Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pickwick, Tennessee and Shiloh Battlefield

September 24-25, 2012

Pickwick Lock was our first lock in over two weeks, and our first on the Tennessee River. As most of us learned in school, the Tennessee Valley Authority was created in the 1930s as part of the New Deal, and one of the TVA’s first projects was the construction of dams on the Tennessee River.  In a part of the country hit especially hard by the Great Depression, the project created tens of thousands of jobs, brought electricity to an entire region and helped prevent devastating seasonal floods.  On the other hand, entire towns were destroyed and families displaced when the dams put much of the valley under water. We noticed on our navigational charts an unusual number of cemeteries on the hills bordering the river. We wondered whether it was the custom years ago to establish cemeteries on top of hills, or whether old cemeteries had been removed to higher ground before the valleys were flooded.  We learned that in most cases, it was the latter.

A probably unintended by-product of the TVA project was the creation of a series of beautiful lakes that are enjoyed today by thousands of fishermen and pleasure boaters. Cruising from Pickwick to Chattanooga or even to Knoxville has become a popular side trip for Great Loopers. Over the next several weeks, Blue Heron would cruise up to Chattanooga and back to Pickwick before starting south down the Tombigbee Waterway.

As we neared the end of Kentucky Lake and approached the Pickwick Dam, we experienced some turbulence in the water and a strong current pushing against us, approximately four knots. We later learned from the TVA staff at the dam that all six generators at the dam were operating that day.

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We emerged from Pickwick Lock into Pickwick Lake, a pretty and popular area. The dam, the lock and the lake took their names from the nearby community which in the late 1880s was named after Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers. Today there are a lot of large homes lining the lakefront.

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Just a few miles into the lake and around the corner in Yellow Creek, we pulled into Grand Harbor marina where we would stay for a couple of days.  It’s in an interesting location.  At the dock, we are in Tennessee.  Just across the creek is Mississippi, and the hills on the far end are in Alabama.

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Soon after we arrived, we were followed by Native Son and Cbay. We were happy to join in the celebration as Cbay crossed her wake and Rusty and Jan became the newest Gold Loopers.  We have witnessed so many wake crossings in the last month or so that we’re beginning to worry there may be no one left when we finish next spring!


That evening, Rusty celebrated with an enormous Mexican hot pot of some sort. He liked it!


The next day Craig and I borrowed the marina car and spent several hours visiting the Shiloh National Military Park, site of the Battle of Shiloh that took place 150 years ago on April 6-7, 1862. We have commented several times on this trip that we seem to be following war trails, beginning with the Revolutionary War and continuing with the War of 1812, through the Chesapeake, up the Hudson, into Canada and even to Mackinac Island. Now we are clearly in Civil War territory.


Shiloh is probably the most dramatic and moving of the battle sites we’ve visited. Today it is a lovely, peaceful spot with hills and valleys, forests and fields and altogether feels more suited to a picnic or bike ride than the bloody battleground it once was. It was one of the early major battles of the war. The Confederates “won” the first day, but the Union army prevailed on the second day, forcing the Confederates into a retreat. It was the bloodiest battle in American history at the time – over 100,000 combatants and nearly 24,000 casualties in two days of fierce fighting.  Americans killing Americans.

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You can tell from the respective burial grounds who controlled the territory at the end.  Union troops are buried in a formal military cemetery. Confederate troops are buried in three or four mass graves.

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The Military Park is also home to the Shiloh Indian Mounds National Historic Landmark. About 800 years ago, this was the site of a village of Native American mound builders.  The mounds are thought to be platforms for important village buildings and a burial ground. Several of the mounds are still visible today.  What a lot of history this stretch of the river has seen!

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Shiloh is an important piece of our country’s history, and we would highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in this part of the world.

After a somber afternoon at Shiloh, we finished off the day with a fun dinner at Freddy T’s with Rusty and Jan from Cbay and Rich and Merry K from Native Son, along with their visiting friends.


Next, continuing on up the Tennessee River.

(Real-time update: On October 14, we are still in Guntersville, AL, in the heart of SEC football country. We went to a Presbyterian church here this morning and part of the morning announcements included everyone shouting out yesterday’s scores of their favorite teams.)

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