After having to spend an extended period waiting for the truck to be repaired, we had only five days at our next location, Bumpus Mills Campground. This is another Corps of Engineer campground, this time on the shores of Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River. Just across the river and in between Barkley and Kentucky Lake (on the Tennessee River) is the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. For those of you that are aware of this area, you know that we were now in the extreme northwest part of Tennessee, just a few miles from Kentucky and Illinois. The drive from Nashville took over 3 hours, although most of it was along I-24. Thankfully, the traffic through Nashville was not to bad mid-morning and there were no traffic accidents to slow us down. When we pulled into Bumpus Mills we were disappointed not to find anyone working at the check-in station, so we had to find our own way to our site. Fortunately, we knew our site number from the reservation and it was open. In fact, there was only two other campers in the campground when we arrived. This is a very small campground, with only 15 sites and all of them need some work. They obviously do not spend a lot of time and resources on keeping up the campground, however, the bathroom was kept clean and the view of the lake from the campsite was nice. It was a back-in site and even with a tree across the road that I had to be careful of, I was able to get into the site with little effort. After the pressures of the previous week, it was sure nice to be in a new and quiet location. By the way, we did see the staff working the campground the following morning when they drove by to drop off our hang tag.
There was a reason for us to travel to this location, as Fort Donelson National Battlefield was a short drive away on the other side of the lake. However, this was going to have to wait as it had been over 1.5 weeks since we had done any laundry and we were both running out of undergarments to wear. There was a fairly new washing machine and dryer outside the bathrooms, however, Kal had only enough change for a single load. So we picked out what we had to have washed and I cleaned the RV while Kal did a little laundry. This was the extent of our efforts for Thursday.
On Friday, the weather turned stormy so we once again stayed in the campgrounds. Once again we found ourselves far from any major towns, so our internet service was non-existent and TV reception was limited to a single analog station out of Cape Girardeau, Illinois. It is VERY unusual to receive an analog station as they have all gone to digital. This has its advantages, since the signal was very snowy it was still much better than a broken picture and sound you get when you are out of range of digital stations. At least we could watch it!! However, this also meant we were just outside of their weather coverage, so it was not of much use during the storms. Fortunately, they were not too severe.
By Saturday, we were both more than ready to get out of the RV for a while, so we headed out to explore Fort Donelson National Battlefield. This Civil War battle also took place in 1862, but preceded Shiloh. In fact, it was due to the Union victory here that led to General Grant being able to move his army up the Tennessee River in April. At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederacy controlled all of Tennessee and had established a defensive line along the southern border of Kentucky anchored at Columbus, Kentucky on the west to Bowling Green, Kentucky on the east. In between were Forts Henry and Donelson along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, respectively. These forts are only separated by some 12 miles at this point, so constituted a single command. The problem for the south was that Fort Henry was located right on the Tennessee River and was prone to floods and during the battle in February was nearly underwater. The Confederates were in the process of constructing a new fort, Fort Heiman, on the Kentucky side of the river and the Union knew that there best chance for a victory relied on attacking before it was completed. President Lincoln was still waiting for a Union victory in the war, where all the major encounters in the east had been won by the Confederacy and was pressing for something before Washington’s Birthday on February 22. Thus General Grant got the approval to attack the forts in late January. Not wasting any time, he moved his troops into position by February 4 along with Flag Officer’s Foote gunboat flotilla. This flotilla consisted of both ironclad and lumberclad gunboats that were still new to the war. Plans were to begin with Fort Henry by bombarding the fort from the river while the troops moved up. However, Foote’s flotilla was so successful that Fort Henry had surrendered before Grant’s soldiers could fire a shot. Of course, Fort Henry was largely underwater and the Confederates made only a token resistance before retreating to Fort Donelson. It took Grant over a week to consolidate his position and begin moving his troops the 12 miles to Fort Donelson. Of course the weather did not cooperate. Have you ever noticed that the weather NEVER cooperated during the Civil War? Part of the story of every major battle we have seen has been the terrible condition of the muddy roads, heavy downpours, and in this case a blizzard that hit the night of February 13. By this point Grant had surrounded three sides of Fort Donelson with the Cumberland River to their back. Up to this point there had been some fighting as the Confederates kept the Union beyond their first defensive line. On February 14, Foote once again brought his flotilla to attack the water batteries of the fort. However, unlike Fort Henry, the river batteries at Fort Donelson commanded a much higher location and were able to fire their seacoast cannon down into the relatively unprotected wooden upper decks of the gunboats. After nearly 1.5 hours 3 out of the 4 ironclad gunboats were severely damaged or sunk and they had to withdraw. It was interesting to note that this barrage became known as “Iron Valentines” since the battle occurred on Valentine’s Day, 1862. Even with this victory, the Confederate Generals knew they could not withstand a siege, so on February 15 they executed a surprise attack on the Union right flank to open up an escape route to the east towards Nashville. This attack was initially successful, nearly routing the Union forces on the right flank. However, instead of holding this position, General Pillow ordered his men back to their trenches to resupply for the escape. In the meantime, General Buckner had pulled most of his men from the Confederate right flank to begin the evacuation. Thus there was only light resistance when General Grant ordered General Smith to attack the Confederate right believing the strong attack on his right must have left them vulnerable. This attack was initially successful forcing the Confederates back to their second defensive line of trenches, but was stopped when General Buckner quickly turned his men around once he realized that General Pillow was not holding the escape route open. By the end of the day, the Union had retaken its position on the right flank, once again cutting off any escape, and had advanced to the first defensive line on the left flank. In the meantime, the Confederate Generals knew they were in serious trouble. The overall commander was General Floyd, who had only a political appointment that began two days before the battle when he took over command of the fort. He turned over command to General Pillow and escaped with his personal battalion of 2000 soldiers across the Cumberland River. General Pillow also relinquished command to General Buckner and escaped with General Floyd. Therefore, it was up to General Buckner, who was the only West Point trained commander at the fort, to seek offers of surrender. When asked for terms, General Grant replied that the surrender had to be unconditional, which led to his nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant in lieu of his initials, U.S. They met the next morning to work out the details at the Dover Hotel and although the surrender was “unconditional”, General Grant did allow the nearly 13,000 Confederate troops to keep their dignity and personal possessions. The outcome of this battle was the opening of an invasion route to the heart of the Confederacy, who had to give up all control of Kentucky and most of northern and western Tennessee. They also abandoned Nashville, which became the major supply depot for the Union army in the west.
It is not surprising that Fort Henry is today completely covered by Kentucky Lake, since it was often flooded due to its location right on the river. Also the exact location of Fort Heiman has also been lost. Therefore, the only remains of the battlefields are around Fort Donelson. They have a nice driving tour that takes in the major locations of the two day battle. The most notable, of course, is Fort Donelson itself. For some reason, I had expected to see a brick and mortar fort like you see all along the coast. Fort Donelson was actually only an earthen fort with 10-12 foot moats in front of the earth walls. This was for two reasons. First, its main purpose was to protect the water batteries from land attack, so major fortifications were not necessary. Second, earthen forts are better able to withstand the pounding of cannon, which you can easily understand after looking at the damage to the coastal forts such as Fort Pulaski in Georgia. The remains of the fort are in surprisingly good condition as you can easily see the walls surrounding the fort. Even though a battle was fought here, all of it occurred well outside the fort in the defensive trenches. The fort itself was never actually attacked from the land and the naval barrage was aimed at the water batteries, which suffered only minor damage. They also have a replica of the crude wooden huts used by the Confederates both within and outside the fort. While crude, with canvas roofs, these huts were much better protection during the blizzard that hit then the canvas tents of the Union army, if they even had that. Part of the tour is also the Dover Hotel which is the only surviving building where a surrender occurred during the war. For those of you that think Appomattox Courthouse also qualifies, the present day building is a reconstruction as the original building was taken down to be moved to Washington D.C. as a tourist attraction. This idea fell through, but the wood was left to rot on the ground. Finally, the tour ends at the National Cemetery where the Union soldiers were re-interred after the war. As with other battlefields, the losing side was left in mass graves on the battlefield. It was interesting to find out that the cemetery was also the location of a new Fort Donelson built by the Union army to protect Dover instead of using the old fort since protecting the waterway was no longer a priority. The Confederates tried to retake Dover twice over the next two years of the war, eventually completely destroying the town.
On our last day in the area we decided to explore the Cross Creeks National Wildlife Refuge on Sunday. This NWR was established in 1962 when Barkley Lake was formed and extends along the new lakefront along the Cumberland River. They is a 10 mile road, mostly along the river and the wetlands created by the lake. It is a very pretty drive with many views of the lake and surrounding wetlands, often on both sides of the road. There is a nesting Bald Eagle pair along the drive, however, we were not fortunate enough to see them and the nest is now hidden by the leaves. We did see a racoon on the one-mile loop trail on the refuge and a Barred owl in the trees alongside the road. We also found a very nice place for a picnic lunch before heading back the way we came along the river. It was a very pleasant day and much better then relaxing in the campgrounds!! So much for Tennessee this spring as we will now be heading into Kentucky.