Fort Negley--Past, Present, and Future
|Historic Union Fort Negley, once the centerpiece of the Federal fortifications around occupied Nashville during the Civil War, will be opened to the public in December 2004 to coincide with the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville.
Local historian David Currey spoke about the fort and its history at the May 20th BONPS meeting. Currey, the executive director at Travellers Rest Plantation, earlier this year received the BONPS Distinguished Service Award for his efforts in historic preservation.
Currey said he is now acting as consultant in the interpretation of the fort, which will be accessible to the public by using elevated walkways. Informational panels and kiosks will reflect several different themes, he said, including Antebellum Nashville, War in the Western Theater, the Capture and Occupation of Nashville, the Battle of Nashville, Reconstruction, Historical Restoration, and the Fort in the Public Imagination.
The City of Nashville is spending $1 million in parks funds to stabilize the site, and provide parking, walkways, and interpretive signage. Another $1 million will be spent in future years to build a small interpretive center.
The fort is past reclamation, Currey said. It is interpreting a ruin. Even so, the site offers great historical and financial rewards for Nashville.
The fort was built in 1862-63 in a unique European star-shaped design by James St. Clair Morton, chief engineer of the Army of the Ohio. The fort is divided into three sections: the outer redans and bastion fronts; the main works which housed large artillery in reinforced casemates; and the central wooden stockade.
It was named after Gen. James Negley, who was the Nashville post commander at the time.
At the end of 1862 the fort enclosed 180,000 square feet and had cost $120,00 to build. It also had cost the lives of 600 to 800 workers, mostly freed or refugee slaves, called contrabands. The workers slept in the open air on the hillside during construction. Only 310 ever received any pay for their work. After the war, Union officers were reprimanded for the horrible living conditions in the contraband camps.
In 1862, the largest guns in the fort were a 64-lb. siege mortar and a 48-lb. mortar. Each of the redans housed a Napoleon or light artillery piece (Houghtalings battery).
By 1864, the redan platforms were boasting 30-lb. Parrot rifles (large artillery pieces with rifling in the barrels).
At first, U.S. troops were quartered outside the fort but later they resided within the ravelins, building tent structures with chimneys.
During the war, the fort was never directly attacked. At the end of the war, Gen. Negley fell out of favor for his role in the Battle of Chickamauga and the fort was renamed Fort Harker, in honor of Gen. Harker, killed at Kennesaw Mountain. For some reason, the name change never stuck.
U.S. troops occupied the fort until 1867. The local Ku Klux Klan met at the abandoned fort, reportedly because it was close to the black community.
In the 1880s the structure was completely abandoned and stripped of any usable materials. It became a city eyesore until the 1920s, when the city bought the site from the Overton family as a basis for a military park. Funding for the park never materialized, and the fort kept deteriorating until 1936, when WPA work crews rebuilt the fort during the Depression. What exists today is the WPA reconstruction, with the original fort foundation and walls buried beneath. Although the WPA built an impressive structure, the crews did a lot of archeological damage.
Unfortunately, the fort again fell into disrepair, a victim of the New South. Interest peaked again in the early 1990s as a result of prodding by the BONPS and the Metro Historical Commission. A master plan was adopted in 1994-95 to find a way to reopen the site.
In December, ten years later, that plan will become a reality.
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