This illustration depicts Cairo, Illinois, probably during the late
1840s or early 1850s. Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi
Rivers, Cairo seemed on the brink of becoming a major commercial center
in the years before the Civil War. During the conflict Union armies
made the city a major supply depot and the home of troops awaiting deployment
in the western theater. But Cairo was never able to overcome the challenges
posed by its low-lying position, which made the city susceptible to
devastating floods, and remained a minor river town.