Fort Donelson National Battlefield

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Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Fort Donelson National Battlefield preserves Fort Donelson and Fort Heiman, two sites of the American Civil War Forts Henry and Donelson Campaign, in which Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Admiral Andrew Hull Foote captured three Confederate forts, opened two rivers to the Union navy, and received national recognition for their victories in February 1862, the first major Union successes of the war. The main portion of the park, in Dover, Tennessee, commemorates the Battle of Fort Donelson (36°29′41″N 87°51′22″W / 36.49472°N 87.85611°W / 36.49472; -87.85611), one of the most influential battles in American history. Fort Heiman, in nearby Calloway County, Kentucky, was a Confederate battery in the Battle of Fort Henry.


The most vulnerable area in the Confederate defensive line in the Western Theater was the state of Kentucky. The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers were potential avenues for a Union invasion through Kentucky and into Tennessee and beyond. Since Kentucky had declared itself neutral, Confederate defensive works could not be built within the state without risking alienating the local population.

Two engineers detached from the 1st Tennessee Infantry, Adna Anderson and William F. Foster, set to work on May 10, 1861, to find suitable ground just inside the Tennessee border to simultaneously cover the two strategic rivers. They focused on surveying possible sites along the Cumberland River, noting the high ridges and deep hollows near the Kentucky border. In mid-May, on the west bank of the river not far below Dover, Anderson laid out the water battery of Fort Donelson, twelve miles (19 km) from the Kentucky line. The new fort was named in honor of General Daniel S. Donelson., who, along with Colonel Bushrod Johnson of the Corps of Engineers, approved of the site. Construction was begun by a large force of men brought from the nearby Cumberland Iron Works.

Administrative history

The site was established as Fort Donelson National Military Park on March 26, 1928. The national military park and national cemetery were transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service on August 10, 1933. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It was redesignated a national battlefield on August 16, 1985. Public Law 108-367 (October 25, 2004) increased the authorized boundary of the national battlefield from 551.69 acres (2.23 km2) to 2,000 acres (8.09 km2). On October 30, 2006, Calloway County transferred the Fort Heiman site to the Park Service. Fort Heiman had been listed on the National Register on December 12, 1976.

Park today

The park preserves much of the original battle site, including the river batteries and the eroded remains of the fort itself, but the area in which the Confederate States Army assaulted on February 15, 1862, is largely in private hands, occupied by residential development. The Cumberland River was dammed in the 1960s and this area is currently referred to as Lake Barkley. It covers an area roughly similar to the original river while at flood stage, as it was during the battle.


Fort Donelson National Cemetery, at 15.34 acres (62,080 m2), contains 670 Union dead, reinterred in 1867. There are also numerous veterans from later wars. The cemetery is presently unavailable for further burials.

Building Activity

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