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Fort Donelson National Battlefield

Dover, Tennessee

Fort Donelson National Battlefield, established by the Act of March 26, 1928, was set aside "with view of preserving and marking such field for historical and professional military study." The park commemorates the battle that gave the North its first major victory of the Civil War. It was here in February 1862 that Ulysses S. Grant was catapulted into national prominence when he demanded and received the "unconditional and immediate surrender" of 13,000 Conferderate soldiers under the command of General Simon B. Buckner. This Union victory opened the heartland of the South for federal invasion. Fort Donelson National Battlefield's association to the Underground Railroad is important. This site commemorates a military post that once was used by freedom seekers as a refuge from slave owners (1862-1865). Although the Union lines offered protection to freedom seekers, enslaved African Americans remained in legal bondage according Tennesse law. Thus, many enslaved African Americans sought complete liberation by attempting to escape to nearby free states. Evidence has been found that this did happen at Fort Donelson. For instance, Colonel A.C. Harding, commander at Fort Donelson between April 1862 and May 1863, encouraged Isaac Dover and his family to mover near his home in Monmouth, Illinois. Adelia Lyon, wife of Colonel W.P. Lyon, who commanded Fort Henry and Donelson from March 1863 to September 1863, secured safe passage for an enslaved woman named Rachel to Chicago, Illinois by pretending Rachel was her slave. In a letter dated November 1862, Colonel W.W. Lowe wrote that Reverend Jerome Spilman, chaplain of 5th Iowa Calvary, left $100 and promised to send a freedom seeker to Cincinnati. There are nummerous references in military correspondences from Union commanders who sought further instructions from military officials or requested relief for the freedmen at the camps. In 1863, Fort Donelson became a recruiting station for African American troops. According to reports, Captain William Brunt, 83rd Illinois Infantry armed thirty-five black men and placed them "in line in full view of the enemy" after Confederate forces led by Colonel Joseph Wheeler and Colonel Nathan B. Forest, attempted to attack the fort. Although Union commanders ordered the men to disarm, the thirty-five would be soldiers continued to defend the Fort Donelson against the Confederate army.