Monday, February 20, 2017

Heiman, Henry, and Donelson...Oh My!

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

32 pounder
On our way to Murray, where our hotel was located, we stopped at Southern Red's Bar-B-Que.  It is in a hamlet...really, about six to nine buildings along a state highway, in the middle of nowhere...in an old gas station with a less than appealing exterior.  Don't let that stop you from enjoying some excellent barbecue.  I got a half slab of ribs with a couple of sides, and that half slab was HUGE and quite good.  And no common sodas at Red's...RC Cola was the soda of choice on their fountain.  Great little dive joint.

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.

Small portion of earthworks at Heiman
View of Henry area from Heiman from heights above
Can you see Fort Henry?  Maybe with scuba gear!
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.

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.

Ummm, just where is that interpretive panel again?

Example of signage from old interpretive trail
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.

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!

The Dover Hotel
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).

This view never gets old
Can you tell the barrel is plastic?
Saturday morning dawned overcast and rainy, and Pat came into town to join us for a day of walking the Donelson battlefield after breakfast at Martha's.  We went to the Graves' battery site, and walked the trail down the steep hill into the valley in which Indian Creek flows.  A climb up to Maney's battery position led us to a rarely visited portion of the park as no park road accesses this area.  We dropped down once again, this time into Erin Hollow, and then climbed the steepest hill to French's battery,  Walking this mile or so between the battery sites and looking at Smith's area the night before really provides that terrain perspective that one needs to understand the topography of any battle. 

Graves' Battery

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
We headed to the Dover Hotel to check its status and this time it was indeed open!  We went back to the batteries where we not only enjoyed the view but also noticed a bald eagle on the large tree near the river battery.  We headed to the visitor's center again, lunched at Mama Mea's, then went to go walk the Dudley Hill to Wynn's Ferry positions.  For both our hikes we staged cars, so we walked from Dudley's Hill to the last tablets along Wynn's Ferry Road, covering the Federal positions and the Confederate advance.  Exploring this area, mostly by walking along roads, was a new experience for all of us, and added once again to our understanding of the breakout.  The park doesn't put this area as part of their driving tour, which I think is a shame as it really adds to the overall Donelson story.  There are a few tablets in this area that help a bit with troop positions and movement, and I venture that few casual visitors to the park see these tablets.

Artsy shot
Andy and Pat discussing the correct pronunciation of CarondaLET


Part of the Dudley Hill mass
One of the several War Department-like tablets along Wynn's Ferry Road
We stopped at the Forrest breakout area, and spent a few solemn moments at the National Cemetery, before heading back to town and a meal at The Keg.  The food was good, but alas, even though it is a non-smoking joint until later in the evening, they were folks smoking in there,  YUCK!  Another bull session, this one lasting a bit later in the evening, and then to bed.  I personally headed out of Murray by 7:30 a.m. and arrived back in Cincinnati by early afternoon.  

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.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice. Looks like you had a good time.

    "The T is silent in so many words, so why make it silent in CarondeLET."

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  2. A fine jaunt - thanks for setting it up! Sunday before I hit the road I was able to visit Heiman, Grants HQ marker, and - thanks to learning from your Friday travails - the Henry overlook. (Couldn't find the Smith attack jumping-off point though.) Even got a few pics of the Lower Battery eagle, but my digital camera has been getting streaking on outdoor photos for some reason so they aren't great quality.

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