I hope everyone is having a great summer! I’m back from my whirlwind trip to Texas and thought I’d update everyone on some of the highlights.

The trip started out a little shaky when we stopped for a brief break at a rest stop on the first leg of our journey, and my Jeep wouldn’t start. After about an hour and half delay — and meeting some great people outside Lexington, Va. — I had a brand new battery and we were back on our way.

Beale Street in Memphis

We made it a little south of Bristol that first night and then headed for Memphis. It was one of the few nights that we didn’t really do anything Civil War-related, but I still had fun. Though I’m not a huge fan of the Blues, the music was fantastic! There was a band in the park and a different band in almost every bar and restaurant along Beale Street, so what’s not to like?

The musical talent was truly amazing — and so was the food. I had a Shrimp ‘Po Boy sandwich that was out of this world. If you like music and good Southern cooking, you have to visit Memphis.

Ducks at Peabody Hotel leaving the
fountain and heading for the elevator.

As I soon learned, you can’t visit Memphis without going to see the Peabody Duck March. The Peabody is a beautifully ornate hotel, best known for this custom that dates back to the 1930s.

It all began when the general manager at the time returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas. He and his friends found it amusing to leave three of their live English Call Duck decoys in the hotel fountain. When they discovered that guests loved the idea, they kept the ducks, and ever since then, five Mallard ducks (one drake and four hens) have played in the fountain every day.

In 1940, a Bellman by the name of Edward Pembroke volunteered to care for the ducks. Pembroke was given the position of “Duckmaster” and served in that position until 1991. As a former circus animal trainer, he taught the ducks to march into the hotel lobby, which started the famous Peabody Duck March. Now, every day at 11 a.m., crowds gather as the Peabody Ducks are escorted from their penthouse home on the Plantation Roof, to the lobby via an exclusive “duck elevator.”

The ducks, accompanied by the King Cotton March by John Phillip Sousa proceed down a red carpet to the hotel fountain made of a solid block of Italian marble. The ducks are then ceremoniously led back to their penthouse at 5 p.m. It’s quite a show!!

It was hard to leave Memphis, but we loaded up the Jeep and continued our journey the next day to Vicksburg, Miss., one of the Civil War battlefields that has long been on my list to see. Some of you may know that the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War was going on at the same time as the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Sunset over the beautiful
Mississippi River in Vicksburg.

When two major assaults (May 19 and May 22, 1863) against the Confederate fortifications were repulsed with heavy casualties, General Ulysses S. Grant decided to besiege the city beginning on May 25. With no reinforcement, supplies nearly gone, and after holding out for more than forty days, the garrison finally surrendered on July 4 (the day after the end of the Battle of Gettysburg).

This gave control of the Mississippi River to Union forces. Believe it or not, the city of Vicksburg did not celebrate the Fourth of July for eighty years following this loss.

Boats on the Mississippi.

We had a beautiful view of the Mississippi from our balcony and enjoyed watching the tugs and barges go up and down the river. It’s amazing how close to the shore they would come when negotiating the turn.

We also did a little shopping downtown, though it appears the casinos have had a negative impact on that area. Thank goodness we were able to stop gambling from coming to Gettysburg and destroying our tranquil small town!

The Widow Blakely on a bluff
overlooking the Mississippi.

The bluffs that overlook the river are something to see. I can’t imagine trying to run a boat through the river when there was artillery posted on those bluffs — but they did. In fact, the Union soldiers actually acknowledged what great shots the Confederates were with their cannons.

I wanted to drive some of the Natchez Trace and visit Natchez, but the clock was ticking so we started the next leg of our journey to Texas.

This was perhaps my favorite part of the trip because we happened upon the small town of West Monroe, Louisiana and “antique alley.” I most definitely could have spent the entire day there, but I only purchased a few treasures (including a book), and we were back on our way.

After checking into our hotel in Dallas, we drove to Cowboy Stadium to check into the Restoring Love event and visit the different vendors. We bought books and t-shirts and talked to lots of people before dropping off our food donation and heading back to the hotel.

President Lincoln’s writing desk.

The next day was the main Restoring Love event, and it was worth the time and effort to get to Texas. On Friday, more than 34,000 people volunteered in the Dallas community and enough food was collected to send 14 tractor trailer trucks to 11 different cities. It was a one-day feat that has never been attempted and certainly never been pulled off before.

Being an historical fiction author, it was also interesting to see the artifacts that were brought to the event, including General Eisenhower’s helmet from D-Day, President Lincoln’s writing desk, a tree stump from Gettysburg with a cannonball lodged in it, and an exact replica of the Liberty Bell.

People filing into the stadium
for Restoring Love.

It was also a thrill to be in Cowboy Stadium. When they say they everything is “bigger” in Texas, they mean it! It was amazing to see all of those people — from all 50 states and 20 different countries — gathered in one place. The positive energy was palpable and the theme of Restoring Love was easily felt through the music and the words.

During his remarks, Glenn Beck charged the audience with a mission: to commit to making America better than it is today and to improve on the inheritance passed down to the next generation.

I hope I can live up to that challenge!

Jessica James


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