Glossy brochures promoting travel opportunities always describe a unique experience or use terms such as elegance and luxury. The Southern Culture trip (cruising the Mississippi River from Memphis to New Orleans, April 26 to May 5, 2013) for me was all of that, but those words were just not enough. Here are some thoughts to help fill in the description; continue reading to find out more about this cruise:
- We lived the history and culture of the southern Mississippi River basin with elegant accommodations aboard a 450-passenger paddle wheeler, the American Queen, powered by whisper-quiet steam engines manufactured by Nordberg Manufacturing of Milwaukee in 1933.
- The captain was from Marinette, Wisconsin. He was a Badger and Packer fan and spent time with our Badger travelers. He also had the band cued up to play “On, Wisconsin” at the captain’s reception.
- Dining included gourmet-quality Southern food such as shrimp and grits; catfish with cornmeal, black-eyed peas and jalapeno sauce; corn-and-shrimp fritters; Southern buttermilk biscuits; crab cakes Benedict; and pan-seared duck breast with a currant-and-orange glaze with saffron rice pilaf.
- Just as in the riverboat era of the 1800s, our stops included the river towns of jazzy Memphis, historic Vicksburg, graceful Natchez, notorious Baton Rouge and, of course, the Big Easy — New Orleans.
- The daily entertainment included New Orleans jazz and a variety of very enjoyable, high-quality musical groups.
- An expert riverlorian kept us entertained with the lore, history, geography and culture of the Mississippi River.
And, there was one more very personal experience waiting. It starts with my great-grandfather, Charles Gottschalk, who was from Waterloo, Wisconsin. Private Gottschalk trained with the Union Army at Camp Randall in 1862. He left Camp Randall in November 1862 by train, traveled to Chicago and arrived in Cairo, Illinois, where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi.
He then traveled nearly the exact route that we did, in part on a steamer, and the remainder marching down the western shore of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. He stopped at Hard Times, Louisiana, a point 40 miles south of Vicksburg, and then crossed the Mississippi River to invade the Confederate state of Mississippi. He and the rest of Ulysses Grant’s Union army crossed the Mississippi River on April 30, 1863 and landed at Bruinsburg, Mississippi later that day. This was the beginning of the Vicksburg Campaign, leading to the siege and eventual capture of Vicksburg by the Union Army — the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.
Back to his crossing of the river on April 30, 1863: I, his daughter’s son’s son, cruised on the American Queen on that very spot on the river at Bruinsburg, Mississippi on April 30, 2013 — 150 years to the day — after my great-grandfather crossed to begin the battles leading to Vicksburg! For us, this was an anniversary celebrated in a safer and happier time, although both my great-grandfather and I had an absolutely unique experience 150 years apart.