Posts Tagged With: steamships


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Alex Hayley and Fort Donelson  are not related subjects, but when we passed through Savannah, Tennessee earlier this week, we visited the Cherry Mansion which was a Confederate household taken over by General U.S. Grant. It also had another history as its earlier owner, Rudd,  built a ferry here to cross the Tennessee River. Who worked for Rudd? Alex Haley, grandfather of Alex Haley, the writer who wrote Roots and Queen.

As a young hopeful novelist in the 1970’s, I attended a workshop in San Jose, CA. and met Alex Haley with his first new book, Roots,  just hitting the shelves. It was an exciting and riveting speech he gave about his book and I could have bought an autographed copy, but  raising young kids, money was short and I opted to wait for the paperback version, a decision I’ve always regretted.

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His second book, Queen was about this woman, his grandmother who was born to an African slave mother and a white plantation son named Jackson on the Cypress Plantation in Alabama.  She was given his name of Jackson and after the war married Alex Haley. She worked at the Cherry Mansion. The writer, Alex Haley was raised by these grandparents and heard the slave stories at his grandmother’s knee.

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The Rudd ferry landing.

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The bridge that replaced the ferry. Near the river park in Savannah is Queen and the two Alex Haley’s graves.

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We’ve moved upriver to Clarkesville, Tennessee where Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were located, straddling the river, two pivotal battles in the war. The Confederates knew  Fort Henry was vulnerable and decided to concentrate their power on Fort Donelson. The Confederate Generals were inexperienced and untrained in warfare of any kind, nor did they agree on strategy. They had the advantage and without their mistakes, U.S. Grant may not have been the big winner who went on to Shiloh as a hero after taking the two forts.   It helps to see a map of the states surrounding Tennessee if you aren’t from this area.

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The fort’s cannon were positioned high on this hill where the gun mounds are still evident. They learned from the taking of Fort Henry by the bombarding Iron Clads that the cannon were too high aground to be effective.


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They moved their cannon closer to the water and waited for the Iron Clads.

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They could see their smoke stacks from a distance and were ready for them, seriously wounding three of them before the battle by land, where General Grant, actually took the fort. They had to surrender unconditionally as per Grant’s conditions and he was ever after called Unconditional Surrender Grant. He was fair and honorable to his fellow Confederate Americans and the 11,000 prisoners were considered among the lucky ones.

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Early sailors were called Blue Boys. They may not have realized they were part of a new branch of the U.S. Government to come, the U.S. Navy.

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Steamers carried men and equipment up and down the river “roads” deep into the south after Tennessee was opened up to the Union and the supply lines for the Confederates compromised.

Confederate Garrison cabins with tent roofs built for winter.

The Confederate garrison had about 400 little cabins like this with a tent roof to help the men make it through the coming winter, which was brutal. The visitor center has a good 15 minute film explaining the battle and picture exhibits as well. The drive to all the sites at the National Battlefield is an easy drive of about 2 miles.

eagles nest

The battlefield “hosts” an eagle’s nest, just like Shiloh. This one is closer to the road, but for the first time in 12 years, the eagle pair had no chicks and there was no activity. Signs around  warn not to attempt to feed eagles. A Fed Eagle Is A Dead Eagle. Visitors love the idea of National Battlefields being home to our National Bird.


Ulysses S. Grant was best friends in West Point with General Simon B. Buckner  who chose the Confederate side to fight. After the Union was reassembled and Grant had served as President, his old friend came to him and they shook hands and discussed the healing of a nation. Grant was  very moved by his old friend’s gesture.General Simon B. Buckner


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War makes unexpected heroes. Meet Mary Bickerdyke, a revered nurse.

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Healing between north and south did come but with great inequality to African-Americans who were deprived of their Civil Rights, including the right to vote, and marginalized by Jim Crow Laws until the 1960’s.

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A Confederate Flag.

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Items a soldier might carry into battle.

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An interesting stop that can be enjoyed by someone who is limited in their walking ability.

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As we move up the Tennessee River, through the river towns, signs explain we are traveling the Tennessee River Trail and much of that trail has to do with the Civil War. We spent an hour at the Savannah Museum and it was very comprehensive and well done. Well worth a visit for anyone passing through. It is divided into prehistoric history and early Native American history. Both of which I skimmed through except to say that flat Tennessee was an alluvial plain and shells and fossils are only 15 to 30 feet deep in their soil. Also from Tennessee 450 Chickasaw families were rounded up and made to follow the infamous Trail of Tears to Oklahoma Territory along with 16,000 Cherokees.

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Along  the river, and nearby Savannah are some old Indian Mounds if you like archaeology. They are just mounds of earth but once resembled the photo above; ceremonial altars, honorable places for a chief to live.

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All river towns have a steamboat history which was pretty exciting. Savannah has a steamboat logo for the town stamped in the sidewalks and on every sign and letterhead.

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Joshua C. Stoddard invented the Calliope and every steamboat on the river had to have one. Made of from 8 to 56 graduated steam whistles the music could be heard for miles in every direction. Children squealed and screamed, dogs barked and grownups smiled and held their breath with excitement as all made a mad dash to the river to meet passengers, pick up their mail or goods.

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The graceful old paddle-wheelers like this one were made on the Ohio river. It is obvious from this museum that rivers were the major roads of the day, with danger, excitement, and goods  traded up and down the river.

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Steamboats came before train bridges. They carried trains across the river to the tracks on the opposite side. The displays explain the dangers and disasters that happened to them, hitting snags, or boiler fires, accidental rammings, and running aground on sandbars.DSC05166 (Copy)

A steamboat needed a compass, whistle and a list indicator. I don’t know why that amused me, it is so simple.

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And those speaking pipes we saw on the old movies with submarines?  They were first used on steamships. You can whisper down this tube and your partner can hear it on the upper or lower deck.

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Then there was war. The Iron Clads had six cannon per side and could guard the banks, deliver men and supplies to the battle. Many forts were built along rivers and the ships  played a vital role in the Civil War. Before the Iron Clads were built, regular steamers were outfitted with rail road iron three-quarters inch thick above the water line and special protection for her boilers.They were called Tinclads..

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On land, within 300 yards, cannon were very effective. They could shoot two rounds per minute and a station of six cannon could pour about 9,700 balls at the enemy in two minutes. The balls could mow down small trees and expose soldiers cover. The history of this area cannot be told without the horrors of the Civil War.

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A gruesome task made real.

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Bedford was a hero. (Click to enlarge)

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The City of Savannah has this to say about heroes posted on their war memorial near City Hall.

We visited City Hall, and drove by the River Park. More about that tomorrow.

After asking three people about where to enjoy good food, we got the same answer all three times:  The Hickory Pit for barbeque and Hakes for fish. Hakes wasn’t open on Tuesday and since chicken was served at “The Pit” we enjoyed a great lunch.

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Hickory smoked chicken and green fried tomatoes for me. Fried potato skins  served with REAL bacon,cheesse,  green onions and ranch dressing or sour cream and half a smoked chicken. Delicious. I asked was there a local specialty in the area. The waitress said no, but the menu was definitely a mine of specialties that may not seem special to her.

Deep fried dill pickles, green beans, mushrooms, mozzarella sticks, and corn nuggets. You can get chicky  and pig frys, which are french frys with pulled pork or chicken on top. And neon frys with cheese and meat on top. They offered nine different vegetables with okra, slaw and just about anything else you can think of.  And, the tomatoes and potato skins are nicely flavored, not over dependent on salt, home-made, delicious and all given with excellent service. Stop in and enjoy this very southern restaurant. (The southern accent is a bonus.)

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