868 in Action
LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES
(Spring BreakTrip, April 2006)
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Thursday morning was a bit more rushed than our other days because we still had a couple of venues to visit as well as break camp and get the bus packed for the trip home. Our first destination was the Confederate Civil War Fort Donelson in Dover, TN at the southern end of the LBL area.
Fort Donelson was erected by the Confederates to protect the Cumberland River from the Union army. A sister fort on the Tennessee River, Fort Henry, was to similarly protect that river. But neither fort was adequately prepared when a young Union commander named Ulysses Grant brought an army up the Tennessee River preceded by ironclad gunboats. Fort Henry fell after bombardment from the gunboats and many of the confederate troops retreated 12 miles to Fort Donelson during the time it took for the gunboats to sail north to the juncture of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers then south up the Cumberland. Hoping for a similar easy win without a land battle, the Union gunboats attacked Fort Donelson as they had Fort Henry. But Fort Donelson's river batteries repelled them and sent the damaged Union ironclads into retreat. A land battle followed, but 3 arguing Confederate generals who could not agree on a defensive strategy doomed any chance the South may have had in holding the fort. The Confederates surrender of the fort gave the Union access by river to Nashville and into the heart of the Confederacy. It was then only a matter of time until the Union would be successful in splitting the South.
Because the Confederates surrendered the fort without much of a fight, the fort was not destroyed to the extent of most Civil War battle sites. The fort didn't have stone walls in the sense of most forts; it was actually a series of earthen berms separated by wide, barren fields. Each ring of berms had cannon batteries. Should the enemy manage to scale the first berm, they would have to advance across the open fields where they would be easy targets for the next line of defenses. Or, at least, that's how it should work if the fort had an adequate number of troops, supplies, and proper training.
The visitor center at Fort Donelson showed an informative slide show. Afterward, visitors proceed to take a self-guided driving tour of the fort which covers move than 15 acres. One of the first stops on the driving tour was the Confederate monument. Because the rebels who died in battle at Fort Donelson were considered traitors, the Union Army did not permit them to be buried in the federal cemetery established at the site. To recognize their service, the Daughters of the Confederacy later raised funds to erect a monument in their memory.
A surprising, but totally impressive feature of our visit was the opportunity to see an Eagle nest in a stand of trees in the middle of one of the open fields. We were there during nesting season and young eaglets had recently hatched and were still in the next being fed constantly by the parent birds who alternately left the nest. The immediate nesting area of eagles is protected by federal law, but the placement of this next gave visitors a "birds' eye view" from a safe distance.
On the way back to camp from Fort Donelson we drove through the elk and bison range where we saw both from the windows of the bus. At one location, several bison were standing only about 50 feet from the road. The elk that we spotted, however, were huddled at the edge of the woods and we weren't able to get any really good photographs of them.
After departing from Energy
Lake Campground, we drove home via Fairview, Kentucky to stop and see the
Jefferson Davis Monument. This poured concrete obelisk patterned after the
Washington Monument is a bit more than 2/3 the size of Washington's. Still
impressive, it's the 4th tallest monument in the country and the tallest made of
poured concrete. Visitors can ride an elevator to the observation level
near the top. Unfortunately, the monument is only open to the public from
May through October, so it was closed at the time of our visit. It was
still worth the drive just to see it, however.
|At the Nature Center, Philip held a rat snake as Tim and Stephen observed.||Scouts also saw an American Bald Eagle that had been injured and wasn't able to be returned to the wild.|
|This tom turkey puffed his feathers and gobbled whenever visitors approached the fence near any of the hen turkeys.||Back in camp, chess and other board games continued to be popular activities around meal times.|
|A pair of Bald Eagles had a nest with young eaglets in the middle of a field at Fort Donelson. Look closely to see one of the parent eagles' heads poking above the top of the nest.||Soldiers at Fort Donelson wintered in small, cabin-like shelters such as these. The roof is stretched canvas, not wood. The floor is dirt. The small fireplace provided welcome heat.|
|Trey and Chris performed color guard duty before the troop departed camp on Tuesday morning.||What else can be said? This is the obligatory photo with everyone gathered around an old cannon.|
|Viewing the river batteries at Fort Donelson, it's easy to see how the fort withstood the Union's attack from the river side.||American Bison (buffalo) such as these have been re-introduced to the Land Between the Lakes.|