Randolph Acklen and Fort Negley

Veterans’ Day is an opportunity to pause and thank those who’ve served our country, both in the recent and distant past. Military service can take many forms, and for African Americans during the Civil War it’s a complicated story without simple descriptions. One such person whose service the staff at Belmont Mansion have worked to better understand was Randolph Acklen, or as he was listed on the Impressment Rolls – Randolph Acklin.

Randolph was an enslaved man of Col. Joseph and Adelicia Acklen who was impressed by the Federal Army to help build fortifications around Nashville including Fort Negley, just a mile and a half from the Belmont Estate.

Following the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson in February of 1862, Nashville came under the control of the Federal Army. President Lincoln then appointed former Governor Andrew Johnson to become Military Governor of Tennessee, who saw the need for fortifications to protect Nashville’s strategic rails and supplies.

St. Cloud Hill was one of the sites chosen as a fort, and in August 1862, Brig. Gen. James St. Clair Morton, the design engineer for this new fort, put the word out to impress the slaves of rebel slaveholders in Davidson County. So the Federal Army began a practice of Impressment which involved taking African Americans off the streets, from farms, and from plantations to work building the needed