Civil War State Park Columbus-Belmont
Backstory and Context
In 1861 Confederate General Leonidas Polk fortified the area by building a fort along a bluff along the "cutside" of the river at Columbus. The fort was christened Fort DeRussey and referred to by Polk as the "Gibraltar of the West." He equipped it with a massive chain that was stretched across the Mississippi to Belmont, Missouri, to block the passage of Union gunboats and supply vessels in the western theater of the war. The fort was also equipped also with 143 cannons. Columbus was the northernmost Confederate base along the Mississippi, protecting Memphis, Vicksburg and other key Southern holdings. As the northern terminus of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, Columbus was logistically tied to Confederate supply lines.
Columbus-Belmont State Park is a 156-acre site that sits on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The parks is located on the site was considered by both North and South to be strategically significant in gaining and keeping control of the Mississippi and of a Confederate fortification built during the Civil War.
Some of the artillery and the six-ton anchor that held the great chain stretching across the river are on display in the park. In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps built a stone monument to hold the chain. The remains of "Lady Polk," a giant experimental cannon named for Polk's wife, can be seen. This 10 foot long gun could fire 10 feet (3.0 m) long and 15,000 pounds. However, two days after the Battle of Belmont it exploded when a round failed to escape and killed eighteen Confederate soldiers. The park hosts an annual Civil War Days reenactment that includes battle re-enactments, living history exhibits and military encampments in October. There is a 2.5-mile self-guided hiking trail in the Park. The park features seasonal facilities that include a Civil War Museum, a snack bar, gift shop, and miniature golf course. A river cliff campground is open year round utility hookups and grills. A central service building offers rest rooms, showers, and laundry facilities.