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Fort Donelson,

A notable fortification on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, 63 miles northwest of Nashville. After the capture of Fort Henry (q. v.)there was no hinderance to the river navy going up the Tennessee to the fertile cotton regions of the heart of the Confederacy. Foote sent Lieut.-Com. S. L. Phelps, with three vessels, to reconnoitre the borders

Fort Donelson.

of that river. They penetrated to Florence, Ala., seizing Confederate vessels and destroying Confederate property, and discovered the weakness of the Confederacy in all that region, for Unionism was everywhere prevalent, but suppressed by the mailed hand of the Confederate leaders. Phelps's report caused an immediate expedition against Fort Donelson, situated on the high left bank of the Cumberland River, at Dover, the capital of Stewart county, Tenn. It was formed chiefly of outlying intrenchments, covering about 100 acres, upon hills furrowed by ravines. At Fort Henry, General Grant reorganized his army in three divisions, under Generals McClernand, Smith, and Lew. Wallace. Commodore Foote returned to Cairo to take his mortar-boats up the Cumberland River to assist in the attack. On the morning of Feb. 12, 1862, the divisions of McClernand and Smith marched for Fort Donelson, leaving Wallace with a brigade to hold the vanquished forts on the Tennessee. On the same evening Fort Donelson was invested.

Grant resolved to wait for the arrival of the flotilla bearing troops that would complete Wallace's division before making the attack. General Pillow was in command of the fort; but, on the morning of the 13th, General Floyd arrived from Virginia with some troops and superseded him. They were assisted by Gen. Simon B. Buckner(q. v.)a better soldier than either. All day (Feb. 13) there was skirmishing, and at night the weather became extremely cold, while a violent rain-storm [137] was falling. The National troops, bivouacking without tents, suffered intensely. They dared not light camp-fires, for they would expose them to the guns of their foes. They were without sufficient food and clothing. Perceiving the perils of his situation, Grant had sent for Wallace to bring over his troops. He arrived about noon on the 14th. The transports had arrived, and Wallace's division was completed and posted between those of McClernand and Smith, by which the thorough investment of the fort was completed. At three o'clock that afternoon the bombardment of the fort was begun by the Carondelet, Captain Walke, and she was soon joined by three others armored gunboats in the front line. A second line was formed of unarmored boats. The former were exposed to a tremendous pounding by missiles from the shore-batteries; and they were compelled to retire, after receiving 140 shots and having fifty-four men killed and wounded. Foote returned to Cairo to repair damages and to bring up a sufficient naval force to assist in carrying on the siege. Grant resolved to wait for the return of Foote and the arrival of reinforcements. But he was not allowed to wait.

On the night of the 14th the Confederate leaders held a council of war and it was concluded to make a sortie early the next morning, to rout or destroy the invading forces, or to cut through them and escape to the open country in the direction of Nashville. This was attempted at five o'clock (Feb. 15). The troops engaged in it were about 10,000 in number, commanded by Generals Pillow and Bushrod R. Johnson. They advanced from Dover—Mississippians, Tennesseeans, and Virginians—accompanied by Forrest's cavalry. The main body was directed to attack McClernand's division, who occupied the heights that reached to the river. Buckner was directed to strike Wallace's division, in the centre, at the same time, so that it might not be in a condition to help McClernand. These movements were not suspected by the Nationals, and so quick and vigorous was Pillow's attack that Grant's right wing was seriously menaced within twenty minutes after the sortie of the Confederates was known. The attack was quick, furious, and heavy. Oglesby's brigade received the first shock, but stood firm until their ammunition began to fail, when they gave way under the tremendous pressure, excepting the extreme left, held by Col. John A. Logan (q. v.)with his Illinois regiment. Imitating their commander, they stood as firmly as a wall, and prevented a panic and a rout. The light batteries of Taylor, McAllister, and Dresser, shifting positions and sending volleys of grape and canister, made the Confederate line recoil again and again. At eight o'clock McClernand's division was so hard pressed that he sent to Wallace for help. Wallace, being assigned to a special duty, could not comply without orders, for which he sent.--Grant was away, in consultation with Commodore Foote, who had arrived.

Again McClernand sent for help, saying his flank was turned. Wallace took the responsibility. Then Buckner appeared. The battle raged fiercely. McClernand's line was falling back, in good order, and calling for ammunition. Wallace took the responsibility of ordering some up. Then he thrust his brigade (Colonel Thayer commanding) between the retiring troops and the advancing Confederates, flushed with hope, and formed a new line of battle across the road. Back of this was a reserve. In this position they awaited an attack, while McClernand's troops supplied themselves with ammunition from wagons which Wallace had ordered up. Just then the combined forces of Pillow and Buckner fell upon them and were repulsed by a battery and the 1st Nebraska. The Confederates, after a severe struggle, retired to their works in confusion. This was the last sally from the fort. “God bless you!” wrote Grant's aide the next day to Wallace “you did save the day on the right.”

It was now noon. Grant was in the field, and after consultation with McClerrand and Wallace, he ordered the former to retake the hill he had lost. This was soon bravely done, and the troops bivouacked on the field of victory that cold winter night. Meanwhile, General Smith had been smiting the Confederates so vigorously on their right that, when night came on, they were imprisoned within their trenches, unable to escape. Finding themselves closely held by Grant, the [138] question, How shall we escape? was a paramount one in the minds of Floyd and Pillow. At midnight the three Confederate commanders held a private council, when it was concluded that the garrison must surrender. “I cannot surrender,” said Floyd; “you know my position with the Federals; it won't do, it won't do.” Pillow said, “I will not surrender myself nor my command; I will die first.” “Then,” said Buckner, coolly, “the surrender will devolve on me.” Then Floyd said, “General, if you are put in command, will you allow me to take out, by the river, my brigade?” “If you will move before I surrender,” Buckner replied. Floyd offered to surrender the command, first, to Pillow, who replied, “I will not accept it—I will never surrender.” Buckner said, like a true soldier, “I will accept it, and share the fate of my command.” Within an hour after the conference Floyd fled up the river with a part of his command, and Pillow sneaked away in the darkness and finally reached his home in Tennessee. The Confederates never gave him employment again. The next morning, the fort and 13,500 men were surrendered, and the spoils of victory were 3,000 horses, forty-eight field-pieces, seventeen heavy guns, 20,000 muskets, and a large quantity of military stores. During the siege the Confederates lost 237 killed and 1,000 wounded; the National loss was estimated at 446 killed, 1,755 wounded, and 152 made prisoners.

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