Civil war sites in Tennessee & Kentucky

I’ll be making the drive from Chicago to Florida (and back) next month. Unlike most times that I do this, I will likely not have a rigid schedule to which I need to adhere, so I could make short side-trips or stops along the way. I’m currently re-reading Shelby Foote’s history of the Civil War, and I realized that on my trip I will pass directly through a number of battlefields and other important sites (Bowling Green, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, etc.), and will pass near a number of others. I’d like to stop by one or two of these sites, but I’d rather not waste my time finding someplace that is now a subdivision with a plaque set in the ground somewhere.

I normally take I-65 through Indiana and Kentucky, pick up I-24 in Nashville to Chattanooga, and then take I-75 down through Georgia. Once in a while I’ll take I-57 south through Illinois, and pick up I-24 just north of Paducah, then continue on through Nashville like normal. Like I said, I don’t mind a reasonable detour for a noteworthy site.

So, any recommendations for particularly noteworthy Civil War sites in these states? I’d prefer someplace where the site is well-preserved (like Gettysburg), but would stop for someplace with a particularly good museum or other attraction.

The most noteworthy Civil War battle in Kentucky was, what, Perryville?

You should drop in for the OrlanDopefest while you’re at it…

It would be considerably off your route, close to halfway to Memphis from Nashville, and not on an interstate cutoff, but Shiloh is definitely worth the trip, or was for me and my family back in the 70’s. I haven’t been back so can’t vouch for how it is these days. Here’s a link andsort of a map

In those days it was chilling!

Yes, Perryville.

The PBS program Antiques Roadshow was here in Kentucky and the three programs begin airing next week. One of the side trips is to Perryville, where they discuss Civil War belt buckles and how to spot fakes. It’s program #2 in the series and premieres nationally April 28.

The Battle of Perryville occurred October 8, 1862. Remember Dave Barry said everything in history happened on Oct. 8? There ya go. :wink:

Sometimes a subdivision with a plaque can be pretty cool. Some of the fighting around Chattanooga took place on Missionary Ridge, site of a famous charge led by Douglas MacArthur’s father. As wiki describes it,

There’s something inexpressibly cool about a house with a Civil War battlefield marker on the front lawn.

If you only have time for one site, Chickamauga/Chattanooga is probably the best. Between Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, Signal Mountain, and Missionary Ridge, there’s a lot to see. Stones River and Kennesaw Mountain are the other national park sites along I-24/75.

Then there are the state parks. If you stopped at all of them, it would take you as long to get from Nashville to Atlanta as it took the Union Army!

I can attest to the value of Lookout Mountain as a second choice to Shiloh, and move it up as a wiser choice because Shiloh would probably require at least a day off your route. Two if you want to do the park justice with a day to and from I-65 figured in.

If you go to Lookout, be sure to get a tourguide. The one we had was a walking encyclopedia and entertained questions from the group. Seeing the panorama of where forces were located and how they moved and what they had to overcome just in terms of distances and slopes was amazing in itself.

One more plug for Shiloh, though. The fierceness of that battle and the resultant slaughter were vividly recaptured in the exhibits and plaques at the park. One I specifically recall was the Peach Orchard where the gunfire knocked peach petals off the trees to the degree that observers who lived to write about it said it looked like a snowstorm.

I would also recommend a Lookout Mountain trip, the views and Civil War material are excellent there, and you can also see Ruby Falls.

Murfreesboro has the Stones River National Battlefield & Cemetery.

Small museum, monuments, & set in a lovely virgin cedar forest.

Enlarging & improving facilities will include a 19th Century Farmhouse.

In Summer, we have local re-enactors firing artillery. WHEE!

McFadden’s Ford, a major part of the Battle, is described as the place where artillery became king of the battlefield. Justly so.

BTW. We also have the remains of an earthenworks fortress.

Fort Negley in Nashville was until recently one of the most endangered Civil War sites anywhere. It’s been stabilized (though not restored, it’s too far gone) and opened to the public. There’s a new interpretive center there which I haven’t seen yet.

The fort was neglected for so long since it was a Union fort built by black soldiers and was used to shell the city. It was not exactly loved by the locals.

Another vote for Chickamauga/Chattanooga as exceptionally well preserved battlefields. (I’ll beat nitpickers to the punch by mentioning that Chickamauga is actually in northwest Georgia, but it’s only 15 miles from Chattanooga.) Chattanooga has the Incline Railway that travels up Lookout Mountain.

If you’re not that familiar with the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga or the Army of Tennessee (CSA) and the Army of the Tennessee (USA) find some good popular history to read as it’ll make it a lot more interesting. Even the wiki articles are a good intro. The personalities especially were fascinating. Braxton Bragg (the Confederate commander) was like a paranoid king out of Shakespeare, too insane to do much of anything (almost every member of his general staff pleaded with Richmond to remove him asap, but Davis famously wouldn’t). He had almost every advantage (other than supplies- the Union were better equipped there) and should have held those mountains almost indefinitely, and should have crushed Chattanooga after Chickamauga, but nope. Did such blunders as sending away his entire cavalry before the Battle of Chattanooga, positioning cannons in the wrong places in the mountains but then refusing to move them, addressing the problem with low morale by having one of his most beloved generals (General/Archbishop Leonidas Polk) arrested, etc., all while being hailed by Richmond as a military great because of his scores at West Point (never mind that he once quarreled with himself in writing while serving as both commander and quartermaster of a fort) and never mind that N.B. Forrest, one of the most brilliant military minds of all time (though he never cracked a book on cavalry tactics until the war) was ignored and undercut at all times.
Meanwhile, Bragg’s counterpart in the Civil War chess set was Wm. Rosecrans, who wasn’t much better and wouldn’t press any advantage either. The incompetence of the two commanders led to a near stalemat. (Lincoln referred to Rosecrans after Chickamauga as [words to the effect of] useless and confused a baby duck that’s been hit in the head with a rock.

Important thing to remember is that Tennessee was up there with the border states of Missouri/Kentucky/Maryland in its divided loyalties. There were probably more Union loyalists (or “Tories” as they were called in a Revolutionary War allusion) in Tennessee than in any other deep south state- they fielded several regiments of Union troops and had more than a few men who fought consecutively on both sides during the war. Consequently Tennessee is actually one of those states like Virginia, though, where it’s hard if not impossible to drive 20 miles in any direction without seeing something of Civil War significance, from Memphis in the west to Chattanooga/Knoxville in the east. Murfreesboro, Nashville, Shelbyville (“the most Union city in the Confederacy”), Unionville (which was devoutly Confederate), and even tiny towns like Jasper and Anderson’s Crossroads have rich heritages. (Unfortunately much of the land around Knoxville that was of great importance in the war was altered by the TVA and is often now underwater.)

I went to high school at the county school down there, so I know the area pretty well. Perryville Battlefield was our “home” high school Cross Country course back in the early 70’s.

Perryville is supposedly very much like it was back in the war… including a lot of open land. Therefore re-enactors love it. There is a museum, etc., but I’m guessing it’s not nearly as developed as some of the other sites. The town itself only has about 800 people.

If you have any interest, you could combine a detour to Perryville with a non-Civil War visit to a distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. You could zip SE from Louisville to Bardstown (Heaven Hill Distillery) on US150 and continue east to Perryville from there. Or, just go to Perryville and then work your way SW from there to visit Maker’s Mark.

Another vote for Lookout Mountain. I was up there early one morning and I had the place to myself. Great views looking out over Chattanooga and the river. I got a solo showing of the-then pretty creaky “Battle of Lookout Mountain” A/V presentation.

If you have an hour to spare, the International Towing & Recovery Hall Of Fame and Museum is a kick to visit.

If by any chance you hit the aquarium in Chattanooga, could you report back if they have a paddlefish on display?

It’s a much larger diversion, but Columbus-Belmont State Park is pretty interesting. It overlooks the Mississippi River and is where the Confederates strung a huge chain across the river to try to block shipping.

It’s not that far out of your way, really, but you’d have to take a different route, coming through Southern Illinois on I-57 and picking up I-24 in Paducah.

If you went this way you could also swing by the Jefferson Davis Monument, which is pretty cool, if a little surreal.

If you were to take this route, I would recommend stopping to see the Fort Donelson National Battlefield, outside of Clarksville, TN along the Cumberland River.

You could continue along I-24 to Chattanooga from there.

For another war, close to Chattanooga (and in the heart of Union/Confederate skirmish/reconnoitering territory) is Whitwell, the school that is home to the 6 Million Paper Clips Project (which has a museum).

These aren’t in TN and KY but they are off of I-75 in Georgia:
Atlanta has Cyclorama, an enormous 360 degree oil portrait (the largest portrait on earth as memory serves) with a revolving theater that tells the story of a particular episode in the Battle of Atlanta. It’s almost as much a timepiece of the 1880s (when it was painted as part of a presidential campaign for one of its subjects) as of the War. Cyclorama is located next to (and shares a parking lot with) the Atlanta Zoo, which I haven’t been to but have heard mixed reviews of. They’re most famous for their silverback gorilla twins and their pandas.

About 30 miles off of I-75 is the infamous Andersonville, Georgia. The hilly field where the P.O.W. camp was is unbelievably peaceful and has no sense of the horrors; you can take a driving tour around it and there are a few pieces of the stockade rebuilt to scale and the deadline is marked throughout the driving tour (if you’re not familiar, the deadline was a line that ran about 15 feet from the stockade and if a prisoner crossed that line he (or in one case she ) would be shot dead. Most worth seeing there though is the U.S. PoW Museum which is absolutely fascinating and has exhibits from all wars, from pre- American Revolution to the current war. The WW2 exhibits are especially good, and it’s absolutely ingenious how some prisoners made the most of what they had to survive.
Very near Andersonville (about 10 miles away) is this gorgeous Victorian monstrosity of a hotel in Americus that’s still in business and very reasonably priced (last time I stayed there it was about $50 I believe for a smallish but very nice room; the rates on the Internet are probably higher but if they’re not busy [and they only are about 3 nights a year] they’re easy to talk down). Ten more miles will take you to Brother Jimmy’s home of Plains, Georgia where you’ll likely see the only ex-presidential residence within a mile of a trailer park, and where the public is invited to attend Carter’s Sunday School lessons at Maranatha Baptist whenever he’s in residence, and a few miles from there is one of the most educational sites about southern history:

Westville, Georgia Westville, Georgia is a restored 1840s antebellum town. The town itself is fictional, in that there never was an actual town there, but the buildings are all authentic antebellum homes and businesses moved there from all over Georgia and parts of Alabama. What I love about Westville is that you see how real southerners lived; old mansions that have been made into house museums are beautiful to look at of course, but it would be about like somebody in the late 22nd century going on a tour of a Beverly Hills home or a Trump high-rise luxury condo overlooking Central Park to get an idea of how people lived in 2008. Westville has a couple of upscale wealthy restored homes, but mainly it’s dogtrot cabins and clapboard farmhouses and the like and generally the most educational $10 admission you can spend when it comes to 19th century southern history.

Okey dokey, from Westville you’re way out of the way but it’s about 90 minutes back to I-75. If you’re super interested in southern mansions the most beautifully restored one I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a whole heap of 'em) is in my former home of Milledgeville, Georgia, about 35 miles off of I-75 on the other (east side). In addition to being the home of Flannery O’Connor and Oliver Hardy it was the antebellum capitol of Georgia and the restored 1835 Governor’s Mansion (for which this web-site is utterly crappy) is absolutely gorgeous; its restoration cost more than $10 million and was painfully authentic- board by board and pane of glass by pane of glass. It’s also not your typical 4 over 4 mansion with a spiral staircase but a unique 3 story mansion with lots of surprises. (Great story about the night Jonathan Frid stayed there, but another time.)

Ah, and not too terribly inconvenient to get to from I-75 in north Georgia is a great little place to visit- the town of Dahlonega in the beginnings of the north Georgia mountains. The name is the Cherokee word for gold and it was the first major gold rush in American history (the one that signalled the end of the Cherokee and Creek nations). There’s a museum and a very pretty touristy town that’s convenient to a lot of good trout fishing and gorgeous waterfalls and north Georgia’s premier tourist trap, the Swiss Alpine town of Helen.

When you are ready to visit a Victorian village two hours outside of Nashville, you can go to Rugby, Tennessee.

English writer Thomas Hughes (probably in the 19th Century) wanted to start a colony for “second sons” of English nobility – those that would not be inheriting the family property. His plan was that they would have their own village and farm together.

Of course they built a tennis court first before they built a shelter. And they stopped farming at tea time. There are wonderful stories about Rugby and historic buildings. And a thriving community again. There are places to stay, a good cafe, and a fine winery not too far away.

Thanks for the replies, everyone. Keep 'em coming.

Chattanooga seems the most likely candidate for this trip. I usually stop for the night a little south of there on my way down, so it works into my schedule well. I might take the more roundabout way back and hit Fort Donelson on the return trip.

Thanks again!