Rally to Save Fort Donelson and Parker’s Cross Roads

A message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President


Jim Lighthizer, president of the American Battlefield Trust.

February 7, 2017

Dear Friend and Fellow Preservationist,

Fifty-point bonus question for you:

What do the Civil War battlefields of Fort Donelson and Parker’s Cross Roads have in common?

Yes, both are Tennessee battlefields, and yes, both battles were fought in 1862 (Fort Donelson was fought 155 years ago, nearly to the week).

And yes, they are two crucial Civil War battles in the Western Theater, with a combined 18,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured and missing.

But the answer I am looking for today is that they are both places where the Civil War Trust has saved hundreds of acres of hallowed ground…

… and where you and I have the opportunity to save 63 acres more today…

… multiplying every dollar you give into $5.78, getting us ever closer to finishing the job at both places, creating fully saved battlefields. 

I have your official battle map of each of these storied places so you can see for yourself the amazing progress you and your fellow members have made there.

I’m sure you are familiar with the immortal remarks associated with these battlefields: 

“No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”
– Ulysses S. Grant, Fort Donelson, Tennessee, February 16, 1862

“Charge ‘em both ways!”
– Nathan Bedford Forrest, Parker’s Cross Roads, Tennessee, December 31, 1862

Grant’s victory at Fort Donelson electrified the war effort in the North, and set him on the road to becoming the commander of all of the Union armies and even President of the United States.

Forrest’s ability to escape an unexpected attack from the rear at Parker’s Cross Roads confirmed his reputation as not only a hard fighter, but as the “wizard in the saddle.”

Today, you and I have the chance to save several parcels of core battlefield land at both battlefields for a combined total of $645,000 – that’s a lot of money, to be sure.

But you should know that the Civil War Trust has applied for as much as $533,500 from federal and state preservation matching grants, plus one of the landowners is making a generous donation of a portion of the value of his land, meaning that we anticipate having matches adding up to 82 percent of the total!

This means that if we can raise $111,500, we can leverage those matching funds and save $645,000 worth of land – multiplying your generosity by $5.78!

I’ve said it before, but it still holds true… don’t you like the idea of a 578 percent return on your donation dollar?

Let me quickly brief you on this 2017 “Tennessee Campaign”:

At Fort Donelson on a frigid February morning, two rather unknown generals began to make their mark on American history.

In his book, Men of Fire: Grant, Forrest and the Campaign that Decided the Civil War, historian Jack Hurst writes that prior to his victory at Fort Donelson, Grant “had yet to win a battle and barely clung to command of his army… one of Grant’s Confederate opponents, an obscure lieutenant colonel named Nathan Bedford Forrest, was similarly untested in battle.”


Battle map showing 4-acre western-most tract to save at Fort Donelson in yellow.


Regarding the western-most of the two must-have-tracts that we are saving at Ft. Donelson, historian Terrence Winschel tells us:

“Located near the park entrance and the National Park Service Visitor Center, this tract encompasses part of the Confederate outer defense line that was manned by troops under General Simon Bolivar Buckner. On the afternoon of February 15, following the collapse of the Confederate breakout attempt, Union soldiers advanced against the fort over this parcel as Grant sought to clinch the victory in open combat. Confederate troops were compelled to abandon the outer works and retire into the main body of the fort.”


Battle map showing 41-acre eastern-most tract to save at Fort Donelson in yellow.


Of the larger eastern-most tract on your battle map, Park Superintendent Brian McCutcheon says that “this tract forms the most southern section of where the Confederate units of General Gideon Pillow’s ‘breakout’ attack fully bent the Union division under General John McClernand.”

He further tells us that “this property was the far-left flank of Pillow’s attack, utilizing troops from Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama in this key area at approximately 10:30a.m., February 15. At about 1:00p.m. of the same day, Forrest’s cavalry crossed this section to assist the Confederate left flank.”

“Between 2:15p.m. and 3:15p.m., the left flank, again, skirted the west side of this area as Pillow’s order to fall back to the Fort Donelson outer defenses was carried out. Forrest covered the flank during this withdrawal as federal Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois regiments, commanded by General Lew Wallace, crossed this same land as the right flank of the Union counter-attack.”

After the full day of fighting, Confederate General Gideon Pillow inexplicably ordered his troops back to their original lines, relinquishing their gains of the day. The Confederate high command believed that the troops were too badly used up to fight any more, so they settled on the idea of surrendering them. 

When Forrest learned that his superior officers had determined to give up the 13,500-man force, he stormed, “I did not come here for the purpose of surrendering my command, and I will not do it if they will follow me out.” Given permission to attempt a breakout, Forrest spent the rest of the night in preparations, and led his own command and about 200 others on a daring escape. 

That same night, Grant penned his famous note that earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender.” It was addressed to General Buckner, who had taken control of the Southern forces after both of his superior officers relinquished command: 

“Sir: — Yours of this date proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”

In his book Forts Henry and Donelson: Key to the Confederate Heartland, historian B. Franklin Cooling quotes legendary Civil War scholar Bruce Catton: “Fort Donelson was not only a beginning; it was one of the most decisive engagements of the entire war, and out of it came the slow, inexorable progression that led to Appomattox.”

There is no doubt that this is some of the most historically significant land left to be saved at this battlefield, and the events at Fort Donelson are crucial to a full understanding of the Civil War in the Western Theater.


Battle map showing 18 acres to save at Parker's Cross Roads.


Turning now to Parker’s Cross Roads, you can see from your map that we have the chance to add key acres to the eastern edge of this nearly complete battlefield.

In the waning hours of 1862, Union forces sought to capture Confederate troops on their return from the first West Tennessee raid. After a day-long battle at a place called Parker’s Cross Roads, General Nathan Bedford Forrest sought the surrender of the battered Union troops that he had surrounded. Suddenly, he found himself being unexpectedly attacked by a new Union force from the rear of his lines.

According to the legend, a staff officer cried, “General Forrest, what shall we do? What shall we do?” Forrest’s famous reply: “Charge ‘em both ways!”

Forrest’s daring, decisive action at that moment in Civil War history saved his force from capture or destruction, and helped to ensure his reputation as one of the war’s boldest military commanders. Your daring, decisive action today will help save another 18 crucial acres of this battlefield, and ensure that it can never be developed or destroyed. 

But even more important than multiplying the value of your donation by 578%, I am reminded of something a good friend once said to me. Woody Harrell, the now-retired-and-running-marathons-all-across-America superintendent of the Shiloh National Military Park, once told me:

“People will be singing the Civil War Trust’s praises 100 years from now.” Think about that for a moment, my friend…

…one hundred years from now, what will it even be like to go to a Civil War battlefield? Sure, the indefatigable Ed Bearss – at age 193 – will still be giving tours, but I imagine it will be a very different experience from what you and I know today.

Will there be high-definition, 3-D holographic projections showing re-creations of the battle on the actual ground in real-time? Will you strap on a virtual-reality headset or other data device and tromp across this hallowed ground as your experience is narrated via satellite depending on where you are on the battlefield? Who knows what other technological advances are on the horizon?

I can’t say for certain, but I can assure you of this: one hundred years from now, the hallowed ground that you and I are saving today may be the only islands of green space and open space in the vast oceans of commercial development and sprawl.

I believe people will be drawn to these hallowed, sacred places and, escaping the teeming, cramped world in which they live, they will sing YOUR praises, saying, “Thank God our ancestors were forward thinking enough to see this coming, and generous enough of their time and treasure to save these places while they had the chance.”

I also believe that as long as there are places for Americans to go to learn about their history, they will continue to WANT to learn about their history. If these places are erased from our national landscape, they may as well be erased from our national memory.

I hope you agree, and that you’ll stand with me and the Civil War Trust today in this crucial effort to save 63 acres of Tennessee Civil War battlefield land while multiplying your support by $5.78.

When I divide $111,500 (the amount the Trust needs to raise to match the $533,500 in grants) by 63 acres, I get a per-acre cost of $1,770, $885 per half-acre and $442 per quarter-acre.

If you can help by saving at least a quarter-acre or more today, I will sing your praises, listing your name in an upcoming issue of the Trust’s award-winning magazine, Hallowed Ground. (I wish I could list every single supporter, but that would mean either so many pages of names that the magazine would begin to resemble a phone book, or the print would be so small as to need a magnifying glass! I apologize.)

You can also save 1/8 of an acre at $221, 1/10 of an acre for $177, 1/20 of an acre for $88, or even 1/40 of an acre for just $44.

Thank you once again for all you have done, and all that you continue to do, to save our nation’s Civil War battlefields. I don’t know what I would do without you. Please be as generous as you can as soon as possible.

Sincerely yours, 'til our work is done,

Jim Lighthizer Signature

Jim Lighthizer