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Fort Donelson Hike

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Hi folks,


Just a quick heads-up to let everyone know that we're having a change of pace for our Epic Trek weekend with historian Tim Smith. Rather than Shiloh, this year's hike will take place at Fort Donelson on Saturday, November 5th. More details as we get them hammered out. Hope you can join us. 



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Hope you're able to join us, Ozzy. Of course, if you're coming all the way to Fort Donelson, you have to make it down to Shiloh as well. It's only like three or four inches farther south on the map. ;)


Eileen - sounds good. You've gotten a head start on us. :)



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Kendall Gott's book is a great read for anyone looking for a good overview that is east to read.  I think he provides some good insights into the mindset of the commanders on both sides and why some decisions were made.  Although he doesnt come right out and say it, he alludes to the hands off nature of Johnston during the lead up to these battles. It really starts to make you question his leadership abilities or at least those perceptions of him at the time.

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Thanks for the recommendation of Ken Gott's book: I'll have to track it down.

As to General A.S. Johnston and Fort Donelson, my own feeling is that Johnston was a hands-off leader (as opposed to micro-manager), who enjoyed a lifetime of entrusting subordinates with responsibility, without disappointment (until he left California.) Fort Donelson was spectacular for the turnover of leaders, through the course of a mere week: BGen Lloyd Tilghman to BGen Bushrod Johnson (7 Feb) to BGen Pillow (9 Feb) to BGen Floyd (13 Feb). Perhaps the result could have been better, with A.S. Johnston in personal command at Fort Donelson (but who leads the Department in his absence?) 




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Good points Ozzy.  I understand why he was put in charge of the department based on his Texas experience (lots of ground and limited resources, friendship with Davis, etc).  However, it appears that he did not take into count the volunteer nature of the confederate army (and the federal) for that matter.  Officers came from all walks of life and did not have military discipline early in the war. I am not a micro-manager myself and believe in trusting your staff, however, there is value to seeing something for yourself every now and again.  Lots of Monday morning quarterbacking on my part a century and a half after the fact.

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It's hard to avoid the Monday morning quarterback thing when it comes to history. I do it a lot. We certainly have to be mindful of the fact that we have more information than they did when reaching a conclusion about their actions. But it doesn't automatically mean that the conclusions are wrong. :)

Put another way, I agree about Johnson. :)  He almost seems to have had tunnel-vision for Bowling Green, and Buell's potential threat right in front of him. I don't think he ever visited the river forts, and seemed to assume, until it was too late, that they were being taken care of. Polk really wasn't any better. The two men seem to have assumed that the other was responsible for that area, to the detriment of everyone. Except the Yanks that is.


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I have read that Albert Sidney Johnston visited Fort Columbus, and spent a month there (Leonidas Polk was an old friend, and  he may have needed persuading to stay on in the role at Columbus until 'someone else' would relieve him there.) It makes sense that Johnston would have visited the sites of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on return to Bowling Green, but I have found nothing conclusive indicating he did, or did not visit. If he did not, he must have met with BGen Lloyd Tilghman, and been satisfied with his supervision of those works (Tilghman was in charge of both Henry and Donelson, which proved problematic when Fort Henry fell... and took Lloyd Tilghman with it.)

Interesting, that 'seniority problems' played major roles at Fort Donelson (for the Confederates), and for the Federal forces building up at Pittsburg Landing.



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Just a clarification or two to my above post...

  • Leonidas Polk recommended Albert Sidney Johnston to Jefferson Davis as his (Polk's) replacement; but Johnston arrived in Tennessee in September 1861, and Polk was kept on, still waiting for a replacement... despite writing frequent requests to resign;
  • General Johnston arrived at Nashville about September 15th, and on the 18th he went to Fort Columbus, and spent a month with Major General Polk (until mid-October);
  • BGen Lloyd Tilghman was not appointed to command of Forts Henry and Donelson until November 17, 1861 (he was in command of Hopkinsville until then);
  • Until Tilghman took charge, General Johnston relied on reports from his engineers -- Major Jeremy Gilmer and Lieutenant Joseph Dixon -- about the state of affairs at Forts Henry and Donelson, to include: progress in construction of those fortifications; efforts to install 'barriers to navigation' in the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers (torpedoes, sunken barges loaded with stone, floating abattis downstream from Fort Donelson, etc);
  • I still find no indication that Albert Sidney Johnston ever visited Fort Henry or Fort Donelson: he relied on his subordinates and engineers to provide him with accurate information.

Just another bit of trivia: PGT Beauregard was sent west to 'assist' MGen Polk in the operation of Fort Columbus; instead, when he arrived at Bowling Green, General Beauregard ordered the evacuation of Fort Columbus, without ever having visited the 'Gibraltar of the West.'



References:  Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston

Leonidas Polk, Bishop and General


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As I am facing a rather long drive to Ft Donelson from western Pennsylvania, I will lead a hike (or two) of my own at Ft Henry on Sunday, November 6, weather and foot condition permitting.  I don't want to drive that far for a single day of hiking.

Possible hikes can be found at


I have never visited the site, so I have no idea as what we can expect to see.  I don't anticipate doing a whole lot of research in preparation for guiding this hike (or hikes) - I am presenting a talk on John Hunt Morgan to my local Civil War Round Table on the evening before I depart for Tennessee, so that will be getting most of my attention.  Barring a severe drought, I do not anticipate visiting Ft Henry itself.

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    In anticipation of the upcoming battleground day at Fort Donelson on November 5th I thought I would post some photographs I have accumulated over the years with the intention that they might assist those who have not been to Fort Donelson and Fort Henry and Fort Heiman before.
    There are two threads moving forward on the Fort Donelson hike. This one referred to a Fort Henry hike so I decided to post information on Fort Henry and other locations here.
    At Fort Henry earthworks remain for both the inner works and the outer works. In the last ten years information signs have been placed in some locations. You can get near Panther Bay where the Union camps were located.
    When you drive to the Ft. Henry location you pass through remains of the inner works of the fort as shown in the following three photographs. The first one is from 2004 and the other two from 2007.

1. The gentleman standing in the trench with the gray-green coat is Kendall Gott, author of Where the South Lost the War (Kendall said that the title was chosen by the publisher, not him). To his right wearing a greenish cap and sweater is the indomitable Ed Bearss.

Ft. Henry - Inner works - 2004.JPG

2. Not a great shot but you can see earthworks in the background.

Ft. Henry - Inner works - 2007 1.JPG

3. This is probably a closer view of the earthworks shown in photo 2.

Ft. Henry - Inner works - 2007 2.JPG

    In the last seven years, or so, access and signing on the outer works permits easy access. The following photographs show Confederate outer works.

4, 5, 6, 7

Ft. Henry - Outer works 2011 1.jpg

Ft. Henry - Outer works 2011 2.jpg

Ft. Henry - Outer works 2011 3.jpg

Ft. Henry - Outer works 2011 4.jpg

8. The outer works end at the lake and there is a sign.

Ft. Henry Sign.jpg

9. There is a pole in the water and that is probably close to the site of Fort Henry.

Ft. Henry today.jpg

    The site of Fort Heiman is now part of the Fort Donelson National Battlefield and there is easy access to it. The following photographs show the entrance sign, surviving earthworks and a view of the lake indicating how high up the fort is from the river. There was no danger of this fort flooding but it was not finished. The state line between Tennessee and Kentucky is in the center of the lake at this location and Fort Heiman sits in Kentucky and this could be one of the reasons Fort Henry was located in the flood plain and not on the western bluffs.

10, 11, 12, 13

Ft. Heiman Sign 2011.jpg

Ft. Heiman works 2011 1.jpg

Ft. Heiman works 2011 2.jpg

Ft. Heiman 2011.jpg

   Following are three photos I took at the 150th anniversary. The Rebels had marched all the way from Fort Henry and entered Fort Donelson.

14, 15, 16

 Ft. D. - 150th 1.jpg

Ft. D. - 150th 2.jpg

Ft. D. 150th 3.jpg

    It was a great day as they entered the park. Quite different than the conditions in 1862.

    The next photo from 2010 is included because there are three guys in it with whom I have spent considerable time studying civil war battles. We were out reconnoitering between Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on a wet day and got a lesson as to the slippery Tennessee mud. The maintenance crew from Fort Donelson came out and unstuck us. On the left is Kendall Gott. Then Parker Hill who has an organization called Battle Focus and Parker was instrumental in developing the Raymond battlefield site in Mississippi. The third fellow is Len Reidel, executive director to the Blue and Gray Education Society.


Tennessee mud 2010.jpg

    The next photo is simply a look pass the lower battery at the Cumberland River at Fort Donelson from 2010.


Ft. D. Lower Battery 2010.jpg

    Another photo from 2004 showing Kendall Gott and Ed Bearss. I am one of 20 people who listened to Ed Bearss give a description of the battle of Thermopylae, on site, in Greece, in 2010. Flying back from Athens, Ed and I were on the same plane but not sitting together. However, I noticed Ed spent most of the flight reading as he is constantly increasing his knowledge so he can give his enthusiastic presentations.


Ft. Donelson - Ed and Kendall - 2004.JPG

    The next two photos are from 2006 on a trip in February. We were greeted with similar conditions, but not nearly as bad, as those the Union and Rebel forces faced in 1862. Kendall Gott is in the first photograph lecturing some of us while the others stayed in the van. It was cold.

20, 21.

Kendall Gott - 2006.JPG

Ft. D cannon - 2006.JPG

    On February 15, 1862 the Confederates launched their break-out attack at dawn and the objective was to open the Forge Road for escape. The following four photographs were taken when we walked the old Forge Road down to Lick Creek. (Yes, Fort Donelson has a Lick Creek too) To the left as we walked down the road is Dudley’s Hill which is where McArthur took his second position after being flanked out of his first position. McArthur’s retreat from his second position was from the left of these photographs and then up a high steep hill to the right.

22, 23, 24, 25.

Forge Road - 2010 1.jpg

Forge Road - 2010 2.jpg

Forge Road - 2010 3.jpg

Forge Road - 2010 4.jpg

    The next two photographs show earthworks protecting a Union battery. I believe this earthwork protected a couple of guns of the 1st Missouri Battery K under Capt. George H. Stone that took position near the left flank of the Union line behind C. F. Smith’s division. They are on private property

26, 27.

Ft. D - battery works 2010 1.jpg

Ft. D - battery works 2010 2.jpg

    In 2004 I was on a trip where the Park provided us access to the basement of the Dover Hotel and here is what it looked like.

28, 29, 30, 31.

Dover Hotel 2004 1.jpg

Dover Hotel 2004 2.jpg

Dover Hotel 2004 3.jpg

Dover Hotel 2004 4.jpg

    At the 150th Anniversary Julia and Ulysses Grant paid the Park a visit.


Julia and Ulysses 2012.jpg

    Grant displaced the Widow Crisp from her farm cabin and slept in her featherbed during the battle for Fort Donelson. The Widow Crisp was just 24 years old and local history lore has it she claimed to be a widow because her husband was off fighting in the Rebel army. She stayed in the area and remarried at some point. She is buried in the cemetery of the Trinity United Methodist Church which is located along The Trace Road or Highway 49 north of highway 79. The following two photographs from 2011 were taken in the cemetery.

33, 34.

Crisp family plot 2012.jpg

Widow Crisp 2012.jpg

    In 2011 the Stewart County Chamber of Commerce building just west of the entrance to Fort Donelson had a display of quilts made by the widow Crisp. The display might still be there. The third quilt shown was used by General Grant to ward off the chills during those cold winter nights of February 1862.

35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40.

Crisp Quilts 2011 1.jpg

Crisp Quilts 2011 2.jpg

Crisp Quilts 2011 3.jpg

Crisp Quilts 2011 4.jpg

Crisp Quilts 2011 5.jpg

Crisp Quilts 2011 6.jpg

    You really did not believe the above quilt was used by Grant during the battle, did you? Perhaps it was. These quilts are claimed to be from the civil war era.

    That ends the photographs so now it is time for a little more of my favorite pastime; revising the history of Fort Donelson.

    This revision concerns the route taken by the retreating Rebels from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson. The maps show two roads from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson. The northern road was labeled the Telegraph Road because the telegraph line between Fort Henry and Fort Donelson followed that road. The southern road is labeled the Ridge Road because it ran along a ridge.
    A quick way to identify a McClernand hater is when that person blames McClernand for the escape of the rebel garrison. There were heavy rains on the night of February 5, 1862 and the creeks were flooded and McClernand’s division with his artillery bogged down and could not even get to the Telegraph Road before Foote claimed the prize.
    The general conception is that the Rebels retreated via the Ridge Road. I always thought that until the week of the 150th anniversary when I was going to try to see how much of the Confederate retreat I could find.
    While researching the Rebel reports of regiments that made the retreat from Fort Henry in the Official Records I ran across a single sentence from Milton A. Haynes, Chief of Tennessee Corps of Artillery (page 147 of Series 1, volume 7) that stated the following:

    “At 2 a. m. our forces reached Fort Donelson, with the loss of only a few men, having marched 22 miles, and forded Standing Rock Creek at five deep and rapid fords.”

    It was hard to imagine fording a creek so many times when traveling on a ridge road and Standing Rock Creek is a couple miles south of the Ridge Road.
Jim Jobe was the park superintendent for Fort Donelson during the anniversary festivities so I asked him about the actual route taken by the retreating Rebels. Turned out Jim had recently written about “The Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson” in Volume XXVIII, #4 of Blue and Gray Magazine. (I thought I had a copy but could not find it. Of course this issue is not available on the website as a back issue order).
     For his article Jim retraced the Rebel retreat route and believed he had located the five ford sites. I did it also and came up with five crossings of Standing Rock Creek. Jim’s family was living in the area of Standing Rock Creek during the civil war and he said it is possible that his great-great grandmother might have watched the Rebels retreat pass her house. (I might not remember exactly what Jim said but it was along these lines)
    The importance of knowing the exact route the Rebels took is that it shows just how impossible it would have been to cut them off from retreat because they retreated on a route that was further south than the Ridge Road.
    Where the ridge road crosses highway 79 is easily discerned because you can follow the route via signs south of highway 79. North of highway 79 you are in the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. Looking at the map Transylvania sourced showing the Forts Henry Trails System I would guess that where the trail crosses highway 79 is near the number 15 marker on the map. As noted on the map the Artillery Trail probably follows the old Ridge Road used by the Union forces to approach Fort Donelson.
    For those planning a hike in the Fort Henry area on Sunday I thought this additional information would be helpful.



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