State 33: Mississippi - March 16, 2018
“Life's like a movie, write your own ending. Keep on believing, keep on pretending.”
We woke up at a Walmart in Jackson well rested, and ready for a brand new day. Yesterday, we visited the birthplace of the King of Rock n’ Roll, and we could wait not to see what adventures lie head! Our first item on the agenda was a 44 mile drive West to visit the National Park depicted on the reverse of the Mississippi quarter, Vicksburg National Military Park. Vicksburg National Military Park commemorates the Battle of Vicksburg; a major Civil War armed engagement occurring from March 29 to July 4, 1863. In 19th century America, rivers were the highways of the day, and no river was more important to transportation and trade than the Mississippi. Armored forts were built on the banks of the Mississippi to protect strategic positions from enemy attacks, and Vicksburg was the most vital of all. Vicksburg's riverfront was surrounded by a fort featuring 170 cannons, making an enemy naval assault a suicide mission. Inland, Vicksburg was surrounded with marsh, swamps, and bayous, making a ground assault virtually impossible.
For the Confederacy, Vicksburg was the point where reinforcements, food, ammo, and other essential supplies arrived by boat and rail from Texas, Arkansas ,Louisiana and even from locations as far away as Mexico. Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaimed, “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South's two halves together”. For the Union, a victory at Vicksburg would essentially cut the Confederacy in two devastating their ability to continue waging war. President Abraham Lincoln said, “Vicksburg is the key! The key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket!” Even to this day, Vicksburg pays homage to Lincoln's proclamation in the town motto; Vicksburg: The Key to the South”.
By 1863, Vicksburg was the last significant fort remaining along the Mississippi in Confederate control. The fate of Vicksburg would be the fate of the Confederacy! Vicksburg was under control by Confederate General John Pemberton, and for 18 months, Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army unsuccessfully attempted a variety of military maneuvers to take the fortified town. After two failed attempts to conquer Vicksburg on May 19th, and May 22nd, Grant besieged the fort. For the next 47 days, nothing came in and nothing came out of Vicksburg!
With no hopes of reinforcements and supplies exhausted, Confederate General Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg, and his army of 29,495 soldiers to General Grant on July 4, 1863. On the Union side 4,835 Americans were killed wounded or missing, and on the Confederate side 3,202 Americans were killed wounded or missing. The Confederate surrender at Vicksburg and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's defeat at Gettysburg, is cited by historians as the turning point of The Civil War. Grant's victory at Vicksburg made him a household name, and would eventually lead to him to serving two terms as the 18th President of the United States.
Established on February 21, 1899, Vicksburg National Military Park attracts over 500,000 visitors each year paying tribute to those brave Americans who fought and died in defense of our freedom. Extending over almost 1,800 acres, the park includes: 20 miles of historic trenches, 144 cannons, two period homes, 12.5 miles of walking trails, the restored armored gunboat USS Cairo, and 1,325 monuments and markers. Yes, I said 1,325 monuments! The park is traditionally explored via a 16-mile paved road leading to points of interest, and the entrance is marked by the memorial arch traversing the roadway. Please see the pictures below.
I have traveled all across America and never before have I seen such a large concentration of monuments and memorials in a single location. It was impossible to look in any direction without seeing testaments to those who bravely fought on this hallowed ground forever cast in bronze and stone. Each state involved in the Battle of Vicksburg erected their own monument. In addition, memorials commemorating individual regimens, and individual people spread out across the battlefield as far as the eye could see. The experience was a somber reminder of the tragic events which once occurred, and the bravery of those who fought to preserve our nation. Please see the pictures below.
The most impressive of all of the monuments was the Illinois State Memorial. Dedicated on October 26, 1906, the memorial is made of Georgia white marble, stands 62 feet in height, and features a bronze bald eagle perched at its apex. There are 47 steps leading up to the entrance of the memorial commemorating each day of Vicksburg’s siege. Ascending the stairs gave visitors time to reflect upon the sacrifices of the soldiers from Illinois from infantryman to native Illinoisan; President Lincoln. Upon entering the hallowed hall, I was presented with 60 bronze tablets on the marble walls naming all 36,325 soldiers who partook in the battle. The Illinois State Monument was the most spectacular memorial I have encountered on my cross country trip, and its beauty surpasses the vast majority of state capitols I have visited. Furthermore, the monuments grandor even eclipsed Lincoln's own tomb, which you can judge for yourself by clicking here. Please see the pictures below of the Illinois State Monument.
The next noteworthy point of interest was the restored remains of the Union Civil War armored gunboat USS Cairo. On December 12, 1862, the USS Cairo sank in the Yazoo River after hitting a mine making it the first ship in US history to be sunk by a mine. In 1956, Historian Edwin C. Bearss of Vicksburg discovered the location of the lost ship, and excavation of the ships artifacts began in 1964. The ship had been buried beneath 100 years of mud and sand preserving the artifacts from the elements surprisingly well. The remains of the wooden ship were salvaged from the rivers bottom, placed on a barge, and towed to Vicksburg. In what would prove to be the jigsaw puzzle from hell, historians painstakingly worked over the next 16 years to restore and salvage the armored gunboat. On November 1980, the USS Cairo restoration was completed, and she was publicly displayed in Vicksburg National Military Park. Nearby is the USS Cairo Museum housing the actual artifacts recovered from the ship.
It is one thing to visit a Civil War battlefield, but it is an entirely different experience to physically walk through an actual Civil War gunboat. Many of the wood components have been lost to decomposition after being buried in mud at the bottom of a river for 100 years. However, the simple fact the ship was found, and still exists is nothing short of miraculous. Many of the components such as the boilers, rudders, paddle wheel and armor were in surprisingly good condition! This steam powered beast went through 1 ton of coal per hour while underway! As a Navy Veteran, walking the deck of an actual Civil War gunboat had great personal significance. The USS Cairo is a national treasure, and it is my privilege to share the following pictures with you.
Please see the additional pictures from Vicksburg National Military Park below.
After departing Vicksburg National Military Park, we drove 83 miles North to our next stop in Leland, and our plotted path took us for a 55 mile drive straight into the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Located in the Northwestern part of the state, the Mississippi Delta lies between the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers consisting of 7,000 square miles of flood plains. The road we were driving along was perched on top of a levy, and only 3 feet separated us from large bodies on water on either side of the road. To make matters more traumatic, there were no guard rails on the narrow two lane shoulderless secondary road, and it was pouring rain our entire drive! I could literally see the water slowly rising up along either side of the roadway! Although it may be hard to fathom, it actually gets worse! Since there was very little dry land, we noticed an unusual amount of roadkill, and the species got larger the farther we drove. We first saw a dead chipmunk, then a dead raccoon, then a dead beaver, then dead a coyote, then a dead deer, and then we saw a sign for a bear crossing! I was praying we did not come across a bear! There was literally nowhere to go if there was a dead bear in the road, and we would have certainly ended up in the river! EEEEKKKKKK!!!!! All we could do was keep driving, and hope we exited this 55-mile stretch of road before the water reclaimed it. By the time we finally turned off, the water was mere inches from flooding the road! Our 55-mile drive through the Mississippi Delta was the most terrifying drive of our entire cross country trip. Well, there was that time we almost died on a mountain in Wyoming, which you can read more amount about by clicking here.
Words cannot describe how happy we were to finally arrive in Leland for the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Person" for Mississippi; “Kermit the Frog”. I kid you not! This is not the first time the Cross Country Couple has used a fictional character for its famous person, which you can read about by clicking here. According to his 2006 autobiography entitled “Before You Leap”, Kermit the Frog was one of 2000 tadpoles who enjoyed a serene amphibian's life with his other swamp companions in Leland, Mississippi. However, young Kermit could not help but wonder what lies beyond the swamp, and bravely ventured out into the vast unknown.
Kermit received his big break when he met Jim Henson in Washington DC, and starred in the 1955 TV show; “Sam and Friends”. After the show ended in 1961, Kermit moved to New York. After appearing on the Jimmy Dean Show, Kermit landed his most memorable role on Sesame Street. With increasing popularity, Kermit was cast in a spin off series, “The Muppet Show”, which led to multiple full length feature films such as, The Muppet Movie, The Muppet's Christmas Carroll, Muppets from Space, among many others. Kermit the Frog continued to make guest appearances such as; guest hosting “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson”, guest hosting Larry King Live interviewing the immortal WWE wresting icon; Hulk Hogan, and appearances on the TV game show “Hollywood Squares”. In addition, Kermit has been the Grand Marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade, and featured on a float on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Kermit the Frog has been honored as; recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters at Southampton College where he also gave a commencement speech, featured on a US postage stamp on his 50th birthday, featured in the pop culture gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!
To honor the world's most famous frog and the town of Leland’s most notorious resident, the Leland Chamber of Commerce opened a small museum on the banks of the river where Kermit was born. This is where the Cross Country Couple caught up with the one, the only, Kermit the Frog! Nate and I grew up watching the Muppets and Sesame Street, and we both have a soft spot for Kermit. The museum was quaint, cute, and evoked fond childhood memories. One of Kermit’s original puppets was on display inside a glass case greeting us as we walked through the door. Yes, he is just as handsome in real life as he is on TV. A side room featured hundreds of different Kermit memorabilia over the decades. In the front of the room was a movie playing on TV depicting Kermit playing a banjo in a swamp singing a solo rendition of the song, “The Lovers, the Dreamers and Me”. On the way out, I discovered the museum was designated as a National Historic Site. I had to run back to Rosie to retrieve my national park passport as there was no way I was going to miss out on the highly coveted, “Birthplace of the frog stamp”. Please see the pictures below.
After departing the birthplace of Kermit the Frog, we drove 45 miles Northeast to Greenwood for the Cross Country Couple's “Made in the USA tour” Norris Bookbinding. Founded in 1947 by none other than Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Norris, Norris Bookbinding specializes in the repair and rebinding of personal, family, and pulpit bibles. To date, Norris Bookbinding has restored Bibles from all 50 US states, 30 foreign countries, and has grown into America’s largest Bible rebinding plant.
Aside from cowboys and sweet tea, I can’t think of anything more Southern than church. Mississippi lies in the heart of America’s Bible Belt, so it only seemed natural to learn how Bibles were bound. However, while enroute to Norris Bookbinding, we received disturbing news. Gib, our tour guide, left a voicemail canceling as he had come down with the flu. On one hand I was very disappointed as I was greatly looking forward to learning about Bible restoration. On the other hand, I was extremely grateful we did not visit, so I didn’t catch the flu. Gib, the Cross Country Couple wishes you a speedy recovery. If we ever find ourselves back in the Mississippi Delta, we would love drop in to learn how Bible’s are restored.
Speaking of things not going according to plan, for the past week I have been scouring every nook and cranny of Mississippi in search of a vegetarian version of the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Food"; Mississippi Mud Pie. You may be wondering how in the world can Mississippi mud pie not be vegetarian? It would be my pleasure to explain, but before going any farther, I must post the following:
What I am about to share may forever ruin s’mores, peeps, gummy bears, jelly beans, candy corn, certain yogurts, encapsulated medications and worse of all Grandma’s gelatin salad. The following facts are absolutely disgusting, but I freely share it because it is a truth we all should know.
Mississippi mud pie typically contains marshmallows, and marshmallows contains gelatin. Where does gelatin come from? Animal hoofs are boiled down, which produces a gel. Hence the name gel-iton. Essentially you are eating boiled bones, random connective tissue, and hooves of animals that stand in their own feces. Perhaps the newest flavor of Jelly Belly's should be “Cow Shit", because GEL-lly beans contain gelatin! I too watched the Bill Cosby Jell-O commercials as a child, and once unknowingly partook in that wiggly dessert, which also contains GEL-iton. What each of us chooses to eat or not to eat is a matter of personal preference. Just make sure you are knowledgeable of what is being put into your food.
Marshmallow contains gelatin, and therefore are not vegetarian. I searched high and low all throughout the state, and could not find a Mississippi Mud Pie without animal’s hoofs. Uncle! Uncle! Uncle! I will make have to make my own Vegetarian Mississippi Mud Pie when I one day find my new home.
We drove to a Greenwood, Walmart, where we spent our last night in Mississippi.