File No.: Battle Study # 23

Title: Battle of Riggins Hill, American Civil War

Investigation made at:

Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee
+36° 32' 38.09", -87° 25' 33.84")

Period Covered: 05 - 07 SEP 1862

Date: NOV 2012

Case Classification: Location of Historic Events

Status of Case: Case Closed



The Battle of Riggins Hill in 1862 was part of a Union strategy to recapture the Tennessee town of Clarksville. In February of that year Clarksville had been captured by the Union without any significant use of force. After the fall of nearby Fort Donelson, most of the Confederate garrison, and the civilian population, of Clarksville had left the area. Fort Defiance, designed to defend the city against Union gunboats was found abandoned by Union Marines, who had disembarked from a US Navy vessel which had sailed up the Cumberland unopposed. After several months of occupation the city was retaken by the Confederates. This lead to the Union’s plan to take Clarksville for good. This Battle Study describes the Battle of Riggings Hill which raged west of the city and was the major battle of the Civil War in the Clarksville area.


Capture of Clarksville

Clarksville was an important city for both the Confederacy and the Union because of its strategic location with railroad bridges across the Cumberland and Red rivers.


In November 1861, Confederate troops began to build a defensive fort with three canons that would control the river approach. They understood that if the Cumberland River should fall into Union hands, their gunboats would have access deep into Confederate territory. Union troops could then destroy the railway bridges, putting Confederate supply lines out of action.
On February 19, 1862 the Union ironclads, the "Conestoga" and the "Cairo"  approached Clarksville.
They led troop transport ships that disembarked Union troops near Trice Landing. The federal soldiers quickly covered the hill and the outer works of Fort Defiance.
The only thing reportedly found was a white flag flying, and all the Confederate troops gone.
Union Flag Officer Commodore Andrew H. Foote reported to Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant that all forts were deserted and the enemy garrison en route toward Nashville.
Federal forces now occupied Clarksville, and the state Capitol at Nashville fell soon afterwards.

Union troops enlarged Fort Defiance so that it would control traffic on the Hopkinsville Pike in Kentucky.
Clarksville was left with a small garrison of Union troops. In April 1862, this small garrison was made up of the 71st Ohio Volunteers commanded by Colonel Rodney Mason.

July and August 1862, saw an increase in guerrilla activity around Clarksville. On August 18, 1862, Clarksville was recaptured by Confederate Cavalry. Colonel Mason was disciplined and degraded for surrendering Clarksville so easily. Union soldiers were sent from Fort Donelson to retake Clarksville in September 1862.


Battle of Riggins Hill
With Clarksville again in Confederate control, Union infantry left the town of Dover, west of Clarksville, on Sept. 5, 1862, with 1,050 men and two sections of artillery. Both armies met just outside of Dover and clashed head-on.


Rebel forces, greatly outnumbered, were pushed back toward what was then the town of New Providence.
In a series of delaying tactics, the rebels came to a small ridge on the property of Mr. A.J. Riggins. Many townspeople joined in what was later called the Battle of Riggins Hill. The fight continued on September 6 and 7, and the Confederates were pushed all the way back through New Providence and into Clarksville, which was retaken.

The town and fort were reoccupied by Federal troops who remained for the rest of the war.
Colonel Bruce was placed in command at Clarksville and Fort Defiance was renamed Fort Bruce.


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The initial capture of Clarksville is best described in a New York Times front page story on February 21st 1862, titled "UP THE CUMBERLAND".


Trip of the Conestoga to Clarksville.

Correspondence of the New-York Times.

U.S. Gunboat (Flagship) Conestoga,

Clarksville, Tenn., Feb. 21, 1862.


Yesterday morning, Com. FOOTE proceeded up the Cumberland in this boat, accompanied by the gunboat Cairo, carrying fifteen heavy pieces. At 10 A.M., we passed the Cumberland Iron Works, owned in part by Hon. John Bell. His two partners went down as prisoners on Tuesday on the St. Louis. The contracts for supplying guns and iron sheathing were found, and the mills set on fire ; and as we came up, nothing remained but the chimneys and the machinery amid the dying embers. These fine works cost a quarter of a million dollars.

At 3 P.M., to-day, we reached "Linwood Landing", about two miles below the city of Clarksville, and as we rounded the point, we discovered a white flag flying on Fort Severe, located on top of a high hill, at the junction of Red River with the Cumberland. Our men were ordered to the guns, and we proceeded slowly up the Red River landing. As we rounded the bend in the river under the fort, no flag appearing on the fort on the opposite side of Red River, one of the officers waved his handkerchief, and in less than ten seconds, one nearly covered with mud went up, it having blown down during the storm. We now discovered smoke rolling up from the railroad bridges over the Cumberland and Red Rivers, which had been set on fire by the rebels as soon as we came in sight. A force of marines were taken to the fort, the Stars and Stripes run up, and the place left in charge of Sergeant Chas. WRIGHT, while the boats proceeded to Clarksville landing.

White flags are flying all through the town, and the boat was literally beset with people as soon as we touched the shore. As the Commodore's flag was wet with rain, it looked dark colored, and one of the frightened people exclaimed, "See there – they have got the black flag up" another, pointing to the Cairo, asked what that thing was ; on being told it was a gunboat, he said "he'd be dog-on-ed if they weren't the very devil." One man thought if they had their artillery there, they would clean out our craft in about five minutes.


Full two-thirds of the people had deserted the place.


Fort Severe is a fine fortification, admirably located, but is not finished, having but two 12-pound guns in position, and a 42-pounder ready to go to its place.

Fort Clarke is a low affair, mounting two 24-pounders and one 32, they are all smooth bores ; the old-fashioned guns from the Norfolk Navy-yard. The powder we found was so poor that the commander said it would not pay to bring it anyway, so he ordered it pitched into the river. At noon we again headed down, probably for Fort Donelson, to get a force of mortar-boats and additional gunboats, and before this reaches you we shall be in possession of Nashville.


Source: THE NEW YORK TIMES. VOL. XI---NO. 3259. NEW-YORK, Tuesday, March 4, 1862

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In mid-August 1862, Confederate cavalry recaptured Clarksville to disrupt Union transportation on the Cumberland River to Nashville and to gather new recruits and supplies.

Early in September, Union Col. William W. Lowe led 1,100 men including detachments of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, the 71st Ohio, 11th Illinois, and 13th Wisconsin Infantry, as well as sections of Flood’s and Starbuck’s Illinois Batteries to retake the town in early September.


As Lowe marched eastward from Dover, scouts from Confederate Col. Thomas Woodward's 2nd Kentucky Cavalry fired on the column as it neared Clarksville on September 7. Woodward's force numbered some 700 men including armed townsmen. The Federals pushed the Confederates back for a few miles to their main line at Riggin's Hill. The center of the line was among a ridge across present-day U.S. Route 79 and Dotsonville Road near here. The dismounted Confederates used woods, rail and stone fences, and houses and barns as cover.


Lowe's men deployed on a parallel ridge south and west of here as his artillery opened fire, causing havoc in the Confederate position. After forty-five minutes, Woodward's line began to buckle, and when Lowe's flank units pushed forward, the Confederate line collapsed. Lowe's cavalry aggressively pursued Woodward's men through Clarksville. Confederate losses were 17 killed, 40 wounded, and about 50 captured. Reported Union losses were "negligible".


The Federals occupied Clarksville and reopened the river as a supply line. With too few Federal troops to hold the area, however, Clarksville was not permanently occupied until December 1862. Clashes over the control of the river continued in this area until late in 1864, when the Union finally gained the upper hand.


Source: Sign on corner of Magnolia and Dover Roads, Clarksville, Tennessee, part of the Tennessee Civil War Trails


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The town of Clarksville, Tennessee was located on a strategically important location. Well placed artillery position should provide adequate protection for the Cumberland and Red Rivers as well as the rail road bridges across them. The Union victory at Fort Donelson on February 16, 1842, three days before the "Conestoga" and the "Cairo" arrived in Clarksville, must have such a demoralizing effect that the Confederate garrison left Fort Defiance and Clarksville. The town’s seemingly effortless recapture was an embarrassment to Union generals and a full scale infantry operation with cavalry and artillery support was launched. This resulted in the Battle of Riggins Hill.



Today, both combat scenes (Riggings Hill and Fort Defiance) are indicated by a Tennessee Civil War trail information sign on the corner of Magnolia Drive and Dover Road and a full sized visitor and interpretive center on 120 Duncan Street.


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Two Confederate Musket Balls and a Union Minié Bullet were donated to this agency by William F. Parker, M.A., historical interpreter at Fort Defiance.

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Wlliam Parker (l.) explaining a young visitor of Fort Defiance
about daily life as a soldier in the Civil War.

These bullets have been found by Parker in the area of the Battle of Riggins Hill.
Coincidentally Parker’s Mother’s maiden name is Riggins and is related to the family on Riggins Hill.

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To read a famous battlefield myth about a woman being impregnated by a Minié bullet during the Civil War, click here.

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