The Tennessee River is the foundation of the economy in many communities along its banks. In addition to the cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga, many smaller towns owe their existence to the river. Savannah is a community which started at a crossing of the big river that has been used for hundreds of years. A monumental bridge today replaces the ferries of yesterday.
The Native Americans used the crossing at Savannah for centuries before the settlers adopted it, but the river itself was the super highway of the ancient people. Numerous villages were located along the stream. People traveled from town to town by dugout canoe. Some of these villages were quite large and contained earthworks such as mounds. There was a large habitation on the Duck River, just before the point where it joins the Tennessee, and another on a bluff within the Shiloh National Military Park. In Savannah, The Tennessee River Museum does an excellent job telling the story of the Native Americans and the other history of the river communities.
Savannah was also where Union General Ulysses S. Grant, at his headquarters in the Cherry Mansion, heard the sounds of battle coming from Pittsburg Landing, 8 miles upstream. The Battle of Shiloh, with its 23,000 causalities, was when America woke up to the reality of the Civil War in 1862. The Union paid a horrible price to gain control of the precious riverboat highway. As the National Park Services notes, the battle of Shiloh had more casualties “than all of America’s previous wars combined.” The importance of this waterway for the Civil War will continue as a theme during Andreas’ swim up the river.