Site icon One for the Money Two for the Road

Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Where is it?

Fort Donelson National Battlefield is located near Dover, Tennessee.

The park features:

Click here for the park’s website link: Fort Donelson

Confederate Monument, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Why is Fort Donelson significant?

The battle was one of the first major victories of the Civil War for the Union and for Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. More importantly, the Union’s victory at Fort Donelson gave them control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, the southern half of Kentucky, and middle Tennessee which included Nashville. With railroads and river access, Nashville became an important supply depot for the Union Army. The battle, which took place on February 11-16, 1862, ended upon the Confederates’ surrender at the Dover Hotel. General Simon Bolivar Buckner was the first Confederate general to surrender during the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln promoted Ulysses S. Grant to Major General after this successful campaign. Buckner, on the other hand, was sent north to spend five months in a Massachusetts prisoner of war camp.

The Dover Hotel

The Dover Hotel also known as Surrender House sits on the bank of the Cumberland River

An excerpt from a National Park Service wayside information board:

“On February 16, 1862, the Battle of Fort Donelson ended when Union forces captured the fort after five days of conflict. The Union and Confederate generals met at the Dover Hotel to conduct the final surrender terms. The Confederates relinquished the fort, which allowed the North access to the Cumberland River. This changed the course of the Civil War by giving the Union a way to invade the rest of the South.” 

Trivia: The Dover Hotel is the only existing original structure where a Civil War surrender took place.

The “unconditional and immediate” surrender

Grant and Buckner were friends, having attended the United States Military Academy at West Point together. The two men also served together in the Mexican-American War. They were unfortunately forced into opposing each other on Fort Donelson’s battlefield. During the signing of the surrender documents, Grant reportedly offered to lend Buckner money to tide him over until his release from the prison camp. It was a generous offer, but one that Buckner politely declined. After the war, Grant was elected President of the United States (1869-1877) and Buckner was elected Governor of Kentucky (1877-1891). The two men remained friends until Grant died poverty-stricken in 1885, after having lost his fortune to a swindling business partner of his son. Buckner graciously paid for Grant’s funeral as well as served as a pallbearer. He also provided Grant’s widow with a monthly stipend to help support her financially.

Inside the Dover Hotel

Meanwhile along the banks of the Cumberland River

An excerpt from a National Park Service wayside information board:

“Thirteen thousand dejected Confederate defenders of Fort Donelson huddled here [on the bank of the Cumberland River] against the cold on February 16, 1862. They had fought long and hard against Grant’s forces and did not consider themselves defeated. They had been surrendered against their will and now waited to be transported north. Never before in the Civil War had so many prisoners been taken, and the poorly clad Confederates could only guess what awaited them. After being issued two days’ rations and allowed to keep “their clothing, blankets, and such personal property as may be carried about the person,” the prisoners were shipped 120 miles to Cairo, Illinois. From there, trains carried them to prison camps in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Massachusetts. In September 1862 most of the prisoners were exchanged for Union soldiers being held in Confederate prison camps.”

Library of Congress image of Camp Douglas Prison Grounds, Chicago, Illinois

The camps that housed the Fort Donelson prisoners were:

Rebel prisoners, Camp Morton, Indianapolis – Library of Congress

Fort Donelson National Cemetery

Fort Donelson National Cemetery was established in 1867 as a final resting place for Union troops who had been buried elsewhere around the area. In all, 670 of the graves here are Civil War burials. More than 900 additional graves are the final resting places of veterans of other American wars and their family members. Sadly, 519 of the burials here are of unknowns from the Civil War. Confederate soldiers were buried in other cemeteries because their loyalties were not to the United States (Union).

Cemetery Lodge

Cemetery lodge, built in 1877, served as the office and living quarters for the cemetery keeper until 1931. The Second Empire (French) style structure now houses the park’s administrative offices. 

Interestingly, the original late 1800s version of this cemetery featured wooden headstones. Today the headstones appear to be made of engraved marble or granite and many are arranged in swirl and circle patterns. Fort Donelson National Cemetery covers 15 acres and is surrounded by a limestone retaining wall with wrought iron gates.

Trivia: Several national cemeteries were established during the Civil War; however, more were sanctioned by the passage of the National Cemeteries Act in 1867. The act tasked the U.S. Army with overseeing all aspects of building additional national cemeteries. Functions included: acquisition of land, cemetery design, reinterring the dead from battlefield burials or other cemeteries, construction of roads, keepers’ lodges and other buildings, planting trees and plants, and installing permanent headstones.

Carriage House, now used as an information center for the cemetery
So young…

Thank you for joining us on our visit to Fort Donelson National Battlefield! Our goal is to learn about our country’s hallowed grounds and to pass along that knowledge so that the men who died upon them will never be forgotten.

Looking for more historical road trip destinations? Click on these amazing sites:

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

Antietam National Battlefield

Gettysburg National Military Park

 

Travel safely, and we will see you on the road!

Mike & Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) 

©2022

 

 

 

 

Exit mobile version