Continuing along the Mississippi River, our first stop is New Madrid, Missouri. Founded in 1788 by American frontiersmen and having a long history, the area is best known for being the site of a series of over 1,000 earthquakes in 1811 and 1812, which ranged up to magnitude 8, the most powerful earthquake recorded in the United States and was felt as far away as the East Coast.
The earthquakes began in December, 1811 and continued through February of 1812. The first earthquake caused only slight damage to man-made structures, mainly because the region was so sparsly populated. However, as the earthquakes continued, they began to open deep cracks in the ground, created landslides on the steeper bluffs and hillsides, large areas of land were uplifted, and sizable sink areas were created. The earthquake was so strong, it is said that the Mississippi River ran backwards. The original townsite of New Madrid now lies under the Mississippi River.
The city is also remembered as being the nearby location for the Mississippi River military engagement, the Battle of Island Number Ten, during the Civil War.
The town moved and rebuilt but the Mighty Mississippi steadily encroached upon the town and movement away from the water continued until the early 1890's when the bank was finally stabilized with mats and rock.
Today, this small town of about 3,500 souls is the county seat of New Madrid County. Now, its citizens can only wonder when the great New Madrid Fault will shake their world again. Though earthquakes cannot be predicted, if and when another occurs, it could result in the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States, spreading damage across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee.
After touring the New Madrid Historical Museum and the Mississippi River Overlook, we begin to head south to Tennessee. I am very excited as I have not spent time in the "Volunteer State." Our first stop is at a Tennessee Welcome Center, where we get our first indication that this trip just might not be what I had in mind. As we pick up maps and brochures, the points us to a monitor that is showing area flooding and places to avoid. It doesn't look bad in the western part of the state, so we continue with our plans and head on down the highway.
Our first stop is the Fort Pillow State Park located in Lauderdale County on the Chickasaw Bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Alas, all we will see of the park is the overlook over the river, as the historic is closed due to flooding. Not a good sign for the rest of our journey. Fort Pillow was a Confederat fort built in 1861. Due to its strategic location, the fort was attacked and captured by the Union Army in May, 1862. Later, the site became the location for the terrible Fort Pillow Massacre on April 12, 1864. The Confederate victory resulted in the killing of 229 black and white Union soldiers out of 262 engaged in the battle, after they had already surrendered.
We then make our way back to the highway, heading south. It is beginning to rain very hard and the poor town of Millington, which was hit hard during the "1,000 year flood." It is already showing troublesome signs with parking lots filled with water. Before we get to our Memphis, northbound Highway 51 is under water and by the time we reach our hotel, both sides of the highway are closed to flooding. We were lucky to be ahead of the weather, or so we think at the time. Later that night, the tornado sirens are blaring. In the end, we, along with the rest of the Memphis area are safe. However, the weather in Tennessee changes our plans.