Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spring Travel Part Twenty: Fort Mims, Alabama

Sometimes the most interesting historic places can be found a little off the beaten path. A prime example is Fort Mims State Historic Site near Tensaw, Alabama.
One of the most significant historic sites in the United States, Fort Mims was the scene of a monumental clash of cultures on August 30, 1813.
A nativistic religion, called the "Red Stick" movement by the whites, had developed in the Creek Nation. It called for Native Americans to give up the ways of the whites and return to traditional ways of living.
The movement led to a civil war in the Creek Nation. Red Stick forces, led by their prophets, battled the traditional Creek leadership led by the Big Warrior. The spread of the war alarmed white settlers living on the fringes of the nation and in July of 1813, a force of Mississippi Territorial Militia attacked a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Creek, Alabama. The attack on Fort Mims was in retaliation for the Burnt Corn battle.
On August 30, 1813, a large for of Red Sticks stormed Fort Mims in a battle that lasted for hours. When the smoke cleared, hundreds of the occupants of the fort were dead. News of what the whites called the "Fort Mims Massacre" soon spread across the frontier and three armies converged on the Creek Nation in what became known as the Creek War of 1813-1814.
To learn more about Fort Mims, please visit

Friday, May 30, 2008

Spring Travel Part Nineteen: Natchez Trace Parkway

Stretching from Natchez, Mississippi up to the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of America's premier national park areas.
The parkway commemorates the original Natchez Trace, an important roadway that linked Tennessee with Natchez on the Mississippi River.
To drive the parkway today is a leisurely and fascinating journey. The park setting stretches up through Mississippi and Alabama and into Tennessee and can be accessed at numerous points along the way. There are scores of historic sites along the parkway, and signs point out others in nearby communities. Among them can be seen Native American mounds and village sites, battlefields, historic homes, lost communities and a wide variety of other points of interest.
To learn more about the Natchez Trace Parkway, please visit

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The First Memorial Day - Columbus, Georgia

In honor of Memorial Day, I thought I would pause our series on Spring Travel Destinations to share some information on the origin of our nation's Memorial Day tradition.

Although there are several claims to the contrary, the first Memorial Day was observed in Columbus, Georgia during the spring of 1866.

The ladies of the community, many having lost husbands, sons, fathers or brothers in the Civil War, wanted to create a day of remembrance to memorialize the sacrifices of those who died in service to the South. They met at the Tyler House in Columbus in March of 1866, less than one year after the end of the war, and formed a committee with the responsibility of hosting and promoting an annual Memorial Day.

The idea caught on and soon swept through other communities across the South. By the time General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic (Union veterans) issued his General Order Number 11 proclaiming Memorial Day in 1868, observances had been underway across the South for two years. Even so, the national media generally credits Logan with originating the concept. In fact, though, he simply helped in the growth of an idea originated by the women of Columbus.

A monument to the first Memorial Day stands in downtown Columbus, marking the site of the Tyler House where the original committee held its meetings.
Memorial Day is now a day of remembrance for American servicemen who gave their lives in the line of duty. Although the holiday now often takes on a festive appearance with cookouts and trips to the beach, the true meaning is well worth remembering.
I hope you will join me in pausing tomorrow to remember the supreme sacrifice given by so many of our fellow citizens.
Have a safe Memorial Day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spring Travel Part Eighteen: Branson, Missouri

Continuing our series on some of my favorite Spring travel destinations in the South, no list of great Southern places would be complete without including Branson, Missouri.

Called the "live country music capital of the universe" by the CBS program 60 Minutes, Branson is indeed that and more. A major family resort area, it is home to more live performances than either New York or Las Vegas, amusement parks, museums and a variety of other attractions.

Branson also has a rich history. The town received its first recognition as a tourist destination following the publication of the phenomenal book The Shepherd of the Hills. The first American novel to sell more than 1,000,000 copies, the book was based on the lives of people living in the Ozarks around Branson.

This was also the home of the infamous "Bald Knobbers." So named because they assembled on moonlit nights on the mountain "balds" surrounding the Branson area, these outlaw gangs originated as guerilla bands during the Civil War but continued their predatory ways after the war had ended.

Branson also offers a wide variety of other historic sites and is a center for preservation of Southern music and culture.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spring Travel Part Seventeen: Henning Conservation Area, Missouri

One of the classic books about the South is Harold Bell Wright's Shepherd of the Hills.
The first American novel to sell more than 1,000,000 copies, Wright's book tells a captivating story about people living in the Ozarks of southern Missouri and was largely responsible for the beginning of tourism for the resort city of Branson.
Many of the settings from Shepherd of the Hills can be seen today on the outskirts of Branson where they are now part of a large state conservation area. They were preserved largely due to the generosity of the creators of another Southern icon, The Beverly Hillbillies.
The Ruth and Paul Henning State Conservation Area in Branson, Missouri, preserves a historic setting of Ozark "balds," valleys, mountains, caves and more. Paul Henning, a native of Missouri, was the creator of such 20th century television classics as The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. He and his wife, Ruth, loved the Missouri countryside around Branson and helped save and make public the tract that preserves many of the settings from Harold Bell Wright's great novel.
To read more about the Ruth and Paul Henning Conservation Area, please visit:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Spring Travel Part Sixteen: Natural Bridge Battlefield, Florida

The South is dotted with Civil War battlefields, each important and unique in its own right.
One of the more interesting to me, though, can be found at Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park in Florida.
Located just south of Tallahassee, the battlefield preserves the scene where on March 6, 1865, a hastily assembled force of Southern men and boys held back a Union invasion force. The Battle of Natural Bridge preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi River not taken by Union troops during the Civil War. Many consider the engagement to have been the last significant Confederate victory of the war.
The battle was unique from many perspectives. All of the Union infantry on the ground at Natural Bridge came from African American regiments, while the Confederate defenders included the corps of cadets from what is now Florida State University.
To learn more about the Battle of Natural Bridge and see other historic sites in the area, please visit

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spring Travel Part Fifteen: The Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma

One of the most beautiful regions in the South can be found in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma.
While many people are familiar with the Ozarks, located a bit to the north, fewer know about the spectacular Ouachitas (pronounced Wah-she-Tahs).
Rich in history and natural beauty, the Ouachitas are the tallest mountains between the Great Smokies and the Rockies. They stretch from the area of Hot Springs, Arkansas west for more than 100 miles across the border into eastern Oklahoma. Filled with history, legends and mysteries, they are among the most intriguing of America's mountain ranges.
To learn more about the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs, the Talimena Drive, Queen Wilhelmina State Park, the Ghost Story of Rich Mountain and even an 1897 "UFO Report," please visit

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spring Travel Part Fourteen: The Alamo

Very few Americans with so much as a passing interest in history do not recognize this structure in downtown San Antonio, Texas on sight.
It is, of course, the historic Alamo chapel. Once part of a much larger mission complex, the chapel is one of the most famous landmarks in the United States.
A small force of Texas revolutionaries held the fortified mission against a much larger Mexican army for nearly two weeks in February and March of 1836. It was one of the most heroic "last stands" in American history.
The battle for the Alamo has been the focus of a great deal of revisionist history over the last couple of decades, but the simple fact remains that on this ground a small group of men held out to the last against overwhelming forces, giving their lives for what they believed. The men of both sides fought bravely in the battle and it did indeed play a large role in determining the future of Texas and the United States.
To read more about the Alamo and see additional photographs, please visit
Our spring travel series will continue.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Battle of Massard Prairie books now available at Prairie Grove Battlefield

I'm pleased to let you know that copies of my new book - The Battle of Massard Prairie - are now available at the gift shop at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Northwest Arkansas.

Proceeds from the book benefit the new Cane Hill Battlefield Driving Tour project as well as other historic preservation efforts in Arkansas.

The book explores the 1864 Confederate attack on the camp of the 6th Kansas Cavalry at Massard Prairie and the related attack on Fort Smith, Arkansas a few days later.

The book is also available for order online at

Please allow 10-15 days for delivery of books ordered online.

Spring Travel Part Thirteen: Natural Falls State Park, Oklahoma

Continuing our month long look at some of my favorite spring destinations in the South, this is the waterfall at Natural Falls State Park in Oklahoma.
The park is located just west of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, very near the Arkansas border in the eastern edge of Oklahoma.
The highlight of Natural Falls is the 77-foot waterfall. Known by local settlers as "Dripping Springs" for many years, the waterfall tumbles over the rock into a deep ravine creating a spectacularly beautiful natural setting. A steep set of stairs lead down to a boardwalk and viewing platform at the bottom of the stairs, but the top of the waterfall is accessible to those with disabilities.
If the waterfall looks familiar, it may be because this is where parts of the movie Where the Red Fern Grows were filmed.
To learn more about Natural Falls State Park, please visit

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring Travel Part Twelve: Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge

Even though it suffers from vandalism and the adjacent park from neglect, Southwest Georgia's historic Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge is still one of my favorite spring travel destinations.
Surviving covered bridges are rare and this one is unique because it is the southernmost original "kissing bridge" in the United States.
Built in 1891 at a total cost of $490.41, the old bridge crosses a small waterfall on Coheelee Creek in Early County, Georgia. Located off Highway 62 West about nine miles southwest of the county seat of Blakely, the bridge is less than 30 minutes east of the city of Dothan, Alabama.
Of the 17 original covered bridges still surviving in Georgia, it is the only one located south of Macon.
To read more about the Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge, please visit

Friday, May 9, 2008

Spring Travel Part Eleven: Grand Gulf Military Monument

Continuing our series on some of my favorite spring travel destinations in the South, we look today at Grand Gulf, Mississippi.
Visitors to the major battlefield at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi often overlook another fascinating battlefield that is located less than one hour away.
Grand Gulf Military Monument, a state park just outside of Port Gibson, Mississippi, preserves the site of the Battle of Grand Gulf and the historic town of the same name.
An important preliminary episode of the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle of Grand Gulf took place on April 29, 1863. Hoping to bombard the heavily fortified Confederate position into submission and open the way for the landing of General Grant's troops, the Union navy attacked Grand Gulf with massive firepower. The Confederate forts replied and for hours the two sides blasted each other in one of the heaviest bombardments of the war. Union ironclads and Confederate earthen batteries covered the Mississippi River with smoke and fire.
In the end, though, the Confederate forts held. Grant was forced to abandon his plans for a landing at Grand Gulf. Instead, he marched his men across country in Louisiana and crossed downstream at Bruinsburg. The move effectively flanked the Confederate position at Grand Gulf and the Southern troops withdrew to Vicksburg a short time later.
The park today preserves a series of earthwork forts, batteries and entrenchments, along with an array of historic structures. There is also a fascinating small museum. To learn more, please visit

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Spring Travel Part Ten: Port St. Joe, Florida

This is part ten of a continuing series on some of my favorite spring travel destinations in the South.
The beaches of Northwest Florida draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, most of them swarming to places like Panama City, Destin and Pensacola Beach. But to the east of these places is a lesser known destination that is one of the most beautiful spots in the South.
Port St. Joe and spectacular St. Joseph Bay are rich in history and natural beauty and offer some of the most unspoiled coastal areas to be found in Florida. Cape San Blas, a peninsula that extends far out into the Gulf of Mexico, is noted for its beautiful unspoiled beaches. Port St. Joe itself is a charming city on the bay that is the site of Florida's famed "lost city" of St. Joseph.
To learn more about this fascinating area of Northwest Florida, please visit

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring Travel Part Nine: Elvis Presley Birthplace

Continuing our series on some of my favorite spring travel destinations in the South, this is the birthplace of Elvis Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi.
The little frame home, constructed by Presley's father, is now part of a memorial park in Tupelo. Other features are a museum, memorial chapel, fountain and statue of Elvis during his boyhood.
The "King of Rock and Roll" was born here on January 8, 1935 and spent his childhood years in the house. It was here in Tupelo that he learned to play the guitar and developed his unique musical style.
The Elvis Presley Birthplace gives visitors a chance to learn about the humble roots of the man who changed music forever. It also provides a fascinating look into life in the South during the 1930s.
To learn more, please visit

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spring Travel Part Eight: War Eagle Mill, Arkansas

Continuing with our special spring series on some of my favorite destinations in the South, this is the beautiful War Eagle Mill in Northwest Arkansas.
A modern reconstruction of a historic water-powered gristmill, the War Eagle Mill is one of the most scenic spots in the Ozarks. The historic old iron frame bridge that leads across the river to the mill still has its wooden flooring intact.
The mill itself is open to the public daily throughout most of the year and on weekends during January and February. It includes exhibits on the history of the site, a chance to watch actual milling in process, arts, crafts and a restaurant on the third floor.
War Eagle Mill is also famous for its annual Arts and Crafts Fairs. The Spring fair was held this past weekend.
To learn more about War Eagle Mill, please visit:

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Spring Travel Part Seven: Corinth, Mississippi

This is part of a continuing series on some of my favorite spring travel spots across the South.
When one thinks of Civil War sites in the South, places like Vicksburg, Shiloh and Chickamauga usually come to mind. But in the northern Mississippi community of Corinth, a very impressive Civil War related heritage destination is developing.
Corinth was the location from which the Confederate army launched its campaign that ended at the Battle of Shiloh. Union troops subsequently raised siege works against the town and took possession of it, only to fight a bloody battle to maintain control of Corinth against a determined army led by Earl Van Dorn. Some of the bloodiest and most intense fighting of the Civil War took place on the hills and streets of Corinth.
In cooperation with state and federal authorities, the community is doing a really nice job of bringing its history back to life. Surrounding Corinth are miles of Civil War earthworks, the site of a major settlement where freed or escaped slaves gathered under the protection of Union guns and fields where heavy fighting took place during the siege and Battle of Corinth.
The community has developed both walking and driving tours that explore key points of historic interest. The driving tours follow different actions that took place around Corinth. In addition, Corinth is now the home of an outstanding new National Park Service interpretive center that details the community's rich Civil War history. In addition to a variety of indoor exhibits, the center offers a unique sculpture and reconstructed earthworks (seen above). The grounds were the site of heavy fighting during the Battle of Corinth.
To learn more about this fascinating community, please visit