State Park History

Columbus-Belmont State Park is a 156-acre site that sits on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. The site where the parks is located at 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. In 1861 Confederate General Leonidas Polk fortified the area by building a fort along a bluff along the “cutside” of the river at Columbus (KY).

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 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.

The struggle to control the river led to the Battle of Belmont on November 7, 1861 where Union troops led by Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the future Union Army general in chief and U.S. President, fought with Confederate troops at Belmont across the river from the Confederate fortifications. Grant’s troops overran a Confederate camp and destroyed it. The scattered Confederate forces quickly reorganized and were reinforced from Columbus.

Their counterattack, supported by heavy artillery fire from across the river, forced Grant to retreat to his riverboats and back to Paducah, Kentucky. This was also Grant’s first active engagement in the Civil War. Many of the earthen fortifications, buildings and artillery pieces were lost to erosion of the bluff during heavy flooding in the region during the 1920s. When the flooding receded in 1925, the giant chain was exposed, and the people of Columbus decided to save it for future generations. The area containing the park was purchased by the state of Kentucky in 1934.

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.

State Park Designation

On February 10, 1934, the Columbus-Belmont State Park, originally named Columbus Belmont Battlefield Memorial Park, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System. As early as 1931, efforts had been made to acquire the site of the Civil War battlefield and trenches. Attempts at purchasing 110 acres had proven unsuccessful until then. The executive secretary of the parks commission reported that he had made “many trips to Columbus and other towns at which mass meetings and special drives have been made to buy the 110 acres of land which was a part of the old battlefield and trenches at this site.”

After some discussion, the Kentucky General Assembly gave $5,000 for immediate development of the area. On July 4, 1931, Governor Flem D. Sampson (1927-1931) along with a number of prominent Kentuckians attended a celebration to raise private funds for acquisition of the necessary land for the proposed park.

The money raised at the celebration bought 90 acres. After another round of visits to the surrounding towns of Clinton, Columbus, Mayfield and Paducah, it seemed sufficient monies had been raised to purchase the remaining acreage. However, due to unclear titles, infant heirs, and other difficulties pertaining to the Great Depression, the project was again postponed. With this setback, the Columbus-Belmont Battlefield Park Association was formed under the oversight of the Kentucky legislature and local citizens. The Association continued raising funds until they could purchase enough land to surround the historic battlefield.

Location

Contact

350 Park Road
Columbus, KY 42032
GPS: 36°45′56″N 89°06′25″W
Phone: (270) 677-2327
Email: cindy.lynch@ky.gov
Park Manager: Cindy Lynch

Downloads

Icon
Columbus Belmont - Brochure
Icon
Columbus Belmont - Map
Icon
Columbus Belmont - Campground

    Civil War Days

    Held annually the second full weekend in October, Civil War Days has become Hickman County’s largest tourist attraction, drawing approximately 15,000 visitors to Columbus-Belmont State Park. Battle re-enactments, soldier campsites, sutlers, the Civil War Ball, music, and good food are among the features that draw people for return visits to this journey back in time.

    Education Day is held on Friday, where schools, groups, and clubs are encouraged to come for a special, up-close look at this living history. The Civil War skirmishes held both Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. draw large crowds, as registered re-enactors battle to the finish. The Civil War Ball is held on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and is open to anyone. There is no charge, and everyone is welcome. Other than the skirmishes, it is the largest event of the weekend. Everyone is invited to dance and enjoy the music. Sunday morning services and a Memorial Service will be held at the Columbus Cemetery.

    Photo Gallery

    Trail of Tears Designation

    A momentous “Unveiling Ceremony” of a sign for the Site Identification of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail at Columbus-Belmont State Park took place on August 23, 2012. The John Benge detachment, with about 1,100 Cherokee, took a route to Oklahoma by way of Tennessee through Hickman County, Kentucky and in to Missouri and Arkansas. Benge’s group arrived in Columbus, Kentucky, in mid-November 1838, and awaited transport across the Mississippi River by ferry to Belmont, Missouri. The Cherokee spent several days camped in the area of Columbus-Belmont State Park. In January, 2011, The National Park Service and the Kentucky Department of Parks entered into an agreement which made Columbus-Belmont State Park a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

    Things To Do

    Birding
    A multitude of migratory songbirds pass through the park during spring and fall, most from mid-April to mid-May and again from early September to mid-October. At least two-dozen species of warblers, plus the flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, and orioles. One of the highlight species at Columbus-Belmont State Park is the Mississippi Kite, present from early May to late August. The best areas for viewing are the woodland edges and overlooks along the top of the bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Columbus-Belmont State Park is listed on the National Audubon Society’s Great River Birding Trail.
    Boating
    Boat ramps onto the Mississippi River available.
    Camping
    Relax amid beautiful settings on the river cliff campground with 38 sites, utility hookups and grills. A central service building offers rest rooms, showers, and laundry facilities. WiFi available. Pets are allowed if restrained. Campground open year round, water available, but not to each site in winter. Open Year Round (No water in winter)
    In addition, two rental camping trailers and a log cabin rental are available by calling the park direct. Each trailer has kitchen, bath, and sleeps six. The log cabin sleeps two and renter uses campground facilities.
    Gift Shop
    Browse our wonderful selection of Kentucky handcrafts in the gift shop. Open daily May – Labor Day and weekends through mid. Oct. Open by appointment in off season.
    Hiking
    There is a 2.5-mile self-guided hiking trail in the Park. Dramatic images of the Civil War come to mind when walking on the bluffs and massive earthen works that formed the Confederate trenches.
    Miniature Golf
    The entire family will enjoy playing a round on the park’s miniature golf course. Open daily May – Labor Day and weekends through September.
    Museum
    Open first two weekends of October Closed Oct 10 – Mar 31 (Available by appointment only)
    Picnicking
    The park’s facilities include picnic tables, grills and a playground, as well as four picnic shelters. Shelters available for rental up to one year in advance.
    Contact Us

    We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

    Not readable? Change text. captcha txt

    Start typing and press Enter to search