The Civil War in Missouri

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The Artifact Gallery was made possible by a generous gift from the William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, Trustee.

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River Blockade Chain

MHM Collections

In the fall and winter of 1861, Confederate forces took advantage of the strategic position of the high ground overlooking the Mississippi River near Columbus, Kentucky, by establishing fortifications on the bluffs and installing 140 cannons. A large chain, held in place on one end by a four-ton anchor, was extended across the river to prevent the passage of Union gunboats. General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding Union troops in southeast Missouri, wrote, “The rebels have a chain across the river about one mile above Columbus. It is sustained by flats at intervals, the chain passing through staples placed about the water’s edge, the chain passing under the boats. Between each pair of boats a torpedo [mine] is attached to the chain, which is expected to explode by concussion. An experiment was made with one of these machines about ten days ago by directing a coal boat against it. The experiment ended satisfactorily to the enemy.” The chain sank on its own because of its heavy weight and the river current, and by March 1862, Federal troops had taken over the Confederate stronghold at Columbus.