Nashville’s Fort Negley: Heritage That Needs Protecting

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Much of the recent debate on Civil War commemorative sites has been dominated on providing the Confederate aspect of history. In the last decade, the State Legislature enacted the Heritage and Protection Act (2016), which specifies that a 2/3 majority vote of the TN. Historical Commission is needed prior to moving or altering, "Any statue, monument, memorial, bust, nameplate, plaque, artwork, flag, historic display, school, street, bridge, or building that has been erected for, named, or dedicated on public property in honor of any historic conflict, historic entity, historic event, historic figure, or historic organization.

" This is the same law that has protected statues, monuments and busts from Memphis to Chattanooga. One glaring exemption is Nashville's Fort Negley, which has not been afforded such protections. The fort was erected on the backs of more than 2700 conscripted slaves and black laborers, many of whom had recently been freed. Hundreds of these workers would not live to see the completion of the fort and are now entombed there, while only a few hundred were ever paid for this tedious work. Historians and preservationist further believe an untold number of Native Americans are also buried in the vicinity considering the area was once an ancestral burial site. It was largest inland fortification built during the War, and after more than seven decades of neglect reopened to the public in 2004. It was the scene of one of the most pivotal battles in which USCT fought as they opposed the last remnants of Hood's Army of Tennessee. After witnessing their bravery and courage during the battle, General George Thomas turned to aides and said, "The question is settled, Negro soldiers will fight." Oddly enough, Chattanooga's 44th USCT which was present at the Battle of Nashville had fought gallantly at Dalton months earlier where many were massacred after being forced to surrender. Additionally, USCT had served with distinction at such infamous places such as Ft. Pillow and Ft. Wagner.

For the last several years, the City of Nashville has been engaged in discussions with private developers, one being the Cloud Hill Partnership, who are planning mixed-use development in the area. Work has stalled for two reasons, one, an archeological assessment in order to determine the location of graves on the site, and two, the Friends of Ft. Negley have filed suit under provisions of the Heritage and Protection Act (2016).  The Friends of Ft. Negley, began in 2007, has presented a park friendly alternative plan, which lays out four key objectives: (1) Saving Our Parks; (2) Preserving History; (3) Fixing Government Process; (4) Finding the Graves. They have also applied for global recognition with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Slave Route sites program, and are seeking official recognition as an NPS Underground Railroad site. Preservation of Ft. Negley has been endorsed by respected groups, organizations and individuals such as: the TN. Association of Museums; the TN. Civil War Preservation Association; Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Civil War Trust, Friends of Aaittafama; Walker Collaborative; Equal Justice Initiative; NAACP; Metro Historical Commission, noted historians and preservationist groups have called for the full protection and preservation of Ft. Negley. While many historians and preservationist did not agree with the original intent of the Heritage and Protection Act because they believed the authority granted to the TN. Historical Commission far exceeded its original mission and mandate, they have asked if it must be on the books, why not start with the saving and preserving of Ft. Negley?

Respectfully, Eric Atkins

For more on this topic you may visit Friends of Ft. Negley at: or via facebook at

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