previous next

[20] brought to attack it on the water side. But on the land side it was not equally strong, and required extensive outworks and a considerable force to resist an attack in that quarter.

In September, 1861, Lieutenant Dixon of the Engineer Corps was instructed to make an examination of the works at the two forts. He reported that Fort Henry was nearly completed. It was built, not at the most favorable position, but it was a strong work, and, instead of abandoning it and building at another place, he advised that it should be completed, and other works constructed on the high lands just above the fort on the opposite side of the river. Measures for the accomplishment of this plan were adopted as rapidly as the means at disposal would allow.

In relation to Donelson, it was his opinion that, although a better position might have been chosen for this fortification on the Cumberland, under the circumstances surrounding the command, it would be better to retain and strengthen the position chosen.

General Polk, in a report to General Johnston just previous to the battle of Shiloh, said: ‘The principal difficulty in the way of a successful defense of the rivers, was the want of an adequate force—a force of infantry and a force of experienced artillerists.’ This was the unavoidable result of the circumstances heretofore related, but tells only half of the story. To match the vessels of the enemy (floating forts) we required vessels like theirs, or the means of constructing them. We had neither.

The efforts which were put forth to resist the operations on the Western rivers, for which the United States made such vast preparations, were therefore necessarily very limited. There was a lack of skilled labor, of shipyards, and of materials for constructing ironclads, which could not be readily obtained or prepared in a beset and blockaded country. Proposals were considered both for building gunboats and for converting the ordinary side-wheel, high-pressure steamboats into gunboats. But the engineer department, though anxious to avail itself of this means of defense, decided that it was not feasible. There was not plate iron with which to armor a single vessel, and even railroad iron could not be spared from its uses for transportation. Unless a fleet could have been built to match the enemy's we had to rely on land batteries, torpedoes, and marching forces. It was thought best to concentrate the resources on what seemed practicable. One ironclad gunboat, however, the Eastport, was undertaken on the Tennessee River, but under so many difficulties that, after the surrender of Fort Henry, while still unfinished, it was destroyed, lest it should fall to the enemy.1

1 The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston, by his son.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Polk (1)
Albert Sidney Johnston (1)
A. S. Johnston (1)
Donelson (1)
Dixon (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September, 1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: