FORT NEGLEY IN NASHVILLE (1862-1867)
During the fall and winter of 1862, the Union army built Fort
Negley to defend Nashville against Confederate army attacks.
On February 25, 1862, after the CSA Army of
Tennessee retreated from the recent defeat at Fort Donelson, the Union
army occupied Nashville. In March of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed
a Tennessean, U. S. Senator Andrew Johnson, to serve as military governor.
Because of his nervousness about Confederate attacks on Nashville, Johnson
begged federal officials to fortify the town. The commanding general ordered
the post commander, General James S. Negley, to use the post's 6,000 soldiers
and black laborers to construct fortifications for Nashville and around
Negley employed Captain James S. Morton, an
army engineer, to design and build a large fort to protect the south roads
and railroad approaches to Nashville. Because the Confederate armies still
roamed parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, Morton received orders to move
with all deliberate speed. Morton wired Buell: "I lost 48 hours trying
to get Negroes, teams, tools, cooking utensils, and provisions. Only 150
Negroes so far, no tools, teams, etc. I wanted to employ 825 Negroes by
the 11th [of August, 1862]."
The Union army launched a campaign to recruit
and impress (force) nearly 2,000 blacks (free and slave) into Fort Negley's
labor battalions. "Known men of treason," including Belle Meade
plantation's William G. Harding, suffered arrest and confiscation of their
money, slaves, and supplies to support Morton's project. The Union cavalry
surrounded Nashville's three black (quasi-independent) churches, arrested
strong black men and women, and marched them to the St. Cloud hill construction
site with axes, picks, and spades in return for certificates of labor to
be paid later. Before the project ended, the army would Own the blacks
and some "loyal slave owners" over $85,958 in wages.
On November 5, some Confederate cavalry attempted
to invade the city's eastern suburbs. The black laborers sent a delegation
to Morton to ask for arms. Morton refused to issue arms, but he allowed
the blacks to form a symbolic defensive line with picks and axes. During
the fight, an artillery shell struck John Trimble's smokehouse (the site
of today's black Cameron-Trimble neighborhood). The federal military drove
the Confederates off and inflicted 68 enemy casualties. More federal troops
arrived to garrison the town. rebuild bridges, and forage the countyside
for food and supplies.
Black workers cleared the hill of trees, blasted
the solid rock, and dug underground magazines. Expert slave stone masons
shaped the stone and laid thick masonry walls. Black women washed clothes,
cooked food, and hauled debris in wheelbarrows.
The Union army and the black workers completed
Fort Negley on December 7, 1862. Captain Morton said, "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. They worked
in squads [Military-like companies], each gang choosing their own officers;
one was often amused to hear the Negro captains call out: 'You boys over
there, let them picks fall easy, or they might hurt somebody."' Hundreds
of black laborers died from exposure and accidents when working on such
Union army projects.
Fort Negley became the largest Union fort west
of Washington, D. C. The topmost structure consisted of twelve-foot timbers,
a stockade to hold horses and soldiers' quarters. Rounded wooden rifle
turrets rested on top of each corner of the stockade. The artillery rested
on carriages and smooth plank-flooring on the parapet (flat, platform-like
area) surrounding the outside of the stockade. Three-foot ramparts (nine-foot-thick
embankments of earth walled with stone) protected the flat artillery area.
Projected redans protected the ramparts on the east and the west sides
of the stockade. Scarps (steep slopes) and glacis (a smooth, gentle slope)
rested below the east and west ramparts and parapets. Two groups of four
blockhouses (bomb shelters topped with railroad iron, railroad timbers,
and dirt) protected the bottom of these hills on the left and the right
sides of the fort's south section. A salient system projected out to protect
the bastioned blockhouses. Above the bastion was a stone scarp to protect
the first two blockhouses, a passage connecting the two parallel blockhouses,
another stone scarp rising above the passage, and the other two blockhouses
rising above the scarp with a protected passage between these blockhouses.
Morton placed the fort's entrance on the north side with a gentle slope
overlooking the city two miles beyond. The fort also had a sharp salient,
a gateway, a timber guardhouse, and a loop-holed bomb shelter flanking
the gate. Fort Negley, a polygonal copy of an old Spanish design consumed
62,500 cubic feet of stone and 18,000 cubic yards of dirt; occupied 600
by 300 feet and 51 acres of St. Cloud Hill; and rested some 620 feet above
The Union army abandoned Fort Negley soon after
1867. The local Ku Klux Klan held secret meetings in the fort's blockhouses
until 1869. During the early 1900s, Nashville's black Republican party
leaders unsuccessfully petitioned Republican presidents to restore the
fort. In 1937, the federal Works Progress Administration restored Fort
Negley. The fort, however, was allowed to fall into ruins again until interest
to restore the fort began anew with the 1964 Civil War Centennial Celebration.
In 1975, Fort Negley was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1980, the Metro Historical Commission and
an MHC plaque marked the entrance to the site. Years later, the Tennessee
Historical Commission placed a historical plaque to note the involvement
of blacks in the Civil War and construction of Fort Negley. Local community
activist, Joe Kelso (Ghetto Joe), pushed for the restoration of the fort
until his death. Based upon the Mayor's Advisory Committee's recommendations,
in 1994 the City Council approved $500,000 to begin the restoration of
Fort Negley as a historical, tourist, and community resource.