Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ft. Heiman Becomes a National Park

By Dr. Tom Hiter

At the beginning of the War for Southern Independence, while Kentucky was still debating whether or not to secede, Tennessee and the rest of the Confederacy noted a need for fortifications on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Forts Henry and Donelson were constructed to seal these key waterways off to northern incursion. In July, Union forces occupied Kentucky from the north and Confederate troops replied by organizing a line of defenses across southern Kentucky. The western anchor of this defensive line was at Columbus, on the Mississippi River. In November, following a called secession convention at Russellville, in Logan County (well within Confederate lines), Kentucky formally joined the Confederacy, and Kentucky Col. Lloyd Tilghman was sent to Fort Henry. Tilghman immediately noticed what had apparently escaped the Tennesseeans, who had built Fort Henry: that it was located on a floodplain, and indefensible during times of high water. He suggested the construction of a supporting fort across the river in Kentucky. Work was begun immediately, but the fort - named “Heiman” for its builder Col. Adolphus Heiman of Alabama and elsewhere, was completed but never fully gunned. Thus it was that when Union Gen. U.S. Grant invaded the South and attacked Fort Henry (during a flood), the Fort Heiman garrison was unable to resist, and the fort was abandoned. Later used as a Union fort and freedman’s camp, it eventually fell into ruin and trees grew up on the site.

In 1998, a new SCV Camp was being organized in Calloway County, Kentucky. Among the members were two men who had long had an interest in Fort Heiman: Sandy Forrest and Charles Hiter. Both men had hiked and camped in the area, and both were interested in rescuing the site from development, which was starting to be evident in the area. They suggested “Fort Heiman” as the name of the new Camp. One of the first initiatives the new Camp undertook was to publicize the plight of the old fort.

In 1998, Sandy Forrest brought to the Camp an idea for writing a TEA-21 grant to obtain funds to buy up the remaining fort property. With the Camp’s support, he wrote that first grant. It was not given, but several people close to the Governor encouraged him to try again, and he did. Eventually, after much writing and considerable lobbying of government officials at both county and state level, the initial grant was approved. Then, with the encouragement of state and national legislators, Sandy went even further and wrote a grant for federal funds, noting that Fort Heiman was technically at the very beginning of the Vicksburg Campaign, and thus should be part of that overall effort.

Eventually, more than $1,000,000.00 was raised. That money was used to buy almost the entire fort and place it in the hands of the Calloway County government. Sandy, working with the West Kentucky Corporation and the Kentucky congressional delegation, and still supported by the Camp, embarked on an effort to have Fort Heiman added to the Fort Donelson National Battlefield. Other efforts were ongoing elsewhere to add Fort Henry to that Park, as well.

All this effort and all that money were devoted to the realization of an event that occurred on 30 October, 2006, on the high ground overlooking Kentucky Lake towards what used to be Fort Henry: The turnover of Fort Heiman to the National Park Service for inclusion in the Fort Donelson National Battlefield Park. The ceremony was held within the breastworks of one of the very few surviving Confederate forts. The men of Fort Heiman Camp and the Kentucky Division wish to report to General S.D. Lee that at in at least one place and one time, the mission he gave us has been accomplished!

(published in the Fall 2006 Lost Cause)

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