Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Civil War Roadtrip

The first time we visited Memphis, we took the night train north to visit friends in Chicago. Jon had our playlist planned, and as the train chugged out of the city, Willie Nelson's "City of New Orleans" filled our tiny sleeping cabin. Even though I'd most likely heard the song before, I didn't pay close attention to the lyrics and was confused as to the relevancy until Jon pointed out that the song was about a train. The train we were currently riding. The route has since been reversed, but the endpoints are the same. The Amtrak City of New Orleans train travels from Chicago to New Orleans.

Having taken the train north a couple of times, I've been itching to head south to New Orleans. Jon went last winter on a work trip but didn't have a chance to explore the city. We thought that Labor Day would be our perfect opportunity to go to the Big Easy. However, Tropical Storm Lee put a damper on those plans. Literally.

Rather than brazenly move ahead with our plans in defiance of Mother Nature, we decided vacationing in a hurricane would not be much fun. Neither would vacationing in a town preparing for a hurricane. So we scaled back our travels and opted to check Alabama off our list of "states to see" on our quest for Civil War history.

Being Yankees--kind of; I'm from a border state and Jon is from a state that didn't even exist until 1889--we're at times tickled and at others disturbed by the pride of the Confederacy. Even in the "Mid-South," there remains a fierce loyalty attached to the "Stars and Bars." After all, it's a matter of states' rights (tongue firmly in cheek). Regardless, there is history in our own backyard and we were on a journey to find it, whichever way that history was slanted.

Yes, there is plenty of history in Memphis, but since we had two days remaining of a long weekend, we set out Sunday morning to Shiloh, Tennessee. There we got to watch a ridiculously out-dated movie (I swear we could hear the "dings" telling us to advance the slide projector), check out some cool historical artifacts, wander around the cemetery, drive around the battlefield while discussing military tactics, and watch an artillery demonstration.

Ready, Aim, Fire!
I learned more than I ever thought I would about the Battle of Shiloh. I certainly learned more by visiting than I did from my history textbooks. Funny how that works out, isn't it? Our admission for the National Park also got us in to the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah, Tennessee, so we made that our next destination. It, too, had a lot of interesting information and artifacts--another hidden gem in a small town.

Despite our best intentions, Lee's wrath had crept far enough north to turn our overcast day into a rainy one. Undaunted, we continued eastward toward Alabama. Being much too far from anything of significance, or at least anywhere we have heard of, our venture into the "Yellowhammer State" (I just had to look that up) was a quick one. To appease my engineer husband, we did stop at the Wilson Dam. We also--accidentally--drove through Helen Keller's hometown of Tuscumbia, although unfortunately the museum was closed for the day.

"Dam, we're in Alabama."
We drove through the increasingly heavy rain to our third state of the day, having made reservations at the Generals' Quarters Inn located in Corinth, Mississippi. Finally we encountered the bias we were anticipating, as the museums and visitors' centers had portrayed both sides of the Civil War as accurately as they could. This bed and breakfast really got into the theme, as this was the picture at the foot of our bed:

Jon and new friend General Beauregard
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we headed to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Fortunately their Battle of Shiloh video was much more up-to-date. We strolled through the exhibit, gleaning even more knowledge about this strategic stronghold, but I must admit the rain that was still falling did take away from the peaceful ambience of the symbolic water feature outside.

Since we had to return to reality the following day, we headed back to Memphis. We did make one more stop, however, since we were "in the area." It was kind of out of the way, but we couldn't imagine driving to Tupelo any time soon, so we headed toward Elvis Presley's birthplace. We've been living in Memphis for almost exactly a year but haven't even made it to Graceland yet. A pilgrimage to Tupelo was the least we could do. The very least we could do was not even pay to go inside the house. Rather, we just took a picture from the outside.

Elvis's humble beginnings
Having checked everything off our to-do list, we were back on the road to Memphis. Not going to New Orleans proved to be a good idea, even if we did get rained on most of the time. As we are officially in the sesquicentennial years of the Civil War, we hope to do more such historical roadtrips soon.

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