Fort Donelson's Legacy

War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862-1863

  • Author(s): Cooling, Benjamin Franklin
  • Series:
  • Imprint: Univ Tennessee Press
  • Publication Date: 2010-08-15
  • Status: Active
  • Available in Paper: Price $39.95 | Buy Now

“Cooling is well able to do what is sometimes termed ‘the new military history.’ Broad in context and often interdisciplinary, it is vastly more sophisticated, useful, and informative than what I suppose must be now rightly called ‘the old military history’ done in prior decades.”—Herman Hattaway, coauthor of How the North Won and Why the South Lost the Civil War

Fort Donelson’s Legacy portrays the tapestry of war and society in the upper southern heartland of Tennessee and Kentucky after the key Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862. Those victories, notes Benjamin Franklin Cooling, could have delivered the decisive blow to the Confederacy in the West and ended the war in that theater. Instead, what followed was terrible devastation and bloodshed that embroiled soldier and civilian alike.

Cooling compellingly describes a struggle that was marked not only by the movement of armies and the strategies of generals but also by the rise of guerrilla bands and civil resistance. It was, in part, a war fought for geography—for rivers and railroads and for strategic cities such as Nashville, Louisville, and Chattanooga. But it was also a war for the hearts and minds of the populace. “Stubborn civilian opposition to Union invaders,” Cooling writes, “prompted oppressive military occupation, subversion of civil liberties, and confiscation of personal property in the name of allegiance to the United States—or to the Confederacy, for that matter, since some Unionist southerners resented Confederate intrusion fully as much as their secessionist neighbors opposed Yankee government.”

In exploring the complex terrain of “total war” that steadily engulfed Tennessee and Kentucky, Cooling draws on a huge array of sources, including official military records and countless diaries and memoirs. He makes considerable use of the words of participants to capture the attitudes and concerns of those on both sides. The result is a masterful addition to Civil War literature that integrates the military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict into a large and endlessly fascinating picture.

The Author: Benjamin Franklin Cooling, a research director for the United States Department of Energy, is also professor of history at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University. His published works include Forts Henry and Donelson: Key to the Confederate Heartland and Jubal Early’s Raid on Washington.