Fort Donelson National Battlefield is located in North Central Tennessee about 80 miles northwest of Nashville.
Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- About Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Is Fort Donelson National Battlefield worth visiting?
- History of Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Things to know before your visit to Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Details about Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- National Park Map
- Where is Fort Donelson National Battlefield?
- Getting to Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Best time to visit Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Weather and Seasons
- Best Things to do in Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Hiking in Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- How to beat the crowds in Fort Donelson National Battlefield?
- Where to stay when visiting Fort Donelson National Battlefield
- Additional Resources
- Parks Near Fort Donelson National Battlefield
The 1,063-acre park is the site of the first significant Union victory of the Civil War.
Open year-round you can take a driving tour of the battlefield, Fort Donelson National Cemetery and the Dover House.
About Fort Donelson National Battlefield
From the beginning of the Civil War both the Union and Confederate forces knew the importance of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
If the North controlled the waterways they could use them to strike into the heart of the Confederate strongholds.
The Confederates built Fort Henry on the Tennesee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River to try and prevent a Union invasion into Tennesee.
On February 6, 1862, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry with little difficulty with the help of Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote.
Fort Henry can not be visited since it is now beneath the waters of Lake Kentucky.
After this battle Grant and Foote moved east to attack Fort Donelson.
At Fort Donelson, the Union forces met greater resistance due to the fort being better situated that Fort Henry.
The Confederate forces decided to try and escape to the Southeast knowing more Union forces were on their way. Confusion and indecision led to an order to withdraw behind previous battle lines.
Confederate Brigadier General Simon Buckner realized that their troop's position was hopeful and asked for terms of surrender from General Grant.
It is interesting to know that Buckner and Grant were acquaintances before the war. They attended West Point together.
Grant replied, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted".
On February 16th more than 12,000 Confederate troops were taken prisoner and news of the Union victory spread.
This was the first significant victory for the Union Army and after this, they moved forward to capitalize on their momentum.
Is Fort Donelson National Battlefield worth visiting?
Yes, The park gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about a significant battle during the Civil War.
History of Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Fort Donelson National Battlefield Park preserves the site where Union General Ulysses S. Grant delivered a strategic blow to the Confederates.
The Battle of Fort Donelson, fought from February 13th to the 16th, 1862, opened up the Cumberland River, along with Middle Tennesee, to advancing Union armies.
Early in the conflict, the Union had set its sights on gaining control of the most important rivers found within the Confederacy. Fort Donelson sat on the Cumberland River and acted as a gateway to middle Tennessee.
The Union victory at Fort Donelson was the first major victory in the Civil War’s Western Theatre.
Having just taken Fort Henry from the Confederates, The Union forces under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant turned their attention to Fort Donelson.
By controlling Fort Donelson, and the Cumberland River with it, the Union would keep control of Southern Kentucky and open up Tennessee to a Union advance.
Before the Battle
Before aiming to defeat the Confederates at Fort Donelson, General Ulysses S. Grant had marched on Fort Henry, which sat on the Tennessee River. Both Fort Henry and Donelson formed the Confederate defensive within the Western Theatre.
Fort Henry was attacked by the Union first on February 6th, 1862. It was considered to be the weaker target out of the two forts.
General Ulysses S. Grant attacked the fort by battering it with fire from four Union ironclad boats along with three timber-clad boats. Fort Henry had fallen to the Union before the end of the day on the 6th.
Most of the Confederates occupying Fort Henry fled to Fort Donelson. Fort Donelson was in a better position to withstand an attack from the Union. After his success at Fort Henry, Grant and his army of over 24 000 Union troops made their way to Fort Donelson.
The Battle of Fort Donelson
Grant arrived at Fort Donelson, which was under the command of General George B. Floyd, a week after the fall of Fort Henry on February 13th.
The Confederates had prepared for the impending Union attack and created defensive earthworks in front of the fort. Grants forces made their position on the Western side of the fort.
The Union attacked first when Gen. John McClernand attempted and failed to capture the Confederate cannons at the outermost defensive earthworks. On February 14th, the Union gunboats began their assault. This attack was unsuccessful too, and the Confederates held the fort.
On February 15th, the Confederates attacked the Union, attempting to break the right of Grants line at Dudley’s Hill. The Confederates intended the attack to create a large enough break so that they could escape.
The Confederates did manage to push the Union back but lost any advantage when they retreated. The confusing retreat ordered by Gen. Gideon Pillow was a fatal error.
A Union Victory
The Confederates did not escape through the break in the line as had been initially planned. Instead, they retreated to the defensive earthworks. Any ground the Confederate attack had gained was lost when they suddenly pulled back to their trenches.
Grant jumped on the opportunity he had been handed, and reclaimed the lost ground, reinforcing the Union line. Once the Union reclaimed their lost ground, Grant attacked the Confederate earthworks.
Grant attacked the Confederate right and captured a large stretch of the Confederate line by the time the sunset.
By the time the sun rose on February 16th, the Confederates had concluded that they could not win the Battle of Fort Donelson.
Many of the Confederates, including Gen. Floyd and Gen Pillow, made their escape when night fell, abandoning their position and men. With Gen. Floyd gone, Gen. Simon B. Buckner was in charge of the surrender of the fort.
‘Unconditional and Immediate Surrender’
When the sun rose on February 16th, the Confederates raised the white flag of surrender. Many of the Confederates made their escape in the night.
But there were at least 13 000 men left in the fort when Grant met with Gen. Buckner to discuss the terms of surrender.
To Buckner's attempt to negotiate, Grant replied, "no terms, except unconditional and immediate surrender, will be accepted."
This earned Grant the nickname of "Unconditional surrender Grant". Grant's successes only grew after the fall of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Not long after the Battle of Fort Donelson, Nashville fell to the Union.
Fort Donelson National Battlefield Park preserves the site that marked the first major Union victory in the Western Theatre of the Civil War.
The remnants of the Confederate earthworks, along with the canons that battered the Union gunboats into retreat, can still be seen today.
Things to know before your visit to Fort Donelson National Battlefield
$0.00 there is no fee to visit Fort Donelson
Learn more about National Park Passes for parks that have an entrance fee.
Free Entrance Days -Mark your calendars with the five free entrance days the National Park Service offers annually.
The park is in the central time zone
Pets must always be physically restrained and are not allowed in buildings.
We had really good service while visiting the park.
Visitor services are at the Stewart County Visitor Center from 8:00 - 4:30 daily.
Closed on Thanksgiving Day, December 25th, and January 1.
Dover Hotel hours are
8:00 - 4:00 daily. Mid-March (Springtime change) to Memorial Day
8:00 am to 6:00 pm Memorial Day to Labor Day
8:00 am to 8:00 pm Labor Day to Mid-October (Fall time change)
8:00 am to 4:30 pm Mid-October (Fall time change) to Mid-March (Springtime change)
Insect repellent is always a great idea when outdoors, especially if you are around any body of water.
We use Permethrin Spray on our clothes before our park trips.
Make sure to bring your own water bottle and plenty of water with you. Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park.
There is parking near the visitor center and along the autoroute.
There are no restaurants within the park.
There are no gas stations within the park.
Drones are not permitted within National Park Sites.
National Park Passport Stamps
National Park Passport stamps can be found in the visitor center.
Fort Donelson NB is part of the 2003 Passport Stamp Set.
Electric Vehicle Charging
There are 13 EV Charging stations within 30 miles of Dover, TN.
Details about Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Size - 1,319 acres
Check out how Fort Donelson compares to other National Parks by Size.
March 26, 1928
In 2021, Fort Donelson NB had 234,898 park visitors.
In 2020, Fort Donelson NB had 325,496 park visitors.
In 2019, Fort Donelson NB had 254,496 park visitors.
National Park Address
174 National Cemetery Drive, Dover, TN 37058
National Park Map
Where is Fort Donelson National Battlefield?
Fort Donelson NB is located in northwest Tennessee near the border of Kentucky.
Estimated distance from major cities nearby
Nashville, TN - 83 miles
Memphis, TN - 174 miles
Louisville, KY - 211 miles
St. Louis, MO - 244 miles
Birmingham, AL - 274 miles
Lexington - Fayette, KY - 250 miles
Indianapolis, IN - 290 miles
Cincinnati, OH - 309 miles
Estimated Distance from nearby National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park - 133 miles
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - 274 miles
Gateway Arch National Park - 242 miles
Indiana Dunes National Park - 399 miles
New River Gorge National Park - 503 miles
Cuyahoga Valley National Park - 543 miles
Congaree National Park - 543 miles
Where is the National Park Visitor Center?
The visitor center is located at the main park entrance off of Highway 79.
120 Fort Donelson Park Road, Dover, TN 37058.
Getting to Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Barkley Regional Airport (PAH)
Nashville International Airport (BNA)
McKellar Sipes Regional Airport (MKL)
Memphis International Airport (MEM)
Louisville International Airport (SDF)
Lambert-St Louis International Airport (STL)
Birmingham - Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM)
The main unit of Fort Donelson National Battlefield is located in Dover, Tennessee, and can be accessed from US Highway 79.
Best time to visit Fort Donelson National Battlefield
The best time to visit the park is spring through fall. The weather in the summer can be muggy but also beautiful.
Weather and Seasons
Dover, Tennessee experiences hot and muggy summers along with cold and wet winters.
The hottest weather is from May 28th to September 18th when the average daily temperature is above 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The coldest weather is from November 28 to February 28th with average daily temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
The rainiest weather is in May with an average of 4.5 inches of rain. August gets the least amount of rain with 2.5 inches.
Snow may occur on average from December 7th to March 9th with February receiving the most snow.
The muggiest weather is from May 13th to September 28th.
Best Things to do in Fort Donelson National Battlefield
We suggest planning a minimum of a few hours to explore the park.
The park's visitor center is one of the surviving Mission 66 visitor centers.
Daily 8 AM to 4:30 PM CT
There is a great park film that helps you understand the battle and why Fort Donelson was so important for the Union troops.
The Fort Donelson Junior Ranger program can be picked up at the visitor center or you can download the park's Junior Ranger booklet here
While at the visitor center ask and see if the Law Enforcement Ranger is available. She is amazing and put together a special Law Enforcement junior ranger program that we thought was amazing!
Driving tour of Fort Donelson
There is a 6-mile 11-stop self-guided driving tour that takes you through battlefield sites, the spot where Union soldiers camped for the night before the surrender, and into the small town of Dover to the 1851-53 Dover Hotel.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy raised the funds for this monument and dedicated it in 1933, the year that this park was transferred to the NPS from the War Department.
Confederate River Batteries along the Cumberland River
Check out a unique perspective of the naval battle of February 14, 1862.
The upper gun battery has three guns on display including two 32-pound carronades and a rifled Columbiad.
The lower battery has several 32-pound cannons and one smoothbore Columbiad.
Keep an eye out for Bald Eagles along the river. We did not see any during our visit but it was a cold and windy day.
We heard that they are commonly seen at the river batteries.
This is the site where Ulysses S. Grant accepted the Confederate surrender of the Fort from his old friend Simon B. Buckner.
There is one room open to the visitors with interpretive panels and a short film about the significance of the battle structure.
There are NO Bathrooms here.
Fort Donelson National Cemetery
670 Union Soldiers are among the interred in Fort Donelson National Cemetary.
The cemetery was established in 1867. There are approximately 1,700 gravesites within the cemetery.
A hand-hewn limestone rock wall encloses the 15-acre cemetery. The carriage house has an electronic roster of internments, park brochures, and maps.
There are restrooms in the cemetery.
The Confederate Fort
The 15-acre Confederate Fort was built between June to December 1861.
This fort was used as a training camp for volunteers.
Underground Railroad Free State Community
A thriving African
American community developed near the Union camps at Henry, Heiman, and Donelson.
Freedom-seeking slaves sought food, safety, and refuge from the Union Army following the surrender of Confederate Forces.
Location - 682 Fort Heiman Road, New Concord, KY
This site is still under development as part of Fort Donelson NB. There are interpretive panels, historic earthworks, and a small pavilion of exhibits.
Hiking in Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Always carry the 10 essentials for outdoor survival when exploring.
There are four trails within the park - Donelson Trail, River Circle Trail, Spur Trail to the Cemetery, and the Graves Battery to French's Battery Trail.
All trails in the park are dirt, rocks and tree roots.
How to beat the crowds in Fort Donelson National Battlefield?
We did not experience any crowds during our visit to the park. The auto-route makes it easy to move around any group of people.
Where to stay when visiting Fort Donelson National Battlefield
There are no National Park Lodges within the park. Click on the map below to see current rates for hotels and vacation rentals near the park.
There are no campgrounds within the park. Here are a few campgrounds nearby.
Eagle's Nest RV Park - 15 miles from the park
This campground offers RV Sites
Kentucky Lake Glamping - 17 miles from the park
This campground offers lodging and RV Sites, waterfront, and a boat launch.
Nobles Road RV Park - 23 miles from the park.
This campground offers RV and Tent Sites.
Check out additional campgrounds in the area on CampSpot.
Parks Near Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Check out all of the Tennessee National Parks along with neighboring National Parks in Virginia, National Parks in North Carolina, National Parks in Missouri, National Parks in Mississippi, National Parks in Kentucky, Georgia National Parks, Arkansas National Parks, and Alabama National Parks