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Fort Donelson

Fort Donelson in Dover, Tennessee, might never have found its prominent place on the American map had it not been for its strategic location and the key role it played during the American Civil War. In 1862, the Confederate fort served as a gateway to Union troops successfully conquering key Southern strongholds during the War.

The Battle at Fort Donelson took place on February 14, 1862. At first, the battle seemed a win for the Confederate troops. However, as Union troops began to encircle the Confederate armies, the prospect of victory seemed less certain. Confederate resources were largely depleted and more Union troops were on their way. So, on February 16, 1862, Confederate Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner called for terms, surrendering the fort to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Dover Hotel in Dover, Tennessee.

"No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted," read General Grant’s terms.

So, the rigid terms were accepted and, as a result, the Confederate armies soon lost control of significant Southern territories in Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, within a few days of Fort Donelson’s surrender, both Nashville and Clarksville, Tennessee would be dominated by Union troops, and the South would eventually be forced to resign Southern Kentucky, and much of Middle and West Tennessee, in the days which followed.  

The surrender at Fort Donelson was the North’s first great victory and proved to be a strategically valuable win for the Union Army. It gave them access to and control of the waterways and railroads that ran through this central part of the country. The Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, as well as the railroads, served as valuable supply lines and proved vitally important to the future Union efforts.

Today, visitors can view the Fort Donelson National Battlefield and National Cemetery. The 11-stop self-guided tour gives visitors a closer look at the grounds upon which their ancestors may have trod. Replicas of the original log huts where Confederate soldiers would have lived are on display to give guests a perspective of how troops might have lived.

Another stop on the tour is The Dover Hotel, the sight of the infamous Confederate surrender. Visitors can walk through the museum and read excerpts from these historic documents and view a film that gives a more complete history of this historic event.  

While there, visitors to Fort Donelson can also view the Confederate monument that was erected here in 1933. The monument was coordinated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and paid for by donations from all over the country.

In addition to its rich history, Fort Donelson is home to a number of hiking trails and picnic areas. Located within the National Park Service’s Fort Donelson Unit are the remains of Fort Heiman and the Fort Henry Trail System.

Fort Henry was surrendered to the Union Armies in February 1862. The Trail System there is all that remains for visitors to view today. However, visitors can also view the remains of the earthen fort preserved at Fort Heiman. So, there is plenty for Civil War enthusiasts to learn and view during their visit to Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.  

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Honker Bay
Photo by John Mahler

Honker Bay, located near The Nature Station, is a great place to hike or simply stop to observe a beautiful sunset.