Tracing History on the Natchez Trace Parkway
For a visit to a byway rich in history, drive the Natchez Trace Parkway, established to commemorate the historical significance of the Old Natchez Trace. Originally a series of trails that stretched 500 miles through the Chickasaw and Choctaw lands from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee, throughout the years it has gained a rich history that continues to fascinate visitors who travel in the footsteps of those who’ve gone before.
History has witnessed several phases in the development of the Natchez Trace, each with a distinct origin and purpose. Residents of Fort Nashborough in Tennessee (a city now known as ‘Nashville’) named the first part of the trail Chickasaw Trace because it led to the lands of the Chickasaw Nation. The trails heading southwest were controlled by the Choctaw Nation and then led onward toward Natchez. Eighteenth-century British maps labeled the trail as the “Path to the Choctaw Nation.” Discover the history of the Indian tribe that once resided there at several places along the trail, such as Buzzard Roost in Alabama, which tells the story of the Chickasaw chief Levi Colbert, or the Chickasaw Village in Mississippi, which shows of the life of the Chickasaw Indians. Visitors can go to what was once the center of activities for the Natchez Indians, or visit Mississippi’s Emerald Mound, one of the largest ceremonial mounds in the United States. Finally, no trip is complete without visiting sites on the Trail of Tears Historic Trail (which runs through several states, including Alabama and Tennessee), where in 1838 the United States government forced more than 16,000 Cherokee Indian people from their homelands and sent them to Indian Territory.
The South has many places with stories about the Civil War and the battlefields along the way. The Natchez Trace Parkway is no exception. Be sure to stop by Shiloh National Military Park near Savannah, Tennessee, which was the site of a two-day battle involving 65,000 Union and 44,000 Confederate troops. The Stones River National Battlefield near Nashville, Tennessee provided a decisive moral boost for Union troops. The Tupelo National Battlefield in Mississippi is a one-acre site that commemorates the last major Civil War battle in Mississippi. There the Union Army utilized their USCT’s (United States Colored Troops) to engage in battle. Pay your respects to those who lost their lives in battle at the memorials at Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site north of Tupelo, Mississippi, and Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Vicksburg contains museums, monuments, and many artifacts, so be sure to spend some time perusing the local historical attractions.
After Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, he marched his troops home along the path — an event that signaled not only the war’s end, but also the decline of the importance of the road as a transportation corridor. In the years following 1820, this road was finally referred to as the “Natchez Trace.”
Civil War history here is prevalent and, exploring the Natchez Trace Parkway of today is a great way to truly experience this American history.
*Credit: America’s Byways