I spent a long weekend in western Kentucky and north Tennessee, exploring the forts and battles that make up the Henry/Donelson Campaign. Joining me were three gents from the Chickamauga group - my fellow battlefield tramper Andy from Missouri, author Dave Powell, and Chicago's own Pat Mac. Andy is the chap who brought his Civil War round table out to Perryville last year for a tour hosted by yours truly. Having traveled with these gents in one form or another, I knew this would be an enjoyable experience, and one that would allow a more in-depth view of the campaign. I wasn't to be disappointed.
I met Andy at Columbus-Belmont State Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River directly across from the battle of Belmont site. This was my first visit to this area and this park, and for a state park Columbus-Belmont is a neat little visit. One pretty much has to want to go there as it isn't exactly close to an interstate, but it is worth the effort. The view alone is fantastic, the earthworks, whether original or not, are impressive. Old Bishop Polk spent a lot of time and effort, wasted time and effort for the most part, turning Columbus into the "Gibraltar of the West" instead of perhaps training his troops, countering Federal thrusts more readily, and in general, creating a true deterrent. Regardless, even though Columbus has some artillery incorrectly named (5 pound Parrott?), it is a nice site to explore and understand this part of the Henry-Donelson Campaign.
|Example of the extensive earthworks at Columbus|
|The site of the Battle of Belmont from the Kentucky side of the river|
We pushed on into Murray where we checked into the quaint Murray Plaza Lodge. This old time roadside motel has about thirty rooms and is obviously an old school (pre-interstate) motel. But it was rated very well on hotels.com and I can see why. The rooms aren't necessarily super modern, but super clean and comfortable, with the standard amenities one expects from a motel. Owned and operated locally, it made an affordable HQ for our forays into Henry and Donelson. After checking in Andy and I headed to Fort Heiman, which I had never seen. It is now a property of the Fort Donelson National Battlefield. It is another place you want to have to go to as it is a few minutes and a few turns from the state highway out of Murray, but it does have some good views of the Tennessee River (now Kentucky Lake) and some excellent earthworks.
Dave joined us in Murray that night, and we grabbed a bite, well, Andy and I went along as we were both still stuffed from our late rib lunch, at The Keg, a hopping joint north of the Murray State campus. Good draught beer list to boot.
|Small portion of earthworks at Heiman|
|View of Henry area from Heiman from heights above|
|Can you see Fort Henry? Maybe with scuba gear!|
The next morning we ate breakfast at another local icon, Martha's. Good food, good service, good way to start a day of battlefield tramping.
Dave had not been to Heiman either, so we made another stop on our way to explore the Henry area. After spending some time at Heiman, we headed to Henry, and spent a couple of confusing hours trying to find the Henry interpretive panel that is shown in the 2011 Blue and Gray Magazine issue on Donelson. We didn't find the panel, even though we thought we followed the directions correctly, but did stumble on an old interpretive trail that has mostly fallen out of use.
From Henry we drove the back roads and followed the Confederate retreat from Henry to Donelson, checking out the crossings of Standing Rock Creek, passing Jack Hinson's homestead, and then rolling into Dover and the National Park's temporary visitor's center. We checked with the ranger there about the old interpretive trail at Henry, but he was a newer addition to the park and wasn't aware of that trail, but he did help us figure out where to go to see the Henry interpretive panel.
|Ummm, just where is that interpretive panel again?|
|Example of signage from old interpretive trail|
We grabbed lunch at Mama Mea's, a joint next to the temporary center, and enjoyed a solid local lunch (they have a ton of options on their menu). After lunch we headed to the Dover Hotel, which Dave has never been inside as each visit he had made in the past found the place closed. The ranger assured us it was open, promising a much improved newer movie was in place, and upon pulling into the parking lot and seeing the sign on the door confirming this fact, we tried the door, only to find it locked! Denied!
After our failed attempt we moved in the core park proper and went to the batteries as well as checking out the area of Smith's Federal division. It was a gorgeous day to visit these areas, especially with late afternoon sun and mild temperatures. We headed back to Murray (after a side trip to a little visited tablet on the north side of Hickman Creek) and took in a meal and some great adult beverages at Tap 216, an excellent gastro pub near the campus. After dinner we returned to the motel and had our first bull session of the weekend, something that we always do at Chickamauga, which is mostly chatting about various Civil War topics (and a few others).
|The Dover Hotel|
|This view never gets old|
|Can you tell the barrel is plastic?|
|Earthworks, of which there were many on our morning walk|
|Climbing up to Maney's Battery from Indian Creek|
|Maney's Battery position...needs an artillery piece|
|The meeting of the minds in Erin Hollow - l to r: Andy, Dave, and Pat|
|Part of the Dudley Hill mass|
|One of the several War Department-like tablets along Wynn's Ferry Road|
As Fort Donelson is the closest national battlefield to my home (by thirty minutes then Chickamauga), I do plan to make perhaps a yearly sojourn to the park. There is some park history I would like to understand plus I want to photograph and gps each tablet on the battlefield. The park doesn't mention the tablets on their materials, and I think if folks like me knew there was more to see the park might see a slight increase in deranged battlefield visitors.