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The day after the Fort Donelson hike with historian Tim Smith, a few of us ventured out to the site of Fort Henry along the Tennessee River (now Kentucky Lake). This was my first time visiting the area, and I certainly hope it won't be my last. If you've heard folks talk about how beautiful is the Land Between the Lakes, there's a very good reason. And the history speaks for itself. Part of that history is the incredibly unfortunate location of Fort Henry. There are reasons that explain why the fort was situated where it was, but none of them change the fact that it was a lousy spot for a fort. The number one problem - and number two, three, four, and counting problems - was very simply that the ground near the river chosen for the fort was far too low, and prone to flooding. "Fort," "river," and "flooding" should never go together in the same sentence, especially if you're basically depending on that fort to protect the entire length of the river behind it. But that was the situation at Fort Henry. Perhaps it's fitting then, if somewhat sad, that when the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed up the Tennessee River in the 1920's and 30's to create Kentucky Lake, what remained of Fort Henry was forever submerged beneath the waves. The only thing left above water are some of the outer trench works. Here's an image from Google Maps, showing the approximate modern-day location of Fort Henry (on the right) and also Fort Heiman (on the left, on the Kentucky side of the river). It probably goes without saying that the Epic Crayon Drawings are not exactly to scale... And here is an absolutely beautiful painting titled "Battle of Fort Henry," by a talented artist named Andy Thomas. I'll provide a link to his website at the end of this article, as he deserves the credit for one thing, and he has a number of other paintings that you will most assuredly want to see for another. But this is probably what the fort looked like at the time of the Union gunboat attack. You can see what everyone means when they describe this fort as being flood-prone... In fact, when the fort finally surrendered, the Union officers accepting the surrender actually entered the fort in a boat, rather than on foot. Two days later, the entire thing was underwater. I still can't decide if that's funny, or sad. Even though the modern-day Tennessee shoreline isn't the same as in 1862, you can still get a sense of how problematic the location was for the defenders when you visit there today. Here's a picture I took during our November visit. My best-guess is that this is looking right into the heart of where the fort would have been. Note how flat the shoreline is, and compare it to the Andy Thomas painting above... Here's another view, with more Epic Crayon Drawings. The yellow line is supposed to represent the fort (not to scale - as if you couldn't tell ) and the red circle shows the location of a navigation buoy in the river, marking the approximate northwest corner of Fort Henry. So you can use that to gauge where the fort was, and roughly how large it was... Here's a view of the much better situated Fort Heiman, across the Tennessee River from Fort Henry. I've labeled the fort's location. Even though it's a fair-distance away, compare the shoreline with that around Fort Henry. Simply put, there is no comparison. Jumping across the river, here's another incredible Andy Thomas painting titled "The View from Fort Heiman," looking back at Fort Henry from Fort Heiman during the gunboat attack... And finally, here's a very rough approximation of that same view today... Note that you can only get this particular view after descending a pretty steep embankment, so be very careful if you decide to try it. I'd rough-guess it to be about a 45-degree angle about halfway down, and then a sheer drop the rest of the way, just below where I took the picture from. I'm stubborn, which is why I tried it, but just be aware that I'm most assuredly not recommending anyone else do the same thing. If you do, proceed at your own stubborn risk. All in all it was a great visit, and very instructive. It isn't really any different from what we've read, but as is usually the case, seeing the ground in person gives you a greater appreciation for what the folks had to deal with at the time, all those years ago. Here's a link to Andy Thomas' main website. I promise you won't be sorry you checked out his paintings: http://www.andythomas.com/ You can view his Civil War paintings here: http://www.andythomas.com/civilwarprints.aspx And his Fort Donelson, Fort Henry, and Fort Heiman paintings can be found here: http://www.andythomas.com/fortdonelson.aspx Perry
Because of the persistent flooding of the Tennessee River, and the expanse of water-logged terrain in vicinity of Union-controlled Fort Henry, that position was deemed unsuitable for loading significant numbers of troops. So, when the time arrived for the thousands of Federal troops camped in vicinity of Union-held Fort Donelson to "march to the Tennessee River and board steamers for the Expedition" (ultimately destined for Pittsburg Landing), those troops were not marched to Fort Henry; instead, they took the Ridge Road until three miles west of the Furnace, turned left, and continued southwest to Metal Landing (a point on the Tennessee River about three miles south of Fort Henry.) The first Federal troops to reach Metal Landing belonged to Brigadier General McClernand, arrived about March 4th. As steamers arrived, they were loaded, then joined the convoy led by Brigadier General Sherman's new division (dispatched from Paducah, and protected by a timberclad gunboat.) To expedite loading of soldiers at Metal Landing, Colonel Jacob Lauman was sent on detached duty from the Second Division, to act as Transport Organizer (Lauman was in place by March 10th.) And on March 13th, with the Federal troops mostly departed, Metal Landing was deemed suitable for holding Army livestock: pens were ordered constructed that could hold 1000 head of cattle. Metal Landing remained in use through the build-up of forces at Pittsburg Landing. Ozzy References: Papers of US Grant volume 4, pages 312, 322, 323, 342, 351 and 356. [Map showing Metal Landing south of Fort Henry, from Papers of US Grant, volume 4.]
From OR (Navy) SN 33, Volume 22. page 797 comes a letter written by G. A. Henry to General A. S. Johnston, dateline 'Clarksville, Tenn., November 1st, 1861,' detailing confidence in the ability of Fort Henry to protect access to the Tennessee River. [Click on link, below.] Ozzy http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;idno=ofre0022;node=ofre0022%3A3;view=image;seq=827;size=100;page=root