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Perry Cuskey    261

The day after the Fort Donelson hike with historian Tim Smith, a few of us ventured out to the site of Fort Henry along the Tennessee River (now Kentucky Lake). This was my first time visiting the area, and I certainly hope it won't be my last. If you've heard folks talk about how beautiful is the Land Between the Lakes, there's a very good reason. And the history speaks for itself. 

Part of that history is the incredibly unfortunate location of Fort Henry. There are reasons that explain why the fort was situated where it was, but none of them change the fact that it was a lousy spot for a fort. The number one problem - and number two, three, four, and counting problems - was very simply that the ground near the river chosen for the fort was far too low, and prone to flooding. "Fort," "river," and "flooding" should never go together in the same sentence, especially if you're basically depending on that fort to protect the entire length of the river behind it. But that was the situation at Fort Henry. 

Perhaps it's fitting then, if somewhat sad, that when the Tennessee Valley Authority dammed up the Tennessee River in the 1920's and 30's to create Kentucky Lake, what remained of Fort Henry was forever submerged beneath the waves. The only thing left above water are some of the outer trench works. 

Here's an image from Google Maps, showing the approximate modern-day location of Fort Henry (on the right) and also Fort Heiman (on the left, on the Kentucky side of the river). It probably goes without saying that the Epic Crayon Drawings are not exactly to scale...

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And here is an absolutely beautiful painting titled "Battle of Fort Henry," by a talented artist named Andy Thomas. I'll provide a link to his website at the end of this article, as he deserves the credit for one thing, and he has a number of other paintings that you will most assuredly want to see for another. But this is probably what the fort looked like at the time of the Union gunboat attack. You can see what everyone means when they describe this fort as being flood-prone...

BattleofFtHenry_lrg.jpg

In fact, when the fort finally surrendered, the Union officers accepting the surrender actually entered the fort in a boat, rather than on foot. Two days later, the entire thing was underwater. I still can't decide if that's funny, or sad. 

Even though the modern-day Tennessee shoreline isn't the same as in 1862, you can still get a sense of how problematic the location was for the defenders when you visit there today. Here's a picture I took during our November visit. My best-guess is that this is looking right into the heart of where the fort would have been. Note how flat the shoreline is, and compare it to the Andy Thomas painting above...

Fort Henry-01.jpg

Here's another view, with more Epic Crayon Drawings. The yellow line is supposed to represent the fort (not to scale - as if you couldn't tell :) ) and the red circle shows the location of a navigation buoy in the river, marking the approximate northwest corner of Fort Henry. So you can use that to gauge where the fort was, and roughly how large it was...

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Here's a view of the much better situated Fort Heiman, across the Tennessee River from Fort Henry. I've labeled the fort's location. Even though it's a fair-distance away, compare the shoreline with that around Fort Henry. Simply put, there is no comparison. 

Fort Heiman-01.jpg

Jumping across the river, here's another incredible Andy Thomas painting titled "The View from Fort Heiman," looking back at Fort Henry from Fort Heiman during the gunboat attack...

TheViewFromFtHeiman.jpg

And finally, here's a very rough approximation of that same view today...

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Note that you can only get this particular view after descending a pretty steep embankment, so be very careful if you decide to try it. I'd rough-guess it to be about a 45-degree angle about halfway down, and then a sheer drop the rest of the way, just below where I took the picture from. I'm stubborn, which is why I tried it, but just be aware that I'm most assuredly not recommending anyone else do the same thing. If you do, proceed at your own stubborn risk. :)

All in all it was a great visit, and very instructive. It isn't really any different from what we've read, but as is usually the case, seeing the ground in person gives you a greater appreciation for what the folks had to deal with at the time, all those years ago.

Here's a link to Andy Thomas' main website. I promise you won't be sorry you checked out his paintings:

http://www.andythomas.com/

You can view his Civil War paintings here:

http://www.andythomas.com/civilwarprints.aspx

And his Fort Donelson, Fort Henry, and Fort Heiman paintings can be found here:

http://www.andythomas.com/fortdonelson.aspx

Perry

 

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Ozzy    452

Perry

Great discussion and links... But most of all: great pictures!  The current condition of Fort Henry provides a terrific conversation starter:  "This is how Fort Henry appeared on February 8th 1862: drowned by the flooded river. Was it necessary to fight the battle on February 6th?"

I assert that it was necessary to fight the battle, for the following reasons:

  • Morale boost (for the Union). Up until Fort Henry, it appeared that the Confederacy was invincible. [Much as I admire George H. Thomas, Mill Springs just did not capture the Northern imagination in the same way as did the victory at Fort Henry.]
  • Lloyd Tilghman was knocked out of the war at a crucial time.  Designated as the Commander at Fort Donelson, General Tilghman's absence led to the "seniority nightmare" that beset the Cumberland River fort... and which contributed to its fall.
  • The Confederate "super weapon" -- torpedo -- was not allowed additional time to be improved to a point where it was deadly and reliable. [Reliable torpedoes would have been game-changers at Fort Henry.]
  • Phelp's Raid.  Planned before the attack on Fort Henry commenced, this three-timberclad sortie was an example of "shock and awe" that established the reputation of the gunboat as a deadly weapon that could go anywhere. [Delay could have permitted completion of CSS Eastport.]
  • Fort Henry was the initiation of the Federal push into the Deep South; and it was the beginning of the end for the "Gibraltar of the West" ...Fort Columbus.

Happy Christmas

Ozzy

 

 

 

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Perry Cuskey    261

Thanks Ozzie. 

I didn't mean to imply that the Union should have simply waited two days for the fort to disappear. No one could have known such a thing was going to happen of course, so it would be silly to say that all they had to do was wait a couple of days. That was never going to happen in any case. Control of that river was far too important, and that fort was far too vulnerable. They needed to attack while the opportunity presented itself, and Grant and Foote were opportunists. Fortunately for them, Halleck was willing to let them go forward. 

One thing that struck me repeatedly while standing along the shore there was just how enormously important that spot is in American history, and how little attention it usually gets. You simply cannot draw-up a list of turning-point moments in the Civil War without including Fort Henry. It ranks right there with anything else we can come up with. And all that's there now is sand, water, and a navigation buoy. But just as with Shiloh, if you listen carefully, it's speaking to you. 

Perry

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Ozzy    452

Perry

If Federal forces had simply waited for the once-in-forty years flood to inundate Fort Henry, the result would have been as spectacular as the May 1862 occupation of Corinth by Henry Halleck... 

Ozzy

Reference:  Geological Survey Professional Paper "Upper Ordovician and Silurian Stratigraphy..." by Robert C. Milici and Helmuth Wedow. Jr. published in cooperation with the Tennessee Division of Geology (1976) page 20.

N.B.  Yet Corinth has a NPS Visitor's Centre, while Island No.10 and Fort Henry have...

 

Edited by Ozzy
Contemplating "fairness"

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mona    141

Thanks for the "side by side" view of the paintings and the photos from the banks...it really helps to "see" the forts as they were..Yes..that bluff at ft heiman was not to be teasted...a long way down.The state of Tn aprks at one time had tour audio recording alonf=g the trails at Ft Henry years ago...some of the stops are still standing,some were in the river bed as the bank washed out..am trying to locate the text of the audio now...

 

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Got to Heiman for the first time, plus did some exploring around the Henry area.  Pictures are on my Facebook profile for those who are on FB:

https://www.facebook.com/buckeyedarryl/media_set?set=a.10155095656106474.1073741878.723601473&type=3

Did find an unusual old interpretive trail that has aluminum signs, a concrete stone with wires coming out, and some had posts next to them with a box with a push button.  Must have been some sort of speaker system for each stop.  Found some of these along existing trails, and others in the woods with no obvious trail nearby.  The chap at FODO was not familiar with these.  I would love to find out more if anyone has any ideas or whom I can contact.

 

 

 

16903522_10155095661296474_2323474378538851098_o.jpg

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Got to Heiman for the first time, plus did some exploring around the Henry area.  Pictures are on my Facebook profile for those who are on FB:

https://www.facebook.com/buckeyedarryl/media_set?set=a.10155095656106474.1073741878.723601473&type=3

Did find an unusual old interpretive trail that has aluminum signs, a concrete stone with wires coming out, and some had posts next to them with a box with a push button.  Must have been some sort of speaker system for each stop.  Found some of these along existing trails, and others in the woods with no obvious trail nearby.  The chap at FODO was not familiar with these.  I would love to find out more if anyone has any ideas or whom I can contact.

 

 

 

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mona    141

i have asked about them also...was told that at one time ..when this area was a"state park" there was a trail with the interpretive markers and audio recordings...have yet to find anybody that remembers when these were in service.but havent given up the hunt.

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2 hours ago, mona said:

i have asked about them also...was told that at one time ..when this area was a"state park" there was a trail with the interpretive markers and audio recordings...have yet to find anybody that remembers when these were in service.but havent given up the hunt.

If you ever come up with anything, I would love to know more.  Appears to me a great chance for LBL to recreate the trail, which in turn would mean more visitation, which in turn would mean more dollars spent potentially within LBL and the surrounding area.

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mona    141

i agree...i will notify if i can come up with this info..its got to be somewhere...you know..and visitors to ft donelson would visit ft henry more and gain more knowledge from this trail.

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