Battlefield Tour Frustrating, Fascinating

By Columnist Gail Kerr
The Tennessean, Nashville Daily Newspaper
Sun., July 21, 2002

It's a stretch of the imagination to feel the horrors of war while driving in an air-conditioned car and wearing Birkenstocks.

But I made a noble effort when I took a driving tour of the Battle of Nashville sites around town. The battle was the ''last major engagement of the Civil War,'' according to the driving tour map. The driving tour covers the events of Dec. 2-16, 1864, both the battle and the events beforehand.

The map urges those who try to retrace this path of history to suspend the reality of ''well-tended suburban neighborhoods'' and imagine what it looked like in December 1864. Easier said than done on a hot summer afternoon.

Still, with a little imagination, it's a tour that helps cast a fresh eye on familiar turf. It was bitterly cold when the Battle of Nashville began. The land was a sprawl of ruins, and the Confederate soldiers were weary and barely clothed as they tried to reclaim occupied Nashville. Union soldiers watched over the city from its highest hills.

The tour was fascinating but frustrating. Fascinating because I learned much about my city. The tour teaches where the battle lines were, where men were buried and where the generals lived. Frustrating because many of the sites are damaged by time, overgrown vegetation and neglect. Frustrating, also, because the map is virtually impossible to follow. You need to print out more complete explanations and directions from the Internet.

The Web site is <> . Or call 862-7970 to get a map. They are put out by the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society and the Metro Historical Commission.

There are familiar places, which took on not-so-familiar roles. For example, the stunning Downtown Presbyterian Church was known as ''Hospital No. 8'' during the occupation of Nashville. Sunnyside Mansion, known later as Sevier Home, also was a hospital. Its current Sevier Park location was directly between the Union and Confederate lines.

Today, the house is facing its own battles. It's boarded up. Visitors can't go inside. Metro has had plans for some time to renovate it, but even the construction signs are showing wear and tear.

The Blockhouse Casino, on Eighth Avenue South near Wedgewood, was built by Union soldiers ''as part of the fortifications surrounding the city to the south and the west,'' the map says.

The Eighth Avenue Reservoir, which held the city's water from 1887 to 1889, is still there. You'll just have to take the map's word for it. You can't see a thing from the rutted and pitted driveway except overgrown trees.

The same is true at nearby Fort Negley, a major Union stronghold. The city has had plans in the works for some time to preserve it. It is falling apart while we wait.

One of the most fascinating places on the tour was ''Confederate Redoubt No. 1,'' on Benham Avenue near Green Hills. A ''redoubt'' was a small fort. Gen. John Bell Hood's Confederate soldiers built five of them. The Union attacked them on the first day of the battle. This was the last to fall.

It's just a small lot in a neighborhood now, with signs asking you to stay off the earthworks. Small as it may be, and humble, it's one of the last preserved battlefield sites in Nashville.

''From this view,'' according to the Web site, ''the Confederates were facing the Federals.''

Just imagine.

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