Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Spring Flings II: Tennessee Civil War National Battlefields

At the end of March I headed to middle Tennessee en route to Kentucky for yet another knitting retreat. Since I don't often get this way I took advantage of the opportunity to pursue another one of my interests - the American Civil War. On my way to Kentucky I detoured through Clarksville, TN, home of the US Army 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles" and Austin Peay State University.
McGregor Park, Riverside Drive, Clarksville, TN

 It was cold and rainy - not a pretty day for sightseeing but I persevered anyway. Hey, at least nothing was crowded - I pretty much had everything to myself! We'd had heavy rains much of the week and the Cumberland River showed the cumulative effects of all the rain that had hit the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee and Kentucky. Can you say FULL? This was the view of the river from a small museum and park in downtown Clarksville. Definitely not canoeing weather for sure.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield Entrance
The drive over to Dover and Fort Donelson National Battlefield takes you along the southern border of Ft. Campbell. To the north all you see is a big fence and very tall trees, to the south it is all relatively flat farmland. It's very pretty but definitely different from East Tennessee's hills. Dover is a very small hamlet located on the west bank of the Cumberland River/Lake Barkley just south of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. A couple of stoplights and you've passed all of town and arrived at the entrance to the National Battlefield.
Confederate Monument, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Confederate Canons on the banks of the Cumberland River
If you want a peaceful, contemplative afternoon at an important Civil War battle site, go on a rainy day in March. I saw the movie (very good!) at the Visitors Center by myself, bought a couple of items at the gift shop (support your National Parks by getting your goodies at an official park gift shop!), and headed out to see the monuments and the canons. I anticipated the markers about the Union and Confederate Armies, the earthenworks, the canons overlooking the river. What I didn't anticipate were the eagles. Not the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles based out of Fort Campbell, but American Bald Eagles! I'm reading interpretive signs in a forested area just past the canonball-stacked gates to the riverfront area when I notice a smaller sign to my right. The sign tells visitors the area is off-limits because it is an eagle nesting area. I glance up just in time to see a huge eagle clutching something in it's talons swoop among the trees right at eye level. I gasp!

Bald Eagle
I get in my car and drive to the riverfront overlook to look at the canons, appreciate the view, and contemplate what happened in this place. I pull out my new tripod and camera to take a few photos, positioning to camera to capture a big tree in the foreground. It is then that I look up and see THE EAGLE perched not even 25 feet away from me. We are alone - the river, the canons, the eagle, and me - standing in the drizzle. I am awestruck. I am humbled. I am wet. I take pictures - lots of pictures.

Fort Donelson National Cemetery
Fort Donelson National Cemetery
After my eagle experience I drove over to the nearby National Cemetery where many of the Union Soldiers are buried. On a wooded bluff high above the river is a beautiful house and the classic white marble headstones which tell the truth about war. Men died - lots of them. I did what I always do at National Cemeteries filled with fallen soldiers - I cried. It was raining and I was alone so who would know?

Dover Hotel
My last stop was in town at an old hotel/tavern that I'm sure was a nice place 150 years ago. The Dover Hotel has a majestic view of the Cumberland River and was the headquarters for Confederate Major General Simon Buckner. It was here that General Buckner was given no other option but Unconditional Surrender to Union Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant was known forever after as unconditional surrender, U.S. Grant. The loss at Ft. Donelson opened the way to Nashville and Union invasion of the Deep South. It was one of the earliest, critical battles of the Civil War.