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The Mississippi River system was the highway of the western part of the Confederate and United States At the beginning of the war the South controlled the Mississippi from Cairo Illinois where the Ohio emptied into the Mississippi to New Orleans There were several important rebel strongholds along the Mississippi including Memphis Island Number Ten on the Tennessee-Kentucky border and Vicksburg Mississippi The Union realized that controlling the Mississippi River system was essential to their strategy because doing so would separate Texas Arkansas and Most of Louisiana from the rest of the South which would limit troops and supplies from these western states Having realized the importance of controlling the western rivers the Union then realized that it needed an inland navy to do this successfully The North commissioned James B Eads who had made a fortune before the war raising sunken ships from the Mississippi to build ironclads specially designed for rivers These Eads ironclads were designed by Samuel M Pook They were paddle boats with most of their armor and heavy guns in the front with thinner iron plating and smaller guns on the sides Eads built seven such ironclads for the Union By the end of the war the North had begun building twenty-four riverine ironclads and had commissioned twenty-two of them The first task of this fleet of ironclads was to take Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers respectively General Ulysses S Grant USA and Commodore Andrew H Foote USN who where in command of the western front of the war at the time had planned for Footes Flotilla as the group of ironclads were called to shell the forts and for the land forces to move in Fort Henry was taken with ease on Feb 6 1862 before the
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