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Published: November 2nd 2013
The drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway from Le Fleur's Bluff State Park Campground in Jackson MS to the Campground at Barnes Crossing in Tupelo MS was relaxing and uneventful. The partly sunny skies erupted in 2-3 brief but heavy showers. After setting up the Pilgrim in upper 80’s heat on Wednesday, August 21, 2013, I went to town in the air conditioned truck for a familiarization tour. Normally, I enjoy the cooling breeze generated with the windows down; however, even I had to succumb to the combination of heat AND humidity – perspiration doesn’t dry in the east like it does in the west!
After a visit to downtown Tupelo, there is no doubt that Tupelo is linked to Elvis in some fashion. Guitar-shaped sculptures (okay, I might be stretching the definition of a sculpture a bit, but what else could they be called) line the sidewalks at about 100-150 foot increments. Each guitar has a unique paint job and each loosely links the sculpture to Tupelo’s most famous native son. One sports a hound dog (“You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog”) while another displays a pink Cadillac (Elvis’ signature mode of transportation in the early years). I’ll
Nice Paintings Adorn The Interpretive Center
“Mississippi’s Final Stands: The Last Battlegrounds Interpretive Center” - Baldwyn MS
have more about Elvis later. Downtown Tupelo is neat and clean for the most part and sends the visitor a message that parts of the downtown were razed as a planned urban renewal effort or fell as the victim of a tornado in the not too distant past. Generally, the town is well laid out and easy to navigate.
One of my primary reasons for making Tupelo a stopover as I travelled the Natchez Trace Parkway is the proximity of numerous Civil War battlegrounds. Thursday, August 22, 2013 found me headed for the Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield in nearby Baldwyn MS. Most of this battlefield is privately owned and is not what the visitor finds at Gettysburg or Manassas; however, the “Mississippi’s Final Stands: The Last Battlegrounds Interpretive Center” chronicles both the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads and the Battle of Harrisburg/Tupelo.
The Battle of Brice's Crossroads was fought on June 10, 1864. It pitted a 4,787-man Confederate force commanded by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest against a Union contingent of 8,100 troops led by Brigadier General Samuel D. Sturgis. The battle ended in a rout of the Union forces and bolstered Forrest's reputation as one of the great
There Are No Monuments Ala Gettysburg Or Vicksburg
Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield - Baldwyn MS
Civil War cavalrymen. The battle is a classic study of an outnumbered force achieving victory through the employment of better tactics, using the terrain as an asset and exercising more aggressive offensive action. Despite this victory, the Confederates merely delayed the infiltration of Alabama and Mississippi by Union forces.
Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield was established in 1929. The National Park Service erected and maintains monuments and interpretive panels on a small plot at the crossroads where the Brice family house once stood. Unlike Gettysburg and Vicksburg, there are no monuments to the units that served nor is there a plethora of placards offering details of the action. Brice's Crossroads National Battlefield is pristine and is considered one of the most beautifully preserved battlefields of the Civil War. The driving tour follows extremely well-marked signage and takes the visitor to several strategic battlefield vantage points. There is not a lot of bling, and as Joe Friday would have said, “Just the facts, Ma’am!”
Friday, August 23 found me celebrating the 65th
anniversary of my arrival on Planet Earth by driving north to Shiloh TN and the Shiloh National Military Park. It seems I have always known of Shiloh. Perhaps
that’s because the name itself fosters one of those “once you’ve heard it, you’ll never forget it” monikers. The Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, was fought on April 6 and 7, 1862. Union forces under command of Major General Ulysses S. Grant had moved deep into Tennessee via the Tennessee River and were encamped primarily on the west bank of the river - Pittsburg Landing. Confederate forces under Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and P. G. T. Beauregard launched a surprise attack on Grant on April 6.
On the first day of the battle, the Confederates struck with the intention of driving the Union defenders away from the river and into the swamps of Owl Creek to the west. The Confederates hoped to defeat Grant's Army of the Tennessee before the expected arrival of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. During the fierce fighting, Confederate battle lines ultimately pushed Grant's men back in the direction of Pittsburg Landing instead of into the swamp. Successful Union defense of a position on a slightly sunken road, that became nicknamed the "Hornet's Nest", provided needed time for the Union line to stabilize.
was killed during the first day of fighting, and Beauregard, his second in command, decided to wait until morning to launch an assault on the final Union position. Part of Beauregard’s decision was based on battlefield conditions - there was less than an hour of daylight remaining and his troops were exhausted; however, Beauregard made some critical errors. First, he did not come to the front to inspect the strength of the Union lines. Second, and more important, he discounted one intelligence report that Buell's men were crossing the river to reinforce Grant and embraced a conflicting report indicating that Buell was marching toward Decatur AL. Some Confederate leaders disagreed with Beauregard’s decision to halt the assault at dusk and later lamented the "lost opportunity at Shiloh." Beauregard was so confident in victory that he sent a telegram to CSA President Jefferson Davis announcing, "A complete victory."
During the night reinforcements arrived (Buell's 15,000 men were fully on the scene by 4 AM), and at daybreak Grant launched a counterattack along the entire battle line. Those reinforcements turned the tide at Shiloh, and the Confederates were forced to retreat from the bloodiest battle in United States history to that
Shiloh National Cemetery
Shiloh National Military Park - Shiloh TN
point; however, nobody anticipated eight larger and bloodier battles loomed in three more years of bloodshed. Union casualties were 13,047 (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded, and 2,885 missing), and Confederate casualties were 10,699 (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 missing or captured). The defeat at Shiloh ended Confederate hopes of preventing the amalgamation of the two Union armies in Tennessee and thereby blocking Union advances into northern Mississippi.
The National Park Service has performed well at Shiloh National Military Park – as usual! The visitor center has outstanding audio-visual presentations and the limited selection of artifacts is excellent. The battlefield driving tour audio CD did not follow the printed NPS brochure. I had been told of this revision and understood the printed brochure contained the updated information and the audio tour contained the antiquated information. The exact opposite circumstance led to a generalized state of confusion and frustration. I verbalized my dissatisfaction to a park supervisor after completing the tour and learned the errors of my ways. Since I had time (I’m retired, you know), I repeated the battlefield tour and had a much more satisfying experience. Hopefully this deficiency will be corrected soon.
Perhaps Shiloh is, indeed, less
Interesting Additions Speckle The Walkway
Corinth Interpretative Center (NPS) - Corinth MS
compelling than Gettysburg and Vicksburg or perhaps I have become less vulnerable to the carnage but, for some reason, I felt less awe-struck than at either of the formerly noted landmarks. Without question, Shiloh merits a visit by the casual tourist when in the area and is a required stop for the serious student of the Civil War.
After a little weekend R&R (okay, I opted to stay indoors based on the rainy weather forecast), Monday found me heading back in the same direction as Shiloh TN but would stop a few miles short at the Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center in Corinth MS. This NPS facility is different than other “battlefield sites” I have visited – there is no battlefield to tour. The Battle of Corinth (which is usually referred to as the Second Battle of Corinth to differentiate it from the Siege of Corinth which occurred earlier the same year) was fought October 3–4, 1862. Corinth was a critical railroad junction in northern Mississippi where east-west and north-south railroad trunk lines intersected. Control of that intersection meant control of a major portion of railroad traffic in the area. Indeed, the rail intersection at Corinth was viewed as
The Contraband Camp Evolved
Corinth Interpretative Center (NPS) - Corinth MS
second in importance to Richmond VA by many military planners.
Since no battlefield is available to tour, the Interpretative Center focuses on tangential topics such as the beliefs about slavery that were held by all Americans (northerners, southerners and enslaved), the views about slavery espoused by the four Presidential candidates in the 1860 election, the problems that Lincoln faced upon assuming the Presidency (seven states had seceded from the Union before his March inauguration), the dynamics that led Confederate and Union forces to converge on Corinth, the impact of Corinth becoming a post-Shiloh Confederate medical treatment area, the decision by the Confederates to abandon Corinth when Union forces approached and the effect of the Union occupation on the citizens of Corinth.
The subject of contraband camps was a brand new knowledge area for me. As Union forces began to occupy portions of the South, many slaves escaped and fled to safety behind Union lines. These freedmen were officially designated “contraband of war.” Many of the contraband camps were merely a collection of filthy tents; however, the camp established at Corinth was a well organized village by the summer of 1863 and boasted over 100 wooden buildings including a
school, commissary, hospital, church, offices and several “sturdy cabins.” The streets were laid out on a grid with numbered houses and were named after Union generals. Craftsmen plied their trade, wards were formed, a police department was organized and a poll tax of one dollar a month was assessed to support the community. Corinth was a model contraband camp.
Finally, the role of African-American soldiers in the Civil War and life for the newly freed African-Americans are discussed. The Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center is atypical and is more of a lesson in sociology than in military strategy and tactics. Although the Battle of Corinth is covered, the strength of the facility is found in the attendant issues. This facility definitely is worth a 1-2 hour stop for the average tourist while visiting the area. Is it a “must see?” Probably not.
My next stop was at the Historic Corinth Depot and Crossroads Museum in Corinth MS. I guess I just had to see the railroad intersection that was at the center of the Battle of Corinth. I got a bonus. The historic passenger depot is interesting in its own right, and the displays of local interest are
very well done and informative. The displays are very typical and range from native peoples to famous native sons to local economic engines to the Civil War to, you betchya, railroading subjects! Interesting, but it’s not a “must see.”
Tuesday August 27, 2013 found me at the Tupelo National Battlefield site in downtown Tupelo. I had driven past the site earlier in my week long stay and had seen that it was a small facility. To say small is to be kind. I learned through some research that the Battle of Tupelo merely served to protect Union General William T. Sherman's supply lines from Confederate raids for his march to Atlanta but could find no information that placed significance on the geographic location of the Tupelo National Battlefield site. The site is worth a ten minute stop to pay homage to those who served in the conflict.
My next stop was the Oren Dunn City Museum also in Tupelo MS. This local museum is typical of most – many of the artifacts are commonplace but a few are unique and not so readily found. I started my tour with the outside displays to avoid the heat of a
Mississippi August afternoon. Right off the bat, the museum decision-makers impressed me. A laminated, printed “tour guide” was supplied for the outside displays. This concept worked extremely well as more color commentary was provided than is typically found on a placard and (I suppose) entailed less initial labor and lower ongoing maintenance that placards would have required.
I first encountered a mural depicting numerous events and themes that impacted Tupelo. Next to the placard was a detailed narrative that discussed each depiction placed in the mural. Well done and very informative. The second display also was unique – the original Lee County Book Mobile which served northeast Mississippi from 1939-1965. The remainder of the outdoor exhibits were rather commonplace but were made more interesting by the printed narrative. Well done Oren Dunn City Museum staff.
I next ventured into the welcomed air conditioned interior. Again, many of the artifacts are readily found in local museums. One display, however, described the Battle of Tupelo and provided me with a better understanding than the NPS exhibit I had visited earlier in the day. The museum definitely is worthy of a 1-2 hour visit if time permits, but I honestly cannot
Elvis’ Birthplace – Austere Beginnings
Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum - Tupelo MS
place it on my “must see” list.
My last stop for the day, as well as for my visit to Tupelo, was the Elvis Presley Birthplace & Museum. I have never been a big Elvis fan (I suppose jealousy might have swayed my opinion of him), but I was pleasantly amazed!!! I expected this attraction would be an overpriced bust, but such was not the case. In the main museum, there is a well done introductory movie that focuses on Elvis’ life before the family moved to Memphis TN when he was thirteen. When the main museum opened in 1992, the artifacts on display consisted mostly of the personal collection of a long-time Presley family friend. The museum underwent a renovation in 2006 and now hosts more artifacts and audio-visual presentations. The displays are diverse, comprehensive and well done. In spite of the fact that photography is not allowed in the main museum, it was a very enjoyable experience.
Photography is allowed in the detached structures – his birthplace, his childhood church and the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel. The “Walk of Life” is a concrete circle surrounding the house where Elvis was born. It contains dated blocks denoting
each year of Elvis’ life from the 1935 birth block at the front of the birthplace to the completed circle at 1977. The first 13 years are commemorated by granite markers containing an important fact about the year. The 1948 block marks the walkway to the “Elvis at 13″ statue which memorializes the Tupelo boy.
I learned several interesting facts about Elvis. Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935 and was one of two children born to Vernon and Gladys Presley. Elvis was a twin; but his brother, Jessie Garon, was stillborn. Elvis remained dedicated to Tupelo for his entire life and when he found his birthplace was for sale during a return visit, he bought the property. Subsequently, surrounding properties were purchased with a plan to develop a park for the neighborhood children. Elvis’ dream was realized. The birthplace stands in its original location, has been restored to its original condition and is the centerpiece of a beautiful park. I would consider this attraction a “must see” while in Tupelo.
Tupelo is a great little city. I found it clean and easy to navigate. There is not the quantity of attractions found in many cities
nor the number to be found in my three previous Mississippi stops – Natchez, Vicksburg and Jackson. Even if one chooses to use a different city as a platform for visiting the two distal Civil War landmarks, a 2-night stopover in Tupelo to allocate a full day to explore this interesting city makes a lot of sense to me – particularly if one already is passing through town on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
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