Tennessee River

Navigable river, Tennessee, northern Alabama, and western Kentucky, U.S. Formed by the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers in eastern Tennessee, it flows 652 mi (1,049 km) before joining the Ohio River in Kentucky.

During the American Civil War it served as a strategic invasion route into the western Confederacy. Its development as one of the world's greatest irrigation and hydropower systems began with the establishment in 1933 of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Tennessee River is linked to the Tombigbee River by the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

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      central component of one of the world's greatest irrigation and hydropower systems and a major waterway of the southeastern United States. It is formed by the confluence of the Holston (Holston River) and French Broad (French Broad River) rivers, just east of Knoxville, Tennessee, and flows south-southwest to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Turning west through the Cumberland Plateau into northeastern Alabama, it continues across northern Alabama and bends north on the boundary between Alabama and Mississippi. Continuing north through Tennessee and then Kentucky, it joins the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky, after a U-shaped course of 886 miles (1,426 km). Its drainage basin covers about 40,910 square miles (105,960 square km).

      The name of the river may have come from a Cherokee Indian village located on the Little Tennessee River and spelled variously Tanase, Tennassee, Tanasi, or Tinasse. The Tennessee was explored during the period of rivalry between the French and the English for the territory west of the Appalachians, and a few small forts and posts were established on its banks. Earlier, explorers and fur traders had entered the lower course of the river from the Ohio River. Although the Tennessee served as a route for settlers moving southwestward, its role as a westward passage was negligible compared with that of the Ohio.

      Originally, the Tennessee could be navigated only by flatboats. Its upper course was shallow and filled with short rapids. Its middle course, through the Cumberlands, contained whirlpools and was interrupted by Muscle Shoals (rapids, now submerged by reservoirs) in Alabama. Only its lower course was easily navigable, but the advent of the railroads in the Tennessee River valley after the 1840s kept river traffic from assuming the significance it had on other western and more easily navigated rivers.

      The river's north-flowing lower course was strategically important during the American Civil War, for its valley offered an invasion route into the western Confederacy. Part of the course downstream is paralleled by the Cumberland River. The Confederate forts Henry (Fort Henry, Battle of) (on the Tennessee) and Donelson (Fort Donelson, Battle of) (on the Cumberland) were only 12 miles (19 km) apart. General Ulysses S. Grant's Federal army, accompanied by gunboats, struck southward in the Tennessee River valley in February 1862. The Confederate forces fell back to Corinth, Mississippi, and the Federal troops moved almost to Tennessee state's southern boundary, where the Battle of Shiloh (Shiloh, Battle of) (Pittsburgh Landing) was fought (April 6–7, 1862).

      The development of the river system as an important inland waterway began in 1933 with the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The Tennessee now has a series of locks and reservoirs impounded by multipurpose dams for navigation, power, and flood control. The mainstream dams include the Kentucky (1944); Pickwick Landing (1938) in Tennessee; Wilson (1925), Wheeler (1936), and Guntersville (1939) in Alabama; and Hales Bar (1913), Chickamauga (1940), Watts Bar (1942), and Fort Loudoun (1943) in Tennessee. Its chief tributaries, besides the Holston and French Broad, are the Little Tennessee (Little Tennessee River), Hiwassee (Hiwassee River), Paint Rock, Duck, and Ocoee (Ocoee River) (Toccoa) rivers, all entering from a southerly direction; and the Clinch (Clinch River), Flint, Sequatchie, and Elk (Elk River) rivers from a northerly direction. The main riparian cities are Chattanooga and Knoxville in Tennessee and Florence in Alabama.

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Universalium. 2010.

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