Pre-Military History

Euroamerican settlement in the Fort Campbell area began about 1800. Before that time, use of the area had been limited mainly to fur trappers and hunters who exploited its fur-bearing resources. France was the first European country to control the area, establishing a trading post at French Lick (later Nashville, Tennessee) on the Cumberland River in 1710. By 1744, however, the English were making inroads into French control of the region, culminating in the Seven Years War. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1763 at the conclusion of the war, control of the region was awarded to England.

Despite a ban on settlement after the Seven Years War by the English government, speculators and hunters continued to explore the area, and a few settlements were established prior to the Revolutionary War. Settlement continued even during the war, especially in the Cumberland Valley, but on a limited scale. Following the war, however, settlement increased significantly as the new federal government offered land bounties to veterans in lieu of cash for their military services. Clarksville was established as a town in 1785, but settlement in Kentucky was mainly centered east of present-day Fort Campbell. The first settler in what would become Hopkinsville, Kentucky, arrived in the 1790s. The 1798 tax list of image001.jpgMontgomery County, Tennessee, shows several families were living along Piney Fork, Saline Creek, and Little West Fork, all of which are located within the boundaries of Fort Campbell. Christian County, Kentucky, tax records indicate a John Scott was living on Saline Creek, and Joel Harvey and Jesse and Micajah Fort settled Flat Lick in 1799 or 1800. It appears that settlement in the Fort Campbell area occurred mainly between 1800 and 1820, based on the 1820 federal census for the counties that comprise the modern installation.

Early settlers in the area focused on mixed agricultural production, raising livestock such as cattle, sheep, and pig, and growing crops such as corn, wheat, and tobacco. It soon became apparent that the climate and soil were ideal for tobacco, and it quickly became the dominant cash crop despite the risks of the market and the limitations of early transportation systems. Iron ore had been discovered between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in 1793, and more than 20 furnaces were producing iron on the eve of the Civil War, comprising another important part of the local economy. Transportation was limited in the early 19th century around the Fort Campbell region given the lack of improved roads and the concentration of population on the larger navigable rivers.

Transportation of goods was still limited on the larger rivers by the need to travel from the Cumberland River to the Ohio and then the Mississippi down to New Orleans in order to sell goods. Once steamboats began operating in 1815, the travel time from New Orleans to Louisville dropped to 8 days from 90 days, and upstream costs were reduced by 90 percent.

The developments in river transportation allowed settlers in the area to move towards a more market-oriented economy from their previously more subsistence-oriented practices. By 1819, a stagecoach route to Nashville that ran through Hopkinsville and Clarksville was in operation, and turnpikes from Hopkinsville to Russellville and Clarksville were established in 1830 and 1838, respectively.

The increasing prosperity of the region was interrupted, however, as the inhabitants and economy of the Fort Campbell area were impacted significantly by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Sympathies generally ran with the Confederacy, but with the fall of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in Tennessee in 1862, the area was occupied by Union forces who took control of Clarksville for the duration of the war. Although the area saw no major battles, the local economy was effectively shut down by the closure of the iron works, confiscation of agricultural produce by military troops and raiders, and conscription of local men into the Union army. Recovery after the Civil War went slowly, and the economic crisis and depression following the Panic of 1873 further slowed the economic and social recovery of the region. The area never again did reach its former levels of prosperity in the 19th century.

Typically, the antebellum and pre-Civil War periods in the region saw the settlement of farmers who owned relatively large tracts of land. The settlement pattern was sparse, with expanses of land between farmsteads. With the increase of tenant farmers in the post-Civil War period, the density of settlements increased, as more of the population became tenants rather than landowners. The 1877 Beers and image002.jpgCompany Atlas of Montgomery County, Tennessee shows the county divided into several districts with many settlements spread along the roads. The map shows houses and outbuildings, churches, markets, and post offices that distinguished one community from another. Settlers in the surrounding areas included farmers and practitioners of trades, such as carpenters, storekeepers, and doctors that supported the communities.

The reorganization of agriculture in the region after the Civil War was gradual, and the settlement pattern consisted of a mix of rural freedmen, tenants, and small farm owners. The size of farms tended to be small, about a third of that of the pre-Civil War era plantations. Farmhouses in the last quarter of the 19th century fronted ridge crests where roads were located, to allow for both easy transportation and farming to occur in the floodplains and basins.


During the early 20th century, modern techniques improved agricultural production, and a boom in agricultural production was followed by a bust due to poor weather and over-production. The area was brought into greater contact with the rest of the nation as the railroad system was expanded, which facilitated better communications and transportation of goods. As in the previous century, tobacco continued to be the most important cash crop, but price manipulation by tobacco-company trusts led to economic hardship and violence as tobacco growers tried to protect their livelihood. The pressure was finally eased with the formation of the Tobacco Board of Trade in 1915. Although tobacco was the dominant generator of revenue, manufacturing was present in the area, with shoe, boot, and rubber companies operating in Clarksville.

During the 1920s, rural communities increased as agricultural production rose; however, some migration of farmers to urban areas occurred as they looked for work with the depression setting in. While tobacco continued to remain a cash crop, farmers began to rely on other means, including breeding livestock and poultry farming, to supplement their income from the tobacco crop.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, this region of Tennessee and Kentucky saw the construction of paved roads and national highways. US 41 North and South were the first highways to be constructed, between 1923 and 1927, in the region. Together with US 68, it became one of the two paved roads in 1932. The area was also accessible by rail, with the Central Tennessee Railway line in proximity and the closest railhead about 10 miles north of Clarksville. There can be little doubt about the significance of the development of an infrastructure of national highways and the railway to the selection of the Camp Campbell site.

Primarily rural, the area was well-occupied during the years immediately preceding the construction of Camp Campbell. Eighty-four pre-military communities have been identified in the Fort Campbell area based on maps, historical accounts, and oral histories.

Communities in the four counties: Montgomery and Stewart counties in Tennessee and Christian and Trigg counties in Kentucky, were forced to relocate and disperse due to the acquisition of land for construction of the post. In Christian County, portions of three townships – those of Longview, Garretsburgh, and Lafayette - were taken by the construction of the post.


In Trigg County, the communities of Chewning, Salineburg, and parts of Roaring Springs and Donaldson were among those absorbed by the post. In Montgomery County, where the Army acquired the largest tract of land, all of District 4, which included the communities of Jordan Springs, Rose Hill, and Oakwood, was taken up by Camp construction.

Parts of Districts 3 and 8 in Montgomery County, which contained the villages of Ringgold and Woodland, were also taken up for Camp construction. The northwest portion of the Stewart County, comprising rural farm communities such as Big Rock, Bumpus Mills, and Indian Mound were affected by the construction of the post.

The communities affected by the construction of the post were largely rural; indeed, there were several farmsteads spreading across the area occupied by Camp Campbell that had to be acquired by the government. While the Clarksville business community welcomed the proposed plan for the construction of the post, farmers and other property owners who would be affected by the construction had mixed feelings about the project. The main concerns of the farmers, as judged from editorials and local newspaper articles, were whether they would be given time to harvest their crops and whether the land appraisals would be fair.


Farmers and landowners having grievances regarding land prices hired attorneys to represent them and sent telegrams to their Congressmen regarding their grievances. The efforts of the farmers, landowners, and their representatives were effective. In response to the meeting of the farmers’ attorney representatives with government officials in Washington, the War Department expeditiously sent a federal agent to survey and re-appraise the lands.

Historic county maps show that schools, churches, post offices, and provisional stores also were among the building types that existed in the area.

In 1939, just 2 years before the government considered the location for Camp Campbell, there were several buildings in the area. Three existing buildings at the post and located in Montgomery County, the Durrett House, the Pressler House, and the Childers House were constructed during the 1930s.

The 1941 aerial survey photographs also show that several buildings dotted the surrounding landscape, and indicated that the street patterns had changed over the years.


Over 200 cemeteries were located in the Fort Campbell area. Some of the cemeteries were removed by the families when the post was constructed, and several more were deliberately relocated by the Army, especially in portions of the installation designated for use as impact areas.  Over 170 historic cemeteries, based on historic maps, may remain on Fort Campbell.  The Fort Campbell Cultural Resources Program maintains an inventory of cemeteries on post which currently totals 131. Burials in each cemetery range from as few as one or two individuals to more than a dozen in larger community cemeteries.  It is estimated that as many as 1,138 individuals are buried on the post.  The Fort Campbell Cultural Resources Program monitors and mows cemeteries and provides access for families who still visit them.

Contact Hillary Burt, Archaeologist in Charge of Public Outreach/Cemeteries

Telephone: (270) 798-7228


Pre-Military History


References Consulted

BHE Environmental, Inc.

2006 The Historic Context Statement for Historic Archaeology at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Submitted to Fort Campbell Cultural Resources Management Office, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  Submitted by BHE Environmental, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio.


Chanchani, Samiran

2006 Historic Context for World War II at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.  Prepared for the USACE Louisville District, Louisville, Kentucky.  Prepared by BHE Environmental, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio.


Fort Campbell

2013 Integrated Cultural Resources Management Plan (ICRMP) 2012-2016.  Prepared by Fort Campbell, Kentucky.


Krejsa, Paul P. and Michael L. Hargrave

2006 An Assessment of Previous Archaeological Surveys at Fort Campbell Kentucky/Tennessee. Prepared for Fort Campbell, Cultural Resources Program. Prepared by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), Champaign, Illinois.


URS Group, Inc.

2008 Final Report, Historic Context for Pre-Fort Campbell Landscape and Communities. Prepared for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, Louisville, Kentucky and Fort Campbell, Conservation Branch, Fort Campbell, Kentucky.