In April 1861 Governor Isham G. Harris ordered Lieutenant Colonel Marcus Wright, 154th Militia Regiment at Memphis, to proceed north and occupy a defensive position on the Mississippi River. Wright and a battalion of men and artillery established camp at Randolph in Tipton County. Over the next four months, some five thousand Tennessee, Arkansas, and Confederate troops arrived in Randolph and fortified the Chickasaw Bluffs with artillery batteries and earthen field defenses to guard against the expected Union naval and land attack.
From late April through July 1861, Fort Wright served as the forwardmost defensive position on the Mississippi River, which represented the left flank of the Provisional Army of Tennessee. If the Union forces had come down that corridor, as expected, the battle for Memphis would have been fought at this spot.
The significance of Fort Wright was as a place to train soldiers, build armies, and experiment, even make mistakes. It was one of Tennessee's first military laboratories. Here Tennesseans first attempted to build fortifications, set up river batteries, and drill with heavy artillery in preparation for the defense of the Mississippi. It was here that raw recruits from the farms, classrooms, and stores became soldiers and learned military discipline. These soldiers went on to the fields of Shiloh, Belmont, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Franklin, and Bentonville. Fort Wright also brought together some of the future leaders of the Army of Tennessee and Forrest's cavalry and provided a beginning for two future lieutenant generals, Alexander P. Stewart and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
By 1862 Confederate infantry had evacuated Fort Wright, although Southern naval and cavalry forces would continue to occupy the site on an irregular basis. In the fall of that year a squad of some ten or fifteen irregular Confederate soldiers fired into the steamer Belle of St. Louis, which was docked at the landing. No damage was done, but for this rash act, General William T. Sherman burned the entire town of Randolph except for an old church and one dwelling. The remaining buildings were destroyed by fire in 1865. Today, all that remains is the powder magazine dug by Confederate forces at Fort Wright. It is the one of the few remaining Civil War powder magazines in Tennessee.