Anatomy of River Defenses
A War Anything But Civil
Hallowed Ground Magazine, Winter 2011
At the Civil War’s outset, Kentucky’s declaration of neutrality forced Tennessee into the position of occupying the Confederacy’s western frontier. Unable at that early stage to advance north to the Ohio River, arguably the natural boundary between North and South, Confederate officials looking to fortify the nautical highways of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers were forced to look for suitable sites as close to the Kentucky–Tennessee boundary as possible. Thus, site selection for Forts Henry and Donelson was driven as much by political considerations as military strategy.
Fort Donelson, meanwhile, was far more judiciously situated, occupying a 100-foot hill above the Cumberland River. Its guns were distributed among three levels: the two “water batteries” on the slope held 12-guns to command the river; the principle, or lower, battery held a 10-inch Columbiad and assorted 32-pounders; the upper battery counted a 64-pound rifled Columbiad and two 64-pound howitzers. The fort’s interior contained several small howitzers to deflect any attack from the land side. Eventually, three miles of infantry entrenchments ringed the fort and the town of Dover, with much of the length reinforced by abatis, or sharpened felled trees.