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Civil War fort hides in plain sight in downtown Nashville
By Tom Adkinson
March 3, 2023

fort negley nashville
A hiker enjoys a placid view from part of the stonework of Fort Negley, the largest inland stone fort built in the Civil War. Image by Tom Adkinson

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Fort Negley, the largest inland stone fort built during the Civil War, hides in plain sight between two of Nashville’s most well-known visitor attractions. Although less than three miles from the Parthenon and about 1.5 miles from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, it’s almost completely overlooked.

What’s more, it is right beside I-65, meaning that thousands of people zoom right by it every day without realizing it, much less strolling through it to learn about an important chapter in Nashville’s history.

fort negley aerial view
The perimeter of the four-acre footprint of Fort Negley shows how substantial the Civil War fort was. Image by Battle of Nashville Trust

Of the 11 states that seceded from the Union, Tennessee’s capital was the first to return to Union control (February 1862). Nashville is strategically located and became an important transportation hub for the Union and necessary to defend.

Union commanders immediately began making it the most fortified city in the nation except for Washington, D.C., itself. They chose St. Cloud Hill for the site of the city’s largest fortification, Fort Negley, named for Gen. James Scott Negley, who happened to be the provost marshal and commander of Union forces in Nashville.

Construction was fast and full of irony, since part of the conscripted work force still was enslaved. More than 2,700 laborers built the four-acre complex with stone, earth, logs and railroad iron, and between 600 and 800 of them died. Only approximately 300 ever got paid.

fort negley gate
The perimeter of the four-acre footprint of Fort Negley shows how substantial the Civil War fort was. Image by Tom Adkinson

Late in the war, the Confederacy made a push on Nashville, and Fort Negley’s cannon probably fired the first shots of the Battle of Nashville (Dec. 15-16, 1864). The fort itself never was attacked.

After the war, this massive structure fell into disrepair. Crews from the Works Progress Administration restored the fort to its original appearance during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but the location deteriorated again.

Highway engineers routed I-65 around it, a minor league baseball stadium was built just to its south, the Adventure Science Center was built on the opposite side of the hill and the skyscrapers, restaurants and bars of Nashville rose nearby.

fort negley boardwalk
Quiet boardwalks wind through the four acres of Fort Negley. In contrast, the busy lanes of I-65 are only a few hundred yards away. Image by Tom Adkinson

A second renaissance made the fort accessible again in 2004, a project Nashville cites as the biggest city-funded restoration of a Civil War site in the nation. Today, paths through and around the fort welcome visitors – whether you come for exercise or a history lesson.

A $1 visitor center opened in 2007, offering films, monthly activities, programs and maps for self-guided tours of the grounds. Admission is free.

nashville downtown
The planetarium dome of the Adventure Science Center and the skyscrapers of downtown Nashville are the scene looking north from Fort Negley. Image by Tom Adkinson

Access still is slightly off the beaten path, so getting to Fort Negley in an intentional act. It is very possible to stroll through history, enjoy a hilltop breeze, spread a picnic blanket and see very few other people – while only a short distance away, the music of Lower Broad’s honky tonks provide a very different Nashville experience.

Trip-planning resources:,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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