Archive | Mississippi River RSS feed for this section

Port Gibson, Mississippi – Windsor Ruins

29 Oct

Twenty-Three Columns Are All That Remain of the Grand Plantation Home Windsor

The first time that I visited Windsor I turned off of Highway 61 near Lorman, Mississippi, and drove straight to the place.  On another visit I decided to go the back way from Port Gibson.  I thought I would never find the place and perhaps end up hopelessly lost.  After driving through the thick woods and all the ravines filled with kudzu it became more of a maze than a trip. If I had driven off of the narrow road and into one of those kudzu covered ravines chances are I would still be there.  If lucky, the cold weather might have knocked the leave off of the kudzu enough for someone to spot a vehicle wrapped in those tenacious vines.  In my estimation there is a chance that Jimmy Hoffa is there – someplace on the back roads, toward the Mississippi River, in a kudzu covered ravine west and south of Port Gibson.

One thing about Windsor is that it makes a person wonder why in the world it was built in the middle of nowhere.  There are places located in the middle of nowhere all over the place but not many as wondrous as Windsor.  Those large palatial columns are just standing there.  It is sort of like a story book setting.  When it was built, back in the late 1850s, it was located near the Mississippi River and near a narrow road known as the Rodney Road.   The soil in the area is loess.  That means in was brought to the location by wind.  The loess layer is very thick and the loess formation that Windsor was built on extends from Memphis down to Baton Rouge on the east side of the Mississippi River. How it got there is somewhat of a mystery.  Perhaps during the an ice age most of the fresh surface water was tied up in glaciers and westerly winds just pushed the soil westward as if it was a great dune.  In any case it does erode very fast when exposed to the rain and so the giant ravines have formed and reformed over the ages making it very difficult to traverse.  After the ice age the waters began to flow and perhaps a large stream worked its way around the loess and eventually became the Mississippi River.  The ridge tops of the loess formations are flat and fairly fertile and they make good places for winding roads and the soil is also fairly fertile so it would be possible to grow cotton in the area, however, the other side of the river is much more fertile as it was continuously replenished by yearly floods.

Well that is it for the geology of the area but to me it is a part of the story of Windsor, or at least a part of the story that I am interested in.  Those  interested in architecture will love the ruins of Windsor and those that like plantation homes can only imagine how great the home was that once stood between the columns.  Those that are interested in history will perhaps relate the land and columns back to the historical events that took place here about 150 years ago.  That is what I wish to discuss after the obligatory brief history of the home.

These Fluted Corinthian Columns Appear Almost in the Middle of Nowhere, Mississippi

Windsor was built as a plantation home for Mr. and Mrs. Smith Coffee Daniel, II.  The plantation consisted of about 2,600 acres and was completed in 1861 just in time for the War Between the States.  Twenty-nine columns were constructed of bricks, made at the site, that supported the magnificent structure.  Each Fluted Corinthian Column was 45 feet in height and was covered in mortar and plaster. The fluted columns had iron Corinthian capitals and were joined at the galleries by an ornamental iron balustrade. The completed structure was a marvel in that it contained its own school, commissary, Dr.’s office, dairy and kitchen under one roof. On top of the house was an observatory. Each of the 25 rooms had its own fireplace and the home contained indoor bathrooms with running water that was supplied by a water tank in the attic.  This was the state of the structure on the eve of the most important event in American history.

Capturing the Mississippi River strategically was the top priority of the Union, so it wasn’t long before the war came to Mississippi.  As the war continued Vicksburg became the key to victory but the Union Army was on the western side of the river.  Grant had to cross the river.  On the night of April 30, 1863,  troop ships were loaded with soldiers and a journey down the river commenced.  The first planned stop for a possible landing was Grand Gulf but the Union gunships could not silence the guns at the confederate stronghold so General Grant proceeded south to Bruinsburg. There was a road (Rodney Road) near there that could be used by troops headed east.  Thus began the largest amphibious landing of American troops in military history prior to D-Day. On April 30 and May 1, 1863, over 17,000 troops landed at Bruinsburg and headed east on the narrow and winding road.

There was still a considerable “unknown” that General Grant had to deal with and that was the location of the Confederate Army.  As the troops were landing in Bruinsburg General Sherman feigned an attack on Vicksburg and the confederate forces stayed at home.  The Union troops at Bruinsburg immediately began a hasty advance along the road that passed in front of Windsor.  Grant had to get his troops into strategic positions and capture strategic locations such as bridges quickly.  If the large confederate force at Vicksburg moved against him all could be lost.

When walking around the large columns at Windsor one hardly thinks that Union Soldiers were resting and crunching on their hardtack on the grounds.  Union forces took control of the house and when the ensuing battles with confederate troops took place the plantation was used as a hospital and the observatory became a place to observe troop movements.  Prior to this the confederates had used the observatory to monitor Union ship movements on the river and to signal confederate forces on the other side of the river.

The Original Corinthian Metal Caps Sit Atop Columns Made of Bricks That Where Manufactured On Site

Each time I visit Windsor I think about the advancing Union forces and their dash inland and the ensuing fights at Port Gibson and other locations.  General Grant went on to destroy Jackson in order to protect the rear of his army when he advanced on Vicksburg.  That turned out to be one of the most important decisions of the Civil War.  If Grant had decided to go directly to Vicksburg he would have certainly been destroyed by a waiting confederate army. Instead he protected his army by taking Jackson and then set in for a siege at Vicksburg.  Lots of history in the middle of Nowhere, Mississippi.
But try as I may to remember all of the history that is close by I have to admit that the ruins of Windsor captures my mind in a mysterious way and makes it impossible to think of troop movements and the like.  Windsor is a place unto itself –  a place to experience awe and mystery.

Windsor did not come to ruins because of the Civil War. The house survived until 1890 and hosted a number of people and events over the years.  One visitor was Mark Twain and he even used the observatory on top of the home to observe the Mississippi River.  On the 17th of February 1890 some work was being done on the house by carpenters.  There were some visitors that day and apparently one of them left behind a lighted cigar or cigarette and it fell into some wood shavings on the third floor.  The family was returning home from a trip to get the mail when they saw the flames. Windsor burned from top to bottom.

The haunting columns are all we have of the structure today.  Twenty-three of them remain.  Those columns have not only witnessed history but they have become part of history.  It is a mysterious place and is hard to comprehend.  I have taken picture after picture and can’t capture the essence of the place.  There is just too much here for the senses to take in and process at one time.  There are so many questions that can’t be answered.  If fact they can’t even be verbalized so one is left with their feelings.  You can feel the history, the architecture and the grandeur but you cannot explain it to others – it is just one of those places that impresses you and stays with you but you can’t really say why!

Advertisements

New Orleans, Louisiana – In A Different Light

10 Sep

Royal Street During a Light Rain

New Orleans is probably one of Americas most photographed cities.  It certainly makes up a great number of my images.  One of the most difficult things that I encounter is ending up with a bunch of images that rarely captures the beauty and excitement of the French Quarter Streets or Canal Street – the River you name it.  In this series of images, taken at different times, I decided to pump up the saturation, chroma and whatever else I could manipulate in order to make the mood different.  I have overdone it in some of the images but again the colors make me feel good about the picture.  It helps me to see what is there and not to concentrate on what is not there.

The image above was taken on Royal Street after a light rain had started falling.  It was a nice image but just sort of gray.  So I decided to play around with the sliders in Photoshop and in Capture NX.  I liked the result.  The Royal Street image and all the ones that follow are simply produced by adjusting the saturation and chroma of the images.

Late Afternoon Lights on Canal Street

The image above was snapped on Canal Street and I was lucky enough for two streetcars to show up.  As luck would have it I was already soaking wet and just after taking this picture I walked over to the Walgreens at Baronne and Canal and bought a much-needed bottle of water.  Upon exiting the store I stepped into a crater on Baronne Street and fell.  I broke my fall but not that of my camera.  The lens hit the street and broke into a number of pieces.  I also soaked up all the water and essence that Baronne had to over.  This year I will go back and get some of the pictures that I intended to take that night.

An Image Taken From A Small Boat in the Mississippi River

This too was a gray toned image in the original image.  After pumping up the saturation a little the tones in the buildings started matching those found in the water.  A small ship is passing New Orleans headed downriver early in the morning.

The colors in this image turned out completely different.  At first it appeared to me that the image was taken at about the same time as the other but as it was we were running up and down the river quite a bit that day.  This does show how much lighting and colors can change dramatically while one is out and about taking images.

Adding saturation and playing with the color added a lot of drama to the clouds.  The off set was the color of the water that resulted.  I guess I could change it if I wanted to but all in all I enjoy looking at the image as it is.  The colors and the clouds gives the image a “depth” that it would lack otherwise.

Well, after any photo excursion it might be better to look at some pictures and to see what you can do with them.  When I first saw these I was disappointed but after a year it was fun to play with them and see what resulted.  They indeed give one an opportunity to see the same old stuff in a new light.

Reserve, Louisiana – San Francisco Plantation Home

28 Aug

San Francisco Plantaion Home, Built in the 1850s, is One of the Most Unique Plantation Homes on Historic River Road

If you can find your way to LaPlace or to Reserve, or to Garyville, Louisiana, then you can find your way to The San Francisco Plantation Home.  If one goes by way of Reserve and LaPlace you go to the highway that turns into River Road – just turn right and it will not be too long before you arrive and you will not pass it up! You will have to slow down and curve around the house as you pass.  The town of Garyville also claims San Francisco Plantation but if you go that way you will have to make a left on to River Road.

The first time I saw San Francisco it surprised me how close it was to the road.  The flood of 1927 prompted the building of the Mississippi River levees. The river levee took the land between San Francisco and the river. The home is a beautiful structure.  I was determined to get a picture from the front – even with the road.  The house is separated from the road by a chain link fence.  I thought this was not particularly in good taste but after realizing that one could not see the grand home from the road with a “solid fence” it did not look as bad as I first thought. As it was I was able to climb up the levee a ways and to take pictures of the front.  Even with the fence I find the place intriguing.  Also, since the levee is a result of the 1927 flood it too takes on historical importance in the story of Louisiana.  The levee was to have destroyed San Francisco but somehow the locals got organized and stopped the planned destruction – thus the curved road so close to the plantation home.

Unique among all plantation houses in its foundation structure, plan, and silhouette, San Francisco is unquestionably a landmark as that term is popularly understood. It has been pictured in American, British, and Swedish periodicals as one of the major sights of the New Orleans area. The exterior combines a variety of architectural motifs in a design dominated by an immense and ornate roof construction. The interior is notable for the paintings which ornament the ceilings and door panels of the parlors.  The attic area is Victorian in design and because of it many refer to the structure as a “Steamboat Gothic.”  I am not familiar enough with Steamboats to make a determination but I can tell you that it is very unique and a pleasure to see and to photograph.  The unique color scheme is “icing on the cake” as far as I am concerned.

One must not forget that the reason for the home in the first place is sugar.  Although the home is grand in scale, and appearance, the families that owned the plantation could never make a good go of a sugar plantation.  It seems that at critical times in its history that war, depressions, death and bad luck inflicted a toll on those that would seek to make a go of growing and manufacturing sugar. Still the home fits into a cultural landscape that was shaped by the cultivation of sugarcane and the production of sugar.

In the 1970s Marathon Oil purchased  the property and the house. The San Francisco Plantation Foundation was created and the home underwent a massive restoration. As scientific analysis of materials and structure were done, along with archival research, it was decided to that the home would be restored to the golden years just before the War Between the States. The house then became listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today the San Francisco Plantation remains a major attraction in Louisiana being visited annually by over 100,000 people. Although the house is antebellum in a chronological sense, it is certainly not typical of the period. Its style and coloration are totally distinctive, and its memories are now locked in time just prior to the War Between the States, when the house was at the height of its splendor.

Convent, Louisiana – Old Jefferson College and the President’s Home – Manresa Retreat and Ignatius House

22 Aug

Manresa Retreat (Old Jefferson College) Commands the View From Historic River Road

When I first took a job in Convent, Louisiana, I did not know how much history and surprises that I would be exposed to just by going to work.  My first trip down the River Road from the Sunshine Bridge to the Courthouse in Convent was unbelievable.

Things were different then. There were small stores and homes all along the way of the Mississippi River and though many of them were old they had a “charm” about them that is unique to St. James Parish.  This “charm” is not apparent on the first visit.  After living or working there a while one begins to understand – it is not something written in books but in the heart and mind.  It is developed over time.

Things have now changed over the years and on a recent visit I found it hard to recognize what I thought would be familiar sights.  Some of the old had been replaced and the new was foreign. Hymel’s was still there.  Every Wednesday a group of us from the courthouse would travel here to eat lunch.  It was usually a large hamburger steak and most of us would get the large gold fish bowl looking mug of cold beer.

Life was different here.  It was a hard choice to go to Hymel’s.  That meant we had to miss the lunch time Bourée game.  Every day at lunch we ate our sandwiches in a few bites and then placed the tables together for our daily game of Bourée.  What great fun and relaxation.  The rules were rigged at a nickel a pot and a quarter if you booed.  You couldn’t get rich or go broke with that – only have fun.  The third floor lounge was filled with friends and laughter every day. Back during that time there were several large Live Oak Trees that graced the courthouse.  Beautiful is all that comes to mind.  The courthouse also had an amazing neighbor.  A wonderful building with Doric columns that commanded the view from the River Road that passed in front.  This was the Manresa Retreat.

When I first drove to Convent I was certainly enjoying the many Creole influenced homes and barns and whatever kind of structures along the way.  Then all of sudden  and unexpectedly, a tremendous three story building with the front lined in white columns grabbed all my attention.  What is this, I thought?  It was so majestic and beautiful that I just gazed at it without thinking.  Many of the things in St. James were like that.  You knew that just about everything was historical but that rarely entered your mind.  The beauty of things occupied the mind. These special places were very much appreciated.  They were part of the here and now and were a part of everyday life as far back as one could remember.

Ignatius House (President's Home Jefferson College) Dates to 1836

However, this large majestic building was a complete surprise. I soon learned that Manresa was a Catholic Retreat and that men could come there to mediate and be rejuvenated spiritually. I had never heard of such a thing.  Later I learned that Manresa was not constructed as a retreat but once was a college. Jefferson College was its name.  It would be years after I had left Convent before I really understood the history and significance of Manresa or Jefferson College.

Manresa was chartered in 1831 as the College of Jefferson.  The present main building was constructed in 1842. On the front end of the property (nearest River Road) is the former Presidents home.  It was built in 1836.  Today it is known as Ignatius House.  It is a reduced scale version of a Great River Road plantation home of the period.  There is a difference in dates of the two structures because a fire destroyed the original Jefferson College building in 1841.

The main building is a three story English bond brick structure with a colossal Roman Doric order form gallery of twenty-one bays.Of course the main building was occupied from 1862 to 1864 by the Union forces during the War Between the States.  In 1864 Valcour Aime, the owner of the property, transferred Jefferson College to Marist Fathers and the U.S. Government withdrew its troops.  In 1864  Marist Fathers reestablished the college as “St. Mary’s Jefferson College.”  St. Mary’s Jefferson College operated until 1927 at which time it was closed.  In 1931 the Jesuit Fathers of New Orleans purchase Jefferson College and it was renamed “Manresa House of Retreats.” February 25 – March 2, 1931, the first retreat was held at Manresa under the direction of the Fathers of the Society of Jesus.

I guess we need to know some of the history of the place to gain a full appreciation of the buildings and property.  However, when riding down River Road one need not know a thing about the place to be awed by the sight of this beautiful place along a section of what I would call a “Sleepy Section” of River Road.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana – U.S.S. Kidd – Small Ship Big History

17 Jul

Moored in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River

The USS KIDD has been in Baton Rouge since 1982.  I have been on the ship several times – always bringing some kids to see an old war ship.  While on the ship I have thought about the men that served aboard the Kidd and as I have navigated the small doors and narrow halls I have thought how “tight” things must been for them while at sea.  I am fairly tall and somewhat claustrophobic and have become uncomfortable while on the ship.

My dad, a World War 2 veteran,  always told me that the service would get one over phobias  and everything else real quick.   Maybe the visitor center covers more but I haven’t even bothered to visit the facility and I had not discovered the rich history of the little ship. I have been apathetic.

The Kidd is not overly impressive as it sits near the Mississippi River levee in Baton Rouge. It is a destroyer.  It is a good thing that beauty contests are not held for ships. It is certainly not as glamorous as the Battleship USS Alabama located in Mobile, Alabama. Ships are more like boxers.  The destroyers are fast and meant to defend against a number of different threats. Destroyers are like lightweight boxers and battleships are like heavyweights.  The heavyweights pound and the lightweights are all over the place hitting and dodging.  The Kidd has a few small guns – not like the many massive ones on the Alabama. The USS Kidd is a Fletcher class destroyer (built in 1943) and about 175 of them were constructed during WW 2.  Only four remain today but three of those have been modernized leaving only one that still is basically the same that it was on V.J. Day in World War 2, and that one destroyer is the USS Kidd.

The Kidd is moored just North of downtown along the Baton Rouge riverfront. Since it’s home is now the Mississippi River a special mooring system was designed to account for the annual fluctuations in the Mississippi River water stages.  The river fluctuates over 40 feet a year and so part of the year the Kidd is floating and when the river is at lower stages the ship is held  in its one of a kind mooring, and is completely out of the water.  People can walk under the hull at these low water periods.

The Kidd is named after Rear Admiral Isaac C. Kidd. Admiral Kidd was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor while he was serving aboard the USS Arizona.  The Kidd was launched on February 28, 1943 at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey.  It has been a valuable part of some of the most important times in American history. It has fought in battles, has rescued downed flyers and was even hit at mid ship by a kamikaze.  History is interesting for those that live it but for those that don’t there is always a list.  What follows is somewhat of a list.  This was obtained from the National Register for Historic Places Application.  By the way, the U.S.S. Kidd is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the summer of 1943, as a new ship, the Kidd served its shakedown duty guarding convoys in the Atlantic. As it’s need for duty pressed nearer it was assigned for duty in the Pacific in August of 1943. Within a month the Kidd was escorting aircraft carriers in their attack on the Wake Islands.

The Kidd participated in the attack on Rabaul and supported amphibious operations at Bougainville in an operation to dislodge over 60,000 Japanese troops from New Guinea during October of the same year. On November 11, 1943, South of Rabaul the Kidd was detached from the main strike force as it steamed to rescue downed pilots from the U.S.S. Essex.  The Kidd was alone during the rescue and was attacked by eight Japanese aircraft.  While rescuing two downed pilots the Kidd shot down three of the aircraft, left another trailing smoke and had hits on the others. Now mind you the ship was not only picking up downed flyers and shooting at enemy planes but it was also dodging bombs and torpedoes! There must have had some Louisiana boys in important positions on that ship if you ask me!  Commander Allan B. Roby was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the action.

During the time of November 19 until December 9, 1943, the Kidd screened aircraft carriers during air attacks on Tarawa and the Gilbert Island Invasion. The Kidd was sent, away from the main force, to investigate possible submarine activity.  While away the crew spotted 15 low flying enemy bombers headed toward the large U.S. troopships carrying thousands of Marines.  The Kidd sounded the alarm and the fleet opened fire downing two bombers.  The remaining bombers were soon downed by air patrols.

In early 1944, from January 11 until February 28 the Kidd participated in the invasion of the Marshall Islands.  She not only screened heavy ships and bombarded Roi and Wokje but she was the first ship to follow minesweepers into the lagoon at Majuro. From March 20, 1944 until  April 14, 1944, the U.S.S. Kidd guarded airstrip construction at Emirau until completion.

The Kidd also supported the occupation of Atlape and Hollandia, New Guinea. She fought in the Marianas campaign on June 10, 1944. She bombarded Guam from July 8, 1944 until August 10, 1944, to prepare for invasion. During this time the Kidd rescued at total of 35 downed flyers.  She was also part of the invasion fleet of the Philippines in October of 1944.

It appears that the Kidd was at important duty and seeing some type of action just about every day in the Pacific but things were about to change.  The US was preparing to invade the main island of Japan and the first step, and test, was to be made at Okinawa.

I tend to think of Okinawa as the forgotten battle in World War 2. If the Japanese could have prevailed then there was a chance of a negotiated peace. It the allies prevailed then the next chapter was the invasion of Japan.  In looking for information about the battle there are all kinds of official and unofficial estimates about casualties and this and that.

Over 12,500 Americans died there and nearly 40,000 were wounded. Most of these did not make the evening news or the local newspapers.  No vigils were held when the first 1,000 killed or when the total reached 10,000.  One battle in World War 2 with more casualties than the number serving in Afghanistan today.  On the Japanese side things were a lot worse. About 110,00 killed and maybe 20,000 more sealed in caves by their own hands or forces. Don’t forget that civilians lived on Okinawa.  Maybe as many as 150,000 died. These casualties were not all inflicted by the Americans or the battles.  Over 1,000 locals were killed by the Japanese because of their dialect.  It was now or never and someone with a language difference might get friendly with the enemy.  If high end estimates are used then the Japanese military and civilian casualties are about the same as those inflicted by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We are still hearing debate about the Atomic bombs but little if anything is said about Okinawa.

The above figures and thoughts are mentioned to show the gravity of the situation and the determination with which the Japanese were willing to fight at Okinawa. It was into this mix that the USS Kidd would enter its most perilous times.

During the early phases of the battle the Kidd screened battleships, rescued downed flyers and participated in shore bombardments.  The Kidd was then assigned radar picket duty.  This was the most dangerous assigned for a destroyer.  A radar picket had to maintain its position, regardless.

A few days before the Kidd was to be assigned radar picket duty it had provided emergency protection for the USS Franklin, a carrier, that had been hit by two kamikazes.  The kamikaze flights were numerous at Okinawa.  Over 1,500 were used in seven waves in the early days of the battle.  On April 11, 1945 a low flying kamikaze took aim on the U.S.S. Kidd hitting her at mid ship.  Thirty eight men were killed and 55 wounded.  Despite the horror the Kidd was able to rejoin the task group.  While she was being repaired the war in the Pacific ended.

The Kidd went on to serve in Korea and in the Cold War but I have just covered the high points of her time in the Pacific in World War 2.  The Kidd was decommissioned for a final time in 1964.  In 1982 she was donated to the Louisiana Naval War Commission and was placed in Baton Rouge.

Much drama, death, excitement, emotion and history have taken place on the decks of the USS Kidd. It is not felt today as families stroll around and inside the ship.  She sits there on the river like most of the old World War 2 veterans now and doesn’t say much.  She knows the horrors of war but she is content to sit in silence.  We have a great witness to what our fellow countrymen have done for us.  Those on the Kidd helped to give us freedom.  She is the only WW 2 Fletcher Class Destroyer that can tell us her story.  We need to listen.

New Orleans, Louisiana – Mississippi River

26 Jun

Crescent City Connection at Sundown. On the Mississippi River.

Years ago I visited Lake Itasca in Minnesota to see the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  As the water leaves the lake and flows toward the Gulf of Mexico it is a narrow and shallow stream – one can jump or wade across and only get his feet wet.  A short way down from the beginning is the first bridge.  It is a split log, which means it is pedestrian only. One hiker at a time.

A Heavy Laden Ship Passes Under the Crescent City Connection

The Mississippi River is a rich part of America’s history and wealth.  The delta region abounds in a history of wars and discovery and trade and new cultures coming to this country. Jazz, the Blues, Rock and Roll all came from this region.  Ships from around the world continuously head for docks from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. How rich a heritage!

Container Ship on the Move Down the Mississippi River

When looking at a map or reading a book it is easy to conjure up images in your mind about all these things.  However, how many of us have actually been out on the river around New Orleans?  I’m not talking about a ferry ride but in some type of boat or ship?

Loading and Unloading Containers

Last year a friend and I put in a boat above New Orleans and traveled down the river just past the city.  The reason was that he is an artist and wanted to photo some images to use as studies for future work. All the mind’s conjured images of river history and culture are soon lost as one starts to think about actually surviving while out on the river.

Grain Elevator Loading Ships on the River

We spent much of the first day getting familiar with things and snapping pictures and trying to find a good place for a sunset image. The light was not good that November day as a front was pushing its way through.  There was just not enough light in the right places. Any photographer knows what I mean.  We identified some good things to take in the morning light and traveled on to Algiers Point to spend the night and wait for daybreak.We tied up and it was near dark when a strange light was bearing down on New Orleans.  It appeared odd and neither one us knew quite what to think.  What was this sight?  It was a storm, and rain hit us from all sides and angles.  We had a covering on the boat but the wind was blowing sideways so much that it didn’t matter.  The temperature started dropping and we outfitted ourselves in warm winter gear and brought out the stuffed sleeping bags. To make a long story short all our gear did was absorb water and by morning we were two freezing boaters wrapped in wet everything.  I wish we would have measured the water we squeezed out of our gear just so I would know how much it was that made me so miserable.

Jackson Street Ferry

The morning brought a different world.  Ships, tugs barges and anything else that would float was on the river.  It is sobering to see a fully loaded tanker riding low in the water headed straight for you. Then a quick glance over the shoulder sees another one coming up from behind.  Thank goodness there is a wake zone through New Orleans or we would have been knocked out of the water as we scooted around trying to get out of the way and take pictures at the same time.  After a while though we settled down and things became manageable.

Large Ship Above New Orleans Headed Down River

We were impressed by the large ships, loaded so much that their hulls were sunk well down in the river.  The skill it took to steer one of those things and to go under the bridges and make the curves in the river is not appreciated by most of us.  It was magnificent to see those ships skillfully maneuver to position for a shot through the curves and then to straighten out and “Thread the Needle” under the Crescent City Connection and then to maneuver again to make the curve in the river below the city.  A ship did this every few minutes and ships continued coming up the river and tugs and barges and ferries were all active.  All of them seemed to be at home and doing his part.  However, each one had to have someone very responsible and very alert at the helm or disaster would have been inevitable. One has to be vigilant 24 hours a day and 7 days a week on the river.

Ship Passes Under the Boutee Bridge

For the first time I began to appreciate the river for the great economic engine that it is.  Those ships were carrying cargo containers, grain, oil, refined petroleum, sugar and no telling what else.  Ships were being built at Avondale and cargo was going in and out of ships all up and down the river.

We saw grain being loaded though elevators on a number of ships.  The loading capacity of the Port of South Louisiana is around 1 million bushels per hour.  Grain elevators were a common sight and every one of them was very busy.

Containers were being unloaded and loaded near New Orleans.  They were coming in on railroads and on trucks and were leaving by the same modes of transportation.  Large ships were being loaded with containers as well.

Moored Ships Waiting Their Turn to Load or Unload

A number of tankers were headed up river to various refineries.  Others were returning loaded with something that had been refined or made in Louisiana.
The Exxon refinery complex in Baton Rouge uses about 500,000 barrels of oil a day.  That is barrels and not gallons. Marathon, Shell, Texaco and others down river use tremendous amount of oil too on a daily bases.  A million barrels of oil used every day on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is probably a low estimate.

Military Ships Being Built at Avondale Ship Yards

For years I have thought that most of the activity in New Orleans was on Canal Street or perhaps the French Quarter and Super Dome.  I was wrong. The pulse of New Orleans is on the Mississippi River.  It always has been that way and it will be that way always.

My mind was forever changed by the experience.  Skill and bravery are exhibited every day and it has been that way since the first ship of explorers sailed up the river.  New Orleans was created because of the Mississippi River. It is now my belief that New Orleans is the river and the river is New Orleans in this part of Louisiana.

Rodney, Mississippi – Presbyterian Church

16 Jun

Just getting to Rodney can be an adventure.  We had no idea where we were but we turned up in Rodney. It was easy though to see how isolated and difficult it can be to find this place. Rodney is in Loess hills that are on the edge of the Mississippi River and valleys and gorges have formed that can be confusing and treacherous. The small roads cannot be much larger than a single vehicle and I say that because in going there and coming back I did not encounter another vehicle so I am just estimating. The small town was mostly the remains of an older town with some buildings in decent shape but with most not suitable for visitation. A few people do live in Rodney as do some loud mouth barking dogs.

Articles and books about Rodney abound so I will not go overly in depth in this post. In the future I plan to make a number of postings about Rodney. For this posting I will limit my discussion to the Rodney Presbyterian Church that proudly displays a cannon ball in it’s facade.

There is a historical feeling about this church and that was very apparent as I circled the church looking in the windows. Despite all the history associated with Rodney, and this church, my thoughts could not stray far from the events that happened on Sunday September 13, 1863. Those that did not attend church that day missed the most exciting day in the history of the church. Some of those that first attended that day probably wished they had never set foot in that church.

The US Gunboat “Rattler” was on duty in the Mississippi River to prevent activity at the port of Rodney and to report on Confederate activities in the area. Seems like duty on that ship was growing routine and the sight of nicely dressed women going to church must have created excitement on the boat that day. On the other hand there was a passenger on board from Red Lick, Mississippi that was headed back North. Mr. Baker had just resigned his position as the Presbyterian Pastor in Red Lick. He was a Northern sympathizer and was on the ship as the guest of Master Fentress awaiting passage to the North. Knowing that Mr. Baker was on board the Rattler the Pastor of the Rodney Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Robert Price, invited Pastor Baker to deliver the message on that day. Pastor Baker accepted the offer and extended an invitation to Captain Fentress and Ensign Strunk. They with about 20 sailors set out for services with Rev. Baker.

Cannon Ball Lodged in Front Facade of Rodney Presbyterian Church

The call of duty should have prevented the acting master and some 20 odd crew from abandoning ship for the pews of the Church that day. It seems that the Union sailors had just settled down into their pews for a day of worship and were finishing the second song. Then in walked Lt. Allen of the Confederate Calvary. He was not looking for a seat but strolled up to the pulpit and after apologizing to the minister he announced to the congregation that the church was surrounded by his men and that the Union sailors were under arrest. A small melee broke out and some shots were fired. Most of the congregation sought safety under the pews while some fled from the church. One elderly woman stood on her pew shouting “Glory to God!”

Once the skeleton crew on the Rattler learned of this fiasco they began lobbing shells into town. As the cannon balls flew through town one of them hit the church and stuck into the exterior. Not to be out ordered and out gunned Lt. Allen sent word to the Rattler that he would start hanging his prisoners if the shelling did not stop. He informed the Rattler that the towns people had in no way played a part in his actions.

The next time that Master Fentress was heard from he was in a prisoner in Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. He had written a letter to Admiral Porter explaining the events of that fateful day. The Rattler became a laughing stock and it’s fate was spread far and wide. However the ships notoriety did not last that long because on December 30, 1864, the Rattler hit a snag in the river and sank.

I wonder if Pastor Baker delivered a message that historic day and if he did what did he talk about? A interesting day I must say. Having half the congregation arrested, others diving under pews and some even firing shots. Then on top of that having cannon balls rock the Church. I guess that would drive an elderly lady to stand in a pew and shout “Glory to God.” One thing for sure is that the Spirit does work in mysterious ways in Rodney.