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Chapter 17:

The loss of Forts Henry and Donelson opened the river routes to Nashville and north Alabama, and thus turned the positions both at Bowling Green and Columbus. These disasters subjected General Johnston to very severe criticism, of which we shall take notice further on in these pages. A conference was held on February 7th by Generals Johnston, Beauregard (who had been previously ordered to report to Johnston), and Hardee, as to the future plan of campaign. It was determined, as Fort Henry had fallen and Donelson was untenable, that preparations should at once be made for a removal of the army to Nashville, in rear of the Cumberland River, a strong point some miles below that city being fortified forthwith to defend the river from the passage of gunboats and transports. From Nashville, should any further retrograde movement become necessary, it would be made to Stevenson, and thence according to circumstances.

As the possession of the Tennessee River by the enemy separated the army at Bowling Green from the one at Columbus, Kentucky, they must act independently of each other until they could be brought together— the first one having for its object the defense of the state of Tennessee along its line of operation, and the other, of that part of the state lying between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi. But as the possession of the former river by the enemy rendered the lines of communication of the army at Columbus liable to be cut at any time by a movement from the Tennessee River as a base, and an overpowering force of the enemy was rapidly concentrating from various points on the Ohio, it was necessary, to prevent such a calamity, that the main body of the army should fall back to Humboldt, and thence, if necessary, to Grand Junction, so as to protect Memphis from either point and still have a line of retreat to the latter place, or to Grenada, and, if needful, to Jackson, Mississippi.

Captain Hollin's fleet of improvised gunboats and a sufficient garrison was to be left at Columbus for the defense of the river at that point, with transports near at hand for the removal of the garrison when the position became no longer tenable.

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