Published on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Following the path of the Mississippi River

With much of the world's focus on the United States of America and its new president, it is nice to reflect on some of its history, its fight for civil rights and what many call the 'war of northern aggression', aka the American Civil War.

There can be few better places to study these subjects first hand than to follow the route of the Mississippi River in the state of the same name.

Vicksburg, as a centre of commerce for some 200 years and a stronghold of the South during the war, encapsulates most of what one would be looking for.

It was described by Abraham Lincoln as the key to the outcome of the civil war and as such victory would not be obtained until that key was in his pocket. As a consequence the city had to endure a 47-day siege that ended on July 4, 1863, when Vicksburg was forced to surrender to the Union under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant.

Most of that history, much of the evidence of shelling and the hardships endured, is extremely well recorded given the relatively recent nature of the conflict. One good example is the accommodation that I stayed in Duff Green Mansion . An Antebellum (pre-civil war) house that had been used by the confederacy as a hospital prior to the surrender and used to treat both military and civilian casualties of the war it remained in medical hands once the north had taken control.

My room, which was fabulously furnished with period furniture, had had its bathroom used as a morgue throughout the conflict. I slept uneasily as its website divulges 'a visit to the Duff Green Mansion reveals bloodstained floors'.

National Military Park

Close to downtown, which by the way has a fabulous rooftop restaurant called 10 South offering views across the river, is the Vicksburg National Military Park that stands as a commemoration to those that fought and died. Many of the monuments represent a state of the Union whose soldiers perished and has been designed by leading artist of the late 19th and early 20th century. It's truly atmospheric and through its battlefield setting you can definitely feel the hairs on the back of your neck rise.

Less than 100 miles down the road at another part of the river stands Natchez. Once the wealthiest place in the whole of America, it boasted more millionaires than any other city as the area prospered when Cotton was King and the Mississippi was the main transportation outlet for the goods.

Once Spanish but then ceded to America shortly after the War of Independence, the region has almost every facet of American history represented with battles against the native American tribe of Choctaws, war with the British, civil war and finally a violent history in the battle for civil rights.

One of the most interesting speeches I have ever heard on the history of the south and the battle the blacks had for equal rights came in Natchez at the local African American Museum. Given by Darrel White, the director of the museum, it is for anybody mildly interested in this aspect of times past and times present a must-see-listen scenario.

Natchez also has some of the best southern food, chefs and restaurants in Mississippi. Not to mention a solid regional grounding in virtually all aspects of modern music from the blues to the present day.

Sunset over the River Mississippi

The Riverwalks are magnificent and my instruction for a pre-dinner meeting more or less summed it up: 'Meet at the Bridge of Sighs Bluff for the 8:13pm sunset over the Mississippi River'.


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