Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Southern Blue Ridge

This week, I started reading Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, some 20 years after its initial publication.  This highly acclaimed novel is set in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains during the Civil War; much to my delight, it is accompanied by a map of that region, an area through which I have travelled on many occasions.

Before getting too far into the novel, I decided to review the topography of the Southern Blue Ridge, with specific attention to its major rivers.  The mountains themselves stretch along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, extending into northwestern South Carolina and northern Georgia; their highest summit is Mt. Mitchell (6684 ft.), in North Carolina.  This swath of highlands is bordered by the Ridge and Valley Province, to its north and west, and the Southeastern Piedmont to its south and east.  The eastern section of the Southern Blue Ridge is drained by the Watauga River, flowing northward to the Holston River, and the Catawba River, flowing southward past Charlotte and then through South Carolina.  The central section (harboring Great Smoky Mountains National Park) is primarily drained by the French Broad River, which rises near the South Carolina border and flows northward past Asheville, eventually merging with the Holston to form the Tennessee River east of Knoxville; among its major tributaries are the Pigeon and the Little Pigeon Rivers (Cold Mountain, 6030 ft., rises between the East and West Forks of the Pigeon River).  Upper tributaries of the Savannah River drain the southern portion of the central section and the Little Tennessee River rises just west of the French Broad headwaters, flowing northwestward to join the Tennessee downstream from Knoxville.

Finally, the western section of the Southern Blue Ridge is drained by the Hiwassee River, which flows WNW to join the Tennessee upstream of Chattanooga, and the upper tributaries of the Coosa and Chattahoochee Rivers, which flow southwestward through northern Georgia.  Now I can read the novel with a better understanding of its natural setting.