After its capture in 1862, Nashville was developed by Union forces into the most fortified city in North America. A series of forts ringed the city, the largest and southernmost being Fort Negley, named for U.S. Gen. James Scott Negley, provost marshal and commander of Federal forces in Nashville.
The remains of Fort Negley are located on a high hill south of downtown Nashville at the confluence of Interstates 65 and 40 and adjacent to the Cumberland Science Museum and Greer Stadium. The site, known as St. Cloud Hill, was a favorite picnic area for citizens prior to the war.
During the 1930s, WPA work crews restored the old fort to its original appearance, but the location was allowed to deteriorate and become overgrown with vegetation.
In 1865 the fort was renamed Fort Harker due to Gen. Negley's poor performance at the Battle of Chickamauga. Gen. Charles G. Harker had been killed at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia. The new name didn't stick, however, and the fort continued to be locally known as Fort Negley. Gen. Negley was later exonerated and went on to serve as a congressman and railroad president.
The opening guns of the Battle of Nashville, Dec. 15-16, 1864, were probably fired from Fort Negley, although the fort itself was never directly attacked at any time during the war.
Fort Negley was a complex fort, many of its features based on European forts. The fort was built in 1862, taking three months to construct. Many blacks were used in the construction, including 13,000 Union soldiers. The fort is 600 feet long, 300 feet wide, and covers four acres. It used 62,500 cubic feet of stone and 18,000 cubic feet of earth. It cost $130,000 to construct.
The east and west parapets are partially star-shaped, the redans allowing concentrated crossfire against attackers. At the southern end of the fort, where attack was most likely, were two massive bombproof bastions equipped with guns which could be aimed in several directions. Each bastion had tunnels which protected men moving through the works.
The stone foundation of the fort was covered with dirt, which would absorb the concussion of incoming artillery rounds and prevent the stonework from shattering. Grass was grown on the earthworks to prevent erosion.
At the center of the structure was a 12-foot-high stockade built of cedar posts, with turrets. Underground water cisterns were kept inside the stockade, which was designed as the last defensive position in case the fort was overrun.
Left standing near the stockade were two tall trees, which were used as observation platforms and signal stations.
The main entrance gate to the fort was secured with an enclosure through which troops and visitors had to pass.
Two interior works (east and west) flanked the stockade. On the west work was casement No. 1, a gun emplacement fortified with railroad iron. Inside was a 30-pound Parrot rifle, a cannon which could hurl a 29-pound shell 2.5 miles.
Wooden artillery platforms were built behind the east and west parapets for the 11 guns in the fort. Approximately 75 men were required to operate the artillery.
The hill on which Fort Negley stood was cleared of trees to provide wood for the structure and to open up fields of fire.
Over the years, Fort Negley deteriorated and become overgrown and forgotten. Now, however, efforts are being made to restore the old fort to its original appearance.
Fort Negley was officially re-opened to the public with ceremonies on Fri., Dec. 10, 2004. Interpretive signage along walkways tell the story of the fort and the people who built and manned it.
The Fort Negley Visitors Center opened to the public on Dec. 15, 2007. The center is located at 1100 Fort Negley Blvd. The Center features exhibits, monthly activities, annual events and self-guided tours of Fort Negley Park. The 4,605-square-foot, $1 million facility includes a small multipurpose theater, exhibit space, meeting room, staff spaces, public restrooms, and an outdoor plaza. Admission to Fort Negley is free. Operating Hours are from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm., Tuesday through Saturday.
Visitors will be able to search the national Soldier and Sailor Database to learn where their ancestors served during the Civil War. The kiosk located near the entrance of the Visitors Center allows you to personally connect with the only war where Americans fought one another. View photos of 1860s Nashville and listen to Center Interpreters bring the stories alive.
The film, “The Fall of Nashville” will premiere in the Fort Negley Theatre. This film is an introduction to the occupation of Nashville, the need for fortifications, and Fort Negley’s ultimate demise. Exhibits located outside the theatre depict the many aspects of the city’s Civil War history.
Visitors can read about the roles of the conscript laborers, the United States Colored Troops, and ordinary citizens. Learn about the design and construction of the fort through interactive exhibits. See the effects of a sudden occupation on Nashville’s citizens. Hear about the strength and bravery of the men who built the fort, hear stories and see photos of life in the occupied city, and experience the heartbreak of the Battle of Nashville.
The center is intended to serve as a hub for Civil War heritage tourism in Middle Tennessee. Rather than competing with other historic sites, the intent is to develop partnerships with other agencies to enhance and expand the educational and economic benefits of heritage tourism in the area. In addition, programs and events offered by a full time staff at the center will provide students and the public at large new opportunities to understand Nashville's fascinating Civil War past.
Fort Negley is located adjacent to the center. Stabilized and enhanced with interpretive signage and walkways, the fort opened to the public in December 2004 for the first time in 60 years. Fort Negley was the largest fortification built by the occupying Union Army in Nashville and the largest inland stone fort built during the Civil War. Measuring 600 feet by 300 feet, Negley covered four acres and was constructed from October to December 1862. The stronghold was constructed by conscript laborers, both slaves and free blacks, of stone, logs, earth, and railroad iron. More than 2700 African American men worked to build Fort Negley; only 300 were paid for their labor.
The City of Nashville's enhancements to the fort and the construction of the visitors center represents the largest municipal appropriation for Civil War preservation in the United States.
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