Fort Duffield as it appeared in an 1861 sketch
Earthworks at Fort Duffield
Monument erected at Fort Duffield in 1993
WEST POINT, KENTUCKY
On September 4, 1861, Confederate soldiers, under the command of General Leonidas Polk, occupied Columbus, Kentucky. This action effectively ended Kentucky's neutrality. Two days later U. S. Grant's Federal soldiers took Paducah, Kentucky. The actions of Grant and Polk brought the Civil War into the Commonwealth. By October, the Confederate army had established a defensive perimeter, anchored at Columbus, stretching across the state to Bowling Green and to the Cumberland Gap in the east. In order to counter the threats made by the Southern forces and to protect Louisville, General William Sherman ordered the 37th Indiana Infantry and the 9th Michigan Infantry regiments to West Point, Kentucky. West Point was a small river port southwest of Louisville. Sherman planned to use this town as a supply base for those Union soldiers stationed at Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
The Union garrison at Elizabethtown was astride the L&N railroad, the main north-south rail link for both the Union army at Louisville and Albert Sidney Johnston's Confederates at Bowling Green. The soldiers at this Hardin County post were assigned to protect this vital rail link and be prepared to move south to meet any Confederate threat. In order to insure the success of his overall plan, Sherman needed a reliable supply line. West Point's location made it the ideal choice, not only could it supply Elizabethtown via the Salt River but it in turn could be supplied via the Ohio River. In order to protect the supply depot, Sherman ordered that a fortification be constructed on Pearman Hill. Pearman Hill commands West Point and the rivers. The fortification of this area would help secure the Federal supply line and Union soldiers would have a defensible position to fall back upon in case of a military set back.
By November 1861, the fortification of Pearman Hill had begun. Construction of the earthworks, that would be named Fort Duffield, was initiated, on Sunday, November 3, 1861, by the 9th Michigan Infantry. Ten pieces of artillery were eventually placed within the fort. By December, in addition to the fort, soldiers were constructing log structures, for their quarters, just outside of the earthworks. By January 1, 1862, the cabins and the fort was finished. The supply line was secure. By mid-December, 1862, the fort would be abandoned as the soldiers there were needed elsewhere. The war moved south, as the Federal forces took the offensive against the Confederate perimeter. The formidable fortress would not see duty again.
This fort is an earthwork structure that traverses the top of the heights overlooking the rivers and runs for approximately 1,000 feet along Pearman Hill. According to a letter by Captain Charles V. DeLand, the distance from the top of the wall to the bottom of the trench was 17 feet and the top of the wall was 9 feet wide. Time has eroded the walls to today's present height and thickness. The original design of the fort is a serpentine wall, open on the Ohio River or north side, which was intended to protect against an invasion from the South. The fort was named for Reverend George Duffield, the father of the commander of the 9th Michigan Infantry, Colonel William W. Duffield. It is generally believed that Fort Duffield is the oldest Union Civil War fortification in Kentucky. It is certainly the most unique. As a rule the other forts in the state tend to be "star or home plate shaped" enclosures. Fort Duffield is more of a wall and is not enclosed. It was not enclosed because of the steep drop off on the side towards the Ohio River. There was no need to spend time and energy to enclose the fort because of the terrain. Fort Duffield is one of many fortifications in Kentucky that were constructed to defend cities, railroads, rivers and other key points in the Bluegrass State. Many of these structures still exist and even though most of them never fired a shot in anger they are still an important part of our Civil War heritage.
Today, the City of West Point's Fort Duffield Heritage Committee oversees the preservation, interpretation and maintenance of Fort Duffield which began in 1992. This project continues with the help of the Friends of Fort Duffield volunteers. These volunteers work diligently and are dedicated to preserving this site and the memory of the 48 soldiers who died while at Fort Duffield and West Point, Kentucky. A self-guided walking tour brochure and interpretive signs are on site.
The City of West Point and the Fort Duffield Heritage Committee are grateful to the Kentucky Heritage Council's efforts and support in seeing that Fort Duffield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and for a grant, in the fall of 1997, that made possible an archaeological investigation of the fort and the encampment. The findings of the University of Kentucky's Program for Archaeological Research, Department of Anthropology are contained in Technical Report No. 418, November 1999.
For more information on Fort Duffield please contact:
Fort Duffield Heritage Committee
West Point, KY 40177
A Brief History of Civil War Fort Duffield,
West Point, KentuckyBy James T. R. Jones
Fort Duffield, the largest earthen work Civil War fortress in Kentucky, overlooks West Point, Kentucky, at the border of Jefferson County (home of Louisville) and Hardin County, at the confluence of the Salt and Ohio Rivers. This particular spot was important in the early days of the Civil War for a number of reasons.
First, it commanded the Louisville-Nashville Turnpike, which was a potential invasion route for attacking Southern armies.
Second, West Point, which was blessed with active river traffic, was a major supply depot for the Union Army based there (which eventually became the Army of the Cumberland) which needed protection; goods would go by river to West Point and then by wagon to the intended recipient (eventually to Major-General Buell as far south as southern Tennessee.)
Third, the Salt River was the last natural barrier to anyone trying to attack Louisville from the west. Thus, a fort above West Point was a high priority.
Brigadier-General Robert Anderson, the Union officer who surrendered Fort Sumter to Confederate Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard, in April, 1861, was then sent to command Union forces around Louisville, started construction of fortifications around West Point, in September, 1861. Brigadier-General Anderson had to step down due to poor health and was replaced as commander of the Department of the Cumberland by Brigadier-General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Brigadier-General Sherman ordered that the fort, that became known as Fort Duffield, be built. Construction began in early November, 1861, with much of the work being done by the men of the Ninth Michigan Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel William Duffield (for whose father, George Duffield, a Michigan clergyman, the fort was named.) It was hard work, as the men dug up earth and piled it to make the high walls which characterize Fort Duffield. All trees were cleared out for a one-mile radius around the fort, leaving a clear field of fire for the garrison and its artillery (as many as ten guns.)
March, 1862, the men of the Ninth moved further south. It was an impregnable position, which helps explain why it was never challenged (Confederate General Braxton Bragg's army turned east to Perryville in 1862. Brigadier-General John Hunt Morgan went west and crossed the Ohio River at Brandenburg, 1863.) While there may be more to this than the fort, the fact remains it did its job well.
Like all things, the fort had a cost. Thirty-nine men from the Ninth Michigan died of disease and privation building the fort and were buried on Memorial Hill, on the adjacent hill, southwest. Today, a beautiful memorial cemetery stands there and over it flies, on special occasions, a thirty-four-star U.S. flag (like flown in 1861-62.) This flag along with a flagpole were donated to Fort Duffield by the Second Kentucky Infantry (C.S.) reenactors on May 31, 1999.
As the war went on, it moved away from Louisville. By mid-December 1862, the fort was no longer garrisoned on any regular basis. In fact, during 1864, Confederate guerrillas occupied it several times, burning the huts the Union soldiers, had built during the winter of 1861-62, in the process.
After the war, the land on which the fort lies went through various hands and had various uses, including as a farm, rock quarry, and hunting lodge for one of the DuPonts. In 1895, the Grand Army of the Republic had its 29th National Encampment reunion in Louisville, and Fort Duffield lived again as veterans from the G.A.R. took special trains to West Point and revisited old haunts.
After World War I the U.S. Army purchased the property on which the fort lies as part of Fort Knox. There the fort sat, protected from intrusion, until about 1978 when the U.S. Government declared the land surplus and deeded it to the City of West Point for park purposes. In 1992, a group of volunteers began the laborious task of reclaiming Fort Duffield from nature, with results that are visible for all to see. Fort Duffield is a tremendous, albeit little-known, treasure for the Louisville area. A pristine fortress which brings one right back to those terrible days, in 1861, when anything was possible, be it raid or invasion. It is a wonderful spot for reenactors, especially during the frequent living history weekends.
Page updated: 29 Sep 2022