Confederates Battle to Save Fort Henry on Tennessee River

Tennessee River, Cumberland River sites of forts erected by Confederates; Fort Henry battle detailed in book.

| Good Old Days

Journalist Charles Carleton Coffin includes in my treasured heirloom book, “From My Days And Nights On the Battlefield,” a chapter entitled "The Capture of Fort Henry." His descriptive detail, as well as the military movements, provide an unforgettable picture. The Confederates erected two forts on the northern line of Tennessee, one on the Tennessee River (Fort Henry), another on the Cumberland River, to prevent Union troops from reaching the heart of the Confederacy via water.

The Union realized that "a fleet of gunboats would be needed on the Western rivers, and Capt. Andrew H. Foote of the Navy was placed in charge of their construction. They were built in Cincinnati and St. Louis, and taken to Cairo (Illinois), where they received their crews, armament and outfit."

Writer Coffin gives a picturesque account of Cairo of that day. "(Cairo) is a modem town of several thousand inhabitants on the tongue of land at the mouth of the Ohio. Let us look at the place as it appeared on the first day of February, 1862. Stand with me on the levee. There are from 50 to 100 steamboats lying along the bank, with volumes of black smoke rolling up from their tall chimneys. Among them are gunboats, a cross between a floating fort, a dredging machine and a mud-scow. The sailors call them ‘mud-turkles.’

"There are thousands of soldiers on the steamboats and on the shore, waiting for the sailing of the expedition, which is to make an opening in the line of Rebel defenses; thousands of people busy as bees loading and unloading steamboats, rolling barrels and boxes. Thousands of men and thousands of mules and horses.

"It is Sunday. A sweet day of rest in peaceful times, but in war there is not much observance of the Sabbath. It is midwinter, but a south wind sweeps up the Mississippi, so mild and balmy that the bluebirds and robins are out. Steamboats are crowded with troops, waiting for orders to sail, they know not where.

"The shops are open, the soldiers are purchasing knickknacks, tobacco, pipes, paper and pens to send letters to loved ones far away. At a gingerbread stall, a half-dozen are taking lunch. The oyster saloons are crowded. Boys are crying their newspapers.

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