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Doc. 191.-fights at Fort Donelson, Tenn.


Chaplain McKinney's account.

Fort Donnelson, August 26, 1862.
Eds. Com.: Yesterday at half-past 1 o'clock P. M., companies A, Capt. Carlin, B, Capt. McConnell, G, Capt. Moody, H, Capt. Le Blond, of the Seventy-first Ohio volunteer infantry, holding the post at Fort Donelson, were attacked by a guerrilla force under command of Colonel Woodward, numbering four hundred and fifty infantry and three hundred and twenty-five cavalry, so stated by him — Woodward — to Captain McConnell. The rebels played sharp on our pickets. They sent citizens, with revolvers concealed, who approached the pickets and asked permission to come within our lines, as citizens had been doing some days previous. It may be observed that our pickets were posted on the different approaches to town, at distances ranging from a half to three fourths of a mile from our camp. As soon as these citizens were near enough to our pickets they drew their revolvers and demanded their surrender. By this means they captured eight. They then marched through the space that had been covered by our now captured pickets; and the first warning we had of their approach was their appearance in force not to exceed a half-mile from our camp. The “long roll” soon sounded, and the men were in line in a few moments. A flag of truce was sent in by the rebels, and a surrender demanded. Major J. H. Hart, commanding our forces, said that they should have a reply in thirty minutes. The commissioned officers were then called into headquarters, and the question put: Shall we surrender? The unanimous and firm reply was: “No!” “We will fight.” This reply was made known to Lieut. Col. Martin, the bearer of the flag of truce, who returned to the rebel lines. In less than ten minutes another flag was sent in accompanied by Col. Woodward, who again demanded the surrender of the fort, offering the most honorable (?) terms, and protesting his reluctance to hurt us. On being asked by Major Hart if we might have the privilege of verifying his statements as to the strength of his forces, he very promptly and politely answered, “Yes.” Captain McConnell was accordingly deputed to pass along his lines, and ascertain the facts and report: twenty minutes being given to make the “reconnoissance.” The Captain, after as thorough examination as time would permit, reported that the enemy, in his opinion, did not number over four hundred or possibly five hundred, and one small cannon, (which was captured from our boys at Clarksville,) and that we could whip them. Col. Woodward, however, informed him that he had part of his forces posted south of our camp; but that the twenty minutes were nearly up; hence no time was left to ascertain the fact. The rebel regimental flag was partially concealed from our view, and as we supposed it would be employed as a signal by them, we sent a flag of truce demanding that their colors be placed where they could be plainly seen by us. They complied and planted them in full view. We tied our flag-staff to the forward wheels of a howitzer, resolved not to strike it without a desperate struggle. At about three o'clock P. M. the rebel cavalry raised the yell and charged in fine style down the hill, lying east of our intrenchments, into the ravine. [592] At that moment our boys let slip a well-aimed shot of canister from our six-pounder,1 which broke their column, killing eight of their men, so they reported to our patrol, who were taken prisoners. But, notwithstanding this check, they dashed across the ravine and up the hill, and a portion of them up Main street, north of our position, which brought them in range of our musketry, when a terrible fire was opened on them by our boys, unhorsing a number, killing and wounding a number of horses and men. It was during this heavy musketry that Col. Woodward's horse fell dead under him, struck by three bullets. The chivalrous Colonel did some fine crawling for about twenty feet to escape the shots directed toward him. A bullet broke the skin slightly on the side of his head. Notwithstanding their leader was down, on dashed those of the charging column yet in their saddles till they reached Spring street, when they wheeled to the left at right angles, still coming at a furious speed and receiving our fire at every opening between the houses till they reached College street, down which they essayed to make a charge directly upon our earthworks, but the second platoon of company B, Capt. McConnell's, poured into them such a galling fire that they were again repulsed and scattered in the wildest confusion. I saw more than a score of riderless horses careering over the hills and through the ravines.

Just as the attack was made a number of buildings were fired to prevent the rebels from sheltering themselves in them and behind them In the height of the engagement thick volumes of smoke were ascending from the houses and the red tongues of flame were leaping from the windows and darting through the roofs. The sharp crack of rifled muskets, the heavy booming of our nine-inch* howitzer and six-pounder, the wild shouts of the combatants, and the roar of the consuming flames, made a scene of terrific sublimity. Seventeen houses were burned, and among them the court-house. Every commissioned officer did his whole duty truly and nobly. I ask leave to mention their names: Company A, Capt. Carlin and Lieuts. Williams and Simmons; company B, Capt. McConnell and Lieuts. Toms and Branden; company G, Capt. Moody and Lieut. Nichols; company H, Captain Le Blond, (Lieut. Gable, being very sick at the time, was not in the engagement.) What I have said of the commissioned officers is equally true of all the non-commissioned officers, and all the privates except four. Captain Moody, Lieuts. Toms, Branden, and Nichols, took guns and fought like soldiers in the ranks. Major Hart, commanding the forces, behaved with coolness and gallantry. Capt. McConnell handled his men excellently, and behaved himself with marked bravery. Capts. Carlin and Le Blond were at their posts and bore themselves like true soldiers as they are. Sergt.-Major McConnell, acting Adjutant, seized a musket and fought nobly. The sutler, George Steele, fired nine rounds. Mr. Pelton, his clerk, was in manfully. W. G. Nichols, Quartermaster's Sergeant, and William S. Wilson, Quartermaster's Clerk, with Enfield rifles in hand, did excellent service. And so did Geo. B. Frye, regimental post-master, and Ben. Hamilton, Adjutant's Clerk, using their Enfields with steadiness and accuracy. I name these gentlemen because they are regarded in the army as non-combatants, and yet in the hour of need were not found wanting. Our entire number in ranks during the engagement was one hundred and fifty-five, against seven hundred and eighty-five, according to Col. Woodward's own statement. From the time the enemy made the attack till he was repulsed and entirely driven off, was about one hour, though the sharp firing did not continue more than thirty minutes. The rebel loss, from all that we can gather, as information is constantly coming in, will not fall short of thirty killed and wounded. We took no prisoners, as it was imprudent for any of our troops to leave the earth-works, as our force was too small. Not a man among us was hurt. This is accounted for in the security of our intrenchment. The rebel bullets at one time fell uncomfortably thick in our camp, some of them grazing the top of our breast-works, and others striking very close to some of the officers. As soon as the rebels were known to be in force in our immediate vicinity, a telegram was sent to Col. W. W. Lowe, commanding the post at Fort Henry and Hindman, and to whose command we are temporarily attached, informing him of the danger, and asking reinforcements. He promptly responded to our call by immediately marching at the head of six companies of cavalry and one field-piece. They arrived here at about half-past 6 o'clock P. M. The enemy had been routed and were retreating up the river. At daylight next morning (twenty-sixth) Col. Lowe, at the head of four companies — being less than one hundred and thirty men — of Fifth Iowa cavalry, started in pursuit of the enemy, overtaking them at Cumberland Iron Works, about seven miles from here. A sharp engagement followed. The rebels, about five hundred or six hundred strong, were posted in a deep ravine bordering on the road, along a cornfield-fence and behind houses. Their position was one of great natural strength. The enemy's battery became annoying, and Col. Lowe ordered Lieut. Summers, with his company (B) to charge it. The order was obeyed in gallant style. He, at the head of his company, charged through a terrible fire of the concealed foe, scattering the rebel cavalry, upsetting and breaking the cannon, so as to render it useless. The charge of the cavalry was most daring and heroic. At least a score of horses went down with it. From fifteen to twenty of our men were killed [593] and wounded; among them was the gallant Lieut. Summers, who was mortally wounded. The loss of the enemy is not known. Col. Lowe's forces, both men and horses, being jaded and suffering for food, returned to this post, after having waited more than an hour for the enemy to make an attack. The bearing of Col. Lowe's cavalry was without fault — brave. Col. Lowe commanded in person, and was cool and firm; and so was Lieut.-Col. Patrick.

I have been somewhat lengthy in my account of the engagement of Monday last at this post, yet I hope you will publish it entire. You are fully aware of the odium that has been attached — we think unjustly — to the Seventy-first regiment Ohio volunteer infantry, in consequence of its reported conduct at the battle of Shiloh. I thank God that this detachment, at least, has flung that foul disgrace from its shoulders — washed the stain of imputed cowardice from its skirts in the blood of the enemy.

I cannot close this letter without mentioning the name of J. L. Davis, of company B. The enemy claimed to have cut the telegraph-wire between this and Fort Henry, and he feared they had intercepted our telegram for help. The question was: “Who will run the gauntlet of the enemy's lines,” (as they had us quite surrounded,) “and carry a despatch to Colonel Lowe?” Mr. Davis, though unable to walk without a crutch, from a sprained ankle, promptly volunteered, and mounted and was off. It was heroic. He met Colonel Lowe's forces about three miles on their way.

We captured a number of guns, and among them some of those the rebels took from our boys at Clarksville.

Respectfully yours

A. L. Mckinney, Chaplain Seventy-first Regiment O. V.I.

1

The six-pounder we used in the fight was left by the rebels at the surrender of Fort Donelson in March last. Its trunnions were broken off, and it was supposed to be useless. But our boys had it and the howitzer, which had also been demolished, hauled fully a mile and a half. They hollowed a log, put the six-pounder into it, fastened it there, mounted it on trucks and placed it in position; the howitzer they remounted on its own wheels, and manufactured ammunition for both out of musket cartridges, except a few canister shots, minus the powder for the small gun, which the boys picked up. And this was our artillery. The men who worked the guns managed admirably for inexperienced hands.

A. L. M.

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