Fort Pillow State Park in Tennessee

Recently, Laura and I had a child-free weekend while Jaylin was at the church youth group retreat. So we did what every child-free couple does - we went and hiked some trails at a state park. You mean that isn’t what everyone does? I guess maybe we aren’t quite like everyone else.

Fort Pillow State Park

We decided to visit Fort Pillow, which is one of the Tennessee State Parks, about an hour north of Memphis. Because we live about 45 minutes east of Memphis, that meant it took us an hour and a half to get there from our house, but it was a nice, scenic drive. We had been there once before, but it was cold and windy on that visit, and besides, that last visit had been several years earlier. So for some time we have been interested in going back again. This day was still windy but a good bit warmer and sunny, so we decided to go for it.

Fort Pillow was an earthworks fort near the banks of the Mississippi River in Tennessee during the Civil War. The fort was originally built by the Confederates in 1861, but they evacuated the fort in 1862. Union troops eventually moved in and took over the fort. The Confederate Army, under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest, attacked Fort Pillow in 1864, killing a large number of soldiers there, many of them black soldiers. Many consider the deaths to be a massacre, in fact, and some records show that the Confederate troops kept firing well after the Union troops surrendered.

In contrast to its somewhat ugly history, Fort Pillow today is a quiet, peaceful place. Numerous trees, long trails, picnic areas, campsites, a lake for fishing - everything that you would expect from a good state park.

Fort Pillow State Park

We packed a picnic lunch, which we enjoyed in the shade before setting out on the main trail. The fort itself is accessible only by foot, and the trail from the interpretive center to the fort and back is almost 2.5 miles, so it is a pretty good hike. But the scenery is well worth it, I think.

The main fort has been reconstructed, as you can see in the photos above. The earthworks wall is on three sides, and the bluff leading down to the river is on the remaining side. Except that the bluff does not lead down to the river any more. Over the past 100 or so years, the Mississippi River has moved farther to the west, leaving just a small creek down at the bottom of the bluff. Nothing like the waters navigated during the war by the Union gunboats, which Fort Pillow was built to defend against.

There are also several outer walls much farther away from the main fort. Some of those we drove past on our way in, and some of them we walked past as we were walking. These days, they mainly look like long mounds of earth, with trees and grass growing on them, but I am sure that they gave the soldiers something to get behind when the enemy started shooting.

Fort Pillow State Park

There were a few cannons inside the fort, showing how they were positioned to fire through the openings in the fort wall. These days, it looks like the cannons would just be firing at trees, but I would guess that the area was probably a little more open back during the time of the war. I am not sure why, but a cannon always makes for a good photograph, in my opinion, such as this one at Ames Plantation, or this one at Fort Donnelson. So of course I can’t resist getting another good cannon photo or two.

Overall, it was a wonderful day to be outside. The wind was blowing, the sun was shining, and the mosquitoes were biting. Okay, maybe that last part did not make it all that pleasant. We had even sprayed with mosquito spray before we started walking, but apparently, the mosquitoes didn’t know they were supposed to be repelled by that stuff. By the time we reached the end of the trail and were back at our car, the mosquitoes (and probably the lateness of the afternoon) had convinced us that we had done enough for the day. But what a day it was.

And did I mention that it was windy?

Yes, just like our previous visit, the wind seemed to be constantly blowing. Except that this time, the wind felt good due to the heat from the sun. It was not a cold wind, but it definitely kept the sun from feeling too hot. Just about as close to perfect weather as you could get. So I took a short video clip I made and converted it into one of those newfangled “cinemagraphs” that are popular in some places around the internet. The wind in that photo will just keep blowing and blowing. Just like it did in real life. Except that when you are looking at it on the computer screen, hopefully you aren’t getting as many mosquito bites as we got.

Come, see the works of the Lord, who brings devastation on the earth. He makes wars cease throughout the earth. He shatters bows and cuts spears to pieces; He burns up the chariots. “Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." - Psalm 46:8-10

About the Photos

While we were there, I picked up a magazine from the Civil War Trust, and I was interested to see all of the wonderful photos in their magazine. So I tried to emulate that look slightly for these photos, while still giving them something close to my typical look. And I especially wanted to feature the natural beauty of the place, as that is almost more impressive than the fort itself, and the park was the real reason that we went, even more than the fort.

The cinemagraph photo was created in Photoshop using a short video clip that I made, also with the Olympus camera. There are several techniques to create these, so just search the internet for “cinemagraph” if you are interested to know more. Sometimes finding a subject that works well for these is a little tricky, at least for me, but I may try a few more of them from time to time.

Photo: Each photo is a single Raw exposure, processed in Photoshop. Read more about photography tips, photo software, camera gear, and more at Steve’s Photography Tips.
Camera: Olympus OM-D E-M10
Lens: Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye Lens
Date: April 29, 2017
Location: Fort Pillow State Park, Tennessee

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.