Delta Blues & Cajun Spice: Day 3

Vicksburg, MS, to Breaux Bridge, LA: Civil War memories and ancient Indian sites on the Lower Mississippi in the antebellum towns of Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi, and along the Natchez Trace

The Old Courthouse in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Who ever said the Civil War was over?

Built atop a 300-foot bluff above the confluence of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, Vicksburg occupies arguably the most strategic spot on the Mississippi, and in 1862 Lincoln gave Union general Ulysses S. Grant the task of seizing it.

Grant devised a complex land and river campaign that's still studied in military academies. After 14 months of fighting and a sustained 47-day siege of the city, the Rebel forces in Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, 1863.

The Yankees gained control of the continent's main supply route, the Confederacy never really recovered, and Vicksburg bitterly refused to celebrate the Fourth of July for nearly a century.

Vicksburg's role as a lynchpin in our nation's history helped make the museum in the Old Court House (1008 Cherry St., Vicksburg, MS, tel. 601-636-0741,, $5)—where local planter Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy, launched his political career—far more fascinating than I’d expected.

It did an excellent job of bringing the Siege of Vicksburg to life through personal anecdotes and cases crammed with the choicest relics to be dug out of antebellum attics.

My favorite exhibit was the Union Minnie ball—a .58 caliber lead bullet—said to have impregnated a local woman when it passed through her womb. (Don’t worry; the soldier who fired the shot did the honorable thing and proposed.)

The museum also strengthened my impression that the local consensus is that the Civil War was a terrible and brutal conflict bravely fought by honorable men on both sides, and that, sadly, the good guys lost. At the museum shop I picked up a handful of Minnie balls for $3 each and a General Robert E. Lee action figure.

It’s hard to escape the echoes of the Civil War in Vicksburg. The gorgeous 1840 Cedar Grove Mansion B&B (2300 Washington St., Vicksburg, MS, tel. 800-862-1300,, doubles from $100) where we had spent the night was proud of the grapefruit-sized Union cannonball still embedded in the parlor wall.

The shelves in the Corner Drugstore (1123 Washington St, Vicksburg, MS, tel. 601-636-2756, free), more homespun museum than pharmacy, were crammed with an armory's worth of Civil War cannonballs, shells, and bullets—along with 19th-century quack medicine bottles, glazed XXXX moonshine jugs, and a once-working still with a cardboard sign outlining a recipe for homemade whisky.

Just about the only sight in town not entirely stuck in the 1860s (aside from the riverboat casinos) was the brick candy shop where, in the summer of 1894, Joseph A. Biedenharn came up with the idea of bottling the successful fountain drink Coca-Cola—which up until then was only available on tap in bars and candy shops—so he could ship it to his rural customers.

Rather than pay to tour its Museum of Coca Cola History and Memorabilia (1107 Washington St., Vicksburg, MS, tel. 601-638-6514,, $3), I bellied up to the old bar to enjoy a Coke float while admiring for free the surrounding clutter of memorabilia, including a 1900 soda fountain carved from white onyx.

We just had time before lunch to make a quick circuit of the Vicksburg National Military Park (3201 Clay St., Vicksburg, MS, tel. 601-636-0583,, $8). Next to the largest Civil War cemetery in the country, its regiments of 17,000 white markers marching across rolling grasslands, we found the park's best exhibit.

The U.S.S. Cairo is the country's only (semi-)surviving Civil War ironclad, sunk off Vicksburg during the battle by a Confederate “torpedo” (really an early version of a sea mine) and preserved in the river mud’s anaerobic environment. In 1964, its timber skeleton, armor plating, cannon, and engines were raised from the riverbed and reassembled here. The adjacent museum contained some of the sailors' personal effects dredged up with the wreck, including a pocket watch that, once cleaned and wound, started keeping time again.

At Walnut Hills (1214 Adams St., Vicksburg, MS, tel. 601-638-4910,, full round table lunch $15), an 1880 home converted into a restaurant, Dad and I shared a giant round table with a Dallas family on their way to Charlotte. They had hit the road by 7am just to be sure they’d reach Walnut Hills by lunchtime.

The reason was the table’s massive lazy Susan ringed by platters overflowing with country fried steak, lima beans, okra, mustard greens, coleslaw, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, rice, biscuits, and cornbread. We spun the table, sharing the bounty, swapping travel stories, and guzzling iced tea until it was time for the apple cobbler and the bill: $15 each.

Following the Natchez Trace

From Vicksburg we turned east to pick up the Natchez Trace (800-305-7417, also, free). This gorgeous two-lane ribbon of asphalt followed an 8,000-year-old trail from Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi (via Cherokee, AL, Tupelo, MS, and Jackson, MS) and was used by everyone from ancient Indians to Spanish conquistadors to early settlers.

The Trace operated a bit like a national park, with signposted roadside stops where we could get out and explore. We wandered the overgrown 19th-century ghost town of Rocky Springs, of which all that remains are the church, a well, and two slowly rusting safes. Just north of Port Gibson we walked an evocative, sunken stretch of the original trail cocooned in trees.

Near Natchez we climbed Emerald Mound, the country’s second largest (after Cahokia in Illinois) ceremonial Indian mound, a vast plateau of earth created by the ancient Mississippian culture, predecessors to the Choctaw.

By late afternoon we were cruising past the stately antebellum homes of Natchez, where we discovered a parking lot on North Broadway with sweeping views up the Mississippi River.

We debated a restaurant meal by the old riverfront, but with the weather turning nasty and a three-hour drive ahead, we opted instead for the quickie dinner and guarantee of heartburn offered by Fat Mama's Tamales (500 S. Canal St., Natchez, MS, tel. 601-442-4548,, half-dozen tamales $3.50, gringo pie $6).

Handing Dad the car keys, I ordered a "knock-you-naked" margarita and happily spent the next three hours with my camera pressed against the rain-streaked windshield, convinced that, against all odds, I would capture a picture of the spectacular lightning playing across the clouds as we headed south through magnificent thunderstorms into Louisiana.

Day 3 Practicalities


• Old Court House Museum, 1008 Cherry St., Vicksburg, MS, 601-636-0741,, $5.
• Corner Drugstore, 1123 Washington St, Vicksburg, MS, 601-636-2756,, free.
• Vicksburg National Military Park, 3201 Clay St., Vicksburg, MS, 601-636-0583,, $8.
• Natchez Trace Parkway, Nashville, TN to Natchez, MS (via Cherokee, AL, Tupelo, MS, and Jackson, MS), 800-305-7417,, free.


• Walnut Hills, 1214 Adams St., Vicksburg, MS, 601-638-4910,, full round table lunch $15.
• Fat Mama's Tamales, 500 S. Canal St., Natchez, MS, 601-442-4548,, half-dozen tamales $3.50, gringo pie $6.


• Cedar Grove Mansion, 2300 Washington St., Vicksburg, MS, 800-862-1300,, doubles $100–$180, suites to $195.
• Bayou Boudin & Cracklin, 100 W. Mills Ave., Breaux Bridge, LA, 337-332-6158,, cabins $60–$125.

» On to Day 4: Breaux Bridge, LA, to New Orleans, LA

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Practical info

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.