Not many people have heard of Tupelo in the northeast corner of Mississippi. But this city is home to some interesting history and it made for a great weekend getaway. We decided to take the slightly longer route that would have us following along the Natchez Trace. It may have taken longer but there is nothing like a great scenic drive on the way to a weekend of adventure.
Natchez Trace Parkway
Our day began along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway. The parkway roughly follows the Old Natchez Trace trail. This trail has been used for thousands of years as a main travel corridor from Nashville to southwest Mississippi. Native Americans followed the Trace because of the populations of animals that grazed on the futile land. Later on European settlers established communities along the same trail. Thousands of people over thousands of years have gone back and forth along the Trace so this trail contains what seems like endless amounts of history and anthropology to learn from.
Visitors can still walk along some of the Old Natchez Trace and follow in the footsteps of all those who canvassed the trail before. Driving along the parkway you are rewarded with some beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. While you drive along, be sure to lookout for the arrowhead shaped signs that designate where you can pull off the parkway and get on the actual trail of the Natchez Trace.
Tupelo National Battlefield
We would visit two national battlefield, the first being the Tupelo National Battlefield. This battlefield sits right in the center of town and is the smallest battlefield I have visited. The battlefield takes up only about one city block, but there is a lot of significance that is held in this small corner of the city. The Battle of Tupelo was an important Union victory in the Civil War opening up a supply chain from the north throughout the south. As the sides collided and the battle was waged, at one point weapons were discarded and it became a fist fight between the sides.
Ultimately, the Union forces won the Battle of Tupelo. Part of the Union forces in this battle was made up of what was then called a United States Colored Troop (USCT) and it was their participation that made the victory possible. They fought with such bravery, dedication, and skill that the leading officer later reported that they had in their display of that dedication erased decades of prejudice from his mind. They other significant element of this battlefield is the dedication to the lost confederate soldiers that fought here as well.
Along the ground are small white stones with Roman numerals written on them. These stones mark the graves of many of the soldiers. They are so small that you would easily miss them. No names are included on the stones, whether that is from not being able to identity those buried here or because they were those of the confederate forces that are being honored is unknown. Many hold coins laid on top as a symbolic representation of the cost of war.
Neon Pig Cafe
We stopped for lunch at the Neon Pig Café– a local favorite and a nationally recognized place to eat. The Neon Pig is part butcher shop, part farmer’s market, and part cool funky bar. They have been voted best burger in the country for their signature Smash Burger. We walked in and were directed to any open table and to go get a drink from their long line of coolers running down the length of the cafe. The walls were laden with shelves of local made sauces, coffee, and cornbread.
You know you are in for a good meal when it comes out on a piece of thick brown paper instead of a plate. The food was excellent- so much so that it was devoured before I had a chance to snap a picture of it. There is no doubt why Neon Pig is such a favorite place.
Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield
After lunch we headed a little ways out of town to visit the second battlefield of the day at Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield. This battlefield marks a victory for the Confederacy in the Civil War. It is interesting to cross into the Confederacy territory and see the different perspective that these sites take in comparison to those of the north.
There are a few memorials around the battlefield, all of which honor those of the Confederate forces that were lost here. On the far side of the area is the cemetery with a large sign signaling the Confederate gravesite.
The battle that was fought here actually happened in the cemetery of the small town of Brices Cross Roads. What a strange and poignant juxtaposition of fighting a battle in a cemetery as they were fighting to survive while being so surrounded by the reminder of death. Looking out over the cemetery you see the damage to the headstones from the battle with some bullet holes in some while others have been broken to pieces.
Past the cemetery is the Confederate graves with rows and rows of white headstones with the flags of the Confederate states waving behind them. One headstone was dedicated to the unknown US solider, while another one was dedicated to the unknown Confederate solider. The flag of the Confederacy waved from another headstone. It was a very moving cemetery, one that gave a glimpse into the other side of the Civil War.
Elvis Presley Birthplace
When you think of Elvis, the first thought usually goes to Memphis and his created world of Graceland. But before becoming the King, young Elvis first picked up a guitar in his hometown of Tupelo. No visit to Tupelo would be complete without paying homage to the humble beginnings of this legend at the Elvis Presley Birthplace. Visitors can see the small house where Elvis was born and where he spent his formative years.
The small church was Elvis attended with his family was moved onto the property. It was here in this church where his music career began as he sang gospel music that would be a lasting influence in his life. There is a statue of young Elvis with his first guitar.
There is a large gift shop where visitors can book guided tours through the house and church of Elvis. There are rows of display cases with the memorabilia of Elvis during his career. The man was an icon and that adoration of him has continued in the pride and care they have given to this park.
The park takes visitors up a tiered grassy area to the memorial at the top where stands Elvis as the world knew him and the young boy as he was here in Tupelo. Elvis would leave Tupelo and go on to becoming one of the most well known and well loved artists. But he never forgot where he came from and throughout his life continued to support the community and the people of Tupelo.
For more Elvis sights throughout the city go and visit the downtown area where decorated guitar cutouts line the street. One the corner is the Tupelo Hardware store where Elvis bought his first guitar. A large X on the floor marks the exact place where he received the guitar that would put him on his musical path.
In what is now a city park is a statue of Elvis in one of his many performances back in his hometown. A bench near the statue reads simply ‘Elvis was here’ honoring the time and attention that he continued to pay to the city. There is no question that Elvis left his mark on the world and that legacy all started here.
Tombigbee State Park
Our last stop was a walk around the lake at Tombigbee State Park. We loved the lush green trees surrounding the smooth waters of the lake. This is a popular place to canoe and fish with the still waters below and the blue Mississippi sky above.
Our day in Tupelo was at an end but we could not have asked for a better visit to this corner of Mississippi with historic trails, Civil War battlefields, burgers from the Neon Pig, and of course all things Elvis.
If you have enjoyed this visit to Tupelo, then you may be interested in some of these other southern towns:
Thanks for coming along on this visit to Tupelo, Mississippi. May you always remember where you come from and carry it with you wherever you go.