Defiance offers glimpse at Civil War in Clarksville
by Heather Donahoe
Preservationists hope to bring fort’s battlefield back to life
Brian Hughes hoped to encourage his 8-year-old daughter’s budding interest in history by taking a stroll at Fort Defiance Saturday afternoon.
“I’m a huge Civil War buff”, Hughes said, “Growing up, I was always into history, and I want to pass that along to her – because history is how we learn. It’s how we learn to correct our mistakes.”
Hughes, daughter Skylar and dozens of others attended a picnic fundraiser sponsored Saturday by Friends of Fort Defiance, a board formed in May to bring awareness and money to the Civil War site that over looks the Cumberland River in New Providence.
“We thought if we could draw more attention to the fort, and people could see what a gem it is, they would be more inclined to get involved in improving it,” said Phyllis Smith, Friends of Fort Defiance president.
Visitors toured the fort and enjoyed Civil War-era music played by the local groups Stringed Legacy. Re-enactors performed in period clothing.
Liz Thomas, a fifth-grade history teacher at Ringgold Elementary, said she wants her students to grasp the significance that a Civil War battle happened in Clarksville.
“We’re about to start studying the Civil War,” she said. “It’s important for them to understand the part Clarksville played in the war.”
Preserving and enhancing this piece of Clarksville history could be lucrative for local tourism, said John Leckrone, board member.
“Our goals are to put in walkways, a canon and when the time comes, a visitors center”, Leckrone said. “We believe it will bring in tourism – because Civil War sites generally bring in visitors – visitors who will also be buying gasoline and eating in local restaurants. It could be a great thing for this area.”
Promoters of the effort to maintain and improve Fort Defiance have projected that – with upgrades to the city-owned site – the fort could generate about 45,000 visitors each year and generate $11.3 million in tourism revenue.
About $265,000 of the city’s $2.73 million capital projects budget has been earmarked for upgrades and maintance at Fort Defiance.
Saturday’s picnic was the organization’s first fundraiser, and board members say more will come.
“We’re looking into the possibility of putting on a re-enactor camp – setting up stations that would teach Civil War soldiering skills and giving people the chance to learn different things”, Smith said.
Re-enactors demonstrate weaponry, daily living
by Chantal Escoto
The grassy mounds of Fort Defiance became a teeming site of exploration and explosion Sunday as Civil War re-enactors and visitors converged on the New Providence historical park.
Built by Confederate soldiers in November 1861 as a earthen works defense against Union troops, Fort Defiance lives on only in deep trenches and depressions. But instead of holding hunkered-down troops and piles of cannon, it now offers visitors an education in Clarksville’s heritage at the meeting of the Cumberland and Red Rivers.
Phyllis Smith, president of Friend’s of Fort Defiance, which sponsored the “March To The Past”, said Civil War demonstrations take history to a new level because much of it is hands-on.
“It’s extremely important to keep the history right in front of people to keep it alive and keep it from being lost and forgotten.” Smith said.
Friends Of Fort Defiance formed in May of last year because not many people know about the former stronghold that was taken by Federal troops in 1862.
Soldier re-enactors dressed in Civil War-era clothing shot off replica rifles and cannon as women and children quilted and cooked.
Wearing a blue plaid cotton dress typical of what a 14 year old would wear more than 140 years ago, Elizabeth Courtney said she liked playing her role as a farmer’s daughter.
“We get to learn a lot about the Civil War, and we get to play a lot of cool games,” she said. One of those games called “graces”, involves tossing ribbon-laced hoops back and forth on stick. They also played checkers and blind man’s bluff.
Gregg Perry went to the event with his wife and five children thinking it was going to be a full-on battle reenactment, but he wasn’t too disappointed.
“We’ve always been interested in the old ways of doing things. You’re able to come out here and see it for yourself,” Perry said, adding that he came across Fort Defiance almost by accident one day when he was working in the area.
“I never knew this place existed and that it was a fort built out of mounds of dirt instead of one built of wood. It’s amazing. I hope there will be more interest in expanding this.”
Fort Defiance park is run by the city of Clarksville and is awaiting a government grant to help improve the site and bring more tourism to the area.
Friends of Ft. Defiance is currently a small group. We need other commited people who are willing to help preserve our Civil War sites and educate people on Clarksville’s important role in the Civil War. If you are interested, please come to our meeting and see what we do. You could join the board or just volunteer your help. We need the special talent of people who think our city’s history is important.
For more information on becoming a member or volunteering contact Phyllis Smith