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Posted on Sep 23, 2008 in War College

Fort Duffield, Kentucky’s Largest and Best-preserved Civil War Earthworks Fort

By Paul Glasser

Fort Duffield's remaining earthworks show why it was regarded as impenetrable. 

Captain Charles V. DeLand wrote ‘every gun in the fort will sweep the turnpike and rivers with shot and shell for 3 miles.’

Fort Duffield, constructed near the present-day site of Fort Knox, south of Louisville, is Kentucky’s largest and best-preserved Civil War earthworks fort. In 1861 General William Tecumseh Sherman, then commander of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland, ordered the fort built to protect his supply base at West Point, Kentucky. The garrison also defended the strategically important Nashville Turnpike and Ohio and Salt rivers. Construction began in November 1861 and was completed by January 1862 by men of the 9th Michigan Infantry Regiment.

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It was named for Rev. George Duffield, a prominent pastor in Michigan, and father of Col. William Duffield, commander of the 9th Michigan.

The fort was never attacked, but 61 soldiers died from disease and exposure.

Confederates never attacked the fort, but 61 soldiers died from disease and exposure while constructing the large earthworks. The walls were more than 1,000 feet long, 17 feet high and 9 feet wide. Two large wooden gates guarded the entrance to the fort. When officers ordered two locks to secure the gates, the quartermaster reportedly sent two toy locks because the fort was believed to be impenetrable.

“We are secure as a nest of young eagles in our new fort,” one soldier wrote.

Soldiers cleared away the forest for a mile around the fort to give the defenders a clear field of fire. Approximately a dozen six-pound, smoothbore cannon covered the approaches leading to Louisville and Nashville.

Captain Charles V. DeLand wrote “every gun in the fort will sweep the turnpike and rivers with shot and shell for 3 miles.”

(Editor’s note: Captain DeLand was a real optimist. Three miles was two-to-three times greater than a six-pound smoothbore’s range.)

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