Saturday, March 10, 2012

Steaming Upriver, Mar 10, 1862

It was an uncommonly wet spring along the Tennessee River in 1862.  The river and it's tributaries were above flood stage.  Since the Tennessee flows northward on it's course from Alabama to the Ohio, the current was  strongly against the Union flotilla as they headed south.  This was not a problem for the soldiers on board as they were in no hurry to get to wherever they were going.  While on their cruise, the men enjoyed singing, gambling, reading the "dime novels" that were becoming so popular and simply watching the scenery go by while chatting with old friends.  All boats had been loaded to capacity, but the volunteers from Kentucky had the best accomodations in the fleet.

As they passed the alternating landscapes of fertile farmland and rolling hills, the flotilla must have been an amazing site for the volunteers, many of whom had never even seen a large city before.  They were familiar with the comparatively smaller steamboats that travelled the Green River back home, but had never seen more than a few at one time.  Now they were part of this great armada of 27,000 men, dozens of batteries of artillery and hundreds of horses among the 95 steamboats of all sizes and descriptions.

This spectacle must have impressed the Tennessee residents even more than the Union troops on board.  Loyalties in their state were divided, but the middle and western portions were decidedly more pro-secessionist.   The troops were surprised at the numbers of civilians that came to the shoreline waving and shouting excitedly, and returned the warm welcome.  They failed to realize that this welcome was mainly cover for the southern citizens to track the troop movement and estimate their strength, which information was rapidly passed to the nearest Confederate officer.

       Modern view of the Tennessee River from Savannah, TN looking toward the north
        Photo by the author- all rights reserved.

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