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[418] to guard the roads approaching the town. Although much of our firing was at random, we have the gratification of knowing that scarcely a projectile went amiss, and that, out of the one hundred and forty buried to-day, the gunboats can claim their share. Even when the Lexington and St. Clair went above, many of their shells fell in the midst of the retreating rebels, killing and wounding many. It is reported that the attacking force numbered some four thousand five hundred, with eight pieces of artillery, under the command of Major-Gen. Wheeler and Brigadier-Generals Forrest and Wharton. It is certainly very gratifying for us to know that this entire force was cut up, routed, and despoiled of its prey, by the timely arrival of the gunboats, and that Colonel Harding and his gallant little band were spared to wear the honor they had so fairly won. At first I regretted I was not here sooner with the gunboats, but, upon reflection, I do not think I could better have arranged the time had it been in my power. Had we been here before General Wheeler, he would not have made the attack, but most probably would have marched on Fort Henry. Had we arrived during the day, he would have seen our strength, and would have retreated but with little loss. Arriving as we did, after dark, and when he least expected us, and was so sanguine of success, we caught his forces arranged in the most favorable position to receive a raking fire from our guns. The officers and men were very glad to have a shot at these river infesters, and only regret that they did not remain within the reach of our guns a little longer. As it is, they claim the honor of dispersing them and saving Fort Donelson.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Leroy Fitch, Lieutenant Commanding. To Captain A. M. Pennock, U. S. A., Commandant Naval Station, Cairo, Ill.

A National account.

Fort Donelson, February 5, 1863.
One of the most gallant fights of this or any other war has just occurred at this post. Our forces consisted of nine companies of the Eighty-third Illinois, Col. Harding, two sections of Flood's (Illinois) battery, under Lieut. Moore, and part of one company of the Fifth Iowa cavalry, in all, six hundred effective men. The attacking force was four thousand five hundred strong — some rebel prisoners estimate it as high as eight thousand--under Wheeler and Forrest; the former said to have lately been made a Major-General. Col. Harding, who was in command of the post, had one siege-gun, a thirty-two-pounder in position. Fort Donelson proper has never been occupied by our forces. It has no advantages as a position, save to command the river below. The old village of Dover, nearly a mile farther up the river, has been partially fortified and occupied by our forces. It is surrounded on all sides by high ridges, frequently broken by ravines, and partially covered with underbrush and timber. The attack, though anticipated for a week, was not known to be imminent until noon on Tuesday, the third. At three P. M. a battery of rebel artillery took position on the ridge to the west, at the distance of three fourths of a mile, and opened fire upon the town with shell. Soon their artillery was playing upon our forces from three or four directions, and their forces completely encompassed the town in a semi-circle of perhaps three miles in extent, from river to river. After thus formidably displaying the strength of his forces, the rebel General sent a flag of truce to Colonel Harding, demanding an unconditional surrender of the place. It was promptly refused, the Colonel declaring he would fight as long as he had a man left. The attack was renewed with great vigor, charge after charge was made by the rebels, who were all mounted, but the Springfield rifles of the Eighty-third were unerring, and each charge resulted in repulse and a score of emptied saddles. A body of rebels, dismounting and leaving their horses, forced their way into the town, fired on our men from such houses as they could secure, till they were driven out at the point of the bayonet or captured. At about five P. M. the rebel Adjutant-General approached our lines waving a white handkerchief.

“What in----do you want now, with that white rag?” sung out Capt. Bond of the Eighty-third. “Do you cowardly villains out there want to surrender?”

“I wish to see your commanding officer,” was the reply.

Capt. Bond.--“I shall have to blindfold you,” fumbling for his handkerchief.

“ I give you my word of honor that I will report nothing that I see,” said the General.

Captain Bond could not find his handkerchief. “Come on,” said he; “--------you, we can whip you any how, I don't care what you see!”

His Generalship was conducted to Col. Harding, when the following parley ensued:

Colonel, you have made a gallant defence — more could not be expected of you; but we do not wish to shed blood needlessly. I have come to demand again an unconditional surrender.

“General, I have had no orders to surrender. Really, I could not think of it.”

“But it is folly for you to hold out longer. We have shown you but one half of our force. You must surrender or take the consequences!”

“ Well, sir, I have shown you but about one fifth of my force. You may return and tell your men to pitch in — I'll take the consequences!”

So the fight began again. Every man fought where he thought himself most needed, took deliberate aim, and made his shots tell whenever a butternut showed himself within rifle-range. Such fighting, against such odds, has not yet been recorded in the history of this rebellion. By eight P. M. Flood's battery had lost forty-eight out of sixty-four horses, had fired its last cartridge, and lost one piece. But the rebels too were out of ammunition, and actually began to retire before the stubborn bravery of the “noble six hundred.” At this juncture a gunboat reached the scene of action from below, and did

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A. C. Harding (5)
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