Fort Donelson National Battlefield | RIVER BATTERIES

Lower river battery at Fort Donelson

Lower river battery at Fort Donelson

TOUR STOP 4:  RIVER BATTERIES

The fourth stop on a tour of Fort Donelson National Battlefield is at the artillery batteries that prevented Union ships from traveling upriver to Nashville. This is the best stop on the battlefield tour, and one of the best stops at any Civil War fort in the National Park System. Get there on a lovely day as I did and the photo opportunities are endless. Be sure to arrive before noon when the sun will be over your shoulder as you look in the direction the guns are facing, which is downriver (the water flows right to left and eventually empties into the Ohio River not too far to the north). You can get right down to the batteries or take in the view from above at an observation deck.

Confederate cannon guards the Cumberland River at Fort Donelson's lower river battery

Confederate cannon guards the Cumberland River at Fort Donelson’s lower river battery

Observation deck overlooks the Cumberland River and the lower river battery at Fort Donelson

Observation deck overlooks the Cumberland River and the lower river battery at Fort Donelson

Union Flag Officer Andrew Foote defeated the Confederates on February 4, 1862, at forts Henry and Heiman on the Tennessee River just 12 miles to the west of Fort Donelson with nothing but ironclad ships. Once General Ulysses S. Grant arrived with his land forces, Foote headed downriver to the Ohio, connected to the Cumberland River, and then steamed south to begin a similar attack on Fort Donelson. The battle took place on the 14th, but this time around the Confederate cannon did so much damage that Foote, who was wounded, and his ironclads had to retreat, leaving the brunt of the attack on Fort Donelson to Grant and his 27,000-man army that was now marching east from the conquered forts.

Lower river battery at Fort Donelson, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Lower river battery at Fort Donelson, Fort Donelson National Battlefield

There are two river batteries, an upper and lower, and these were actually built in 1861 before Fort Donelson. The lower battery, the most prominent at the tour stop, was armed with 8 32-pounder cannon and a 10-inch smoothbore Columbaid. Pounder refers to the weight of the cannonball that can be shot, and the 32-pounder guns could shoot the ball up to a mile. The Columbaid could actually shoot a 128-pound projectile up to three miles.

32-pounder gun at the lower river battery at Fort Donelson

32-pounder gun at the lower river battery at Fort Donelson

Ten-inch smoothbore Columbaid at Fort Donelson's lower river battery

Ten-inch smoothbore Columbaid at Fort Donelson’s lower river battery

The upper river battery, which is not as noticeable, is on the other side of the parking lot and somewhat hidden from view by the terrain. You must walk down a fairly steep hill to get to it, but if you’ve seen the lower battery and have trouble walking down hills, you aren’t missing anything.

Path down to the upper river battery at Fort Donelson

Path down to the upper river battery at Fort Donelson

The battery had one 64-pounder rifled Columbaid and two 32-pounder carronades (typically used as deck guns on a ship). Unlike the lower battery that has been completely reconstructed, all there is at the upper battery are cannons.

64-pounder rifled Columbaid at Fort Donelson's upper river battery

64-pounder rifled Columbaid at Fort Donelson’s upper river battery

32-pounder carronade at Fort Donelson's upper river battery

32-pounder carronade at Fort Donelson’s upper river battery

Most of the cannon at Fort Donelson are authentic Civil War and Mexican War-era guns, but only one—the Columbaid at the upper battery—was actually used during the Battle of Fort Donelson. Three cannon at the lower battery are fiberglass reproductions.

View of the Cumberland River from the upper river battery at Fort Donelson

View of the Cumberland River from the upper river battery at Fort Donelson


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Last updated on March 1, 2023
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