Early in the Civil War, the Union army determined that taking and holding Nashville was a critical strategic link in their victory. So after Nashville fell in 1862, the Federals wasted no time fortifying the city against attacks. One of the city’s forts was Fort Negley, built between August and December 1862 on St. Cloud Hill south of the city center.
Fort Negley owes its existence to the 2,768 men who were enrolled to build it. Most were blacks, some free and some slave, who were pressed into service by the Union army. These men felled trees, hauled earth, and cut and laid limestone for the fort. They slept in the open and enjoyed few, if any, comforts while they labored. Between 600 and 800 men died while building the fort, and only 310 received payment.
When it was completed, Fort Negley was the largest inland masonry fortification in North America. It was never challenged. Fort Negley was abandoned by the military after the war, but it remained the cornerstone of one of Nashville’s oldest African-American communities, now known as Cameron-Trimble. During the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration rebuilt large sections of the crumbling fort, and it became a public park.
In 2007, the city opened a visitors center to tell the story of the fort. Fort Negley Park (Fort Negley Dr., 615/862-8470, Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m., free) includes a museum about the fort and Nashville’s role in the Civil War. There is a short paved loop trail around the base of the fort, plus raised boardwalks through the fortifications themselves. Historic markers tell the story of the fort’s construction and detail its military features.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition