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The Tennessee River is the largest tributary of the Ohio River. It is approximately 652 miles (1049 km) long and is located in the southeastern United States in the Tennessee Valley. The river was once popularly known as the Cherokee River, among other names.
The Tennessee River is formed at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers on the east side of Knoxville, Tennessee. From Knoxville, it flows southwest through East Tennessee toward Chattanooga before crossing into Alabama. It loops through northern Alabama and eventually forms a small part of the state's border with Mississippi, before returning to Tennessee. At this point, it defines the boundary between Tennessee's other two Grand Divisions: Middle and West Tennessee. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project providing navigation on the Tombigbee River and a link to the Port of Mobile, enters Tennessee near the Tennessee-Alabama-Mississippi boundary. This waterway reduces the navigation distance from Tennessee, north Alabama, and northern Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico by hundreds of miles. The final part of the Tennessee's run is in Kentucky, where it separates the Jackson Purchase from the rest of the state. It then flows into the Ohio River at Paducah, Kentucky. It is one of a very few rivers in the United States which leave a state and then re-enter it; the Cumberland River is another such river.