On September 4, 1861, Confederate soldiers, under the command of General Leonidas Polk, occupied Columbus, Kentucky.  This action effectively ended Kentucky's neutrality.  Two days later U. S. Grant's Federal soldiers took Paducah, Kentucky.   The actions of Grant and Polk brought the Civil War into the Commonwealth.  By October, the Confederate army had established a defensive perimeter, anchored at Columbus, stretching across the state to Bowling Green and to the Cumberland Gap in the east.  In order to counter the threats made by the Southern forces and to protect Louisville, General William Sherman ordered the 37th Indiana Infantry and the 9th Michigan Infantry regiments to West Point, Kentucky.  West Point was a small river port southwest of Louisville.  Sherman planned to use this town as a supply base for those Union soldiers stationed at Elizabethtown, Kentucky.

Fort Duffield as it appeared in an 1861 sketch         

     The Union garrison at Elizabethtown was astride the L&N railroad, the main north-south rail link for both the Union army at Louisville and Albert Sidney Johnston's Confederates at Bowling Green.  The soldiers at this Hardin County post were assigned to protect this vital rail link and be prepared to move south to meet any Confederate threat.  In order to insure the success of his overall plan, Sherman needed a reliable supply line.  West Point's location made it the ideal choice, not only could it supply Elizabethtown via the Salt River but it in turn could be supplied via the Ohio River.  In order to protect the supply depot, Sherman ordered that a fortification be constructed on Pearman Hill.  Pearman Hill commands West Point and the rivers.  The fortification of this area would help secure the Federal supply line and Union soldiers would have a defensible position to fall back upon in case of a military set back.

     By November 1861, the fortification of Pearman Hill had begun.  Construction of the earthworks, that would be named Fort Duffield, was initiated, on Sunday, November 3, 1861, by the 9th Michigan Infantry.  Ten pieces of artillery were eventually placed within the fort.  By December, in addition to the fort, soldiers were constructing log structures, for their quarters, just outside of the earthworks.  By January 1, 1862, the cabins and the fort was finished.  The supply line was secure.  By mid December, 1862, the fort would be abandoned as the soldiers there were needed elsewhere.  The war moved south, as the Federal forces took the offensive against the Confederate perimeter.  The formidable fortress would not see duty again.

                Earthworks at Fort Duffield

     This fort is an earthwork structure that traverses the top of the heights overlooking the rivers and runs for approximately 1,000 feet along Pearman Hill.  According to a letter by Captain Charles V. DeLand, the distance from the top of the wall to the bottom of the trench was 17 feet and the top of the wall was 9 feet wide.  Time has eroded the walls to today's present height and thickness.  The original design of the fort is a serpentine wall, open on the Ohio River or north side, which was intended to protect against an invasion from the South.  The fort was named for Reverend George Duffield, the father of the commander of the 9th Michigan Infantry, Colonel William W. Duffield.  It is generally believed that Fort Duffield is the oldest Union Civil War fortification in Kentucky.  It is certainly the most unique.  As a rule the other forts in the state tend to be "star or home plate shaped" enclosures.  Fort Duffield is more of a wall and is not enclosed.  It was not enclosed because of the steep drop off on the side towards the Ohio River.  There was no need to spend time and energy to enclose the fort because of the terrain.  Fort Duffield is one of many fortifications in Kentucky that were constructed to defend cities, railroads, rivers and other key points in the Bluegrass State.  Many of these structures still exist and even though most of them never fired a shot in anger they are still an important part of our Civil War heritage.

Monument erected at Fort Duffield in 1993

     Today, the City of West Point's Fort Duffield Heritage Committee oversees the preservation, interpretation and maintenance of Fort Duffield which began in 1992.  This project continues with the help of the Friends of Fort Duffield volunteers.  These volunteers work diligently and are dedicated to preserving this site and the memory of the 48 soldiers who died while at Fort Duffield and West Point, Kentucky.  A self-guided walking tour brochure and interpretive signs are on site.

     The City of West Point and the Fort Duffield Heritage Committee are grateful to the Kentucky Heritage Council's efforts and support in seeing that Fort Duffield was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993 and for a grant, in the fall of 1997, that made possible an archaeological investigation of the fort and the encampment.  The findings of the University of Kentucky's Program for Archaeological Research, Department of Anthropology are contained in Technical Report No. 418, November, 1999.

For more information on Fort Duffield please contact:

Fort Duffield Heritage Committee
16706 Abbott's Beach Road
West Point, KY  40177
(502) 922-4574

Page updated: 5 Jul 2020