Traveling up the Mississippi River from New Orleans on the Great River Road, we encountered the epitome of the Old South.
All along the river north to Baton Rouge, Plantation Country lives on in well preserved splendor. Cotton
was not king down here, unlike the plantations throughout the rest of The South, these gave us some sugar.
Our first stop was one of the best known and preserved plantations in America, Oak Alley.
Named for the rows of Live Oak trees that frame the path from the river to the front porch, the plantation gives an eye-opening peek into Antebellum life.
We took the informative and entertaining tour after a stroll around the grounds.
Our guide gave us the full scoop. The plantation’s namesake trees were planted by an unknown early settler a century before the mansion was ever conceived.
In 1839, Jacques Telesphore Roman picked the spot as the perfect site for a monstrous dream home for his new wife.
The idea was to bribe his city-girl bride into wanting to live out in the boonies, a whopping twenty-five miles from New Orleans. Of course back then, that was a full day’s travel. Mrs. Roman must have been unimpressed, because it didn’t work. By all accounts she seemed to prefer her big city life.
The Civil War took a terrible toll on the plantation and it was auctioned off in 1866.
In a sad state by the 1920s, it was bought by Andrew and Josephine Stewart who restored to its past and current grandeur. The Stewarts lived in and loved Oak Alley until they drew their last breath.
We both had a familiar feeling about the place — especially the signature oak-lined walkway — and learned why at the end of our tour. Oak Alley is a bit of a movie star having made numerous screen appearances.
Yup, that was Oak Alley in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Long Hot Summer, Primary Colors, Midnight Bayou and even a guest spot on Days of Our Lives on the small screen.
After our history lesson and some interior gawking, we completed our Oak Alley Oop with a bite to eat. Many restored plantations now feature restaurants ranging from casual to anything but. Lucky for us, Oak Alley is a nonchalant spot for a quick lunch. Unlike our next stop.
Just up River Road lies the mother of all Louisiana plantations, Nottoway. The largest in The South and perhaps the most elegant too.
We knew we were out of our element here, so we decided that a quick sneak peek around the grounds for some photos would do.
Nottoway is truly a remarkable monument to a bygone era. As splendid as Oak Alley is, this dwarfs it. Twice the size and twice the opulence. Finished just before the Civil War broke out, Nottoway was the pinnacle of plantation one-upmanship.
We didn’t stick around though, since we hadn’t bought a ticket and were sure to be kicked out.
Besides, we had some more solemn history further up the river at the National Military Park in Vicksburg Mississippi to take in.
By all accounts, the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 was a huge turning point in the War Between the States. It meant that the Union had gained control of the Mississippi River, the most vital supply line in the South.
General Grant tried to take the city by force, but as we could see while we took the driving tour of the park, the Confederate defenses were impenetrable.
Dug in on the top of the bluffs, the rebel fighters could shoot down on the invaders and repel their advances. After losing numerous troops in his initial attacks, the future president decided to circle the city and lay in for a long siege.
For forty-seven days the city’s residents, and the soldiers protecting them, were bombarded with cannon fire from Union batteries surrounding the town and gunboats on the river.
All supplies in and out of the city were cut off, effectively starving them out. Finally, on July 4, 1863, Confederate General John C. Pemberton capitulated and surrendered.
The residents of Vicksburg refused to celebrate The Fourth of July until 1945.
Driving the loop through the park, we could really see the how the siege took shape. Up the eastern road, we followed the Union lines, then going down the west side we were tracing the Confederate fortifications.
Both sides had earthen walls and trenches, often in plain sight of each other, only a few dozen yards apart.
A highlight of Vicksburg National Military Park is the USS Cairo, an ironclad gunboat from the Civil War era.
Brought up from the bottom of the Yazoo River about fifty years ago, the wooden hull and framework is made all the more interesting because rather than replace the original wood with a replica, it has been braced and supported in its current condition.
This allows visitors to complete the restoration with their imaginations.
The USS Cairo was not involved in the siege on Vicksburg, having sunk several months prior, but it is a fascinating look into the ultimate military technology of the day.
The armoured warship, one of the “Pook’s Turtles” named for their designer Samuel M. Pook, was remarkably preserved for a century in the silt at the bottom of the river before being raised and restored.
The city of Vicksburg is typical of a smaller southern river city. Beautiful neighborhoods with gorgeous old antebellum homes, an ornate old courthouse, an aging waterfront and wait, what’s this? One huge exception!
Giant, cheesy, fake riverboats.Yes, the river is lined with gaudy, neon bedecked, flashy boats decorated up to look like old-time riverboats. They are, of course, actually casinos, on barges.
Barges that will not ever, under any circumstances, go anywhere. But to satisfy Mississippi’s law specifying that casinos must be on water, these boats are permanently tied to the shore here.
Being civic minded travelers, we figured we should contribute to the local economy, and contribute we did. In very little time at all those riverboat gamblers had removed much of our funds from our possession.
It seems some things haven’t changed much at all along old man river.