Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ft. Negley

Ft. Negley During The Civil War

  On February 25, 1862 Nashville was surrendered to Union Forces after the fall of Ft. Donelson. Union Captain James St. Clair Morton built a string of forts to the South and West of Nashville. The Cumberland River provided a natural defense to the east and north. As a result Nashville became the most fortified city on the North American continent outside of Washington DC. Local slaves and slaves from surrounding areas flocked to Nashville thinking they would be protected by the Union Army. Nearly 3,000 of them were recruited to build the largest of the forts which would be named after General James S. Negley. William G. Harding, the owner of the Belle Meade mansion, was arrested as a "Known men of treason," He was forced to provide supplies, slaves and money to build the fort. Union cavalry went into Black churches and many Black men and women were arrested., They were marched off to St. Cloud Hill, a former picnicking site for local citizens before the war that was a beautiful area of tall oaks that were all cut down to clear room for the fort and a killing field. It became a construction site overnight. Blacks with picks, spades, and axes went to work. The Union Army promised that they would be paid at a later date. Eventually they would owe the blacks and some loyal slave owners almost 86,000 dollars, a huge amount in 1862 dollars. Confederate cavalry attacked Nashville on November 5th.The army refused to arm the blacks. Eventually the Union army drove off the Confederates inflicting almost 70 casualties. More Union troops arrived to reinforce Nashville. Blacks cleared trees, blasted through rock, and dug storehouses underground. Black stonemasons carved the rock and built thick walls. The women cooked, hauled debris in wheelbarrows, and washed clothes. The Black workers finished Fort Negley on December 7, 1862. In the words of captain Morton , "To the credit of the colored population be it said, they worked manfully and cheerfully, with hardly an exception, and yet lay out upon the works at night under armed guard, without blankets and eating only army rations". The blacks worked in military style companies, each company having officers. It is estimated that 800 Black laborers died from accidents and exposure while working on Ft. Negley..

  The fort was six hundred feet long and three hundred feet wide. It took three months to build and later in the war was primarily manned by black troops. On December 2, 1864 General John Bell Hood's Confederate Army encircled the southern approaches to the city. Ft. Negley lobbed shells into the rebel lines during the nearly two weeks before the battle of Nashville. The guns of Ft. Negley opened the battle on December 15, 1864. Most people are unaware that Ft. Negley's name was changed to Ft. Harker after Union General Charles Harker was killed at Kennesaw Mountain Georgia. General James Negley had been disgraced and relieved of duty after the Union defeat at Chickamauga. Negley was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by a military court but he never returned to duty. Although the name of the fort was changed people continued calling it Ft. Negley and the name stuck.. After the war the fort fell into disrepair and during Reconstruction was used as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan. During the depression the WPA restored the fort to it's Civil War appearance. After World War II began it fall into disrepair and was taken over by woods and brush. As a kid I remember my mom taking me to a sunrise service there one Easter. In the early 1970's I watched a Civil War reenactment there. Greer stadium was built on the South side of the hill in the 1970's and later the Cumberland Science Museum was built on the North side. In recent years the fort has been partially restored and the city has built a visitor center which cares for the fort and interprets Nashville's role in the Civil War.

Same view as above
Black soldiers building Ft. Negley

A view from Ft. Negley looking toward Ft. Casino

My mother at Ft. Negley during the 1930's WPA restoration.  
Ft Negley as it would look if fully restored

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