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Chapter 15: capture of Fort Donelson and battle of Shiloh.

  • Grant's message to Halleck.
  • -- the Army in front of Donelson. -- the gun-boats push up the Tennessee river. -- burning of the Confederate transports. -- Fort Donelson and its strategic position. -- the gun-boats open fire on the Fort. -- the gun-boats are crippled and withdraw. -- Flag-officer Foote wounded. -- gallantry of Captain Walke. -- losses. -- General Grant's victory. -- results. -- gunboats repair to Cairo. -- Grant prepares to advance towards Shiloh. -- battle at Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh). -- services rendered by the gun-boats Lexington and Taylor. -- Captain Gwin's report. -- the Navy aids materially in saving the Army from destruction. -- a terrible battle and great loss of life. -- the Confederates as fighters. -- extracts from records of the times. -- congratulatory orders, &C.

On the 8th of February, 1862, Gen. Grant telegraphed to Gen. Halleck: “Fort Henry is ours; the gunboats silenced the batteries before the investment was completed. I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th. and return to Fort Henry.”

The same reasons which had induced Grant to undertake the capture of Fort Henry still urged him to take Fort Donelson; that is, to get the control of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and be able to penetrate into the heart of Tennessee with his troops and Foote's gun-boats.

On the 7th of February his cavalry penetrated to within a mile of Fort Donelson, but they could obtain no information as to the strength of the place or the number of troops.

Foote was notified of Grant's intentions, and was requested to have what gun-boats he could muster ready to attack the batteries before the army made its assault. But the great rise in the Tennessee River prevented Grant from completing his proposed movement. The water overflowed the river banks, and gave the army as much as it could do to save its stores and tents from the flood.

In the meantime three gun-boats, under Lieut. Phelps, had pushed on up the Tennessee as far as Florence, Alabama, greatly alarming the inhabitants, but carrying comfort to the loyal citizens, who were glad to see the old flag floating over their waters.

When about twenty-five miles above the fort, Phelps found the draw at the railroadcrossing closed, and the machinery for working it disabled, but men were landed, in an hour the draw was opened, and the following gun-boats passed through: Taylor, Lieut.-Com.Gwin; Lexington, Lieut.-Com. Shirk, and the Conestoga, Lieut.-Com. Phelps.

In a short time this flotilla caused the enemy to abandon and burn three steam transports, filled with military stores, submarine batteries, powder, cannon and projectiles. These vessels exploded with such force as to endanger the Union gun-boats. Skylights were broken, doors forced open and the light upper decks raised bodily. This did not stop the progress of the latter, however, and they proceeded up the river, doing good work in breaking up railroads and destroying camp equipage wherever they could find it. At a place called Cerro Gordo, they came across the steamer Eastport, which was being converted into a gunboat — a strong, powerful vessel, afterwards used as a gun-boat and ram by the Federal Government. She had been abandoned and scuttled, and her suction-pipes broken, but the leaks were stopped, and the vessel raised and taken back to Fort Henry.

On the 8th of February the flotilla arrived [150] at Chickasaw, near the state line, and seized two steamers. They then proceeded up to Florence, Alabama, near the mussel shoals, where three steamers had been set on fire by the Confederates. A force was landed and a large amount of stores, marked Fort Henry, were saved from the burning vessels; also a quantity that had been landed and stored.

The results of this expedition were three steamers and one gun-boat seized, six steamers burned by the enemy to prevent their falling into our hands, all the timber and saw-mills in the neighborhood destroyed, and a large quantity of stores captured. From the 6th to the 10th of the month the labors of this little flotilla were immense, and its gallant commander inflicted damage upon the enemy which was irreparable.

In the course of this raid our officers met the most gratifying proofs of loyalty wherever they went. Across Tennessee. and in those portions of Alabama and Mississippi which they visited, men, women and children came in crowds and shouted their welcome to the old flag under which they had been born. A reign of terror had existed all along the river, and loyal people did not dare to express their thoughts openly. They intimated to our officers, however, that if arms were placed in their hands they would not hesitate to espouse the Union cause and put down rebellion in their midst.

This shows exactly what kind of a government the secession leaders intended to substitute for the one under which these people had lived so contentedly, in the enjoyment of freedom of speech and all the other rights which belong to every free American.

This expedition had an excellent effect wherever it appeared, and it showed the necessity of further increasing our naval force on the Western waters, in order to have a sufficient number of gun-boats on all the rivers to keep them open, to drive the guerrilla army away from their banks, and also to give confidence to the Union people, who only needed some such support to induce them to proclaim their sentiments openly.

Grant lost no time in getting together a force which he deemed sufficient for the attack on Fort Donelson. Reinforcements were rapidly coming in from various quarters, and Halleck, who up to this time had thrown every objection in the way of the expedition, now seemed anxious to take the credit of the movement to himself, and was doing all he could to hurry troops, stores and siege implements to the scene of action. On the 10th he informed Grant that large re-enforcements would be sent to him.

Grant did not, however, wait for these re-enforcements, but while Halleck was writing about picks and shovels he informed Foote that he was only waiting for the return of the gun-boats to attack Fort Donelson.

This fortification was the strongest military work in the entire theatre of war. It was situated on the west bank of the Cumberland River, north of the town of Dover, on a peculiarly rugged and inaccessible series of hills which rose abruptly to the height of one hundred feet. Every advantage had been taken of the character of the ground. The country was densely wooded, but the timber had been felled far out in advance of the breastworks, and the limbs, cleaned and sharpened, were formed into an almost impenetrable abbatis.

Two streams which emptied into the Cumberland formed the right and left defenses of the Confederate breastworks, which extended nearly three miles, and were strongly entrenched with secondary lines of rifle pits and detached batteries posted on commanding heights.

It was a marvelous work and evidently a difficult place to take, provided the enemy had a sufficiently strong garrison to hold all points of his line of defense.

The main fort was built on a precipitous height, close by a deep gorge open to the South. It was three-quarters of a mile from the breastworks, and overlooked both the river and the interior. It covered a hundred acres of ground and was defended by fifteen heavy guns and two carronades.

There were heavy water-batteries placed to control the river navigation, and the whole armament of the batteries, including the light artillery, was sixty-five pieces.

The garrison numbered (as well as could be ascertained) 21,000 men, a great part of whom had recently been thrown into the works by the Confederates, who appreciated the importance of the position as fully as Grant did, and were now straining every nerve to hold it.

While Grant was making his movements in the rear of the fort, so as to completely surround it and prevent the escape of any of the garrison, the gun-boats on the water side were preparing for the attack.

Foote, according to his own report, did not consider himself properly prepared for such an adventure, as his force was not sufficiently strong to make an attack on the fort; but at the earnest request of Halleck and Grant, he felt called upon to do what he could, and at 3 P. M. on the 14th, he moved up with his fleet in the following order: iron-clads, St. Louis, (flag-ship), Lieut. Paulding; Carondelet, Corn. Walke; Louisville, Com. Dove; Pittsburg, Lieut. E. Thompson; gun-boats: Taylor, Lieut.-Com. Gwin; Conestoga, Lieut.-Com. Phelps, the two latter in the rear.

After a severe fight of an hour and a half, [151] during part of which time the iron-clads were within 400 yards of the fort, the flagship St. Louis, and the iron-clad Louisville, had their wheels disabled and drifted out of action.

The fire of the fort, which had during the greater part of the engagement been very rapid and accurate, was now concentrated on the remaining vessels of the fleet, and soon proved too hot for them. The ironclads Pittsburg and Carondelet were much cut up between wind and water, and with the wooden gun-boats were finally compelled to drop out of action. The flagship St. Louis had received fifty-nine shots, four of which were between wind and water, and one in the pilot-house which killed the pilot and wounded the flag-officer himself.

Foote says in his report: “Notwithstanding our disadvantages, we have every reason to believe that in fifteen minutes more, could the action have been continued, it would have resulted in the capture of the forts. The enemy's fire had slackened, and he was running from his batteries when the two gun-boats, St. Louis and Louisville, dropped out of action owing to their crippled condition, seeing which, the enemy returned to his guns and again opened fire from the river batteries, which had been silenced.”

This was evidently not a success on the part of the Navy, as the gun-boats were compelled to retire; the St. Louis and Louisville, in consequence of having their rudders crippled, and the Carondelet and Pittsburg because they were not able to withstand the concentrated fire of the enemy.

It has been asked, “If the enemy was deserting his batteries and it was thought that in fifteen minutes more the gun-boats would have been victorious, why were not the drifting vessels lashed alongside of the Carondelet and Pittsburg and thus brought back into action. where they could have taken part with the Army in obtaining the victory, and have obtained more than a passing notice by army historians?” As it was, the only notice they obtained was the statement that “the gun-boats were so disabled as to be unfit to take any part of importance in the succeeding operations.” This mention of the Navy was disingenuous, to say the least, and is not history. The Carondelet and Pittsburg, though struck pretty often, were still intact and fit for any service, and their two commanders would have been glad to have availed themselves of the opportunity to run past the batteries and enfilade them on the side where they were least protected.

There are two ways of fighting batteries on river heights; one is to engage them at close quarters with grape and canister, and the other, to remain at long range, where the enemy's fire would be uncertain, especially if the vessels were kept well apart.

All these things will be considered after a fight is over, but no one knows what he would do unless placed in like circumstances. In this case the flag-officer had received a serious wound in the foot, and in addition to the physical pain which he suffered, he was no doubt taken by surprise at meeting with such a reception at Fort Donelson after having made such short work with Fort Henry.

Nothing is said in official reports or general orders about the gallant attack made by Captain Walke in the Carondelet.

On the morning of the 13th (before Foote had arrived), General Grant requested Captain Walke to take a position and throw shells into the fort in order to create a diversion, which he hoped to be able to take advantage of.

Captain Walke immediately complied with this request, and threw 139 15-second and 10-second shells into the enemy's works, receiving in return a fire from all the batteries. The Carondelet was only struck twice, however, as most of the projectiles passed over her. One 128-lb. solid shot passed through the front casemate, and glancing over the barricades which protected the boiler, struck and burst a steam-heater and then fell into the fireroom. No other damage was done, and it is thus shown how much more difficult it is to strike one vessel moving about than a number of vessels in groups.

Foote's vessels were struck about fifty times each by 128 and 32-lb. shot, and had fifty-four officers and men killed and wounded.

We regret that we cannot chronicle a victory for the gun-boats, but it was a fair stand — up fight while it lasted, and Foote did not hesitate to take the bull by the horns and engage the enemy at 600 yards, the best distance for the forts and the worst for the vessels; and, although the gun-boats were forced to drop out of action, they lost no credit in so doing.

There was one omission in this naval attack, which is due to the history of the times, and should be mentioned. Had the flagofficer sent his remaining gun-boats past the batteries at night, when the darkness would have prevented the enemy from estimating his distance, these vessels would have been ready on the following day to enfilade the works in their weakest point; and what is more important still,they would have cut off all hope of escape of the garrison. The transports in which Floyd and Pillow with 5,000 men escaped across and up the river, would all have fallen into our hands.

Having looked into all the details of this [152] interesting affair we feel obliged to say that all the credit for the capture of Fort Donelson belongs to the Army, as there was no truth in the statement that the enemy were so demoralized by the attack of the gun-boats, that they could not be brought into effective use on the following day in the actions which resulted in their defeat and the surrender of 16.000 men, sixty-five guns and 17,600 small-arms to General Grant. (Twenty-five hundred of the Confederates were killed and wounded during the siege.)

This victory belonged exclusively to General Grant and no one can take from him one iota of the credit of that great military feat, in which he showed his fitness to lead the armies of the Union. The results of this victory were that the whole of Kentucky and Tennessee at once fell into the hands of the national forces — the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers were opened to national vessels for hundreds of miles. Nashville, the capital of Tennessee and a place of great strategic importance, fell. Bowling Green had become untenable as soon as Donelson was attacked, and was abandoned on the 14th of February, the day before the Confederate works on the Cumberland were carried, while Columbus and the other end of the strategic line were evacuated early in March, thus leaving the Mississippi river free from the Confederate flag from St. Louis to Arkansas.

The news of this victory was very encouraging to the Union people, especially when they beheld its results. When city after city fell and stronghold after stronghold was abandoned, and they saw that it was all in consequence of the capture of Fort Donelson, it is not strange that the national amazement and gratification knew no bounds, and it is only to be regretted that the Navy should not have had a greater share in the honors.

Grant was made a Major-General, and we only regret that the opportunity did not serve to make Foote a Rear-Admiral and give some promotion to his gallant officers.

It is always difficult to procure reliable information with regard to the force of the enemy, either of men or guns. In this case the report of Flag-officer Foote was very indefinite, and he only gives a general idea of what he had to contend against.

He says, “the enemy must have brought over twenty heavy guns to bear upon our vessels from the water-batteries and the main fort on the side of the hill, while we could only return the fire with twelve bow guns from the four boats.”

It is not the intention of the writer to mention all the small affairs in which the gun-boats performed splendid service, such as making reconnoissances up and down the rivers or skirmishing with the enemy's forts and light batteries, unless some definite object was gained or some serious injury inflicted on the enemy, as the limits of this book forbid it. It is his intention, however, to fully describe the work of the Navy in Western waters, and when it is possible to give every officer due credit for what he accomplished, without, as a rule, going beyond official reports.

After the battle of Fort Donelson, Foote's gun-boats had to go to Cairo for repairs, which they sorely needed, and to replenish their crews, for they were all very much in want of men.

As fast as the vessels were made ready for service they were kept moving in the work of reconnoitering down towards Columbus. or else they were employed on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers to deter the enemy from erecting batteries along the banks; also to assure the inhabitants that they would be protected by the Federal government, and that the Confederates would soon be driven out of the State.

These, however, are mere details of duty which cannot be brought out in a history of this kind. The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson compelled the Confederates to change their plans almost immediately. Their line of defense was moved farther South and was now established on the following points: Island No.10, Fort Pillow and Memphis on the Mississippi, a point in Tennessee near Pittsburg, and the town of Chattanooga. All of these points were strongly fortified and defended by large armies, thus closing up East Tennessee, and preventing our armies from marching southward.

On the 15th of February, Gen. Grant was assigned to the new military district of West Tennessee, with limits undefined, and Gen. W. T. Sherman to the command of the district of Cairo.

Grant commenced at once to concentrate his forces and make his dispositions to meet the new order of defense established by the Confederates. His first step was to send Gens. Wright and McClernand up to Pittsburg, while he remained himself at Savannah, superintending the organization of the new troops which were arriving from Missouri, and making preparations to advance towards Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh).

The account of the famous battle which soon occurred at this place must be left to military writers, but the battle of Shiloh with its changes of fortune from hour to hour, its keen anxieties. splendid fighting on both sides, and the splendid victory which was finally wrenched from the enemy after he had driven our troops back upon the river, will always be remembered by those who have read the history of that day.

We will only refer to the moment when [153] our troops, having been driven by the enemy from point to point and ridge to ridge, had reached the river bank and were brought to bay. Here the gun-boats Lexington and Taylor rendered good service, and the national troops, rallying under the cover of their guns, made a superb resistance, and although the enemy flung himself fiercely upon the Union lines he was again and again driven back.

The military historians have not done justice to the work of the gun-boats at this important juncture. Croly disposes of the subject by saying: “the gun-boats were of some importance as they had been for some time previous engaged in checking the advance of the enemy on the extreme left.” Badeau,the historian, also speaks of the gunboats “being employed during the night in throwing shells amongst the enemy's troops, which annoyed them greatly and set fire to the woods, which were ablaze all around them.”

It is not likely that the two gun-boats would be idle at Pittsburg Landing while our Army was being driven back by the enemy, and it is the belief of many officers that without the aid of these vessels the Federal army would have been annihilated. But there are no reliable Army accounts of the matter and we must be satisfied with the statement that “the Federal troops with their backs to the river, and no cover but the gun-boats, there made an unconquerable stand.”

The following account, taken in substance from Boynton's Naval History, seems to be the most correct version of the part taken by the gun-boats Taylor and Lexington, in the battle of Shiloh:

From the beginning of the fight until after one o'clock P. M., the wooden gun-boats Lexington and Taylor had been moving up and down the stream, anxious to render some assistance, but received no orders to do so. At that time Lieut.-Com. Gwin, of the Taylor, having as yet received no instructions from any quarter, and growing impatient as shot and shell fell around the vessels, sent an officer to communicate with Gen. Hurlburt and requested permission to open on the Confederates. Gen. Hurlburt expressed his thanks for this offer of support, saying that without aid he could not hold his position for an hour, and indicated the proper line of fire. At 10 o'clock the Taylor opened fire on the enemy, and with such effect that in a short time the Confederate batteries at that point were silenced.

About 4 o'clock the Taylor dropped down to Pittsburg Landing to communicate with Gen. Grant. His reply was that Lieut. Gwin must use his own judgment in the case.

Directly after the Taylor and Lexington went up in company and took up a position only three-quarters of a mile above the landing.

In thirty-five minutes the enemy's batteries on the right were again silenced, thus relieving the national troops on the left, but at half-past 5 p. m. our lines had been so forced in towards the river that the enemy gained a position on our left only an eighth of a mile from the landing and massed their troops for a final charge, with which they expected, and not without cause, to crush what remained of the organization of the national army. Between our position and where the enemy had prepared for this last rush, was a ravine which they must cross in the assault, and here the two gunboats took up a position. At the same time Col. Webster, of Gen. Grant's staff, hastily collected some scattered guns and placed them where they would play on the left flank of the enemy's line when they should advance.

This was the decisive point in the battle. The next half hour would settle the question whether or not a victorious Confederate army should occupy and lay under contribution the States north of the Ohio.

There was a brief lull in the firing while the Confederate host was making its final preparations, and our troops were being collected in a semi-circular mass with the centre not half a mile from the river. Our men (with the exception of the shameless skulkers) had fought bravely, but were now in a disorganized condition, and it seemed as if their main dependence must now be upon the guns which Col. Webster had collected to check the advance of the enemy.

The delay was for a few moments only, and they came preceded by a storm of shot from their batteries which swept over all the intervening space and up to the very banks of the river.

As stated by Gen. Grant, their troops were massed so as to strike the main blow at our left, so that by turning it they could seize the transports and stores. It did not occur to the enemy that this would bring their column under the guns of the gun-boats at point-blank range.

The Lexington and Taylor had rounded to opposite the ravine, so that their batteries could be brought to bear upon the dense mass swarming in across the line of fire.

So far Mr. Boynton: Capt. Gwin will tell the rest:

* * * Both vessels opened a heavy and well-directed fire on them, and in a short time, in conjunction with our artillery on shore, succeeded in silencing their artillery, and driving them back in confusion.

At 6 P. M. the Taylor opened deliberate fire in the direction of the enemy's right wing, throwing 5 and 10-second shell. * * * *

At 9 P. M. the Taylor again opened fire, * * * throwing 5, 10 and 15-second shell, and an occasional shrapnel from the howitzer at intervals of ten minutes, in the direction of the enemy's right wing, until 1 A. M., when the Lexington relieved us, and continued the fire at intervals of fifteen minutes until 5 A. M., when, our land forces having attacked the enemy, forcing then gradually back, it made it dangerous for the gun-boats to fire.

In this engagement the Taylor fired 188 shell, and the Lexington about the same number, and it can be imagined what gaps were made in the enemy's ranks by our expert gunners, when they were massed at the ravine for a rush upon our disorganized troops, already driven nearly to the river.

The military historian says, “the gunboats gave mutual support at this moment.” Boynton says, “thus, on the same day, the Navy on the Western rivers received the surrender of one of the Confederate fortifications on the Mississippi, and aided very materially in saving from destruction our Army at Pittsburg Landing by repelling the last attack of the Confederates, demoralizing [154] their army by the destructive broadsides of the steamers' heavy guns, and holding them back during the night until Nelson and Buel were ready to attack.”

The reader can take either version of the story that suits him best.

There is a tradition in the Navy which will go down to posterity, that the Taylor and Lexington prevented part of our Army on that day from being driven into the river, and turned the enemy back when he considered that victory was in his hands.

Lieut. Gwin in writing to Foote, puts it

Rear-Admiral Henry Walke, (Commander of the Carondelet.)

modestly thus: “Your ‘old wooden boats,’ I feel confident, rendered invaluable service on the 6th instant to the land forces.” And so will think the reader.

Why Gen. Grant did not have a large number of gun-boats at Pittsburg Landing is not understood. as it was a most favorable position for their use, and the 60,000 Confederates spread over a large area of ground would have offered many opportunities for them to throw in an effective fire.

The battle of Shiloh was a terrible one, and the losses on both sides were very great (12,000 each). The victory was claimed by both parties, but the Federals remained masters of the field.

It broke up the delusion of many in the North who, up to this time, had believed that after a few heavy defeats the Southern people would return to their allegiance. For here it was seen that after the victories of Donelson and Shiloh, and the capture of Columbus, Nashville and Bowling Green, no perceptible effect was made upon the resolution of the Confederates. Their energy was not in the least diminished.

Gen. Grant himself believed that the contest was to be prolonged and desperate, and as we go on with the history of events it will be seen that his view was the correct one. The more the Confederates were beaten the harder they fought, and even when they had “robbed the cradle and the grave” to fill up their ranks, and when many of them were satisfied that their cause was hopeless, they fought on as if engaged in some pastime in which they took great delight.

In conclusion we would call attention to the fact that the victories which perched upon the banners of the Federal army were frequently due in a great measure to the aid rendered by the heavy guns of the Navy, [155] which were easily transported from place to place, and could deliver a fire which no army could return or withstand.

Battle of Fort Donelson.

The following extracts from the records of the times are interesting, as throwing light on the history of those affairs:

It is now stated by one of our most brilliant writers of history and biography that Foote sent the Carondelet to Fort Donelson upon a reconnoissance, and other friends of the Admiral are evidently led into the same error; but on the contrary, to our knowledge, he never approved or disapproved of Commander Walke's co-operation with General Grant, nor did he reply or allude to the following letters upon that subject. And it is evident that no other officer would have taken the responsibility of revoking the orders for the Taylor, Lexington and Conestoga to join the Carondelet upon the reconnoissance at Fort Donelson, but the flag-officer himself. And as he was previously informed of all the circumstances, by the letters of Commander Walke, there was no explanation asked for, or made, when they met on the night of the 13th. The flag-officer, however, seemed to be satisfied when Commander Walke. informed him that the Carondelet would be ready for battle again as soon as she had replenished her ammunition,early on the following morning. We may, however, be assured by the remarks in Pollard's Southern History of the War, that if four or five steamers, instead of one, had menaced Fort Donelson on the 11th of February, a day or two before the enemy's re-enforcements had arrived, the effect would have been much more discouraging to the enemy. General Grant, being under the impression at least that Foote's flotilla could not assist him immediately, instructed Commander Walke to proceed without delay to commence the attack on Fort Donelson in connection with our Army before the enemy could receive re-enforcements or could strengthen his position.

The following is the letter referred to, preceding the battle of Fort Donelson.

From Commander Walke to Flag-officer Foote.

U. S. Gun-Boat Carondelet, Paducah, Feb. 10th, 1862.
Sir:--I received instructions from General Grant this evening, to proceed with this vessel to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland river, to co-operate with our Army in that vicinity. I expect to meet you before I reach there. The Alps will take me in tow. I will call at this place. General Grant will send the Taylor, Lexington, and Conestoga after me.

We heard that you were on your way to Fort Donelson, but I hear no tidings of you here tonight.

The Taylor has just returned from up the Tennessee River, as far as navigable. She, with the Lexington and Conestoga, destroyed or captured all the enemy's boats, broke up their camps, and made a prize of their fine new gun-boat.

I write this in anticipation of not seeing you before I leave here, as I am (or the Carondelet is) very slow, and General Grant desires that I should be at Fort Donelson as soon as I can get there. But I hope you will overtake me, or send me your orders upon this occasion, as I am now acting upon your general instructions repeated at Fort Henry. I expected to send this letter from here to-night, but am disappointed in this also.

Most respectfully and truly,

Your ob't servant,

H. Walke, Commander U. S. N. To Flag-officer A. H. Foote, U. S. N., Commander U. S. Naval Forces, Western Waters.

This letter explains the part taken by the Carondelet in the battle of Fort Donelson. After the capture of Fort Henry, Flag-officer Foote was requested by Generals Halleck and Grant to co-operate with the latter in an attack on Fort Donelson, situated on the west bank of the Cumberland river, near the town of Dover. The fort was stronger, both in natural position and artificial defenses, than Fort Henry, and a land attack was more difficult, as there were heights above, below, and all around the works. The Carondelet had the honor of commencing the attack on Fort Donelson; having arrived before the fort two days in advance of the other gun-boats, she fired upon the enemy's works on the morning of February 12th; and also, at the request of General Grant, made a diversion in his favor on February 13th, as narrated in the following report of Commander Walke to Admiral Foote.

U. S. Gun-Boat Carondelet, Near Fort Donelson, Cumberland River, Feb. 15th.
Sir:--I arrived here (towed by the Alps) on the 12th instant, about 11:20 A. M., and seeing or hearing nothing of our Army, I threw a few shell into Fort Donelson, to announce my arrival to General Grant, as he had previously requested. I then dropped down the river a few miles, and anchored for the night, awaiting General Grant's arrival.

On the morning of the thirteenth, I weighed anchor, and came again to this place, where I received a dispatch from General Grant, informing me that he had arrived the day before, and had succeeded in getting in position, almost entirely investing the enemy's works.

“Most of our batteries,” (he writes) “are established, and the remainder soon will be. If you will advance with your gun-boat at 10 o'clock in the morning, we will be ready to take advantage of any diversion in our favor.”

I immediately complied with these instructions by throwing some 139 15-second and 10-second shell into the fort; receiving in return the enemy's fire from all their batteries; most of their shot passing over us, and but two striking us, one of which was a 128-pounder solid shot. It passed through our port casement forward, and glancing over our barricade at the boilers, and again over the steam-drum, struck, and burst the steam-heater; and fell into the engine room without striking any person, although [156] the splinters wounded slightly some half-dozen of our crew. I then dropped down to this anchorage, but the sound of distant firing being heard we again attacked the fort, throwing in some forty-five shell, and receiving little damage.

I returned to this place to await further orders, when I received a second dispatch from General Grant, stating that you were expected on the following morning. I am, sir, most respectfully,

Your ob't servant,

H. Walke. Commander U. S. Navy. Flag-officer A. H. Foote, Commanding U. S. N. Forces in Western Waters.

In this engagement the Carondelet commenced firing on the fort at a distance of a mile and a quarter, the enemy replying immediately as the vessel advanced, the attack lasting from ten o'clock in the morning

Battle of Fort Donelson.

to meridian, and being renewed in the afternoon. Three of the enemy's guns were reported to be disabled.

Our naval history is silent on some important facts in its version of this event, viz,: that four gun-boats were to have participated therein to make it more effective, and that three of them failed to obey the orders of General Grant and Commander Walke to accompany the Carondelet on this reconnoissance; but it gives an unfavorable view of the Carondelet alone on this occasion, especially in comparison with the brilliant action, or “what was expected to be the decisive battle, the next day;” which is represented as having resulted in the surrender of Fort Donelson, by our highest possible naval authorities. A few particulars: are called for from those who were present on that occasion to dispel the idea that Fort Donelson was captured by our fleet, under Admiral Foote, for in reality it was taken by General Grant, with the Army.

The following are a few quotations from reliable correspondence on the reconnoissance. A reliable correspondent of the Army on this occasion writes: “According to the admission of the rebel officers the casualties from the attacks by the Carondelet were greater than those which resulted from the combined attack of the whole fleet the next day. The attack of the next day on the water batteries was neither the most brilliant nor the most successful effort of the siege. About the only result was that a single gun of the enemy was dismounted and the unequaled fighting qualities of the fleet demonstrated. The gunnery was generally of a different character.”

Query: Is it at all improbable that the deliberate firing of one gun-boat by experienced gunners, with heavy rifled guns of long ranges, should do as much execution in six hours, upon a battery of twelve or fifteen guns of much less range, than the firing of four such gun-boats with less experienced crews, upon these batteries at close quarters for one hour and a half, at various distances, and much less deliberation? [157]

In reference to the reconnoissance and the bombardment on the following day, Captain Morgan made the same statement to the officers on board the Carondelet on Sunday, the morning of the surrender.

Newspaper correspondents on the action.

The Missouri Republican of February 28th, 1862, has this report in its correspondence of the day before the battle:

During the day much uneasiness was felt as to the gun-boat fleet. It was therefore with no little gratification that information was at last received about noon on Thursday, that the avant courier of the fleet, the Carondelet, Commander Walke, had arrived below the fort. In the afternoon the report of her guns was received with cheer upon cheer by the troops encircling the beleaguered fort.

Commander Walke's operations this afternoon, although partaking more of the nature of a reconnoissance, were considered by the rebel officers, as I have since ascertained, as one of the most formidable attacks they have had to encounter. Hidden behind a jutting promontory of the river bank, the Carondelet, herself secure from all heavy shot of the columbiads of the fort, hurled shell upon shell into the water batteries of the fortifications. The commander of these batteries has recently informed me that the fire of the Carondelet did more actual damage to his guns than the heavy bombardment of the following day.

Another reliable army correspondent writes: “The rebel officers commanding the river batteries also assure me that the practice of our gunners, in the excitement of the bombardment, was much inferior to that displayed in reconnoissance, when matters were conducted with more deliberation.” And this is corroborated by the official reports in the Southern press.

The Chicago Times' correspondent reports: “The Carondelets' movements led to several skirmishes, though of no serious nature. They were covered by a gallant cannonade of the gun-boat Carondelet, the only one that arrived. Thus singlehanded one hundred and thirty-eight rounds were thrown into the enemy's works, and she was finally compelled to withdraw, having received a shot from the enemy's 128-pounder gun in her bow, crippling her severely, and wounding seven men. She fell back but a short time, to repair damages and put her wounded on board the transport Alps. At 1:15 P. M., she commenced firing again upon the fort, and kept up a brisk fire until she had expended all or nearly all of her long-range shell, when at dusk she retired from the contest, having annoyed the enemy and encouraged our Army.”

The Carondelet anchored about three miles below the fort, at about 4 in the afternoon. Admiral Foote arrived at 11:30 P. M., with the partially iron-clad St. Louis (flag steamer, Lieut. Paulding), Louisville (Commander Dove), and Pittsburg (Lieut. Egbt. Thompson); also the wooden gun-boats Conestoga (Lieut. Phelps), and Taylor (Lieut. Gwin), and several transports with re-enforcements for General Grant of 8,000 men. About midnight Captain Walke reported in person to the flag-officer.

After the battle of Fort Donelson.

Three gun boats remained until after the surrender of Fort Donelson, which took place on Sunday, February 16th, when they steamed up the river above the fort to Dover. There our officers and men met in good cheer. Our usual “divine service” was then performed on board the Carondelet. as the most appropriate way of giving thanks to God, “the only Giver of victory,” and under such circumstances it makes a very happy impression on all sincere hearts.

The Carondelet had had two 32 or 42-pounder shot in her bow “between wind and water,” and leaked badly; her hull and her crew being more cut up and disabled than any other gun-boat of the squadron. As General Grant could then dispense with her services, she returned to Cairo for repairs. Arriving there on the morning of the 17th, Commander Walke reported to the flag-officer the success of our arms, and the surrender of Fort Donelson to General Grant. Flag-officer Foote immediately issued the following

Congratulatory order

February 17th, 1862.
Flag-officer Foote, the Commander-in-chief of the Naval Forces on the Western waters, while he congratulates the survivors of the distinguished gun-boat, Carondelet in the several actions so bravely fought, sympathizes with the wounded who have gloriously periled their lives in honor of the Union and the dear old flag. He also sympathizes with the friends of those gallant dead, who could not have died in a more glorious cause. Let us thank God from the heart, and say, “Not unto us alone, but unto Thy Name, O Lord, belongs the glory of the triumph of our arms.”


A. H. Foote, Flag-officer.

The above order was read to the officers and crew assembled on board the Carondelet, and then returned to the flag-officer by the bearer, in compliance with his verbal order.

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