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Chapter 2:

Shortly after the battle of Belmont, the rebels established a strong and well-selected line, reaching from the Mississippi to the Big Barren river, in middle Kentucky. On their extreme left was Columbus, where they soon collected one hundred and forty guns,1 and a force sufficient to cover Memphis, and hold the great Western river; on the right was Bowling Green, at the junction of the Louisville and Nashville, and the Memphis and Ohio railroads, and the northernmost point then held by the rebels west of the Alleghany mountains; at this place, one of their largest and best-appointed armies was concentrated, [23] threatening northern Kentucky and protecting Nashville and middle Tennessee. At the centre of this important strategic line, the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers formed the natural avenues into all the disputed territory north of the cotton states. About fifty miles from the Ohio, and near the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee, these two great streams approach within twelve miles of each other, and here, at a bend in each river, the rebels had erected their strongholds. Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, and Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland, completely commanded the navigation, and stood like great barred gateways against any advance of the national armies. Their sites had been selected with care; they had been elaborately fortified, and large garrisons were stationed to defend them. They covered the great railroad line of communication from east to west, through the border states, and their possession determined the fate of Kentucky and Tennessee; for Nashville and Memphis were not fortified, and Bowling Green and Columbus would both be turned, whenever the national arms subdued these forts.

The battle of Belmont was fought on the 7th of November, and on the 9th, Major-General Henry W. Halleck, superseding Fremont, took command of the new Department of the Missouri, including Arkansas and the portion of Kentucky west of the Cumberland. The Department of the Ohio, consisting of that part of Kentucky east of the Cumberland, and the state of Tennessee, as well as certain portions of the loyal states, was assigned to Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell, with headquarters at Louisville.

In all the operations at the West, during the first [24] two years of the war, the naval forces bore a conspicuous part. A new species of gunboat was improvised for inland navigation, out of the river steamers in use before the rebellion, and whose occupation had of course been interrupted by the breaking out of hostilities. Many of these steamers were sheathed with iron, and rendered in a great degree impervious to the heaviest rebel artillery. Other vessels, built especially for this service, were speedily added to the Western fleet, all of them of the lightest possible draught, as the rise and fall in all the Western rivers frequently leaves only a few feet of water in the channels. Thus strangely constructed, and armored as completely as a knight of the middle ages, manned in general by inland crews, who skilfully piloted them through the shallow but familiar streams, and commanded by officers of the national navy, these irregular flotillas were of great importance. They convoyed transports carrying troops and stores; they drove out guerillas from the river banks, and made the landing of forces practicable; they covered many important movements of troops on shore, which otherwise would have been impossible; they steamed up rivers and penetrated regions that fancied themselves secure against invasion; they shared direct assaults on fortified places, and sometimes secured a victory that could not have been won without their aid. The novelty of their appearance added to the terror they inspired, and these iron-clad monsters, rushing rapidly along the interior, and sweeping the level shores for miles with their heavy guns, were for a long while more dreaded by the rebels, even than their achievements warranted. In order to secure a more effectual cooperation with the army, this gunboat [25] force at the West, was placed under General Halleck's orders.

Halleck confirmed Grant in the command to which Fremont had assigned him, but changed its designation to the District of Cairo, and placed Paducah also within his jurisdiction. He kept Grant organizing and disciplining his troops for nearly two months, allowing no forward movement in all that time. But in the early part of January, 1862, in pursuance of orders from McClellan, then generalin-chief, Halleck sent directions to Grant, and the latter at once moved a force of six thousand men under McClernand, from Cairo and Bird's Point, towards Mayfield and Murray, in west Kentucky; he also sent C. F. Smith, with two brigades from Paducah, in the same direction, threatening Columbus and the rebel line between that place and Bowling Green. These movements were made in favor of certain operations of Buell in the Department of the Cumberland. ‘The object,’ said Halleck, ‘is to prevent reenforcements being sent to Buckner,’ who was then in command at or near Bowling Green.2 Halleck ordered the movement on the 6th, but, on the 10th, he telegraphed directions for its delay; Grant, however, had already started, and the expedition was not recalled.

The troops were out for more than a week, and suffered greatly from cold and the effects of a violent storm of rain and snow. There was no fighting, but the object of the demonstration was accomplished, for [26] during its continuance, rebel reenforcements were detained at Columbus, Nashville was threatened, and Brigadier-General George H. Thomas, one of Buell's subordinates, fought and won the battle of Mill Spring, in east Kentucky.

Smith, on his return, reported that the capture of Fort Henry was feasible: ‘Two guns would make short work of the fort.’ Grant received this report on the 22d of January, and forwarded it at once to Halleck; the same day he obtained permission to visit St. Louis, the headquarters of the department. He had asked this leave as early as the 6th of the month, before the recent demonstration had been ordered, and again on the 20th, before Smith's report was made. On the 23d, he started for St. Louis. The express object of his visit was to procure Halleck's permission to take Forts Henry and Donelson; but when he attempted to broach the subject, Halleck silenced him so quickly and sharply, that Grant said no more on the matter, and went back to Cairo, with the idea that his commander thought him guilty of proposing a great military blunder.3 [27]

On the 28th of January, however, the idea being still prominent in his mind, Grant telegraphed to St. Louis: ‘With permission, I will take and hold Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there;’ and on the next day, he wrote: ‘In view of the large force now concentrating in this district, and the present feasibility of the plan, I would respectfully suggest the propriety of subduing Fort Henry, near the Kentucky and Tennessee line, and holding the position. If this is not done soon, there is but little doubt that the defences on both the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers will be materially strengthened. From Fort Henry, it will be easy to operate either on the Cumberland (only twelve miles distant), Memphis, or Columbus. It will, besides, have a moral effect upon our troops to advance thence towards the rebel states. The advantages of this move are as perceptible to the general commanding as to myself, therefore further statements are unnecessary.’

Commodore Foote, commanding the naval force in this region, also wrote to Halleck on the 28th, recommending the movement,4 and on the 30th of January, that officer gave the desired permission, and sent detailed instructions.5 These arrived on the 1st of February, and on the 2d, Grant started from Cairo, [28] with seventeen thousand men on transports. Foote accompanied him with seven gunboats, and on the 4th, the debarkation began, at Bailey's ferry, on the east bank, three miles below Fort Henry.

McClernand commanded Grant's advance, and had selected a point for the landing, about eight miles below the fort; he even had his troops ashore at this place, but Grant made a reconnoissance in person on one of the gunboats, steaming up under the guns of the fort, in order to draw their fire. In this he succeeded, for a shot passed through the steamer; and having thus ascertained the range of the rebel batteries, he reembarked his troops, and brought them up to Bailey's ferry, just out of reach of fire.

The rebels had erected works on both sides of the river, and had a garrison in and around the two forts, of nearly twenty-eight hundred men,6 under command of Brigadier-General Tilghman. The main fortification was on the eastern bank; it was a strong field-work, with bastioned front, defended by seventeen heavy guns, twelve of which bore on the river;7 embrasures also had been formed, by placing sandbags on the parapets, between the guns; on the land front there was an intrenched camp, and still outside of this, an extended line of rifle-pits, located on commanding ground. The outworks covered the Dover road, by which alone communication could be had with Fort Donelson and the rest of the so-called Confederacy. The heights on the west side completely command Fort Henry, but the works on that bank [29] were unfinished. As soon as Grant's movements be. came known to the rebels, skilful and diligent preparations were made to resist him; new lines of infantry cover were established, and additions to the fortifications on both sides of the river, commenced. Tilghman at once ordered up reenforcements from Danville and the mouth of Sandy river, as well as reserves from Fort Donelson; these last being directed to remain at the Furnace, half way to Fort Henry, on the Dover road.

The country was at this time almost entirely under water, from the overflow of the Tennessee, the fort itself being completely surrounded; and the move. ments of both rebel and national troops were very much impeded. The rain, too, fell in torrents on the night of the 5th, and Grant having an insufficiency of transports, his steamers were obliged to return to Cairo, to bring up a part of his command. He did not, therefore, get his whole force ashore until eleven o'clock on the night of the 5th. The original plan was to invest Fort Heiman on the west bank simultaneously with Fort Henry, and not only prevent further reenforcements , but all chance of the escape of either garrison. The rebels, however, perceived the impossibility of holding both works against such a force as had been brought from Cairo, and on the 5th, before Grant had completed his landing, they evacuated Fort Heiman. Ignorant of this withdrawal, Grant, the same night, ordered two brigades, under General C. F. Smith, to seize the heights on the western bank in the morning. The remainder of the national forces, under McClernand, were to move at eleven on the 6th, to the rear of Fort Henry, to ‘take position on the roads to Fort Donelson and [30] Dover,’ where they could intercept either reenforcements or fugitives, and ‘to hold themselves in readiness to charge and take the work by storm, promptly on the receipt of orders.’8

Dispatches from Halleck, and corroborating information received on the ground, that the rebels were rapidly reinforcing, made it imperatively necessary, in Grant's opinion, for the fort to be carried on the 6th; otherwise he would have delayed another day, to make the investment complete. His forces were not up from Cairo in sufficient numbers to set an earlier hour for the march: the orders were made at ten o'clock at night, when the whole command had not arrived, and McClernand was informed in writing, that ‘success might depend very greatly upon the celerity’ of his operations. Promptly at eleven o'clock, on the 6th, the march began; the gunboats moved at the same hour, and shortly before noon attacked the water-batteries, at a distance of six hundred yards. After a severe and rapid fire of an hour and a half, every gun was silenced by the naval force, no vessel receiving serious damage, except the Essex; she was struck in the boiler by a shot which disabled her, killing and wounding twenty-nine men by scalding. Her commanding officer, Porter, was among the wounded. Nineteen soldiers were also injured on the same ship, several of whom afterwards died.

The fort surrendered at discretion. Tilghman was captured, with his staff, and sixty men who had been retained to work the heavy guns in the fort. The rest of the garrison had been stationed at the outworks, about two miles off, to avoid the fire [31] of the gunboats; and before the fight began, Tilghman sent them orders to retreat upon Fort Donelson, which they obeyed.

Grant's advance arrived in the rear of the place about half an hour after the surrender, when the fort and the prisoners were turned over to the army, but the main rebel force had escaped. Pursuit was at once made by the cavalry towards the Cumberland, but the rebels had already got too far for this to avail, and the troops were recalled. Two guns were found, abandoned by the rebels in their retreat, and thirty-eight prisoners were taken, probably stragglers.

Neither Grant nor Foote had anticipated so rapid a reduction of the fort, but if they had foreseen the event, the movement of the national forces could not have been hastened. There were eight miles to march; roads had to be cut through the woods, on account of the overflow, and several streams to be bridged, the rains having rendered them too deep to ford. During the delay of an hour or two thus occasioned, the garrison had time to escape.9 But even had the attack been deferred another day, in order first to complete the investment, the result would not have been changed; for Tilghman had no idea of holding the place longer than to enable his main force to get away.10 He posted his troops on the outer [32] line, where they could start for the Cumberland at a moment's notice, and they did start, before the fate of the place was determined. After this, he fought only for time. The defence, though short, was gallant and soldierly. Tilghman staid with his guns to the last, and even worked one himself, when the endurance of his men began to fail. His casualties were five killed and sixteen wounded. Foote lost two men killed and thirty-seven wounded, besides the nineteen soldiers already mentioned. The Cincinnati was struck thirty-one times, and the Essex fifteen; the other two armored boats received, one six, the other seven shots.11

Grant at once telegraphed to Halleck: ‘Fort Henry is ours. The gunboats silenced the batteries before the investment was completed. * * * * [33] I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th, and return to Fort Henry.’ This was the first mention of Fort Donelson, whether in conversation or dispatches, between the two commanders. Halleck made no reply, but notified Buell on the 7th, ‘General Grant expects to take Fort Donelson, at Dover, to-morrow.’12

On the 7th, Grant's cavalry penetrated to within a mile of Fort Donelson, and all the rebel pickets were driven in, but no definite information was obtained of the numbers of the enemy. It was ascertained, however, that the force from Fort Henry had joined the garrison on the Cumberland, and Grant informed Halleck: ‘If any reenforcements were on the way for this place, no doubt they have gone or will go there also.’ On the same day, in pursuance of his intention to take Fort Donelson on the 8th, all the infantry and cavalry on the east bank of the Tennessee were notified to be prepared to move at an early hour on the 8th, with two days rations in their haversacks, and ‘without encumbrances.’ ‘Owing to the impassable state of the roads,’ said Grant, ‘it is entirely impracticable to move the baggage or artillery.’

But the heavy rains, and an unusually high stage of water in the Tennessee, so flooded the country, that he was prevented from acting offensively for several days. ‘At present,’ he wrote, ‘we are perfectly locked in.’ ‘The banks are higher at the water's edge than further back, leaving a wide margin of low land to bridge over, before any thing can be done [34] inland.’ On the 8th, he wrote: ‘I contemplated taking Fort Donelson to-day with infantry and cavalry alone; but all my troops may be kept busily engaged in saving what we now have from the rap. idly rising water.’ During this delay, every exertion was made to secure reenforcements . These were brought from Buell's command, and from that of Major-General Hunter, in Kansas. Halleck also sent Brigadier-General Cullum, his chief of staff, to Cairo, to superintend the transportation of troops to the front, and to do whatever should be necessary to facilitate Grant's movements.

General Halleck, however, indicated to Grant no wish that the latter should advance. His orders were solely of a defensive character. On the 8th, he telegraphed: ‘If possible, destroy the bridges at Clarksville. Shovels and picks will be sent you to strengthen Fort Henry. The guns should be transferred and arranged so as to resist an attack by land. The redan on south bank should be arranged for same object. Some of the gunboats from Fort Holt will be sent up. Reenforcements will reach you daily. Hold on to Fort Henry at all hazards. Impress slaves, if necessary, to strengthen your position as rapidly as possible. It is of vital importance to strengthen your position as rapidly as possible.’ On the 10th, he continued in the same strain: ‘If possible, destroy the bridges at Clarksville. Run any risk to accomplish this. Strengthen land side of Fort Henry, and transfer guns to resist a land attack. Picks and shovels are sent. Large reenforcements will soon join you.’

Grant, however, did not wait for the reenforcements, and on the 10th, while Halleck was writing [35] about picks and shovels, he informed Foote that he was only delaying for the return of the gunboats, which, after the fall of Fort Henry, had gone up the Tennessee as far as Florence, Alabama. ‘I have been waiting very patiently for the return of the gunboats under Commodore Phelps to go around on the Cumberland, whilst I marched my land forces across, to make a simultaneous attack upon Fort Donelson. I feel that there should be no delay in this matter, and yet I do not feel justified in going, without some of your gunboats to cooperate. Can you not send two boats from Cairo immediately up the Cumberland?’ To expedite matters, he offered Foote any steamers that might be at Cairo, to tow the fleet; and, ‘should you be deficient in men, an artillery company can be temporarily detached to serve on the gunboats.’ ‘Start as soon as you like,’ he said; ‘I will be ready to cooperate at any moment.’ News had now come in that the rebels were reinforcing Fort Donelson, in anticipation of an attack, and this promptness which Grant urged, was a matter of vital importance. If he delayed in order to strengthen Fort Henry ‘on the land side,’ and to ‘arrange the redan,’ Fort Donelson might never be taken. On the 11th, Foote, with his fleet, started by the Ohio and Cumberland rivers. Six regiments of troops (all the reenforcements which had yet arrived) were sent by the same route without being debarked. They were to follow the gunboats up the Cumberland, to effect a landing below Fort Donelson, and as near the fort as practicable, to establish a base for supplies in the new campaign, and to be in readiness to cooperate with the force that should go across by land.

On the 11th, troops under McClernand moved out [36] three or four miles on the two roads leading to Fort Donelson, and early on the morning of the 12th, the main column, fifteen thousand strong, marched from Fort Henry, leaving a garrison of twenty-five hundred men; eight light batteries accompanied the expedition. Neither tents nor baggage was taken; there were but few wagons, and no rations save those in haversacks, all supplies having been ordered direct from

Cairo to the Cumberland. Brigade and regimental commanders, however, were instructed to see that all their men were supplied with forty rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes. The foremost brigade was ordered to move by the telegraph road, directly upon Fort Donelson, halting for further orders at a distance of two miles from the fort. The other brigades were to move by the Dover road, halting at the same distance, and form a continuous line with the other wing. In order to cut off all retreat by the Cumberland, one brigade was ordered to be thrown into Dover, about two miles south of Donelson. The strength of the enemy was so variously reported, that it was impossible to give exact details for the attack, but Grant promised: ‘The necessary orders will be given on the field.’13 The distance between the two forts was only twelve miles, and soon after mid-day, Grant's little army appeared in front of the rebel lines. No obstacle was opposed to the march, although nothing would have been easier than to prepare obstructions.

Donelson was one of the strongest works then established in the entire theatre of war; it was situated on the west bank of the Cumberland, north of the town of Dover, on a peculiarly rugged and in, [37] accessible series of hills, some of them rising abruptly over a 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, the smaller trees chopped till they stood about breast-high, and the limbs left attached to the stumps, forming an unusually difficult abatis. Two streams set back from the Cumberland, whose waters were now high, and these streams formed the right and left defences of the rebel line, which extended nearly three miles, and was strongly intrenched. At intervals inside, were secondary lines and detached works, commanding the outer intrenchments, which were more than two miles from the river, and covered the town of Dover. The slashing was continued between the rifle-pits and the main fortification; streamlets, gullies, and ravines added to the strength of the place, and light batteries were posted on commanding heights, as well as along the advanced line.

The main fort itself was built on a precipitous height, or rather range, cloven by a deep gorge opening to the south; it was about 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. Water batteries, admirably located to control the river navigation, were sunken on the hillsides towards the Cumberland, and the entire amount of rebel artillery, including the light batteries, was sixty-five pieces. The garrison numbered, as nearly as can be ascertained, twenty-one thousand men14 a great part of whom had been recently thrown [38] into the works, from Bowling Green and Cumberland City; for the rebels appreciated the importance of the position as fully as the national commander, and strained every nerve to retain it.15 As soon as Fort Henry fell, they began to enlarge and strengthen the fortifications at Donelson, working day and night to be ready for the attack which they foresaw was at hand; reenforcements were poured in, and Buckner, Pillow, and Floyd were successively sent to command, each ranking his predecessor, who remained to serve under the new superior.

About noon of the 12th, the rebel pickets were met by Grant's advance, and rapidly driven in; and the fortifications were from this time gradually approached and surrounded, with occasional skirmishing. The first line was formed in open fields opposite the enemy's centre. Grant threw up no intrenchments, for at this period of the war the science of earthworks had not been brought to such a degree of perfection as was afterwards attained. ‘As yet,’ he said, ‘I have had no batteries thrown up, hoping with the aid of the gunboats to obviate the necessity.’ His left that night rested at a point on Hickman creek, and the line ran around well towards Dover on the right; on account of the overflow, it did not, however, quite extend to the river on either side, but Donelson was practically invested. The advance to the right had to be made with extreme caution, for the ground was very much broken, without roads, and covered with an almost impenetrable growth of small oak. On the left, however, Grant [39] was able to communicate by the creek, with his trans. ports and gunboats, while the enemy was completely cut off from escape in that direction. When the siege began, General C. F. Smith had the left, and McClernand the right, of the national line. Grant's headquarters were in the rear of Smith's division, on the Fort Henry road. There were but three professional soldiers in the entire command—Grant himself, Smith, and Lieutenant-Colonel McPherson, of Grant's staff.16

The 13th was occupied in selecting and still further reconnoitring the ground, and getting into position; owing to the non-arrival of the gunboats and of the reenforcements sent by water, no attack was made, but the investment was extended on both flanks of the enemy, and drawn closer to his works. Skirmishers were thrown out actively in front, and several smart fights occurred, but with no result of importance. They were in no case intended for real assaults, but simply as attempts to discover the force and position of the enemy, and to establish the national line. An attempt was made by McClernand to capture a battery commanding the ridge road on which Grant moved, but this was without orders, and unsuccessful, though gallantly made; three regiments were engaged in the affair. On the first two days, Grant lost about three hundred men, in killed and wounded. The enemy, notwithstanding his great superiority in numbers, made no effort to molest Grant, allowing him to continue the investment at his leisure, a blunder almost equal to that of opposing no obstacle to the march from Fort Henry.

By the night of the 13th, Grant was established [40] on a line of heights, in general parallel with the enemy's outworks, and extending for a distance of over three miles. Various spaces and elevations afforded positions for artillery, and from these he annoyed the enemy, but they were not of such a commanding character as to enable him to achieve decided results.

At sunset on this day no reenforcements of importance had yet arrived, and the gunboats were not in sight. That night the weather became intensely cold, the thermometer falling to ten degrees above zero (Fahrenheit), and the troops, who were mostly raw, and not yet inured to the hardships of war, suf. fered extremely in consequence. They were obliged to bivouac in line of battle, and with arms in their hands, for they lay within point-blank musket-range of the enemy's breastworks. The rebel pickets were out in strong force, and no fires could be built; many of the men had thrown away their blankets on the march; they had insufficient rations, having been careless of what they brought in their haversacks, and the new supplies had not arrived. There were no tents, and towards morning a driving storm of snow and hail set in. Not a few of the soldiers on both sides were frozen. An incessant firing was kept up by the rebel pickets, and the groans of the wounded, who lay shivering between the two armies, and calling for help and water, were heard all night through the storm. The force of the enemy at this time was largely superior to Grant's, and that commander sent across to Fort Henry for the garrison which had been left there.

Before daylight of Friday, the 14th, however, Commodore Foote came up the river, and the troops [41] from Fort Henry were landed, their advance having arrived in the night. These, commanded by Brigadier-General Lewis Wallace, were at once put into line. Grant added to them the other reenforcements, now coming up the river, and gave them the centre, between Smith and McClernand; but one brigade (McArthur's) of Smith's division was moved to the extreme right of the line. This day Grant, who had received no word from Halleck, except orders to fortify Fort Henry, sent back a dispatch to his chief, dated: ‘In the field, near Fort Donelson. We will soon want ammunition for our ten and twenty-pound Parrott guns. Already require it for the twenty-four pound howitzers. I have directed my ordnance officer to keep a constant watch upon the supply of ammunition, and to take steps in time to avoid a deficiency.’ General Cullum replied from Cairo: ‘The ammunition you want is not here, and scarcely any ordnance.’ Cullum, however, wrote encouragingly, ‘You are on the great strategic line;’ and prophesied speedy success. During the whole of the 14th, a rambling and irregular fire of sharpshooters was kept up, varied with occasional discharges of artillery; the rebel shells and round shot fell at times thickly within the national lines, but the casualties were few. This day, Grant ordered Colonel Webster, of his staff, to make a reconnoissance, with a view to sending a force above the town of Dover, to occupy the river bank.

At three o'clock on Friday, six gunboats, four of which were iron-clad, attacked the fort at a distance of four hundred yards. The elevation of the rebel batteries was at least thirty feet, and gave them a fine command of the river. Traverses secured them against an enfilading fire, and the task of attacking [42] them in front, was both dangerous and difficult. One vessel alone received fifty-nine shots, and the others about half that number each. The crash of heavy iron falling on the metal armor, produced an unusual and ringing sound, never heard in battle before. The wheel of one iron-clad and the tiller of another, were shot away, rendering the two boats unmanageable, and they drifted down the stream. The two other armored vessels were greatly damaged between wind and water; and, during the attack, a rifled gun burst aboard of one of them. The commodore was wounded, fifty-four men were killed or wounded; and, after an engagement of an hour and a half, Foote was obliged to withdraw, the enemy pouring a hot fire from all the water batteries, while the fleet could reply with only twelve guns. The gunboats were so disabled as to be unfit to take any part of importance in the succeeding operations. Had this attack been successful, Grant was to have assaulted on the land side; but as it failed, he remained in his lines. That day he wrote: ‘Appearances now are that we shall have a protracted siege here. * * * I fear the result of an attempt to carry the place by storm with new troops. I feel great confidence, however, of ultimately reducing the place.’

Another night of intense cold, and a furious storm of sleet and snow came on, and the sufferings of the night before were renewed. At two A. M. of the 15th, Grant was sent for by the wounded commodore,17 who could not get ashore; and before daylight [43] he went aboard the flag-ship, where Foote declared that the condition of his fleet compelled him to put back at once to Cairo, for repairs. He urged Grant to remain as quiet as possible, until the gunboats could return and assist him, either by a new bombardment, or in a protracted siege. But Grant's reenforcements had by this time begun to come in heavily, and on the night of the 14th, his army amounted to twenty-two thousand men. The rebels had observed this increase of his strength, and felt that his lines were being drawn closer around them each hour; they determined not to wait for the completion of the investment.

Accordingly, at early dawn on the morning of Saturday, the 15th, massing heavily on their own left, they came out of their works and made a fierce assault on the right of the national line, where it did not quite extend to the river. Grant had been aboard the flag-ship but a short time, when McArthur's brigade, which held the extreme right, was attacked; all of McClernand's division, on McArthur's left, was also soon engaged. The men fought stubbornly, and maintained the unequal struggle for hours, but McArthur was finally obliged to give way with heavy loss, and McClernand's command showed signs of wavering. It held on, however, till Lewis Wallace came up to the support from the centre, and made the rebels pay dear for what they had gained. McClernand's men had not retreated until their ammunition gave out, and then passing through the ranks of the fresher troops, they halted within range [44] of the enemy's musketry, to refill their cartridge-boxes. They had been obliged, however, to leave a battery in the hands of the rebels. The assault was renewed upon Lewis Wallace with great vigor, and he too was compelled to fall back, though slowly and fighting hard; and after several hours of incessant combat, with both artillery and infantry, he was able to check the rebel advance, but not until the whole right wing had been pushed back upon his division, and very nearly turned.18 The behavior of the troops in both McClernand and Lewis Wallace's command was all that could be desired. They only gave way when their cartridge-boxes were empty, and after long hours of fighting that extorted unwilling praise from their foes.19

Grant was returning to his headquarters from the flag-ship, at about nine o'clock, when he met an aide galloping up to inform him of the assault. This was the first information he had of the battle: he next met C. F. Smith, who had not yet been engaged, and learning from him the position of affairs on the right, at once directed him to hold himself in readiness to assault the rebel right with his whole command. Riding on, he soon reached the point where the hardest fighting had occurred. The rebels had failed to make their way through the national lines, and were doggedly retiring. Still, the national troops were very much disordered; most of them had never been in battle before, and not a few were yet unfamiliar [45] with the use of their muskets. The giving out of the ammunition in the cartridge-boxes, and the unusually heavy loss in field officers, had created great confusion in the ranks. There was no pursuit, and the battle was merely lulled, not ended. The men, like all raw troops, imagined the enemy to be in overwhelming force, and reported that the rebels had come out with knapsacks and haversacks, as if they meant to stay out, and fight for several days. Grant at once inquired: ‘Are the haversacks filled’ Some prisoners were examined, and the haversacks found to contain three days rations. ‘Then they mean to cut their way out; they have no idea of staying here to fight us;’ and looking at his own disordered men, not yet recovered from the shock of battle, Grant exclaimed: ‘Whichever party first attacks now, will whip, and the rebels will have to be very quick, if they beat me.’

Putting spurs to his horse, he rode at once to the left, where the troops, not having been engaged, were still fresh, and ordered an immediate assault. As they rode, the general and his staff reassured the men with the news that the rebels were getting desperate, and that the attack of the morning was an attempt to cut their way out, not an ordinary and confident assault. As soon as the troops caught this idea, they took new courage. Scattered, until now, in knots all over the field, they at once re-formed, and went towards the front. At this time, Grant sent a request to Foote, to have all the gunboats make their appearance to the enemy. ‘A terrible conflict,’ he said, ‘ensued in my absence, which has demoralized a portion of my command, and I think the enemy is much more so. If the gunboats do not appear, it [46] will reassure the enemy, and still further demoralize our troops. I must order a charge to save appearances. I do not expect the gunboats to go into action.’ Two of the fleet, accordingly, ran up the river, and threw a few shells at long range. McClernand and Lewis Wallace were informed of Smith's orders to assault, and directed to hold themselves in readiness to renew the battle in their front, the moment Smith began his attack. To McClernand, the order was, ‘to push his column to the river if possible, otherwise to remain in statu quo, maintaining his present position.’

Smith's assaulting column was formed of Lauman's brigade, the Second Iowa infantry having the lead. Smith formed the regiment in two lines, with a front of five companies each, thirty paces apart. He told the men what they had to do, and took his position between these two lines. The attack was made with great vigor and success. The ground was broken and difficult, impeded with underbrush, as well as extremely exposed; but Smith, at the head of his troops, charged directly on the rebel works. The enemy, having massed on his own left, earlier in the day, for the morning's assault, could not get reenforcements around, in time to repel the national column, which carried the rebel lines at the point of the bayonet, and forced its way under a galling fire and up a steep hill, inside the intrenchments, thus securing the key to Fort Donelson. McClernand and Lewis Wallace, on the right and centre, supported Smith by attacks on their immediate front. The troops of these two officers, although so hotly engaged earlier in the day, were still able to act vigorously in the afternoon. They found the enemy in position near his works, and, after [47] a short and spirited contest, drove him into them, obtaining possession of the ground and the guns that had been wrung from themselves in the morning. They thus did important service, detaining a large rebel force in their own front, and subtracting from the enemy's strength at the key-point of the fight. Night came on before the battle was decided, but Smith maintained his position inside the rebel works, and a half an hour more of daylight would have sufficed to carry the fort.20 Grant perceived this, and declared that the rebels were fighting only for darkness.21

Grant slept in a negro hut that night, and Smith, with his troops, on the frozen ground they had won; while inside the fort occurred one of the most remarkable scenes of the war. Floyd summoned his highest officers, to consult them about the propriety of a surrender. The opinion was greatly in favor of such a course; Buckner, whose troops were opposite Smith's, and certain to be attacked at dawn, asserting that he could not hold out half an hour after the fight began. Floyd then announced his determination to desert the troops who had fought under him so well; he declared, however, that he had doubts of the military propriety of this conduct, and asked the advice of his inferiors, Most of whom intimated very plainly their disapprobation of his recreancy. Buckner told him every man must judge for himself in such matters; but Pillow [48] declared that he would follow Floyd's example, as ‘there were no two men in the Confederacy the Yankees would rather capture than themselves.’ Accordingly, Floyd turned over the command to Pillow, and he in his turn transferred it to Buckner. The last-named general was a soldier, by education and feeling, and did not consider it consonant with his military honor to avoid the fate reserved for his troops; but Floyd and Pillow confessed in so many words, that ‘personal reasons controlled them.’

Buckner at once sent a bugler and note to Grant, asking terms. In the interim before receiving a reply, he allowed Floyd to escape across the river, with as many troops as could get aboard of two steamers lying at the wharf. The men crowded to the shore in the cold and darkness, and in great confusion, filling the steamers to their utmost capacity, those who remained cursing and hissing the officers who were leaving them to their fate. In all about three thousand were ferried off on the transports; finally, at daybreak, one of Buckner's staff announced that the capitulation had been concluded, and no more departures could be allowed, and Floyd pushed off22 Pillow escaped on a hand-flat, and Colonel Forrest, commanding the cavalry, took his own men and about two hundred more, and with these waded the stream on the south side of the fort; the water was too deep [49] for infantry, and intensely cold; many of the fugitives were frozen in crossing, but most of them found their way to Nashville.2324 Grant was preparing to storm the intrenchments, when Buckner's messenger arrived, and the white flag was hoisted on Fort Donelson. The rebel commander proposed an armistice till twelve o'clock, and the appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, ‘in consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station;’ but Grant replied: ‘No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.’ Whereupon Buckner made haste to answer: ‘The disposition of forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.’25 Grant mounted his horse, and rode direct to Buckner's headquarters. He told that general that [50] he had no desire to humiliate his prisoners, but would allow the officers to retain their side-arms. Horses and all public property must be given up, but the officers and men might keep their personal baggage. Grant and Buckner had been schoolmates at the West Point Academy, and comrades afterwards, and they breakfasted together at Buckner's quarters. The latter acknowledged that it had been the intention of the rebel commanders to cut their way out, the day before, but that Grant's operations had foiled them. In the course of the conversation, he alluded to Grant's inferior force at the beginning of the siege, and remarked: ‘If I had been in command, you wouldn't have reached Fort Donelson so easily:’ to which Grant replied: ‘If you had been in command, I should have waited for reenforcements , and marched from Fort Henry in greater strength; but I knew that Pillow would not come out of his works to fight, and told my staff so, though I believed he would fight behind his works.’26

Sixty-five guns, seventeen thousand six hundred small-arms, and nearly fifteen thousand troops, fell into the hands of the victor. On the morning of the 16th, as Grant was writing his report, aboard one of the transports, Buckner entered his cabin, and the former inquired how many troops had been surrendered. Buckner declared he could not exactly tell, for his men had been deserting the fort all night, after it became known that a surrender would occur, and no restraint had been placed on any who chose to leave, until the capitulation had actually been proposed. ‘You will not find,’ he said, ‘fewer than [51] twelve thousand men, nor I think more than fifteen thousand.’

A few days afterwards, as the rebel prisoners were leaving for the North, on transports, it was announced that General Buckner's steamer was ready. His own brigade of troops was aboard, and he invited Grant to go with him and look at his soldiers, of whom he was proud. Grant went with him, and the rebel prisoners crowded around their captor, curiously but respectfully. Buckner spoke to them, and told them that General Grant had behaved with kindness and magnanimity, and bade them remember this, if ever the fortune of war allowed them to show him, or any of his soldiers, the same treatment which they now received.

On the last day of the fight, Grant had twentyseven thousand men, whom he could have put into battle; some few regiments of these were not engaged. Other reenforcements arrived on the 16th, after the surrender, swelling his number still further. Of artillery, he had but the eight light batteries which started with him from Fort Henry, not near so many guns as he captured. His entire losses during the siege were two thousand and forty-one, in killed, wounded, and missing; of these, four hundred and twenty-five were killed. No exact account of the rebel loss, other than in captures, can be given; but rations were issued at Cairo, to fourteen thousand six hundred and twenty-three prisoners, captured at Fort Donelson; and Grant estimated that at least twenty-five hundred rebels were killed or wounded during the siege.27 [52]

On the 16th, the day of the surrender, General Halleck's chief of staff cautioned Grant ‘not to be too rash,’ and Halleck's first dispatch after the fall of Fort Donelson was in these words: ‘Don't let gunboats go higher up than Clarksville. Even then, they must limit their operations to the destruction of the bridge and railroad, and return immediately to Cairo, leaving one at Fort Donelson. Mortar-boats to be sent back to Cairo as soon as possible.’ Halleck's whole share in the design or execution of this campaign, was confined to forwarding reenforcements , a duty which he performed with vigor and alacrity.28

The rebels, in official reports, again and again declared, that it was the assault on their right, ordered at the crisis of the battle, when both sides were so nearly exhausted, which turned the scale, and prevented them from cutting their way through the [53] national lines.29 General Cullum, Halleck's chief of staff, wrote to Grant on the 20th: ‘I received with the highest gratification your reports and letters from Fort Donelson, so gallantly captured under your brilliant leadership. I, in common with the whole country, warmly congratulate you upon this remarkable achievement.’ Halleck, however, who was at St. Louis throughout the siege, and received all his reports of the campaign and capture, through General Cullum, or direct from Grant, wrote no congratulations to the victor.30 On the contrary, on the 19th of February, three days after the fall of Fort Donelson, he telegraphed to Washington: ‘Smith, by his coolness and bravery at Fort Donelson, when the battle was against us, turned the tide and carried the enemy's outworks. Make him a major-general. You can't get a better one. Honor him for this victory, and the whole country will applaud.’31

On the morning of the surrender, when General Buckner congratulated Smith on the gallant charge which had carried the works the night before, the old hero replied: ‘Yes, it was well done, considering [54] the smallness of the force that did it. No congratulations are due me. I simply obeyed orders.’32

Neither did the government agree with Halleck, that Smith should receive the honors of this victory. The Secretary of War at once recommended Grant for a major-generalcy of volunteers, and the President nominated him the same day. The Senate was in session, and confirmed the nomination instantly, and ‘the whole country applauded.’33 This was on the 19th of February, the day that Halleck recommended C. F. Smith for the same grade. Mr. Stanton, who had recently assumed the portfolio of the Secretary of War, wrote a letter for print which was published on the 20th of February, and in which the following passage occurs: ‘We may well rejoice at the recent victories, for they teach us that battles are to be won now, and by us, in the same and only manner that they were ever won by any people, or in any age, since the days of Joshua—by boldly pursuing and striking the foe. What, under the blessing of Providence, I conceive to be the true organization of victory and military combination to end this war, was declared in a few words, by General Grant's message to General Buckner: ‘I propose to move immediately on your works.’’ This was the beginning of a support bestowed by the Secretary of War on the Western general, which was never intermitted, while the need of that support remained.

The consequences of the capture of Fort Donelson [55] were greatly superior to any good fortune which had at that time befallen the national arms, and were hardly surpassed, in a purely military point of view, by the result of any operations of the war. The great rebel line being penetrated at the centre, its extremities were both turned, while the region behind was uncovered. The whole of Kentucky and Ten. nessee at once fell into the possession 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 immense strategic importance, fell; Bowling Green had become untenable as soon as Donelson was attacked, and was abandoned on the 14th, the day before the rebel works on the Cumberland were carried; while Columbus, at the other end of the line, was evacuated early in March, thus leaving the Mississippi free from the rebel flag, from St. Louis to Arkansas.

The country was unacquainted at this time with the principles of military science; and as city after city fell, and stronghold after stronghold was abandoned, all legitimate consequences of the capture of Fort Donelson, the national amazement and gratification knew no bounds. The effect on the spirits of the soldiers and of the people, was indeed quite equal to the purely military results. This was the first success of any importance since the beginning of the war. An inferior force had marched boldly up to a strongly fortified post, and for three days besieged an army larger than itself; then, after being reenforced, it had not only defeated the enemy in the open field, converting what had nearly been disaster into brilliant victory, but compelled the unconditional surrender [56] of one of the largest garrisons ever captured in war. These were considerations which naturally enough elated and cheered the country, and absolutely inspired the army, depressed before by long delays and defeats on many fields. The gratitude felt towards Grant was commensurate with the success. He stepped at once into a national fame.

1 See Polk's report of evacuation of Columbus.

2 See Appendix for McClellan and Halleck's instructions for this movement, in full. They demonstrate very clearly the object of the expedition, and that it had no connection whatever with any ulterior operations.

3 On the 6th of January, McClellan wrote to Buell: ‘Halleck, from his own accounts, will not soon be in condition to support properly a movement up the Cumberland;’ and again on the 13th: ‘Halleck is not yet in condition to afford you the support you need, when you undertake the movement on Bowling Green.’

January 6th, McClellan wrote to Buell: ‘My own general plans for the prosecution of the war, make the speedy occupation of east Tennessee and its lines of railway, matters of absolute necessity. Bowling Green and Nashville are in that connection of very secondary importance, at the present moment.’ Again, January 13th: ‘It seems absolutely necessary to make the advance on eastern Tennessee at once. I incline to this as a first step, for many reasons.’ It is evident from these extracts, that on the 13th of January, neither McClellan nor Halleck intended, or at any rate was ready for, the movement up the Tennessee. Doubtless the propriety of the campaign was apparent to all soldiers, but nobody ever ordered or suggested it to Grant, except C. F. Smith, in his report.


Commanding General Grant and myself are of opinion that Fort Henry, on the Tennessee river, can be carried with four iron-clad gunboats and troops to permanently occupy. Have we your authority to move for that purpose when ready?

A. H. Foote, Flag-Officer.

5 See Appendix for Halleck's instructions in full.

6 Two thousand seven hundred and thirty-four.—Tilghman's Re-port.

7 See report of Colonel Gilmer, rebel engineer. General Tilghman's report says eleven guns; but the engineer is of course the more reliable authority in a matter of this sort.

8 See Appendix for Grant's field order of the 5th.


The plan of the attack, so far as the army reaching the rear of the fort, to make a demonstration simultaneous with the navy, was frustrated by the excessively muddy roads and the high stage of water, preventing the arrival of our troops until some time after I had taken possession of the fort. Foote's Report.


“ My infantry, artillery, and cavalry removed of necessity, to avoid the fire of the gunboats, to the outworks, could not meet the enemy there. My only chance was to delay the enemy every moment possible, and retire the command, now outside the main work, towards Fort Donelson, resolving to suffer as little loss as possible. I retained only the heavy artillery company to fight the guns, and gave the order to commence the movement at once. * * *

The enemy, ignorant of any movement of my main body, but knowing that they could not engage them behind an intrenched camp, until after the fort was reduced and the gunboats retired, with out being themselves exposed to the fire of the latter, took a position north of the forks of the Dover road, in a dense wood (my order being to retreat by way of Stewart road), to await the result. At 11 A. M. the flotilla assumed their line of battle. I had no hope of being able, successfully, to defend the fort against such overwhelming odds, both in point of numbers and in calibre of guns. My object was to save the main body by delaying matters as long as possible, and to this end I bent every effort. * * *

I ordered Colonel Heiman to join his command, and keep up the retreat in good order, whilst I would fight the guns as long as one was left, and sacrifice myself to save the main body of my troops.

Tilghman's Report.

The report of Colonel Heiman, who commanded the rebel troops that escaped, is to the same effect.

11 I have availed myself very fully in this chapter, of the rebel reports of the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Whatever statement I make of the rebel strength or movements is taken from these sources, unless otherwise stated.

12 Halleck congratulated Foote in these words: ‘I have this moment received the official report of your capture of Fort Henry, and hasten to congratulate you and your command for your brilliant success’

13 See Appendix for Grant's field order in full.

14 See note to page 51 for my authority for this estimate.

15 Pollard, a rebel historian, says, the rebel generals held a conference, and decided to fight for Nashville, at Donelson, and accordingly sent thither every thing they could spare from Bowling Green.

16 McPherson was at this time really on Halleck's staff, but detailed as chief engineer for Grant during this campaign.


Flag-ship St. Louis, February 14, 1862.
General Grant, commanding United States Forces:
dear General: Will you do me the favor to come on board at your earliest convenience, as I am disabled from walking by a contusion, and cannot possibly get to see you about the disposition of these vessels, all of which are more or less disabled.

A. S. Foote, Flag-Officer.

18 All the rebel reports explain the intention in the assault to have been to destroy Grant's right wing, rolling it back on his left, and to open a way for themselves to Nashville. Pillow says: ‘We had fought the battle to open the way for our army, and to relieve us from his investment.’

19 See rebel reports, passim.

20 See Buckner's report.

21 ‘Having carried the advanced works on the enemy's right, and effected a lodgment in his intrenchments, we had secured a key to his position; we had obtained a front having about as great an elevation as any portion of his works, and where we could plant our artillery to silence his, and enfilade a portion of his defences, at the same time making use of his rifle-pits to cover our men.’–McPherson's Report.

22 ‘Such was the want of all order and discipline by this time on shore, that a wild rush was made at the boat, which the captain said would swamp her unless he pushed off immediately. This was done, and about sunrise the boat on which I was, the other having gone, left the shore, and steered up the river. By this precise mode I effected my escape, and after leaving the wharf, the Department will be pleased to hear, that I encountered no dangers whatever from the enemy.’— Floyd's Supplementary Report.

23 The rebel official reports set forth these proceedings very fully, and the opinion entertained by the junior officers, of Floyd and Pillow's behavior is clearly expressed. After their flight, these individuals were called upon by their superiors for explanations, which were pronounced unsatisfactory; a decision in which history will concur. See Appendix for a message of Mr. Jefferson Davis to the rebel Congress, on this subject.

24 ‘It is unbecoming in soldiers to criticise the conduct of superiors, but, when, after rejecting the counsels of juniors, the condition of affairs is placed beyond the power of human nature to retrieve, the se-nior endeavors to escape responsibility by throwing the same upon the former, comment is unnecessary.’—Report of Major Brown, Twentieth Mississippi. (The italics are his own.)

25 See Appendix for Grant and Buckner's correspondence in full.

26 Pillow was in command of Fort Donelson until the 13th, the day after the siege began.

27 There were rations issued at Cairo, to fourteen thousand six hundred and twenty-three prisoners, captured at Fort Donelson. Buckner, in his report, estimates that three thousand rebels got away with Floyd; and Pillow also says that several thousand infantry escaped during the night of the 15th. According to Forrest's account, two hundred got away with him besides his own cavalry, making at the least one thousand with Forrest. Pillow reckons the rebel losses during the siege at two thousand, which is doubtless an under estimate, as the successful party lost two thousand one hundred and forty, and the heavy fighting was all done outside of the works, where the rebels could have had no advantage of cover. The calculation is therefore simple:

Escaped with Floyd,3,000
Escaped with Forrest,1,000 (A low estimate)
Killed and wounded,2,500 (At least)
Total rebel force at beginning of siege,21,123

28 It has been alleged that General Halleck planned the Donelson campaign, and is entitled to the credit of its conception; but it is only just to say that I never heard that General Halleck himself put forth any such claim.

29 Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner, as well as their subordinates, agree in this.

30 He sent, however, the following dispatch to General Hunter, at Fort Leavenworth: ‘To you, more than any other man out of this department, are we indebted for our success at Fort Donelson. In my strait for troops to reinforce General Grant, I applied to you. You responded nobly, placing your forces at my disposition. This enabled us to win the victory. Receive my most heart-felt thanks.’

31 On the 20th of February, the day after this dispatch was sent, Halleck telegraphed to McClellan: ‘I must have command of the armies in the West. Hesitation and delay are losing us the golden opportunity. Lay this before the President and Secretary of War. May I resume (assume?) the command? Answer quick.’

Compare these remarks about ‘hesitation and delay’ with Halleck's dispatch to Grant, of two days before, ‘limiting operations.’

32 See speech of Brevet Major-General Rawlins, chief of staff to General Grant, before the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, November 15th, 1866. This speech has afforded me much assistance. Its record of dates is especially invaluable.

33 Grant immediately recommended Smith for a major-generalcy, for his behavior during the campaign.

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