"Located on a bluff 200 feet above the confluence of the Red and Cumberland Rivers in Clarksville, Tennessee, the Fort Defiance site has been a hub of activity for more than two centuries. Originally inhabited by American Indians, white settlers began arriving in the late 18th Century. The area became a trading center and settlement. During the Civil War, the hilltop was chosen by Confederate troops as a site to construct a fort to defend the river approach to Clarksville. In February 1862, the fort was captured by Union forces, renamed and occupied for the remainder of the war. The site was a magnet for runaway and freed slaves, and many were employed in and around the fort. A visitor today will find Fort Defiance remarkably well preserved; the outer earthworks, powder magazine and gun platforms are still discernible."
Image credit: McKinney Construction Company, Inc.
Within the walls of the Interpretive Center is a wonderful exhibit telling the story of Fort Defiance from its beginnings as an early settlement to its strategic importance during the Civil War. Although no Civil War battle was ever fought in Clarksville, the Interpretive Center's focus on how the war affected citizens on the home front provides a much-needed historical perspective on one aspect of the Civil War that is often overlooked by many battlefield sites.
|Exhibits on display at the Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center.|
Also located adjacent to the property is Sevier Station, a settlement that area historians believe was once settled by John Sevier's younger brother, Valentine Sevier.
Sevier Station, currently on the National Register of Historic Places, was the site of a gruesome battle fought on November 11, 1794. Valentine Sevier and his family fought off a party of about 40 Chickamauga and Creek Indians who had come to Sevier Station to loot and pillage the settlement.
Six members of Valentine Sevier's family were killed during the attack on Sevier Station. A seventh member of the family, Sevier's 12-year-old daughter, was scalped during the attack, but survived. The Sevier Station Massacre is viewed by historians as one of the last major episodes of the Chickamauga War.
David Britton recently published a story on his blog, The Old Southwest, detailing Valentine Sevier's harrowing experience at Sevier Station. According to Britton, "In addition to the confusion of the events caused by well-meaning armchair historians over the past two hundred plus years, the actual location of the site has been heavily disputed."
|A historic marker erected in 1936 by the D.A.R. serves as a memorial to Valentine Sevier.|
Image credit: "Fort Defiance" | And the creek don't rise: Finding my way in the South
During my tour of Fort Defiance and Sevier Station, I had an opportunity to chat briefly with Dr. Richard Gildrie, a retired Austin Peay State University history professor, who is leading the effort to document the history of this settlement. Dr. Gildrie has long suspected that the precise location of Sevier Station remains unknown, calling it a "vexed question." He hopes to raise enough money to conduct an archeological investigation to answer this vexed question once and for all. I, for one, hope that Dr. Gildrie is successful in his efforts.
If you have an opportunity to travel to Clarksville, I would highly recommend a visit to the Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center, and Sevier Station. There are many educational and informative exhibits detailing the history of this area, particularly during the Civil War, making this a must-see destination in the City of Clarksville.
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.