By Michelle Shocklee
As an admitted history nerd, there's nothing I enjoy more than poking around old ruins. Homes, towns, forts, plantations. You name it, I'll poke around in it.
When we moved to Nashville in the fall of 2017, one of the first historical sites we visited was Fort Negley. The fort itself is no longer there, but there are ruins that give visitors a solid idea of how the fort was laid out and what Federal soldiers, former slaves, and others would have seen from high atop Saint Cloud Hill.
But first, a bit of history.
When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Tennessee was as divided as the country. While some Tennesseans wanted to join the southern states and secede from the Union, others felt it was important to keep the United States united despite differing opinions on slavery and states rights. On July 2, however, the decision was made and Tennessee joined the Confederate States of America. With several railroads and major roads intersecting in Nashville, it was an important city for the Confederacy.
But in February 1862, with several recent victories in other parts of Tennessee, Federal troops marched into Nashville and remained in control of the city until the end of the war. They lost no time building fortifications around the city, including several forts.
At the time the fort was built, it was approximately two miles south of the city center. It's location on top of Saint Cloud Hill gave Federal soldiers a clear view of Nashville and the surrounding vicinity. Enormous limestone blocks, mined from nearby, were laid out in a star pattern with a wooden stockade in the center. Although soldiers were undoubtedly put to work constructing the fort, most of the labor was provided by former slaves. An estimated 2,700 conscripted men and women who'd escaped slavery were, in some instances, forced into the difficult and often dangerous work of building the fort.
Me at Fort Negley with downtown Nashville in the background.
Behind me, down the hill, is where the contraband camp was located.
If you live near Nashville or visit Music City on vacation, I hope you'll make time to visit Fort Negley. For readers of Under the Tulip Tree, you'll definitely want to hike up the hill and look out over the same landscape Frankie and Sam would have seen as they awaited Freedom.
Your turn: What's your favorite historical site in your area?
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at michelleshocklee.com.
As Frankie recounts her life as a slave, Rena is horrified to learn of all the older woman has endured—especially because Rena’s ancestors owned slaves. While Frankie’s story challenges Rena’s preconceptions about slavery, it also connects the two women whose lives are otherwise separated by age, race, and circumstances. But will this bond of respect, admiration, and friendship be broken by a revelation neither woman sees coming?