Fort Donelson

Over the weekend I have started a tour that will take in several western battlefields. Today I spent a good part of the day at Fort Donelson in northwest Tennessee.

Now, I’ve been looking forward to visiting this National Military Park as it marks a significant part of the Western Campaign. There are several books and internet sources that provide an overview of the battle so I won’t not outline it here. However, I hope the following photos will be of interest to readers and at the same time help me document a few thoughts.

Unfortunately the Park Visitor Centre was being refurbished when I visited. Given they are operating from a temporary location the exhibits on hand were limited. However, as always the park service staff were friendly and informative.

In general Fort Donelson has three parts. The first is the defences of Fort Donelson, comprising four drive points including the Confederate Memorial. The second is the outer defences and covers five points over and extended distance. Finally there is the Dover Hotel where Buckner surrendered to Grant and nearby cemetery.

There are several outstanding points to the park. Without doubt one is the excellent water batteries that overlook the Cumberland River. Historically there were eleven guns divided between the lower and upper batteries. The lower battery today has six cannons today, two were silenced in the battle with the Union ironclads on the 14th of February 1862.

Above and below, various photos of the lower battery.

The upper battery has three guns, one rifle and to cannonades. The cannonades particularly look unusual, though historically they were ineffective. Unlike the lower battery, which has been rebuilt this battery is left in its natural state.

The land based fortifications are also in excellent condition given their age. Visible are many of the bastions, ramparts and ditches. Supported by selected artillery pieces the earthworks are even today significant.

Above and below, one of the two 9 pounders within the fort. Also on display, but not shown, is an 8 pound howitzer.

Outside the inner defences are the outer entrenchments. Again these positions are well preserved with selected field artillery placed where various batteries were placed. Most of the weapons are 6pdrs. Unfortunately many trees block the historic fields of fire. That said they provided significant and welcome shade today when the heat was withering.

Above, a portion of the outer defences, on the Confederate right. Below, the position behind the first line where Smith’s Union Division was held by Buckner’s defenders on the 15th.

Similar key locations, with selected artillery and rifle pits, are visible on the Confederate centre and centre left.

Finally, a photo of Dover Hotel, the site of the surrender of Confederate forces now under command of Buckner, to Grant. While it completes my summary of my visit to the battlefield it also provides a great place to nominally embark on my own Western battlefield tour.

6 thoughts on “Fort Donelson

  1. I was down there about 10 years ago. Seeing we were ‘Yankees’ the locals kept trying to direct us into a speed trap on the way to the fort. A woman from California working in our hotel warned us about it.

  2. A very nice post Keith. The images of the water batteries are quite evocative. I look forward to more of your posts. Cheers.

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