Fort Henderson (5)
Fort Henderson (5) (1863-1865) - A Union U.S. Civil War Fort established as Athens Fort in 1863 in Athens, Limestone County, Alabama. Captured by Confederate forces in 1864 but later reoccupied by Union forces until the end of the war. Later renamed Fort Henderson after Perry Henderson who surveyed the area in 1892. Abandoned after the end of the war in 1865.
The Union Athens Fort was established in 1863 as a star-shaped earthwork defense located on Coleman Hill, just southwest of downtown Athens. The fort was 180 by 450 feet, surrounded by an abatis of brush and a palisade 4 feet high, and a ditch 12 feet wide. It was a strong defense with walls 18 feet high from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the parapets. Inside the fort were some frame buildings and underground bomb-proofs.
On 23 Sep 1864 attacking Confederate forces gained control of the town of Athens, and the Union forces retreated to the fort. On 24 Sep 1864, after a heavy initial artillery barrage and a deception by Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest, the Union fort and its 900 man garrison of mostly the 110th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) surrendered.
Before the surrender, General Forrest had met with the Union commander, Colonel Wallace Campbell, and convinced him that the Confederate forces numbered some 10,000 men. Mindful of the earlier slaughter at Fort Pillow, Colonel Campbell surrendered the fort and its garrison around noon.
Shortly after the original garrison had surrendered, Union reinforcements consisting of about 350 men arrived by train from Decatur. This small force engaged the Confederates and after incurring significant losses also surrendered.
General Forrest soon departed Athens Fort heading north to the Union Sulphur Creek Trestle fortifications. Union Lt. Colonel Alfred Wade then reoccupied the Athens fort on 28 Sep 1864.
On 1 Oct 1864 Confederate troops reappeared outside Athens. Lt. Colonel Wade was determined not to repeat Colonel Campbell's errors. He built a large temporary bomb-proof outside the Athens Fort with a covered passageway under the gate so that his troops could seek shelter during any bombardment.
The Confederate artillery began firing on the fort about 6 a.m. on 2 Oct 1864. Lt. Col. Wade moved his command into the new bombproof but left his artillery and a few soldiers to man the fort. The artillery duel continued for two hours until 8 a.m. and after the defenders refused to surrender the Confederates left.
The fort was abandoned after the end of the war in 1865.
The old fort became the site of the Trinity School in 1908. The site was mostly destroyed in 1930 by the building of Trinity High School (closed in 1970).
One bastion and portions of the ditch still remain behind the Trinity Congregational Church at 800 Browns Ferry Street. One historic marker is located beside the church and a number of reader-boards are located on the Hill, interpreting the Fort and the Trinity School.
In the spring of 2019, the American Battlefield Trust, in partnership with the Limestone County Archives and local historians, undertook an effort to interpret the Fort Henderson site. Six new interpretive signs were installed at the site in August 2020.
Visited: 2 Aug 2021