CUMBERLAND RIVER, a large southern branch of the Ohio river, U.S.A., rising in the highest part of the Cumberland plateau in south-east Kentucky, and emptying into the Ohio in Kentucky (near Smithland) after a devious course of 688 m. through that state and Tennessee. It drains a basin of somewhat more than 18,000 sq. m., and is navigable for light-draught steamers through about 500 m. under favourable conditions Burnside, Pulaski county, 518 m. from the mouth, is the head of navigation and through 193 m. to Nashville all the year round; for boats drawing not more than 3 ft. the river is navigable to Nashville for 6 to 8 months. At the Great Falls, in Whitley county, Kentucky, it drops precipitously 63 ft. Above the falls it is a mountain stream, of little volume in the dry months. It descends rapidly at its head to the highland bench below the mountains and traverses this to the falls, then flows in rapids (the Great Shoals) for some 10 m. through a fine gorge with cliffs 300-400 ft. high, and descends between bluffs of decreasing height and beauty into its lower level. Save in the mountains its gradient is slight, and below the falls, except for a number of small rapids, the flow of the stream is equable. Timbered ravines lend charm to much of its shores, and in the mountains the scenery is most beautiful. Below Nashville the stream is some 400 to 500 ft. wide, and its high banks are for the most part of alluvium, with rocky bluffs at intervals. At the mouth of the river lies Cumberland Island, in the Ohio. During low water of the latter stream the Cumberland discharges around both ends of the island, but in high water of the Ohio the gradient of the Cumberland is so slight that its waters are held back, forming a deep quiet pool that extends some 20 m. up the river. A system of locks and dams below Nashville was planned in 1846 by a private company, which accomplished practically nothing. Congress appropriated $155,000 in 1832-1838; in the years immediately after 1888 $305,000 was expended, notably for deepening the shoals at the junction of the Cumberland and the Ohio; in 1892 a project was undertaken for 7 locks and dams 52 ft. wide and 280 ft. long below Nashville. Above Nashville $346,000 was expended on the open channel project (of 1871-1872) from Nashville to Cumberland Ford (at Pineville) ; in 1886 a canalization project was undertaken and 22 locks and dams below Burnside and 6 above Burnside were planned, but by the act of 1907 the project was modified $2,319,000 had been appropriated up to 1908 for the work of canalization. During the Civil War Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, and Fort Henry near by on the Tennessee were erected by the Confederates, and their capture by Flagofficer A. H. Foote and General Grant (Feb. 1862) was one of the decisive events of the war, opening the rivers as it did for the advance of the Union forces far into Confederate Territory.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)