Fort Donelson

Last week I entered the last of the Fort Donelson markers from our late summer trip.  Finally got around to posting the Fort Donelson related set on the Battlefield by Markers page.  I also included links to the marker for Fort Heiman and a set covering Fort Henry.  And there are several more markers out there for those readers who “hunt.”

Congress established Fort Donelson National Military Park in 1928, making it part of a second wave of Civil War battlefields thus preserved.  At the time of transfer to the National Park Service in 1933, the park covered only about 80 acres.  During the depression era, the Army Corps of Engineers transferred 20 more acres including the Lower Water Battery.  (A 1958 report offers more details of the early park history.)  Periodic land acquisitions since the 1960 centennial increased park lands to 550 acres by the end of the 20th century, of around two-thousand acres within the authorized park boundary.  The most recent addition to the park, in 2006, was the site of Fort Heiman along the Tennessee River.

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Entrance to the Fort Heiman Section

A tour of the park begins at the visitor center.

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Fort Donelson Visitor Center

The main park tour is for the most part automobile stops passing around and through Dover, Tennessee.  The first tour stop is the U.D.C. Confederate memorial.  This was the first memorial in the park, erected in 1933.

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U.D.C. Confederate Memorial

The tour road passes through ground contested in the later stages of the February 15, 1862 fighting then into the main fort itself.

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Land Facing Side of Fort Donelson

The cannon on display here is an 8-inch Siege Howitzer Model 1841, representing Confederate batteries that held the inner line of works.  The next stop overlooks the Confederate camps, with a lone reconstructed hut aiding interpretation.

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Reconstructed Confederate Hut

The next tour stop is a loop near the water batteries.  On display are several heavy guns of the type used by the Confederate gunners who repulsed the Federal gunboats on February 14, 1862.

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Lower Water Battery

In view here, from left to right, is a 10-inch Confederate columbiad and two 32-pdr smoothbores.  Photos of these guns will figure prominently in future posts regarding the weapon types.  A new overlook with interpretive markers gives visitors an excellent view of Lake Barkley and the approaches of the Federal flotilla.

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River Overlook

A spur off the main tour road passes along the Confederate outer works on the west side of the perimeter.  General C.F. Smith’s Federal Division captured this section of trenches in the closing actions on February 15, 1862.

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Western Confederate Outer Works

Between numbered tour stops is the site of Graves’ Battery on the southern side of the Confederate outer line.

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6-pdr at Graves' Battery

From Graves’ Battery a perimeter trail closely follows the Confederate outer line for just over a mile and a half.  Also between numbered stops, where the trail crosses Sandy Road, is a marker describing delaying actions fought on February 12.  About a third of a mile from the intersection is the site of Maney’s Battery, assaulted by Colonel William Morrison’s Brigade of General John McClernand’s Division on  February 13, 1862.

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Maney's Battery

The trail rejoins the numbered tour stops at French’s Battery along Cedar Street.  Interpretive markers there discuss the Confederate breakout attempt on February 15.

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French's Battery

The road parallels the Confederate outerworks, until reaching Main Street, where the Old Forge Road passed.  The scene of heavy fighting during the February 15 Confederate breakout attempt lies outside the current park boundaries.  However, the state of Texas placed one of their standard red granite memorials at the Forge Road stop.   The memorial discusses Texans involved in a February 1863 Confederate attack on the Fort Donelson garrison in addition to the February 1862 fighting.

The next to last tour stop is the Dover Inn, or Surrender House, along the banks of the Cumberland River in Dover.

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Dover Inn

The tour concludes at the National Cemetery.

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Flagpole in the National Cemetery

Interpretive markers near the cemetery note the Freedmen’s Camp that existed during the war, that stood just outside the current cemetery grounds.

My aide-de-camp and I completed the tour, at our rather leisurely pace, in about four hours.   In the last decade, the park service has improved and expanded the trail system.  We wanted to explore more of those, but time did not permit.

Current park programs include improvements at the Fort Heiman and, in cooperation with other agencies, Fort Henry sites.  Other plans include expansion of the park boundaries to include several tracts that cover the February 15 fighting.   Such acquisition will greatly aid the understanding of the battle.

I’ve visited Fort Donelson on several occasions since I was eight years old.  Even though many exhibits in the visitor center have remained the same, recent updates to the interpretation are welcome.    Fort Donelson is an excellent day-trip destination for battlefield stompers.  Incremental improvements in the future will enhance the experience.


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