Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I think Johnsonville is one of the more interesting battles of the Civil War. In late October 1864 Forrest was raiding in western Tennessee and Kentucky. Moving south along the west bank Tennessee River he captured several Union steamers and a gunboat. So for a short time Forrest conducted a joint operation, cavalry and navy. He continued up the river to Johnsonville where there was a huge Union supply depot. On November 4th he began placing artillery across the river from the depot. His guns were well placed and he quickly disabled the Union gunboats. The Union feared he'd cross the river so they decided to burn the supplies rather than let him capture them. The fire got out of control and the Confederates fired on the depot to prevent the Union from extinguishing the fire. That night the depot blazed while Forrest withdrew. The next morning he bombarded the depot one last time. The damage has been estimated at 2.2 to 6.7 million dollars.

The battle is actually interpreted at two sites. On the east bank of the Tennessee River is Johnsonville State Historic Area. This is where the depot was. TVA dams have eliminated our ability to walk the actual ground of the depot but there are some earthworks on the higher elevations in the park.

And at the highest point is this museum, which I've never seen open but it must have some Civil War exhibits.
On the west side of the river is Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park.
When my dad and I first visited here we were told by a park ranger that there was nothing to see in the park associated with the battle or Forrest. Yet the cover of the brochure has a picture of a Forrest monument. We were also not told of the second park and museum across the river. But we knew there had to be something on the high ground, so we took a park map and headed down the road towards the Tennessee River Folklife Center. The center is a museum mostly for musseling, which apparently was done quite a bit in this stretch of the river. Outside of the museum we found this marker, and I've included closeups of the river stretch.

There is also a wonderful view of the river and the depot area. The depot would have been primarily in the area that is now a bay of the lake. The high ground at Johnsonville where the earthworks and museum are is on the right of the picture.

And of course there is also the Forrest monument that appears on the brochure.

Obviously there is quite a bit to see in the park, no matter what the ranger told us. I've been back since that initial visit and the folklife center has added Civil War gifts to their giftshop (basically a counter), but they have patches, books, shirts, hats, etc. Its amazing to see how a park that at one time proclaimed there was nothing to see (despite the cover of their brochure) has embraced their history enough to sell gifts to visitors. I wonder if we just got a disgruntled ranger that day or if there has been a swing in park mentality.

1 comment:

Chris Evans said...

Wow! I never knew Johnsonville Battlefield had that much to see. The story about the ranger is interesting. Strange that he acted the way he did. Those really are some great pictures! Another well fought battle or skirmish fought by Forrest. The photos of the map help to understand the battle as no biography of Forrest has this engagement mapped out.