Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Harpeth Shoals - Hazardous Navigation

Marker ID:  
Location: 1190 Dozier Boat Dock Road, Charlotte, TN
County: Dickson
Coordinates: N 36° 18.22    W 087° 9.209
  36.30366666    -87.15348333
Waymark: None


After the fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862, Federal forces gained control of Nashville and transported most of their supplies to the city via the Cumberland River. Extending for five miles along the river here, the Harpeth Shoals made navigation hazardous. The rough waters gave Confederate guerrillas an opportunity to disrupt the Union supply line. In 1862 and 1863, Confederate Col. Thomas G. Woodward’s partisans frequently attacked Union shipping at the Shoals. Federal commanders sent frequent patrols to the area, but their poorly equipped cavalry and the guerrillas’ ability to disperse rapidly thwarted Union attempts to control the Shoals effectively.

On January 13, 1863, Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry established positions nearby and ambushed Union ships. Wheeler’s men destroyed two Union hospital ships, USS Trio and Parthenia, and one gunboat before retiring. Federal authorities sent large patrols to intercept Wheeler’s force, but they were unsuccessful. Union Gen. William S. Rosecrans complained a month later that the attacks represented “inhuman violations of the rules of civilized warfare by the rebel authorities” that revealed the “barbarism of these rebel leaders.” Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg asked authorities to promote Wheeler “as a just reward to distinguished merit.”

Federal forces resumed construction of the unfinished Nashville and Northwestern Railroad in 1863. Completed in May 1864, the rail line transported Union supplies into Nashville, thereby negating the navigational hazards of Harpeth Shoals. Confederate guerrillas mounted no more attacks on the Cumberland River in this area following the completion of the railroad.