Home Travelogues City Travel Logs History Channels: Grenada, Grenada Lake

History Channels: Grenada, Grenada Lake

Grenada EarthworksA wartime city digs in with key fortifications, then finds itself forced to push deeper for the will to withstand an even greater scourge… A righteous community digs in to demand equality and decency, but faced with violent reprisal must reach down deep for the courage to overcome… A general, faced with a shaming loss, must bore down on an enemy to carve out a place in history… An army, confronted by a rampaging river, dredges up a beautiful solution.

Valor? Perseverance? This place has them down cold-as cold as the waters of the lake that bears its name, drawing sportsmen and recreation lovers from all over the country. History, architectural beauty and plenty of outdoor fun, all here for you. So go ahead. Dig in. It was the most important Civil War battle that never occurred.  With seven solid lines of earthworks and fortifications ringing the city, and more than 20,000 Confederate soldiers manning them, Grenada was braced as the bulwark that would stand between the port of Vicksburg and U.S. Grant's army. Grant fully expected he would engage in Grenada after he marched his troops overland from Holly Springs. Yet the best laid plans, not to mention earthworks, sometimes come to surprising ends. Grant never reached Grenada, although it could be said that Grenada reached him, in ways that would alter the course of the war.

Battling the unexpected.

General Ulysses S. GrantAt first, Grant's march on Grenada went well, but with his troops strung out from Oxford to Water Valley, the general suddenly found his army vulnerable on every front, as his advance cavalry was caught in an ambush at Coffeeville a few miles outside Grenada. It was the first important victory in the West for the Confederacy, and for Grant it was a defeat that cost dearly, in the support of both Washington as well as the general's own men.

Meanwhile, smarting from his own failed attempt to retake Corinth, Confederate General Earl Van Dorn made a bold move, leading a lightning-quick cavalry raid out of Grenada on Grant's Holly Springs base. Millions of dollars of ordinance, food and materiel were put to the torch, leaving Grant and his army stranded without supplies and Vicksburg more unattainable than ever. Grant retreated and regrouped-his plans to take Vicksburg by land were shattered.

Later, Grant claimed the Holly Springs raid and his own subsequent retreat forced him to the realization that an army could rely on the land and its people for supplies-new knowledge that Sherman would go on to exploit to even more devastating effect.

In late 1862, however, Sherman and Grant were stymied, Vicksburg was still safe, and a great conflict in Grenada had been avoided. Yet, if the city emerged from the Civil War relatively unscathed, hardly more than a decade later, Grenada would face a far more implacable foe, when yellow fever hit the city, wiping out more than half of the population, including the town doctor.

In the next century, the city would fight another disease endemic to the South-the disease of racism-but first there was a World War to help win, and a fight against a raging river.

Turning the tides.

After the devastating 1927 Mississippi River flood, construction of the Tri Lake dams-in Sardis, Enid and Grenada-was begun in the late 1930s, with Sardis operational by 1940.  While the war postponed Grenada's dam, the city found itself occupied in other ways, as German soldiers under the General Rommel were shipped in as prisoners of war.  (There was even a prison break, although the event proved somewhat anticlimactic, with the prisoners found wandering the streets of nearby Belzoni, window shopping.)

After the war, the dam and impoundment lake at Enid were completed in 1952 and then finally in Grenada in 1954, bringing much needed flood control as well as thousands of acres of recreational opportunities.

Martin Luther KingIt was lack of opportunity and equality that brought on Grenada's next great battle, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference launched its project for Grenada school integration in 1966.  For several weeks, volunteers and civil rights leaders including the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young and singer/activist Joan Baez used Belle Flower Missionary Baptist Church as their headquarters.  The church was firebombed, but the hateful act could neither destroy the house of worship nor extinguish the fire in the hearts of the people of Grenada. 

Only a year later, Reverend King would praise the successful efforts in the city in his address at the annual SCLC meeting:  "We can never forget the courageous action of the people of Grenada who moved our nation and its federal courts to powerful action in behalf of school integration, giving Grenada one of the most integrated school systems in America.  The battle is far from over, but the black people of Grenada have achieved forty of fifty-three demands through their persistent nonviolent efforts."

Today, you can still see the shadows of flames on the walls of the Belle Flower Baptist Church.  You may want to start your Grenada tour at this inspiring place.  Or you may want to begin at the historic cemetery where the yellow fever victims were laid to rest, or at any number of the other fascinating sites on the city's self-guided driving/walking tour.

Good times down the Line.

If you start in downtown Grenada, be sure to take a stroll down Line Street where the city almost ended before it was ever begun, thanks to a stubborn streak roughly the width of that same street.  According to local lore, in the 1830s, Line Street was known as Rabbittrack, the neutral zone between the warring cities of Pittsburgh on one side and Tullahoma on the other.  When Pittsburgh was awarded the first post office, the angry citizens of Tullahoma sneaked over in the middle of the night and dragged the building back to their side of Rabbittrack.  In the morning, the outraged citizens of Pittsburgh armed themselves and descended on Tullahoma.  Serious mayhem seemed imminent when a local preacher brokered a symbolic marriage, and the two towns were united as Grenada, which is a Native American word meaning "united" or "married."

Of course, Grenada's refusal to give up ground has stood the city in good stead through wars and epidemics and the menace sometimes known as "progress."  When a developer intent on demolition purchased Grenada's Masonic Temple, a 1920s neoclassical masterpiece complete with third-floor ballroom, the city stepped in to purchase the majestic structure rather than see it destroyed.

A tour of the city includes a number of other beautifully restored buildings, both public and private, including the First Presbyterian Church, a gothic sanctuary built in 1835 and adorned by 26 stained glass windows.  Each of the stained glass windows at All Saints Episcopal Church tells a story, including one of a child stricken by yellow fever.  During the epidemic, the All Saints congregation was especially hard hit, yet its pastor remained committed to ministering to all, regardless of creed or color.

The Katherine Whitaker Manse is another city highlight, and at the colonial Golladay Home, built in 1850, Jeff Davis once made his headquarters; today, otherwise sane and sensible residents swear that a 1932 unsolved murder in the house has left an otherworldly victim who still haunts the premises, refusing to "give up the ghost."

There are no ghosts but plenty of memories, civic, military and religious, at the downtown Historical Museum, and an amazing amount of Coca-Cola memorabilia in the Coca-Cola museum located in the same building on the floor above. The Confederate and Yellow Fever graveyards aren't haunted, either, but walking among the headstones of these historic hallowed grounds can be a haunting, moving experience.

There's more history out at Grenada Lake, and an opportunity to immerse yourself in some extraordinary natural habitats.

Grenada Lake:  Flocking to fun and habitat.

Grenada LakeWhile Grenada Dam and its impoundment Lake were constructed for flood control, wise design and policy have created an outstanding recreational attraction that also happens to be a nationally recognized and endlessly delightful wildlife habitat.

Want to swim, fish, boat, camp or hike?  Grenada's the place, with 254 picnic sites, 16 boat ramps, 6 swimming beaches and 300 campsites, with RV hookups available at the nearby Hugh White State Park.

Golf and hiking are highlights at the Park, where the roundtrip trek to the top of Little Mountain offers up a scenic view at nearly 500 feet.  Hiking trails also weave in and around the Lake, where you can explore three of the old Confederate fortification sites; one of them has been restored with cannon that take center stage in regular reenactment/living history events.  If you're a fitness buff, you'll want to take the winding trail at Lost Bluff where hanging ropes allow you to pull yourself to the top.

Even if you're not ready for the hand-over-hand stuff, you'll still want hike the 1 ½-mile trail that leads into the heart of the Haserway Wetlands, the nation's first public use wetlands demonstration area.  This unique preserve is the result of an innovative partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, local businesses and the Corps of Engineers.  Prepare to be awed.

Haserway is only one of four wildlife management areas at Grenada Lake, spreading out across thousands of lush acres teeming with natural beauty and diversity.  You can't hunt at the Quails Unlimited Demonstration Area, but you and Old Blue can come to observe proper quail management and learn correct hunting techniques.

For an indoor adventure, be sure to check out the Grenada Lake visitor center, where you can learn more about everything from flood control to Native American artifacts to Grenada's role in the Civil War.  Kids (of all ages!) love the 150-gallon aquarium where you can get hands-on with the local aquatic species.

Afterwards head for a campsite and a night under the stars.  As the birds sing you awake in the morning, you may find it hard to leave, but that's how it is here. History has shown it's hard to let go in Grenada.

Grenada’s Great Escape

During World War II, nearly 8,000 German POWs were housed in Grenada’s Camp McCain, one of five POW camps in Mississippi. The camps offered prisoners the comforts of home—medical and dental care, movies, English classes, athletics. Treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention, the prisoners were fed well with meals they were allowed to cook themselves.

Eventually Camp McCain and the others developed subbranches in the Mississippi Delta, where the prisoners worked in cotton fields, hot work they did not particulary enjoy.

Still, when 30 POWs walked off a Belzoni work camp, they were found strolling downtown Belzoni, window shopping. They were bored, they explained to the frantic search party that included the police, FBI and state highway patrol. In another “escape,” four prisoners were found eating lunch in a Grenada restaurant.

Another more dramatic escape involved a Delta planter’s wife and a German POW who fell in love when he worked on her husband’s plantation. They ran away together, only to be caught in Nashville, on their way east to steal a plane to fly to Greenland.


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