Phirst Line of Defense/Fort Harris
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This is another in the series of Memphis History caches. The actual site was the home of the first courthouse and newspaper
The founders of Memphis set aside a number of public areas. This is Market Square. Funny thing about the names that were given them, they didn't match their use. Market Square was the site of the first courthouse, a log cabin. It was later used to house the first newspaper. The other public spaces were Court Square,(which never had a courthouse upon it) Auction Square, and the Promenade. The Promenade was basically Front Street above the docking areas downtown.
The court opened in 1820, and would be the place where the accused would make their defense. Fast forward 41 years and another kind of defense was taking place, this time on the river. The year is 1861 and Tennessee has voted to secceed from the Union. In an earlier vote it had voted to remain in the Union, but Lincoln informed the states they would be required to provide their militias to fight their southern neighbors. This was the tipping point, although not all were pleased to be interjected into the turmoil. Memphis was built on trade and was a major link between the river and the railroads. There was a strong Unionist contingent and many who felt it was just bad for business. There was also a very strong Pro-Confederate part of the population and many enlisted to fight the North.
Governor Harris ordered fortifications to be made to protect Memphis and the river. A fort bearing his name was built just north of the city on Mill's Plantation. Civil engineers WD Pickett and Montgomery Lynch were enlisted to build the fort. The soldiers and their artillery were ordered north to Forts Randolph, Pillow and Donelson.
In early 1862 Fort Donelson was the first to come under fire and fell into the Union's control. Fort Pillow held the Union ships at bay for a while, but the fort was abandoned and the Confederates fled south. They abandoned Fort Randolph without a fight as well and made their way to Memphis.
Fort Harris and Fort Rector(on the Arkansas side opposite Ft Harris) had been abandoned much earlier and played no part in the defense of the city. On June 5th,1862 the Union ships were tied up just south of the fort within sight of downtown Memphis. The Confederate's River Defense Fleet was all that stood in the way of the Union Army. All other troops had been evacuated by train. The RDF lacked the coal needed to make more than 2 hours steam and could not make it to safety. Early on the 6th the Union ships made their way down the river and the Battle of Memphis ensued. It was the only pure naval battle of the war and 90 minutes later the Confederate fleet had been destroyed and the Union sent an emisary ashore to demand the surrender of the city. Lacking any choice the mayor capitulated. Since it had been purely a naval battle the city was spared ruination and became a vital link for the Union as well as a major medical center, with over a dozen hospitals. Soon after the battle the city's docks were soon flowing with merchandise and commodities.
The river changed it's course many times and all signs of the fort are long gone. It was located at approximatly:
N35 12.417 W090 05.000
If you look at a map you will see that the TN line seems to actually be in Arkansas. This is due to the river shifting course, but the political boundaries did not.
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