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Chapter 28: Fort Donelson.

  • Preparations for defense.
  • -- concentration. -- Federal strength. -- demoralization. -- military criticism. -- encouragement. -- skirmish. -- strength of position. -- plan to abandon it. -- General Johnston's orders. -- Floyd's vacillation. -- explanation. -- Floyd's plan. -- General Johnston's plan. -- defenses and topography. -- Confederate troops. -- Federal troops. -- design of advance. -- delay. -- advance. -- battle of the trenches. -- apathy of defenders. -- gunboat disabled. -- death of Dixon. -- battle of the gunboats. -- repulse. -- important order. -- authority and responsibility. -- a quiet day. -- abortive sortie. -- divided counsels. -- Federal reenforcements. -- exaggerated reports. -- discouragement. -- sortie agreed on. -- battle of Dover. -- the attack. -- Federal strength. -- well-matched antagonists. -- fight on the left. -- Brown's assault. -- Hanson's assault. -- Wynn's road cleared. -- cessation of conflict. -- the critical moment. -- recall of troops. -- Grant's advance. -- Grant and Smith. -- assault by Federal left. -- capture of Outwork. -- close of battle. -- losses.;, Confederate victory telegraphed. -- sortie planned. -- Forrest's reconnaissance. -- Council of War. -- discussion of surrender. -- escape of Floyd and Pillow. -- the breaking-up. -- prisoners. -- surrender. -- consequences. -- terms of surrender. -- Confederate strength and losses. -- Federal strength and losses. -- value of the Fort. -- separation of army. -- news of surrender. -- congressional inquiry. -- General Johnston's inquiry. -- Governor Johnson's opinion.

The fall of Fort Henry made it manifest that a combined attack on Donelson by land and water would soon follow. Such attack could not be otherwise than formidable. Indeed, the success of the gunboats at Henry had produced an exaggerated impression of their power; while the real strength of the Northern armies was too well known at General Johnston's headquarters to leave any doubt of their ability to move overwhelming forces on both Bowling Green and Donelson. Still, if the line of the Cumberland could be maintained from Nashville to Donelson for even a few weeks, General Johnston hoped that the awakened spirit of the country would supply him with the long-demanded reenforcements. Grant's movable column at Fort Henry, stated by his biographer, Badeau, at 15,000 men, was receiving accessions from Halleck, while Buell was also reinforcing him.

Forrest had reported the enemy concentrating 10,000 men at South Carrollton for a forward movement toward Russellville; and, to meet this movement, General Johnston detached Floyd, on January 20th, with his own brigade and part of Buckner's-8,000 men in all. General Johnston retained 14,000 men to restrain the advance of Buell. Floyd was sent to Russellville, with orders to protect the railroad line from Bowling Green to Clarksville. It was added:

He must judge from after-information whether he shall march straight upon the enemy, now reported at South Carrollton, or wait for further developments of his intention. It is sufficient to say, he must get the best information of the movements of the enemy southward from the river, and beat them at the earliest favorable opportunity.

Toward the close of January, General Pillow, who had been for some time sick in Nashville, was placed in command at Clarksville. On February 6th Brigadier-General Bushrod R. Johnson was placed in command at Fort Donelson. Next day, on account of the attack at Fort Henry, Pillow was ordered to move from Clarksville, with all the troops there, to Donelson, and assume command. Brigadier-General [434] Clark was also charged to move at once from Hopkinsville to Clarksville with his command, something over 2,000 men; and Floyd was directed to take his force from Russellville to Clarksville without a moment's delay. Floyd was given authority to determine his movements as he might think judicious; at the same time it was indicated to him that he should concentrate his forces at Clarksville, and move to the support of Donelson. He was directed to encamp on the left bank of the Cumberland, so as to leave open the route to Nashville in case [435] of the loss of the fort. Suggestions were also made for obstructions and submarine batteries, which, however, the engineers found themselves unable to carry out. All these dispositions were made as soon as General Johnston heard of the advance upon Fort Henry, and before he had learned of its fall.

Events were moving so rapidly, and proper military action was so dependent on accurate information of the enemy, that it was necessary to leave the immediate commander untrammeled. Floyd was, therefore, invested with the fullest authority. Pillow reported that the troops at Donelson were much demoralized by the transactions at Henry, and this was true. They were the rawest militia, reduced by disease and disheartened by retreat. Pillow wrote that a naval officer, who had witnessed the surrender, told him (February 7th) “that we had troops enough at Donelson, and that they are powerless to resist the gunboats.”

General Johnston, presuming that Grant would follow up his success at Fort Henry by an immediate attack on Donelson, took his measures on the supposition that Donelson was no longer tenable, and already virtually lost. But, though his advices gave him little confidence of the ability of the batteries to prevent the passage of the gunboats, General Johnston said what he could by way of encouragement. He telegraphed to Pillow:

Your report of the effect of shots at Fort Henry should encourage the troops, and insure our success. If, at long range, we could do so much damage, with the necessary short range on the Cumberland, we should destroy their boats.

Gilmer, after his escape from Henry, stopped at Donelson; and, with General Johnston's authority, engaged actively in preparations for its defense.

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Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (37)
Donelson (Indiana, United States) (31)
Fort Henry (Tennessee, United States) (20)
Fort Donelson (Tennessee, United States) (20)
Fort Heiman (Kentucky, United States) (17)
Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (17)
Henry, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (11)
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