from the headwaters of the White River to Newland's...about 400 miles. The year before I wrote covering the trip from here on down to the Mississippi River...again, about 400 miles. It seemed only logical to follow the river on down toward the ocean...just to see where it goes. So, in the summer of 1998, I did--about 500 more miles to New Orleans. I was told the Mississippi was a little rougher than the White, and that I should take a larger boat than what I'd been used to, as my small jonboat might not fare too well. So I took Alvin's (my manager) pontoon boat.
Vicksburg, Mississippi and I kept thinking of events that happened here in the 1860's. It was the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy", as Southern artillery defenses overlooked the river defying Northern passage. During the Civil War, or the failed War for Southern Independence, control of the Mississippi River, from Cairo IL to the Gulf of Mexico, was important for the North in their conquest of the Southern states who had decided to withdraw from the Union they had helped create and go their separate way. Command of that waterway would allow uninterrupted passage of Union troops and supplies into the South. Also it would isolate the States of Texas, Arkansas and most of Louisiana (comprising nearly half the land area of the Confederacy) and disrupt the movement of supplies and recruits. Of several fortifications along the river, Vicksburg was the strongest and most important. It sat on a high bluff overlooking a bend in the river. Canon could bombard any shipping. It defied all Union efforts to force it into submission.
was charged with "neutralizing" Vicksburg. Grant ended up marching the Union army down the West bank of the river well downstream of Vicksburg. His plan was then to cross the river and attack Vicksburg from the south. But they had to get Northern ships past Vicksburg, and the Confederate canons, to ferry the army across the river. As I traveled down the river I could imagine the great struggle that occurred here. The Northern ships made it and ferried the army across. But Vicksburg still wouldn't give in, even with direct attack. Then ensued a 47 day "siege" where the Southerners were literally starved out. The next stop was NATCHEZ, Mississippi, epitomizing the grandeur and romance of the historic deep South. It was the residential capital for the richest planters of the cotton kingdom. During the war, it was decided to make a stance up river at Vicksburg, thus leaving Natchez relatively unscathed...a very large number of antebellum homes are still intact. One of them, The Briars, overlooks the river and is one of the finest examples of early Southern plantation-style architecture. Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was married there. Another place of interest is a small tavern and hotel. Mark Twain stayed there, I was told, during his "river adventures." While I thought I was being adventurous in a 20' pontoon boat, I met Mr Sam Russell, from Houston, who was traversing the river in a "canoe".
tallest state capitol in the US--34 floors. Up until now I had been passing numerous river barges in their struggle to push 20 to 40 barges up and down the river, transporting the products of middle America. From here on down to New Orleans, in addition, I started seeing huge ocean ships. At the merging of the White River with the Mississippi, and the entire trip to New Orleans, I was struck with the vast increase in magnitude. More water, more history, more people, more wealth, etc, etc. It's humbling somehow. I guess no matter where one finds himself fitting into life, there will always be people and places having less magnitude and those having more. Perhaps the key is to be content with what one has. -- Charles Newland