Fort Negley was a Federal Civil War fortification built largely by African American labor in 1862 and garrisoned in part by African American soldiers during the battle of Nashville in December 1864. Located in Nashville, Fort Negley represented the first extensive use of newly freed blacks in the Federal war effort and its success influenced the later creation of contraband labor camps in other Tennessee towns. U.S. Army engineer James St. Clair Morton designed the fort as a polygonal structure measuring approximately six hundred by three hundred feet composed of dirt, stones, and timber. Fort Negley also contained an extensive system of underground magazines and storage spaces.
Federal troops occupied Fort Negley until at least 1867. After they left, it became a gathering place for the initial Nashville Den of the Ku Klux Klan, who used it in 1869 for its last public demonstration. Nathan B. Forrest led Klan members to the fort, where they burned their robes and officially disbanded. The fort soon deteriorated, and many stones were later used in building Nashville’s Eighth Avenue Reservoir.
From 1936 to 1937 the Works Progress Administration restored the fort, but the original park plans were never carried through and the fort once again was abandoned after a few years. At the end of the century, historians and historic preservationists are working to preserve the property and open it as a historic site associated with the battle of Nashville and the efforts of African Americans during the Civil War. Fort Negley represents “the uneasy alliance between the Union Army and local blacks in their successful campaign to preserve the Union and destroy slavery.” (1)