Visiting Fort Donelson, TN

Whenever we travel, we like to add a stop or two at National Parks for the kids to earn Junior Ranger badges, and for us to learn about another aspect of the history and character of our country.  Once we know where we are headed I like to look at the National Park maps and see what might be on our route.  Our 14th Junior Ranger Badge came from Fort Donelson, TN.

On our recent travels, we squeezed in a last minute stop at Fort Donelson in Dover, TN.  We traveled from Nashville to get there and Google’s direct route was rather scenic.  We were directed down many rural roads and gave us a real flavor of the landscape and towns of that part of Tennessee. It was beautiful.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

Confederate Fort, Union Victory

Fort Donelson is a National Battlefield.  It is the site of a Union victory at a Confederate Fort on the Cumberland River.  One of the stories of the battle is of the friendship between Confederate Brig. General Simon B. Buckner and Union General Ulysses S. Grant.  Classmates at West Point and comrades in the Mexican-American War.  Buckner even loaned Grant some money so he could get home after the war.  They now found themselves on opposite sides of the battle leading the fight against each other.  They reconciled shortly before Grant’s death, which was symbolic of the healing needed for the whole nation after the Civil War.

Multiple Sites to visit

The area has 4 separate sites to visit.  There is the visitor center, National Cemetery, Dover Hotel, and the Confederate River Batteries.  The visitor center was closed for remodeling when we were there and a temporary center was set up in the city’s Visitor Center nearby.  There was a short movie and displays of the battle.  Rangers are also available at the Visitor Center to give you the Junior Ranger materials.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Dover Hotel is not staffed but is open for self guided tours during the day.  This is where the terms of surrender were worked out between Grant and Buckner.  The National Cemetery is next to the Battlefield.  We spent most of our visit in the park and driving the self guided tour to the River Batteries.

We made our first stop at the temporary visitor center to pick up our Junior Ranger materials and watched the introduction video.  There were a variety of maps and posters to look at as well.  Then we drove across the main road to the actual Battlefield.  Because the site is a protected natural space there was a variety of wildlife to see while we drove including Eagles and Foxes. We saw a fox and a deer when we were driving through.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

You can see the trenches throughout the battlefield that the two sides built.  They are much larger than you imagine them to be.  The boys had quite the imagination and wished they could have climbed into them, which is discouraged.  When we arrived at the Cumberland River where Fort Donelson stood you could see the cannons lined up at the river where it could defend against Ironclad gunboats.  You can can walk the trenches with the cannons on the hillside and see the earthen bunker where addition munition was stored.

Our Take

We spent about 2 hours here between the sites.  It was quite a bit off the interstate and off the main roads, but well worth it for the history lesson we gained.  My 4th grader and Kindergartner both got something out of the visit.  The ability to walk where the soldiers walked gave all of us an opportunity to think about what it was like to be there and see it from their perspective.

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

The Junior Ranger book at this site is one of the better ones we have seen.  The color pages included labeling a map of the battle and the surrounding states and rivers. It also included historical cultural context and wildlife you find in the park today.  The activities for the younger students were nature based.  In addition to the Junior Ranger pin on badge students have the opportunity to earn a patch as well by completing extra activities in the activity book. Lynn was lucky enough to earn both the pin and patch!

Fort Donelson Junior Ranger @InsideOurNormal

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