During the Civil War rivers and railroads routinely carried soldiers, material, and food to keep the war effort going. The Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were the main arteries that carried the economic lifeblood to the heart of middle Tennessee. Most agricultural and manufactured goods passed through Nashville on the Cumberland River. Tennessee's railroads, which covered most of the state, played a pivotal role in military events west of the Appalachian Mountains throughout the war. Though smaller and not as well-equipped as their northern counterparts, these railroads were able to move masses of people and supplies more rapidly than any previous form of land transport used by Tennesseans.
The surrender of Forts Henry, Heiman, and Donelson severed both river and railroad arteries. This forced the South to evacuate Bowling Green, an important part of the Confederacy's western defense line, and to give up southern Kentucky and ultimately much of the middle and west Tennessee as well. The rivers and railroads became vital Federal supply lines. Nashville became a huge supply depot for the Union armies in the West. The Confederate heartland was opened to Federal invasion.
(Upper left caption):
Unloading supplies from steamboats on the Tennessee River. Steamboats like these could transport a two-day supply of food and other provisions for 40,000 men and 18,000 horses.
(Upper right caption):
As the hub for five railroads, Nashville was a transportation center of great military significance. Its occupation would help clear the way for Union advance into the Deep South. The Tennessee state capitol is seen in the background.