn’t keep a program so I don’t know their names.

Anyway, they also have an announcer, and for a half-hour before the show starts a different announcer comes out and keeps everyone entertained.  He interacts with the audience, finding out where folks are from – Holland was the furthest that anyone came to be there specifically to attend the Grand Ole Opry.  He found out a couple was here during their honeymoon, and a couple was here to celebrate their 63rd anniversary!  He also picked a person “at random” from the audience and that person was called up on stage during the show to participate in a quiz about country music.  We both had the answer right, but the poor girl didn’t have a clue.

Another unique feature is that one band doesn’t perform for a long time.  Brad Paisley did 4 songs.  Charlie Daniels did 3.  The other performers did 2 each.  That keeps the show entertaining and short!  The show we saw was dedicated to the St. Jude’s Hospital and the Grand Ole Opry foundation supports it financially.  They had a guest announcer who was a 9 year old cancer survivor, real cute although quite shy to find herself up on stage in front of hundreds of people.

An interesting fact about the Grand Ole Opry – they invite performers to be “members” but to be a member you have to perform 20 times that first year!  After that I don’t know how often they have to perform.

By the time we bought tickets most of the good seats were gone, and we ended up in the ‘nose-bleed’ section.  But, because of the huge monitors they had we were able to see the performers pretty well, and we could see the stage pretty well to get the ‘whole picture’.  It was a great experience!

The one bad thing was that we didn’t take the camera, figuring they wouldn’t allow pictures and flash.  But they did!  So, we did get a few pictures with my phone, but they aren’t real good quality.  Darn!  But, here they are:

 

Near Nashville – the Jack Daniel Distillery

While in Nashville we drove a bit south to visit the Jack Daniel Distillery.  We learned a lot about whiskey and in particular Jack Daniel’s whiskey.  Jack Daniel lived in the mid-1800s and when he was 8 he left home where he didn’t get along with his stepmother and lived with a minister and his family.  The minister also owned a small store and made whiskey to sell in his store.  Jack learned the art of making whiskey from this minister.  When Jack was 14 the congregation went to the minister and said “You can either be our minister or you can make whiskey but you can’t do both”.  So, the minister sold the whiskey business to Jack.

Jack found an underground spring near the area where he lived and found the water especially clear and tasty.  He decided to use this water in his whiskey, and from 1884 until now, Jack Daniel whiskey has been made with ONLY that water.  At the entrance to the cave where the water comes from is a life-size statue of Jack Daniel, posed on some rocks.  As we snapped a picture our tour guide told us this was the only “free shot of Jack Daniels on the rocks” we would ever get!

There’s just that one distillery that has been continually in use since 1884.  And, a specific type of tree local to the area is used for the charcoal used in filtering the whiskey.  The whiskey soaks through 10 feet of charcoal, taking 5-7 days.  This part of the process is to get the oils from the barley and other ingredients out of the liquid.  Tasters continually taste the whiskey as it comes out of this process, and when they get the slightest hint of oil in the mix the charcoal is tossed out and the remaining whiskey that is soaking down through that batch is put through the filtering process again with new charcoal.

The oak barrels that hold the whiskey while it ages is also unique.  The barrels are made and then “fired” so the inside gets all blackened.  The whiskey is aged for several years in the barrel, without being moved or turned.  They have barrel warehouses all over the county to keep them separated – in case one catches on fire the others will not be burned.  There’s never been a fire, however, but there is a fire department at the distillery.

It was an informative and interesting tour.  The bottles that were on sale there were quite expensive however so we didn’t buy or taste anything.  As Jeff does like whiskey, he bought a bottle later…in a different county.  The distillery is located in Moore County which is a dry county…meaning you cannot purchase Jack Daniel whiskey anywhere around the distillery EXCEPT AT the distillery.

Here are pictures we took:

 

The View from our front door at Nashville North KOA

The Nashville North KOA where we are staying in Nashville is on the small side, and the sites are fairly small.  They are also set up in a “buddy” system which means you are facing the opposite way of your neighbors.  This allows the sites to be smaller as you share your “yard” area with your neighbor and are very close to the neighbor on your other side.

But, it’s a pleasant park.  Here’s a picture looking out our front door:

Mammoth Caves – the largest cave system in the world!

We visited Cave City, KY in order to see the Mammoth Cave. We’ve seen several caves/caverns on our travels and definitely wanted to see this one.

It’s the most extensive cave system known to man. That’s saying a LOT. That said, however, it certainly isn’t the most unique or spectacular cave we’ve seen. There are very few formations…VERY few! Most of the cave that we saw on a 2 hour tour was limestone tunnels carved by water, and caverns where huge boulders had fallen from the ceiling to the floor of the cavern caused by the less solid limestone wearing away and causing the more solid sandstone to be unsupported…thus falling in huge chunks.

It was still a very interesting tour! It started with 280 steps down a metal staircase that was only wide enough for 1 person at a time, and several times you had to duck or turn sideways to get past a rock jutting out into the staircase. My mild claustrophobia kicked in a few times, but at least the narrow areas were high and only for a step or two. I concentrated on the people in front of me!

Several of the pictures below are of the natural downward tunnel where they built the staircase.

We walked past lots of rooms and tunnels and finally got to an area that did have some formations. It’s called the Little Niagara because the major formation looks like a rock waterfall! We also saw some cave crickets! We didn’t see any bats although there are some in the cave, just not in the area we toured.

Here are some pictures:

 

The Smoky Mountains really do ‘smoke’ – it’s mist rising from the slopes

We took a day trip and drove through the Smoky Mountains while in the area.  I had previously seen the Smoky Mountains when I took my grandson Kyle here a couple years ago on a search for snow.  We saw very little snow as it had been a mild winter and we only saw the eastern side of the range as the road from Cherokee down towards Knoxville was closed due to a landslide.

This time Jeff and I saw the western side of the range and we drove FROM Knoxville up to Cherokee, then along the ridges for a short time and back down the western side on a different road.  It’s very pretty!!  We saw a dam that was built during WWII to power all the factories that were making war material.  It was in an area that was prone to major flooding that just a couple of years before being built had severely damaged several towns downstream.  The dam regulated the water flow through the downstream area as well as providing power.

Here are pictures that we took:

 

 

Dixie Caverns – a great tour of a medium sized cavern in the hills of Virginia

We found this cavern while looking for a campground in the Roanoke, VA area.  We stayed at the campground that is onsite at the caverns and toured the caverns themselves.

The tour was great, and the features of the cavern were great as well!  Here’s my review on Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/dixie-caverns-and-pottery-salem?hrid=_WgYZTbQf1GKjxKWG-ynRA… and here are pictures we took: