We found a popular local establishment for dinner Wednesday called Beechwood and it just happened to be Oyster Night!
Before long the owner of the restaurant, Rocky, came by to chat. It wasn’t just the typical “is everything alright” fly by. He wanted to know where we were from and why we were in Vicksburg. When we told him why, he pulled a civil war era bullet from his pocket and told us to be sure to check out his collection at the front of the building (which was really impressive). He was pretty entertaining and went from table to table giving people a hard time about one thing or another (he jokingly reprimanded Robin for texting on her phone during dinner….”excuse me ma’am, didn’t you see the sign at check in about no cell phones allowed…”. Funny guy.
And a quick note about the Thursday morning’s breakfast:
We have passed at least a thousand Waffle Houses during our 1 1/2 years of travel and always joke about having to have breakfast at one before going home. Thursday was the day! Not bad……
So our reason for visiting Vicksburg was to tour the Battlefield where General U.S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee secured the Mississippi River for the Union. The campaign for Vicksburg, the best defended Confederate stronghold on the river, was important in order to provide a critical route for troops and supplies, deny the Confederates the same, and divide the Confederacy in two. Grant’s problem was how to take a city that was situated high on a bluff and defended by riverfront artillery batteries, impenetrable swamps on both the north and south sides of the city, and a circle of forts with over 170 cannons defending all land approaches. After several failed attempts, including digging a canal to bypass Vicksburg and marching troops through the swamps, Grant eventually decided to lay siege to Vicksburg.
His strategy of marching the troops south to cross the Mississippi then taking Jackson, MS allowed him to surround Vicksburg from the east and cut off all supply routes with little opposition. After 46 days of siege, on July 4, 1863, (one day after Gettysburg), Confederate General John Pemberton surrendered to Grant. It was largely this victory that convinced President Lincoln to promote Grant to Commanding General of all Union forces.
Along with the battlefields at Antietam and Gettysburg, Vicksburg’s park is extremely well-preserved. Because the battle was mostly a siege, the Union and Confederate lines are mostly intact and easily followed. Today the terrain between the lines has mostly filled in with trees and brush, but during the battle the opposing sides had clear sight of each other.
Most of the battlefield narratives are of Union attempts to take the enormous Confederate earthen forts (called redans). On several occasions Union troops even dug tunnels under the fortifications and filled them with explosives in an attempt to blow them up. Needless to say the battles all failed miserably, but the siege worked like a charm. In the end 3,000 killed, 11,000 wounded, 5,000 missing.
Two more points on Vicksburg then on to Miss Rhoda. Like most other important battlefields, the grounds are covered with monuments to every Corps, Division, Brigade, Regiment and commander that fought there. After the war, thousands of Vicksburg’s veterans returned to the battlefield and documented (in great detail) every moment of the event, including marking the exact positions and movements of every Regiment. While driving the park we quickly noticed that most monuments on the Union side were from Illinois.
Eventually we came upon this spectacular structure, the Illinois Memorial.
Inside the marble building are 79 bronze plaques, one for each of the 79 organizations from Illinois that were part of Grant’s Vicksburg campaign. On the plaques are names of every single man who fought in the battle. Made me feel proud to be a son of Illinois.
Lastly, the park is also home to the USS Cairo museum. The USS Cairo is an ironclad gunboat that was sunk by a mine (the first vessel ever to be sunk by a mine) in the Yazoo River during the campaign. The ship’s remains were actually discovered and recovered 100 years later along with a treasure trove of well-preserved artifacts including personal items and armament.
The museum, which contains the artifacts and information on the ironclad’s history, sits next to the impressive remains of the ship. The restoration is amazing and visitors are allowed to walk the deck. Very cool. Of the seven ships of this type built, the Cairo is the only one remaining. The story of its recovery is well worth googling.
So we left Vicksburg this morning and set off for Little Rock, Arkansas. We took the route through Louisiana which meant 5 hours of rural highway and rural highway vehicles.
Having missed breakfast (and this part of the country is totally devoid of Starbucks) we started getting hungry about the time we passed through Transylvania
and really hungry by the time we passed Endora, Arkansas. The towns and restaurant choices looked ……unappetizing to us so we kept on going. Robin was busy on yelp looking for anything remotely acceptable and came across this place called Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales and Pies. The reviews were top-notch, and the town of Lake Village was just down the highway, so tamales it was. Then we arrived and found this:
Several reviewers warned about the appearance of the building and neighborhood but insisted that you just ignore it all and go inside…..so we parked and went inside. What we found on the inside was pretty much what you would expect after seeing the outside. It was small, old, and very informal. The only other customer was an elderly woman sitting at a table by herself, eating a pie and drinking a Dr. Pepper. She took one look at us and said something neither one of us could possibly understand. She clearly understood our situation and said again…slowly…do whatever you want…order at the counter or just sit on down…..someone will be by shortly. So we sat. People started coming in for their takeout orders, all stopping to chat with the old woman. I noticed a picture on our table of what looked like this woman and a guy on a motorcycle and asked her if she was the woman in the picture. It was, but she went on to explain that she hates motorcycles (we later learned her son was killed in a motorcycle accident). The woman was Rhoda, the owner of the restaurant. Before long she was sitting at our table and we had the absolute best time chatting with her and her entourage. We met her grandchildren, neighbors, and several regulars. When we had difficulty understanding her, she explained that her teeth were in her pocket (the result of some recent dental work) which she thought hilarious. Later, when Robin went to the counter to look at the pie choices, Rhoda leaned over to me, pointed at Robin, and said, “you like em kind of scrawny, don’t you”. We had a good laugh. By the time we finished our tamales, Dr. Peppers and pecan and sweet potato pies, we felt like part of the family. If you ever find yourselves anywhere near Lake Village, Arkansas, please stop by Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales and Pies. You’ll never forget it. She’s a real gem.