Making a ‘smart’ decision

By Keith Gabbard
Chief Executive Officer

When it comes to technology, we want everything to be “smart” these days. We have smartphones and smart watches, smart appliances in our kitchen and laundry room, smart thermostats and smart home gadgets with smart apps to control them.

While all this smart technology is impressive and can make life more convenient while saving us money, the really smart part of it all is the broadband network that so many of these devices and apps rely on to bring us this functionality.

This trend toward devices that are only possible with broadband is not going away. And as broadband becomes the leading infrastructure driving innovation, it is impacting every facet of our lives.
That’s why we decided long ago that improving broadband service in our rural area was the smart thing to do. And that’s why we worked hard to earn the distinction of being a Smart Rural Community. With access to an advanced broadband network, boundless opportunities open up for our region:

Smarter businesses: Technology allows businesses to reach new customers and better serve the customers they already have. Smart businesses are using data and their broadband connections to learn more about customer habits, streamline supply chains and optimize their operations. Studies have shown that broadband-connected businesses bring in $200,000 more in median annual revenues than non-connected businesses. Our network ensures that these tools are available to our local businesses so they can compete regionally, nationally or even globally.

Smarter education: Local teachers and school administrators are doing amazing things with tablets, online resources and other learning tools. These smart schools are opening up new avenues for students to learn. Experts say that nationally, students in schools with broadband connections reach higher levels of educational achievements and have higher-income careers.

Smarter health care: From bracelets that keep track of physical activity to telemedicine, smart technology and broadband are improving the way we monitor and care for our bodies. Physicians are able to confer with other medical experts, transmit X-Rays and lab results and communicate with patients over our network. Through smart electronic medical records, everyone from stroke patients to expectant mothers is receiving better care because hospitals and doctors are getting “smarter.”

Smarter homes: A host of new devices has allowed users to bring smart technology into their homes. Smart devices allow you to monitor your home, change the thermostat, turn on lights and even lock or unlock doors remotely. While these smart devices offer plenty of convenience, they are also a smart safety decision to avoid coming home to a dark house or to receive an alert anytime someone pulls into your driveway.

We believe we’ve made smart decisions that put our community in a position to take advantage of this smart revolution. As our devices, businesses, homes, schools and hospitals get smarter, rest assured that your cooperative is smart enough to have the infrastructure in place to handle these demands — plus whatever the future holds.

Empowering members to be advocates for rural telecommunications

By Keith Gabbard
Chief Executive Officer

The results are in. Almost 200 readers responded to The PRTC Connection readership survey in our January/February issue. Your responses gave us good insight into what we’re doing right and how we can serve you better.

I appreciate those who took the time to share this valuable feedback with us.

Not surprisingly, the stories about local people in our community and the articles about food are the most popular pages among respondents. But I was pleased to see readers also enjoy the articles with information about your cooperative.

Perhaps that readership is why 85 percent of respondents said this magazine gave them a better understanding of technology, and 90 percent said they have a better understanding of the role this cooperative plays in economic and community development because of The PRTC Connection. It’s very gratifying to know our efforts are working.

I shared this data not to boast about how proud we are of this magazine, but to explain the reason why I’m proud of it. I believe having informed and educated members is a key factor to the long-term health of this cooperative.

In fact, educating our members is one of the seven core principles that lay the foundation for a cooperative. The National Cooperative Business Association says members should be informed about company and industry news “so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperative.”

Informed and engaged members make our cooperative better.

Broadband has been in the news quite a bit lately, from net neutrality to the president discussing high-speed network expansion. It’s important for our members to know how federal regulations, state policies and shifts in the industry can affect their broadband and telephone services.

Educating you on issues that matter to rural telecommunications and your community empowers you to become advocates for rural America. Big corporations and urban residents certainly find ways to make their voices heard, and it’s up to cooperatives like us and members like you to let legislators and policymakers know that rural America matters and decisions that affect telecommunications cooperatives matter to rural America.

I hope you enjoy the stories and photos in this magazine. I always do. But I also hope you come away with a little better understanding of your cooperative, the role we play in this community and the role you can play in making rural America better.

Learning to work from home

Teleworks is connecting Eastern Kentucky job seekers with “brand name” companies

Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series of articles that will highlight PRTC’s Smart Rural Community award from NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

An advisor answers a student’s question during a Teleworks USA class at the Jackson County Industrial Park.

Expectant mother Paige Adkins needed work, but she did not want to face a nearly 30-mile, one-way commute.

“The closest job I would have been able to find would have been in London,” says Adkins, who lives in Gray Hawk, Kentucky. “There are no jobs here at all.”

Free training provided through Teleworks USA, however, may prepare her for a job with one of the growing number of companies developing remote, Internet-connected workforces.

“We’ve had folks who are working with Sony, Apple, Amazon and U-Haul,” says Owen Grise, deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

The classes, held at Jackson County Industrial Park and at the Kentucky Career Center JobSight in Hazard, Kentucky, are funded mostly through the U.S. Department of Labor.

The self-directed training usually requires four to six weeks. Afterward, employers recruit from the pool of certified candidates. “We have one employee in Eastern Kentucky working for a company in Paris, France,” Grise says.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Owen Grise helps oversee the Teleworks USA program in Jackson County as the deputy director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.

Connecting workers to jobs
Teleworks was one of the first initiatives nationally to embrace the idea of training people in rural areas and connecting them with companies building remote workforces. In addition to training, the company manages a website to connect employers with job seekers.

Teleworks helped about 500 people secure jobs in just less than four years, Grise says.

Classes can accommodate about 15 people. Each trainee works through the program at his or her own pace. Certifications might require a testing fee, but qualified students can receive financial assistance.

Pay for an entry-level job is about $20,000 annually, and many jobs will include benefits, Grise says. For counties such as Jackson, the jobs can provide a welcome economic boost. “If we produce 15 people in a month or six weeks who can land those jobs, that’s $300,000 in wages, before taxes, that wasn’t in the county before,” Grise says.

Waiting lists exist for classes at both locations, Grise says.

Developing customer service skills
Adkins has worked since she was 16 years old. Most jobs were in customer service.

“I want to do good for people, and I want people to be happy with what they’re getting,” she says. “I know this will be good for me.”

She hopes a work-from-home job will allow her to stay employed while also preparing for her new baby.

“Classes are three days a week from 9 o’clock until noon,” she says. “We go through lessons each day. We watch videos explaining what good customer service is, and how to present yourself when doing customer service.”

Then, each lesson includes sample questions. Afterward, a quiz determines if each person passes a section. At the end of training, job seekers can earn certifications verifying their new skills.

Without the program, Adkins says she would find it difficult to pay for training. “I’ve been married almost two years, and we do good,” she says. “But, it would be hard to pay for schooling if we had to pay for it out of pocket. I feel very blessed.”

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Paige Adkins works through an Internet-based lesson during the Teleworks USA training program.

Business tools at home
Training, however, is only one part of succeeding at a work-from-home job. “It’s a different situation than most folks are used to,” Grise says.

Hurdles might include lack of a good computer, or coping with family and pets unaccustomed to someone working from home.

For a time, however, new employees might have the opportunity to work from the training center while they get their home office ready. “We can let them work here for a little while as they get their feet on the ground, a routine down and better understanding of the demands of the job,” Grise says.

While many work-from-home employees face a transition, quality Internet access is not a concern.

“One of the things about being here is that Jackson County is so well connected,” Grise says. “It’s an opportunity that many of them don’t realize they have.”

Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative’s service area was designated a “Smart Rural Community” by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. NTCA developed the award as a way to recognize cooperatives that are promoting and using broadband networks to foster innovative economic development, education, health care and government services.

Changing business strategies
Introducing people to the idea of work-from-home jobs is key for Teleworks. “You have to convince them that this is real — it’s not a scam,” Grise says. “These companies will hire you, even though they’ve never seen you.”

Many national employers are “off-siting” part of their workforce. The move saves on office space, utilities and other costs associated with call centers, Grise says.

Employees connect through the Internet to a company’s servers. And despite the distance, employers can still track each worker.

Grise believes demand will continue to increase for employees who work from home. Soon, the concept will need little explanation.

“We’re raising a generation of people right now who can’t imagine being out of touch,” Grise says. “Those folks are going to grow up where it’s not at all a strange concept that they should know an employer only through a laptop.”

Learn more about Teleworks USA jobs:

Earle Combs: ‘just a country boy from Kentucky’

By Brian Lazenby

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs loved spring, because by the time the jonquils began to appear, he had worn holes in his wool socks.

It wasn’t that Combs hated wool, or even wearing socks, but every spring his father would unravel the worn threads and wind the yarn into a tight ball. He would then cut leather pieces from a pair of his wife’s old shoes and stitch them around the yarn. Then, with a piece of wood cut from a poplar tree, Combs practiced the game he loved — baseball — a game which he later said he owes for everything he ever had.

It was baseball that helped him get an education and took him all over the country — from Pebworth in Owsley County to the Big Apple as a member of the New York Yankees. Ultimately, it led him to the infamous 1927 New York Yankees lineup that struck fear into the hearts and minds of many opposing pitchers. And not only was Combs a part of “Murderers’ Row,” as the gang of sluggers came to be known, but he was also their leadoff hitter. He set the table for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Toni Lazzeri. He helped lead the Yankees to seven American League pennants and four World Series Championships, and according to his friends, “always wore the same size hat.”

Kyle Bobrowski played baseball in high school and portrayed Earle Combs in the “Homesong” community play in Owsley County. He learned a lot about the local hero and became a big fan. “He was very humble and never wanted to be in the spotlight,” Bobrowski says.


Earle Combs, known as “The Kentucky Colonel,” played for the New York Yankees from 1924 until 1935. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Earle Combs, known as “The Kentucky Colonel,” played for the New York Yankees from 1924 until 1935. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

The son of a farmer from just outside of Booneville, Combs is one of only two Kentuckians inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. The day he was inducted at Cooperstown, he referred to himself as “just a common guy from Kentucky.”

“All he knew his whole life was farming,” Bobrowski says. “He always believed in honesty, hard work and the Golden Rule — treat others the way you want to be treated.”

Combs never imagined he would make a living playing baseball, so he left Pebworth for Richmond to study to become a teacher at Eastern State Normal School, now Eastern Kentucky University. But baseball was always part of his life. After a remarkable performance in a student-faculty game at Eastern, Combs was convinced to try out for the school team, where he became a star and hit .591 his final year at the school.
Combs returned home to begin his teaching career, but in the summertime he played semi-pro ball for several Kentucky towns: Winchester, High Splint and Lexington. It was while playing with the Lexington Reos in the Bluegrass League that he caught the eye of a scout from the Louisville Colonials of the American Association. They offered him $37 a month — more than his salary as a teacher. It was only then that he realized a career playing baseball might be possible.

He played for Louisville in 1922 and 1923 and transitioned from a shortstop to a ball-hawking center fielder with a penchant for stealing bases. It was in 1924 that the New York Yankees purchased Combs for an eye-popping $50,000 and brought him to the big leagues.

The hometown boy from Pebworth proved to be worth every penny. He cruised center field, snagging fly balls between Bob Meusel in left field and Ruth in right. His speed prompted many sportswriters to refer to him as a “gazelle,” “thoroughbred” and “greyhound.” He hit .400 his rookie year before a broken ankle ended his season. But the following year, he picked up where he had left off. In 1927, the year of the infamous Murderers’ Row, he led the American League in at-bats (648), triples (23) and hit a career-high 231 base hits — 39 more than Ruth. On top of that, he scored the winning run in the Yankees’ four-game World Series sweep of Pittsburgh.

During his career, Combs had a lifetime batting average of .325, had more than 200 base hits in a season three times, led the American League in triples three times and twice led the American league in putouts.
“He never really considered himself an all-star, just a country boy from Kentucky,” Bobrowski says. “But his numbers still hold up today with some of the greats.”

Combs played a role on the Yankees teams that went beyond the box score, says Earl Cox, who retired after a five-decade news career that included a stint as sports editor for The Courier-Journal in Louisville.
“He is credited with saving the Yankees a lot of games, and with saving Babe Ruth, too,” Cox says. “When Babe had been out on one of his benders the night before a game, Earl would have to play center field and right field, too.”

Combs’ career was dotted with injuries, but in 1934, he suffered skull fracture when he collided with the center field wall. He was carried from the field on a stretcher, unconscious with blood gushing from his nose and mouth. He was admitted to the hospital and listed as critical with a fractured skull, broken collar bone, dented nose and contusions on his face and knees.

He spent weeks in the hospital recovering. Despite the horrific injuries, he healed more quickly than most expected.

“I was made of tough stuff,” Combs said of his recovery.

He was beloved by teammates, Yankee fans, opposing players and fans of opposing teams. That love and admiration was shown during the time he spent hospitalized for his injuries with the thousands of letters that poured into the hospital. And in true Earle Combs form, he tried to answer as many as he could.
Combs returned to the Yankees the following year, but torn ligaments in his throwing arm sidelined him for much of the season. That fall, he decided to hang up his glove for good.

Earle Combs, born in Pebworth, Kentucky, played 11 seasons with the New York Yankees. He earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photos courtesy of the National Baseball Hall Of Fame.)

Kentucky native Earle Combs earned a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played alongside greats such as Babe Ruth.

“I’m not as young as I once was,” he said at the time.

After that, Combs coached for several years, first for the Yankees, before moving to the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies. He retired from the game after the 1954 season and returned to Kentucky, where former baseball commissioner A.B. “Happy” Chandler served a second term as governor from 1955 to 1959. Chandler named Combs the state’s banking commissioner. The retired player also bought a farm with his wife, Ruth, and became president of Peoples Bank of Paint Lick.

Combs died in 1976 at the age of 77. He is still remembered today as one of the most humble, yet talented, players to step on the field. A dormitory at Eastern Kentucky University bears his name, and the school awards an athletic scholarship in his honor.

“In my eyes, he is the most famous person from here,” Bobrowski says. “I think he even tops Daniel Boone, because Daniel Boone wasn’t actually from here.”

Your bill, simplified

At PRTC, we’re a community — a community that believes in helping our customers every way we can. We are converting to a new, more efficient billing system. And we are making sure your monthly bill is as easy to read as possible with a format change beginning June 1. We put important information at the top of the bill to help make handling and filing simpler for you. To be certain you always know what everything you see means, we’ve broken it down in detail, section by section below.

New Bill


You’ve got mail

With so many new apps and services to help keep us connected, email is still king in the business world

TelcoBadgeProof2From instant messaging applications such as Skype to social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat, the past few years have brought us many new options for connecting electronically. And yet, when it comes to communicating in business, email remains the method of choice.

In the report “Technology’s Impact on Workers,” released by Pew Research Center at the end of last year, 61 percent of workers who use the Internet say that email is very important to doing their job.

“The high value of email comes despite the challenges of the past generation,” the report states, “including threats like spam and phishing and competitors like social media and texting.”

Email’s continued reign as the communications tool of choice has its benefits. The study found that 39 percent of workers believe that email, along with the Internet and cell phones, allows them more flexibility in the hours they work.

The downside to that flexibility, however, is that 35 percent — almost the same amount — say these tools have increased the amount of time they spend working.

BBB chart

Get local with PRTC Channel 9

Are you a high school sports fan? Do you want to keep track of the issues going before the city council? Or maybe you are interested in learning more about the local region.

Mark Sulfridge films a play at an area school for PRTC Channel 9. PRTC continues to expand its coverage of events in the community.

Mark Sulfridge films a play at an area school for PRTC Channel 9. PRTC continues to expand its coverage of events in the community.

Whatever your interests, PRTC Channel 9 is your source for what is happening in Jackson and Owsley counties.

Local programming from PRTC brings you all the high school sports action, local election coverage, area church services and much more right to your living room.

“PRTC is enriching the community in so many ways and letting you know what is going on,” says Brian Murray, who hosts several of the segments on Channel 9. “With this wide variety of programming, PRTC is making a huge investment in the community.”

Murray, who got his play-by-play start in radio, is the voice of high school sports on Channel 9. The local channel brings all the high school action a diehard fan could want. Basketball, baseball, softball and football — Murray stays busy bringing all the fast-paced action to you.


After 5 years of covering local sports, PRTC expanded its programming to include coverage of local elections and government, as well as a program that would quickly become one of the more popular segments, “Local Treasures.”

“Local Treasures” highlights some of the interesting sites around the region. In the past, they have aired shows about Flat Lick Falls, Hooten Old Town and natural historian and caver Jake Lainhart, among others.

Murray interviews those associated with the sites and highlights the many fascinating stories and facts about all the treasures this region has to offer.

“PRTC is always on the lookout for new topics and ways to bring interesting local stories to our members like no one else can,” he says.

In any given span of 90 days, Murray says Channel 9 usually broadcasts 40-50 events, including local school plays, holiday parades and just about anything going on in the region.

“I’m not aware of a local cooperative anywhere that is dedicated to bringing viewers this much local content,” he says.

For more information about the programming available on Channel 9, visit and click “Channel 9 Video Schedule.” Advertising opportunities are also available. Call 606-287-7101.

Email overload? Manage your inbox with these simple tips

With so much importance placed on email in today’s business world, managing your messages can be overwhelming. You can benefit from this communications tool without letting it wreck your day by putting a few simple principles into action.

Set an email schedule. If you make yourself available for email all day long, you leave yourself open to constant distraction. Set a schedule of specific times during the day when you will check email. You may have to adjust it to find the schedule that’s right for you, but try starting with once before lunch and again early afternoon. You will feel more freedom than when you are drawn in by every email that lands in your inbox.

Turn off notifications. You can’t stay focused on any one task if your computer provides a pop-up notification every time an email comes in. Turn off that productivity-killing feature. In fact, shut down your email app altogether and only launch it when you are ready to focus on email.

Organize your inbox. Most email apps allow you to set up folders, filters and rules to bring order to your email madness. It may take a few weeks of adjusting to find the approach that best fits you, but the result will be a more organized workspace. Your mail will be in intuitive categories so that you’ll be able to deal with the most important messages first.

Keep it brief. When you send an exhaustive email with hundreds of words and multiple questions and points, you invite an equally exhaustive response that you’ll have to wade through.

Consider alternatives. Email is not for every conversation. In fact, it’s a terrible way to manage a project. Post messages pertaining to a specific project inside tools such as Basecamp or Trello. Having all related conversations in the same place with related notes and action items will help you track progress.

Is email an important part of your business? Do you have any tips for managing email to work more efficiently? Tell us your story at

Trail Town: Plan to connect McKee to Sheltowee Trace

By Brian Lazenby

Leaders in Jackson County are working to take advantage of the area’s most valuable resource — its natural beauty.

Bob Gabbard hikes along the Sheltowee Trace. Soon a connector will link the trail to downtown McKee to lure hikers.

Bob Gabbard hikes along the Sheltowee Trace. Soon a connector will link the trail to downtown McKee to lure hikers.

Tourism officials and outdoor enthusiasts are working to have McKee designated as an official “Trail Town” along the Sheltowee Trace, a long-distance trail that begins in Pickett State Park in Tennessee and runs north-northeast through Jackson County to Roan County, Kentucky, near Morehead. A spur trail would connect McKee to the main 307-mile trace so it could serve as a stop-off for long-distance hikers. Currently, hikers pass right by McKee without ever putting a hiking boot in local shops, restaurants or hotels.

“The trail is the one golden thread that we can build upon,” says Bob Gabbard, owner of the Town and Country Motel in McKee. He is spearheading the proposed trail connector. “It is not the answer by itself, but I think it can go a long way to helping us develop the area’s economy.”

The Jackson County Department of Tourism has already submitted its permit application for McKee to be designated an official Trail Town. Jackson County Tourism Chairman Demian Gover says the feedback from the U.S. Forest Service has been very positive.

“They seem to be very happy with our plan,” he says.

Both he and Gabbard are eager for the permit to be approved and are hopeful that it happens this spring, but they know it may take until summer before they get the go-ahead.

“It looks like this will be a banner year for us in the trail business,” Gabbard says.


Currently the Sheltowee Trace bypasses McKee by about a mile and a half, and a portion of that section travels along U.S. Highway 421. Gabbard says the proposed new section will eliminate the on-road section of the trail.

Officials have already built one new trailhead in the Hamilton Bottoms area near the McKee welcome sign. Another is planned at the other end of town across from the post office, where hikers could have mail and supplies shipped ahead of them.

Bob Gabbard is spearheading efforts to have McKee designated an official “Trail Town” and build two trailheads and a connector to the Sheltowee Trace.

Bob Gabbard is spearheading efforts to have McKee designated an official “Trail Town” and build two trailheads and a connector to the Sheltowee Trace.

Both trailheads will connect to one another by a trail running parallel to Main Street, but it will pass off the roadway behind businesses and houses.

Both trailheads will connect to the trace, which sees thousands of outdoor enthusiasts each year. Plans are underway to link the trace with other trails to form the Great Eastern Trail running from Alabama to New York, similar to the Appalachian Trail.

While the Sheltowee Trace is primarily used by hikers, it is a multi-use trail and allows horses, mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles in some designated sections.

Gabbard and Gover want to bring those using the trail into McKee, where they will hopefully spend the night, eat dinner or replenish their equipment.

“We want to be there for the hikers to re-fuel and re-equip,” Gover says. “They are going to do that somewhere. Why would we not want to be there for them when they do?”

It isn’t clear what the economic impact will be if the plan is approved, but Gover says Livingston built a visitors center across from a Sheltowee trailhead in Rockcastle County, about 30 miles southeast of McKee, and is already seeing positive economic results.

“It is not the end-all, be-all for the economy in McKee and Jackson County, but it could be that stimulus and catalyst we need,” Gover says.

Down the road

People inhabited this region as early as the 10th century, says Gabbard, who is also a paleontologist. He says once the connector is approved and built, there are additional plans to capitalize on the “adventure tourism” crowd with a village to honor those early inhabitants.

Did you know? Sheltowee is a Shawnee term meaning “Big Turtle.” It is the name Shawnee Chief Blackfish gave to Daniel Boone because he moved slowly along the trail compared to the native tribesmen.

Did you know?
Sheltowee is a Shawnee term meaning “Big Turtle.” It is the name Shawnee Chief Blackfish gave to Daniel Boone because he moved slowly along the trail compared to the native tribesmen.

“If the plan goes through, in five years we want to have a replica native Appalachian village,” he says. “We have the beauty of our natural resources, and those assets need to be promoted.”

Officials are working closely with Native American groups, and a portion of the village will be dedicated to them.

Gabbard says the proposed trail will not only attract hikers to McKee, but it will also bring bird watchers, naturists and other outdoor enthusiasts to the area.

“This is an ancient land, and it is very fossiliferous,” he says. “There is a lot to see here if people will take the time to look for it.”

For more information about Jackson County and the area’s natural resources, visit or

A nation divided: 150 years later

Relive history on a tour of these prominent Civil War battlefields

By Robert Thatcher

This year, the country will conclude its 150th anniversary remembrance of the Civil War. But don’t worry if you missed the reenactments and fanfare over the past four years. Take this trip on US Highway 41 from Kentucky through Middle Tennessee to find plenty of history while tracing pivotal battles in America’s most costly war.

Stop #1 – Fort Donelson National Battlefield
Where Ulysses Grant became a household name

Fort Donelson National Battlefield, on the banks of the Cumberland River just south of the Kentucky border, is a natural starting point for a drive through Middle Tennessee. It’s also a good beginning militarily.

Dover Hotel

Dover Hotel

“Almost everything that happened in the state is a sequel to what happened here,” says Doug Richardson, Fort Donelson’s chief of interpretation.

Rivers were arteries of commerce for the South, and the Confederates built Fort Donelson to protect the Cumberland and upstream cities like Clarksville and Nashville

But on Feb. 12, 1862, a little-known Union brigadier general named Ulysses S. Grant set his sights on Fort Donelson. He was confident of victory after his gunboats easily took nearby Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

Donelson was not so easy. Well-positioned Confederate guns brought victory, setting up a successful “break out” through Union lines. But the victory was short-lived, as the Confederates unwittingly helped Grant by pulling troops back to their original positions. Grant retook the lost ground, and the 12,000-man garrison surrendered unconditionally. The battle made Grant a star and was a catastrophe for the South.

Touring Fort Donelson

The park preserves more than 20 percent of the original battlefield, with several square miles of earthwork fortifications. Don’t miss these highlights:

  • Stand at the gun batteries where Confederate gunners battered Grant’s gunboats.
  • Visit the Dover Hotel where Ulysses S. Grant demanded “unconditional surrender” from his old West Point friend, Confederate Simon Buckner.
  • Pause at Fort Donelson National Cemetery for a reminder of the sacrifices that Americans have made from the Civil War to the present day.
  • While absorbing the history, you may also encounter two notable park residents. “We’ve got two resident bald eagles who live down at the river,” Richardson says. “Our eagles are about as famous as our generals.”

Stop #2 – Stones River National Battlefield
The Fight for the Confederate Heartland

We could follow General Grant to the Mississippi line and Shiloh, where his Army of the Tennessee headed after Donelson, but there’s good reason to drive to Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro.

“When Fort Donelson falls, the Confederates have to give up Nashville,” explains Park Ranger Jim Lewis. “And Nashville becomes the base for the Union Army to launch the campaigns which will lead to Stones River, Chickamauga and Chattanooga.”

For many, Stones River is a quiet retreat from bustling Murfreesboro. But the 6,100 gravestones across from the visitor center are a sober reminder of what took place there. Of the 81,000 who fought here, 23,000 were killed, wounded or went missing in action — the highest percentage of casualties of any Civil War battle.

Early success, then retreat

Cemetery at Stones River

Cemetery at Stones River

On New Year’s Eve 1862, the Southern army under Braxton Bragg attacked first, catching William Rosecrans’ Union troops at breakfast and driving them north. Then on Jan. 2, the Confederates launched another attack along the east bank of the Stones River to drive Union troops off of a high hill.

“In the process of pursuing, those Confederates will come under the fire of 57 Union cannons along the other side of the river and will lose about 1,800 men in 45 minutes,” Lewis says. “That’s a pretty bloody exclamation point.”

The Confederates then retreated.

Touring Stones River

Stones River offers a 12-stop auto tour, including these sights:

  • Walk around The Slaughter Pen, a rock outcropping where Union troops made a stubborn stand.
  • Pay respect at the Hazen Brigade Monument, one of the oldest war monuments in the country.
  • Be awed by Fort Rosecrans, the largest earthworks fortification in North America.

Stop #3 – Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
The Death Knell of the Confederacy

We’ve followed the Union push to Nashville and Murfreesboro. The next stop is Chattanooga. Actually, we’ll go south of the city to Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park, in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.

Re-enactments, like this one near Chickamauga, Ga., can bring history to life, but battlefields throughout the Southeast are interesting places to visit anytime.

Re-enactments, like this one near Chickamauga, Ga., can bring history to life, but battlefields throughout the Southeast are interesting places to visit anytime.

Driving to the park, you’ll cross the mountains that convinced General Rosecrans not to advance directly on Chattanooga. He moved southwest of the city to block supply lines, forcing Confederate troops into Georgia as well. But Chattanooga was the Union goal.

“Chattanooga is a doorway through the southern barrier of the Appalachians,” says Park Historian Jim Ogden.

Driving through the dense woods of the 5,300-acre park, you can see why confusion reigned in the war’s second-bloodiest battle. About 35,000 men were killed, wounded, missing or captured in fighting from Sept. 19-20, 1863. Strategic mistakes led to a Union retreat. The Union troops retreated to Chattanooga, where they withstood a two-month siege before ultimately breaking through in the battle of Chattanooga.

“This allowed the Union drive across Georgia in 1864, from Chattanooga to Atlanta and from Atlanta to Savannah,” Ogden notes.

Touring Chickamauga

Start at the visitor center on Lafayette Road. After touring the park, drive 17 miles to Lookout Mountain Battlefield for views from 1,500 feet above Chattanooga. Other key sites:

  • Stand on Snodgrass Hill where George Thomas became “The Rock of Chickamauga.”
  • Get a general’s view from Orchard Knob, Grant’s command post, and the Bragg Reservation, Confederate headquarters on Missionary Ridge.
  • Watch the conflict electronically at the Battles for Chattanooga Museum on Lookout Mountain.

Chattanooga was a major blow for the Confederacy. But there’s much more to see on the campaign South – Tunnel Hill, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain all the way to Savannah and then into South Carolina. The war continued on and your trip can too. Visit for more sites from the War Between the States.

Tech-Savvy Traveler: Charting your course

Point Park Cannon

Point Park Cannon

Robert E. Lee is regarded by many as the most clever battle tactician of the Civil War. Imagine what he could have done with a GPS! Nowadays, it’s easy to come up with a battle plan and map out the route for you and your troops on your next vacation. Apps like Google Earth provide directions for tourists with aerial or street views of those historic sites from Gettysburg to Charleston. For those battling interstate traffic, Road Ninja is an app that will help you find fuel, food and shelter for the evening, keeping your small army on the move.