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Fort never fired a shot, City surrendered twice by Confederates, once by Union Troops.
Clarksville, TN – The City of Clarksville held an invitation only grand opening for the newly redesigned Fort Defiance site on Thursday. The public opening is scheduled for this morning with a gala event that aims to bring the history of the fort to life. Fort Defiance never fired a shot in anger, however the Fort and the city it guards looms large in the history of the Civil War era.
In November 1861, Confederate troops began to build a defensive fort that was strategically positioned on top of a 200′ high bluff overlooking the confluence of the Red River and the Cumberland river, and was intended to guard not only the river approaches to Clarksville, TN, but to protect Nashville Tennessee as well which lays further up river.
After the fall of Fort Donelson, Fort Defiance was abandoned prior to the capture of Clarksville. On February 19th, 1862, Federal gunboats including the Conestoga and Cairo; and according to some reports the Steamer St. Louis; came up river from Fort Donelson, arriving around 4:30pm. When the Union Gunboats were sighted Confederate troops set fire to the two railroad bridges in Clarksville.
As the Union gunboats rounded the bend in the river below Clarksville they sighted the two forts that defended the city.
“White flags are flying in every direction.” said Admiral A.H. FOOTE, the Flag-Officer Commanding Naval Forces, Western Waters. Here is the report by Admiral Foot.
General Charles Ferguson Smith was placed in command of the city.
The Federals took over the fort and enlarged it so that it would control traffic on the Hopkinsville Pike.
Clarksville was left with a small garrison of Union Troops. In April 1862, this small garrison was made up of the 71st Ohio Volunteers commanded by Col. Rodney Mason. During July and August 1862, there was an increase in guerrilla activity around Clarksville. On August 18, 1862, Clarksville was re-capturered by Confederate Calvary. Col. Mason was cashiered for surrendering Clarksville so easily.
Union soldiers were sent from Fort Donelson to retake Clarksville in September 1862. Skirmishes were fought at New Providence on September 6, 1862 and at Riggins Hill on September 7, 1862. The town and fort were reoccupied by Federal troops who remained for the rest of the war. Col. Bruce was placed in command at Clarksville and Fort Defiance was renamed Fort Bruce.
The presence of Northern troops at the fort made it a safe-haven for freed slaves, who came there seeking the protection of Union forces.
After the civil war ended the property became overgrown and mostly forgotten.
In 1952 Judge Sam Boaz purchased the land Fort Defiance resides upon. Years later, in 1982 Boaz asked the Dr. Howard Winn, and Dr. Richard Gildrie from Austin Peay State University to come take a look and see rumors the property had an old Civil War fort on it were true, and if so was it historically important.
The professors hunted along the top of the hill overlooking the Cumberland River. What they found was a area with a dense wild tangle of bushes and sapling trees, some 10 to 12 feet tall, that blocked out the sun and made it nearly impossible to hike through without machetes and axes. They hacked their way through that mess until they located the old earthen walls and communication trenches.
Gildrie remembered telling Judge Boaz about the rediscovery, “We told him ‘Yes! It is very important’,” so in 1984 he deeded the property to the City of Clarksville.
That’s when the real work began. The terrain was so thick and impassable; it took the professors, APSU students, volunteers and Boy Scouts about five hours to hack a short path to the fort’s entrance. And then there were the chiggers – little tick-like mites that attach themselves and chew on a person’s exposed skin. “I came out to clean this up that first day,” Winn said. “By the time I left, I was so covered with chiggers. And then, to top that off, we brought the mayor out. Mayor (Ted) Crozier called me up that night because he got all the chiggers I didn’t have.” Gildrie said they counted 106 chiggers on Winn while he and Kemmerly escaped with only about four or five bites.
Kemmerly joined the project that summer because it became clear to the history professors that they needed someone to help them identify what was natural and what was man-made at the site.“We figured we needed a geologist, someone who could do proper mapping,” Gildrie said. “Phil is an outstanding geologist. So he came out and so did students – some from (the APSU) geology and (the APSU) history departments. We all worked out here.”
Kemmerly and his students spent several long, hot summer afternoons clearing the land and trying to map out the environment.
“It was a lot of sweat,” he said. “The vegetation in places was 10, 12 feet tall. We literally, a couple of times, fell into some of those trenches.”
City workers even lost a bush hog in one of those trenches, Gildrie said, because they couldn’t see through all the trees how the land dipped down.
The overgrown nature of the site oddly protected it from eroding over the last 150 years. “We had a Civil War expert come out here, and he said he thought from his experience, this was the best preserved Civil War earthen works west of the mountains,” Gildrie said. “At points, those (walls) are 7 or 8 feet high.”
It became the goal of the three professors to see this forgotten landmark turn into a viable city park before they retired. They almost made it. Winn retired in 2005, with Gildrie followed him just three years later.
The planning for the Park started under Mayor Ted Crozier, and was continued under Mayors Don Trotter, Johnny Piper, and Kim McMillan. The Initial planning for the new interpretative center and the Fort Defiance Historical Area was the responsibility of the Fort Defiance Committee, which was formed by Mayor Piper in 2002. The committee included Ann Alley, Dee Boaz, Sam Boaz, Jim Durrett, Richard Gildre, Anderson Grant, F. Evans Harvill, Bill Howard Sr., Phillip Kemmerly, Reginald Lowe, Paula Martin, Evans Peay, Hatem Shaw, Don Sharpe, David Snyder, Montgomery County Historian Elenore Williams, Thomas H. Winn, and Jerry Wooten.
Rufus Johnson & Associates were selected to design the new facility, McKinney Construction the general contractor, and Hatem Shaw the project manager. The total cost for the new interpretative center and walking trails was $1,976,159 of which 1.6 million dollars was funded by grants, with the city contributing $395,249 in local matching funds.
In January 2009 the Tennessee Historical Commission objected to the orientation of the building and asked the city to relocate the building at least 50? from the breastworks of the Fort. Based on their objection the grant the City was awarded to help fund the construction was suspended. “To relocate the building was not a simple process, Said Mayor Piper during the dedication of the building , and so the city needed to locate additional funds to allow them to complete the project. Once they were found, and the relocation completed, the original funding was restored, and the construction continued.
The contributions of all of the people who’s hard work and dedication made the new facility possible is recognized on a monument at the entrance to the new park. Which is quite beautiful. “The city has done a magnificent job,” Gildrie said. Winn, who walks with a cane, covered his eyes with his hand and surveyed the park. Through the trees, the Cumberland River was visible down below. It might have taken almost 30 years, but Winn didn’t seem to mind. He was happy to see it finally be completed.
“This is what historians do,” Winn said. “The effort Gildrie, Kemmerly, and I were involved in out there is part of the public service role that all university professors are required to do. We teach, we do research and we do public service. Those are the three things a faculty is supposed to do.”
The Customs House Museum located artifacts for the interior, and worked together with 1220 Exhibits and to design the exhibits. Rick Goodwin and Frank Lott produced a documentary film that gives a historical view of Clarksville during the Civil War, with historical re-enactors playing roles of the various historical figures. The Clarksville Foundry cast a fully working replica of an 1847 six-pounder canon that was created by the from Civil War Era plans that is on display at the site. The carriage the cannon was placed on was used in the civil war, and is on long-term loan to Clarksville from the Shiloh National Battlefield.
At the Grand opening, Frank Lott served as the emcee for the ceremony. He was joined by Montgomery County Commissioner Lettie Kendall; Mayor Kim McMillan; Susan Whitaker, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development; The Friends of Fort Defiance, Students from the Tabernacle Christian School, members of the Greenhill Church, Porters Battery, and Red River Breeze.
This weekend’s event
Parking:Visitors should park at the Two Rivers Business Center, 690 Riverside Drive, then ride a shuttle van to the center. Shuttle service will run every 15 minutes on opening weekend.
There will be canon firings every two hours.
SectionsArts and Leisure
TopicsAustin Peay State University, Boy Scouts of America, Carolyn Bowers, Cave Johnson, Charles Booth, City of Clarksville, Civil War, Civil War Sesquicentennial, Clarksville Foundry, Cumberland River, Customs House Museum, David Snyder, Dee Boaz, Fort Defiance, Fort Defiance Interpretive Center, Fort Donelson, Frank Lott, Friends of Fort Defiance, Greenhill Church, Howard Winn, Jim Durrett, Johnny Piper, Kim McMillan, New Providence, Porter's Battery, Red River Breeze, Richard Gildrie, Rick Goodwin, Rufus Johnson Associates, Sam Boaz, Tabernacle Christian School, Ted Crozier Sr., Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, Tennessee Historical Commission
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