CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Shortly after the fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862, the city of Clarksville became an occupied city. Union soldiers marched through town carrying muskets and rifles, and they camped on what would someday become the Austin Peay State University campus.
A year after the occupation began, a 16-year-old girl named Nannie Haskins began keeping a journal. Those musty, yellow pages describe a town in distress.
“It’s an eyewitness account of Clarksville being taken over by the Union,” Dr. Minoa Uffelman, APSU associate professor of history, said. “Life was hard in Clarksville, and people were really, really scared about what would happen. Nannie had two brothers fighting for the Confederacy, and she didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Later this month, Uffelman will appear in a new Civil War documentary on Nashville Public Television, where she’ll discuss Haskins and the Clarksville occupation. “Rivers and Rails: Daggers of the Civil War,” co-produced by the Emmy Award-winning team of Stephen Hall and Ken Tucker of The Renaissance Center in Dickson, premieres at 8 p.m., May 30, on NPT-Channel 8.
The documentary is the latest episode in the “Tennessee Civil War 150” series, which is a joint venture between NPT and The Renaissance Center in Dickson. Hall said the program will explore how “transportation by water and steel brought great prosperity to the state just before the Civil War, only to give the invading Union Army a highway directly into the deep South, eventually helping force the Confederacy to its knees.”
The documentary opens with what many historians now consider the deathblow to the Confederacy – the Battle of Fort Donelson in nearby Dover, Tenn.
“Fort Donelson and Clarksville falling are just the very beginning of the end for the Confederacy,” Uffelman said. “Some scholars say Fort Donelson is the most important battle of the Civil War. Once it falls, then the Cumberland River opens up and the Union controls it. Then Nashville falls, and it’s the first Southern capital to fall.”
Uffelman, a noted local historian, was invited to participate in the documentary because of her knowledge of the Nannie Haskins diary. For the last few years, she has worked with Ellen Kanervo, APSU emeritus professor of communication, Montgomery County Historian Eleanor Williams and Phyllis Smith, president of the Friends of Fort Defiance, on transcribing the important historical document. This fall, the University of Tennessee Press will publish the diary.
“We didn’t want this to be a documentary focused completely on military strategy,” Hall said. “It was important to show how the lives of ordinary citizens were disrupted and destroyed. The story shows not only how the Union used boats and trains to their tactical advantage, but how people in Tennessee suffered because of it.”
Hall interviewed Uffelman on a clear fall afternoon in front of the earthen walls of Clarksville’s Fort Defiance - Civil War-era fort with a strategic view of the Cumberland River.
“Commanders took the attitude that the rivers and rails had to be controlled at all costs,” Hall said. “And that cost was paid by families who were caught in the middle of the conflict. If you lived in a town on the river or with easy access to the rails, you could count on misery coming your way.”
In additional to Uffelman, the documentary includes a prestigious lineup of historians, including Dr. Carroll Van West, Middle Tennessee State University; Fred Prouty, Tennessee Historical Commission; Dr. Wayne Moore, Tennessee State Library and Archives; Jim Ogden, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park; and Melinda Senn, Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History
After its premiere on NPT, “Rivers and Rails: Daggers of the Civil War” will be broadcast on other PBS stations around the state. Previous episodes have been distributed nationwide via American Public Television.
The "Tennessee Civil War 150" series is made possible in part by The Tennessee National Heritage Area, the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission.