Tennessee River: Gateway to the Deep South

The Tennessee River was the backbone of the region’s transportation system. The fall of Fort Henry left the river unprotected and opened the heartland of the Confederacy to the Federal navy. On February 6, 1862, Cdr. Seth L. Phelps of the lightly armored gunboat Champion led three timberclad gunboats from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s flotilla on an armed reconnaissance mission upstream past Mousetail Landing. Gunboat Tyler stopped to disable the railroad bridge at Danville, while the other two timberclads pursued fleeing transports loaded with military stores. When escape proved futile, the Confederates blew up the transports. The next night, Phelps’s gunboats discovered a large steamer, Eastport, being converted into a gunboat at Cerro Gordo landing in Hardin County. Gunboat Tyler’s sailors seized the prize while the others pressed on.