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Chapter 27: Fort Henry.

  • River-defenses.
  • -- location of Forts. -- strategic importance. -- topography. -- Polk's report. -- General Johnston's orders and preparations. -- warning to Polk. -- Major Gilmer, chief-engineer. -- his operations. -- Lloyd Tilghman in command. -- fortifications projected on the Cumberland. -- difficulty of getting labor. -- gunboats. -- abortive attempts at defense. -- supreme efforts of the North. -- their gunboats. -- General Johnston's warnings and precautions. -- origin of Federal plan of invasion. -- Scott's share. -- Sherman's picturesque narrative. -- Halleck and Buell's views. -- Federal demonstrations. -- Grant, Smith, and Foote. -- Federal advance. -- River-defenses. -- letter of Hon. James E. Saunders. -- General Johnston's appeal for reinforcements. -- directions for defense. -- Floyd detached. -- General Johnston's strength. -- condition of Fort Henry. -- Gilmer's report. -- firing on the Fort. -- Tilghman's strength. -- Tilghman's telegrams. -- reinforcements sent. -- Tilghman's movements. -- the attack and bombardment. -- defense. -- surrender. -- loss. -- Phelps up the Tennessee.

When Tennessee seceded, her authorities assembled volunteers at the most assailable points on her borders, and took measures for guarding the water-entrances to her territory. All the strong points on the Mississippi were occupied and fortified-Memphis, Randolph, Fort Pillow, and Island No.10. The last-named place, though a low-lying island, was believed to be a very strong position. Captain Gray, the engineer in charge when General Johnston assumed command (September 18th), reported that Island No.10 was “one of the finest strategic positions in the Mississippi Valley,” and, “properly fortified, would offer the greatest resistance to the enemy;” and that “its intrenchments could not be taken by a force four or five times superior in number.” It is not necessary here to enter upon a narrative of the defenses of the Mississippi River. Columbus was relied upon as the chief barrier against invasion; and was found sufficient, until, for strategic reasons, it was deemed expedient to abandon it. The defense of the points lower down the Mississippi, however important in a general history of the war, did not greatly influence the catastrophe of this biography, and hence may be here omitted.

In the location of her water-defenses, comity forbade Tennessee to invade the soil of another sovereign State under the plea of fortifying for her own defense; so that, despite the supreme value of Columbus to her security, the Southern troops did not seize that stronghold until the last shadow of neutrality vanished, and its occupation became an absolute necessity. The same consideration governed the selection of points for the defense of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Governor Harris wished to locate the forts as near the Kentucky line as he could find suitable sites for them, and sent General Daniel S. Donelson, a West Point graduate, and a man of influence and standing, to select proper situations. He reported Donelson as the strongest position on the Cumberland near the State line, and that there was no good position on the Tennessee River within the jurisdiction of the State. General Donelson wished to build a fort in Kentucky, on better ground; but, under the Governor's orders, adopted the site at Fort Henry as the best in Tennessee near the Kentucky line, and because of the convenience for mutual support between it and Fort Donelson. These locations are said to have been approved by General Bushrod R. Johnson also. Indeed, [408] there was not time for very deliberate or well-considered engineering. Crudities, the offspring of haste and inexperience, characterized a great deal of the earlier military preparation for the conflict; and so great were the demands upon the few who had the requisite training, that they could not do their best. And this was especially the case in a branch of the military art so scientific and technical as engineering.

Hence the two forts were placed within the limits of Tennessee; Henry on the east bank of the Tennessee, Donelson on the west bank of the Cumberland, only twelve miles apart. The gates to the State were thus set as near its outer edge as was possible under the circumstances. Near their mouths, not far from Smithland and Paducah, the rivers approach within three miles of each other. Here, it is said, an intrenched camp might have commanded both streams; but this position was on the soil of Kentucky, and Tennessee had neither the right to take nor the strength to maintain it.

A look at the map will show that the boundary between these two States is nearly a straight line westward from Virginia to the Tennessee River; it then follows this stream almost due south some twelve or fourteen miles, when it resumes its original direction and runs westward to the Mississippi River. Within a mile of the angle of this offset of Kentucky, about sixty miles above Paducah, stood Fort Henry. The Tennessee River traverses Tennessee and Kentucky by a course almost due north. The Cumberland, flowing westwardly near their dividing line, turns to the north as it approaches the Tennessee, to which it runs parallel to its mouth. At the great bend, on very good ground, Fort Donelson was established; so that the two forts helped mutually to determine their relative locations. The governing considerations were evidently political rather than strategic, and depended more upon geography than topography. Nevertheless, even from a strategic point of view, they were exceedingly well situated. Whether the Barren River, and a line from Bowling Green to Columbus, should be adopted for defense, or that of the Cumberland and thence west to the Mississippi, these points were equally commanding. They were also near to and in front of the railroads from Bowling Green and Nashville, running west.

The topography of the two forts was not so good, though not justly amenable to the censure that the defeated generals visited upon it after its surrender. Floyd, in his reports, said of Fort Donelson:

It was ill conceived, badly executed, and still worse located. I consider the place illy chosen, out of position, and entirely indefensible by any reinforcements which could be brought there to its support.

General Tilghman spoke in his report in still more disparaging terms of the fortifications at Fort Henry: [409]

Its wretched military position, . .. its unfortunate location, etc. The history of military engineering records no parallel to this ease.1 Points within a few miles of it, possessing great advantages and few disadvantages, were totally neglected; and a location fixed upon without one redeeming feature or filling one of the many requirements of a work such as Fort Henry.

The remark of General Floyd may, under the circumstances, be dismissed as a hastily-formed opinion, though it is due to him to say that he expressed great distrust of the position as soon as he arrived at Fort Donelson. But Tilghman was a graduate of West Point, and a civil engineer by profession. He had had some experience in fortification in the Mexican War and as an artillery-officer, so that, under other circumstances, his opinion would be entitled to weight. But, when it is remembered that, as an officer, he was not slow to find fault, and indeed had done so with unusual vehemence as to the ordnance, transportation, clothing, medical and other staff departments, and had been engaged in an altercation with the Engineer Department on other points, and yet had never objected to the location of the forts until after his surrender, his censure must be received with a grain of allowance.

Donelson was well enough. It was placed on high ground; and, with the plunging fire from its batteries, was sufficiently safe on the water-side. But from the land-side it was not equally strong, and required extensive outworks and a considerable garrison for its maintenance against an attack in that quarter.

Fort Henry was on the low grounds of a river liable to great floods or “freshets,” during which it was almost surrounded by water. While this was to some extent a protection against a land-assault, yet, bringing the combat to the water-level, it deprived the fort of any advantage of elevation. The engineers, following the traditions of their craft, were soon to be confronted with a problem new to them — the power of iron-clad gunboats against land-defenses. They had not estimated correctly the advantage of long-range guns, which enable the vessels to select positions for attack, so as to enfilade almost any possible line of defense, and easily to render a bastioned fort, for instance, untenable. Fort Henry was also commanded by high ground on the left flank; but this was intended to be occupied by troops in case of a land-attack.

Fort Henry could not have been made impregnable to gunboats, except at the cost of much time, labor, and expense. But it would be unjust to hold the engineers responsible for what became manifest only in the light of subsequent events. Why it was retained will appear as we go on. Though probably not the best location, on the two rivers, each successive commander found it easier to improve them than [410] to begin anew elsewhere. But a simple narrative of facts relating to the history and progress of the river-defenses ought to give a correcter view of the case than any argument in the interest of any individual. At one time there was a profound consciousness in the Southern people that, in this campaign, the immediate commanders at these forts had not proved equal to the emergency. Doubtless time has partially effaced the conviction, but, whatever individual shortcomings may appear herein, the public dereliction is manifest. The same apathy that kept back from the field men who subsequently gave their lives to the cause, at that period withheld even the negro slaves demanded as laborers, and seemed to paralyze every arm and bring to naught the most earnest efforts and the most judicious counsel.

Not long before the battle of Shiloh, General Polk, in whose military district these events had occurred, made a report that contains a very fair summary of many important facts in relation to the defenses of Forts Henry and Donelson. It reads as follows:

headquarters, first Corps, army of the Mississippi, Corinth, Mississippi, April 1, 1862.
General: In conformity with your order to report to you on the defenses of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers at the time of my taking command in the West, I have to say that those defenses were at that time not included in my command, nor were they until after you assumed the charge of the Western Department. My command up to that time was limited on the north and east by the Tennessee River.

Shortly after you took command of the Western Department, Lieutenant Dixon, of the Corps of Engineers, was instructed by you to make an examination of the works at Forts Henry and Donelson, and to report upon them. These instructions were complied with, and he reported that the former fort, which was nearly completed, was built, not at the most favorable position, but that it was a strong work, and instead of abandoning it and building at another place, he advised that it should be completed, and other works constructed on the high lands just above the fort on the opposite side of the river. Measures for the accomplishment of this work were adopted as rapidly as the means at our disposal would allow. A negro force, which was offered by planters on the Tennessee in North Alabama, was employed on the work, and efforts were made to push it to completion as fast as the means at command would allow.

Lieutenant Dixon also made a similar reconnaissance on the Cumberland, and gave it as his opinion that, although a better position might have been chosen for the fortifications on that river, yet, under the circumstances then surrounding our command, it would be better to retain and strengthen the position chosen. He accordingly made surveys for additional outworks, and the service of a considerable slave-force was obtained to construct them. This work was continued and kept under the supervision of Lieutenant Dixon. Lieutenant Dixon also advised the placing of obstructions in the Cumberland at a certain point below, where there was shoal water, so as to afford protection to the operatives engaged on the fortifications against the enemy's gunboats. This [411] was done, and it operated as a check to the navigation, so long as the water continued low.

You are aware that efforts were made to obtain heavy ordnance to arm these forts; but, as we had to rely on supplies from the Atlantic sea-coast, they came slowly, and it became necessary to divert a number of pieces intended for Columbus to the service of those forts.

The principal difficulty in the way of a successful defense of the rivers in question was the want of an adequate force-a force of infantry and a force of experienced artillerists. They were applied for by you, and also by me; and the appeal was made earnestly to every quarter whence relief might be hoped for. Why it was not furnished others must say. I believe the chief reason, so far as the infantry was concerned, was the want of arms. As to experienced artillerists, they were not in the country, or, at least, to be spared from other points.

When General Tilghman was made brigadier-general, he was assigned by you to the command of the defenses on the Tennessee and Cumberland. It was at a time when the operations of the enemy had begun to be active on those rivers, and the difficulty of communicating as rapidly as the exigencies of the service required, through the circuitous route to Columbus, made it expedient for him to place himself in direct communication with the general headquarters. Nevertheless, all the support I could give him, in answer to his calls, was afforded. He received from Columbus a detachment of artillery-officers as instructors of his troops in that arm, on two several occasions, and all the infantry at my command that could be spared from the defense of Columbus.

The importance of gunboats, as an element of power in our military operations, was frequently brought to the attention of the Government. One transport-boat, the Eastport, was ordered to be purchased and converted into a gunboat on the Tennessee River, but it was, unfortunately, too late to be of any service.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. Polk, Major-General commanding. To General A. S. Johnston, commanding Army of the Mississippi, Corinth, Mississippi.

A rigid examination of all the data confirms this report in its most important particulars. On the 17th of September General Johnston ordered Lieutenant Dixon, a young engineer of extraordinary skill, courage, and character, to report at Fort Donelson for engineer duty. Immediately afterward he applied to the adjutant-general for other engineer-officers, but for some time in vain. They were scarce, and otherwise assigned. From this time these defenses never ceased to be the subject of extreme solicitude to General Johnston. The preparations for resistance were necessarily enlarged with the magnitude of the operations directed against them.

The following extracts from his correspondence will serve to show that General Johnston not only did not lose sight of this vulnerable point, but did all that he could with the means at his command. It will be borne in mind that the points of pressure, during this period, were elsewhere, and that the Federal commanders themselves came to [412] a very sudden and unpremeditated resolution to make this their chief point of attack.

On October 8th, Lieutenant Dixon having been temporarily employed elsewhere, Colonel Mackall, assistant adjutant-general, wrote to General Polk:

General Johnston directs you to send Lieutenant Dixon to Fort Donelson instantly, with orders to mount the guns at that place for the defense of the river.

Lieutenant-Colonel McGavock was also ordered to “remain in vigilant command.” Another letter, of October 17th, says:

General Johnston orders you to hasten the armament of the works at Fort Donelson, and the obstructions below the place at which a post was intended. The operations of the enemy on the Tennessee show that the necessity of interrupting the Cumberland is urgent. . . . The general has been informed that the experiments made with the torpedoes at Memphis have been very successful. Should you, on inquiry, find this to be the case, you are authorized to employ them to any extent necessary on the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers. For the present, do not move the regiment from Fort Henry. The men are accustomed to the guns. New ones might not be so efficient.

A dispatch from Colonel Mackall to Major-General Polk, Columbus, Kentucky, October 28th, says:

General Johnston directs me to say that he wishes you to keep a vigilant eye on the Tennessee River. If possible, fortify opposite to Fort Henry, to protect it from being overlooked by the enemy. It can be held with part of the garrison of Henry. Lieutenant Dixon, who is familiar with the country, will be able to point out the proper position. No time should be lost.

General Johnston wrote to General Polk, October 31st, as follows:

Your front, and particularly your right flank, requires incessant watching, and may at any moment demand all the force at your disposal. The Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers afford lines of transportation by which an army may turn your right with ease and rapidity, and any surplus you may be able to spare from the left flank on the Mississippi can well be used to secure you against such movements.

In the latter part of October Major Jeremy F. Gilmer reported to General Johnston, as his chief-engineer. Gilmer was a North Carolinian, and had been graduated at the Military Academy in 1839, fourth in his class, next below H. W. Halleck. After subaltern service, he had served as captain in the Engineer Corps since 1853, and was esteemed an officer of great merit. General Johnston first knew him in California. They met next at Bowling Green. Gilner had skill and judgment, and his military career was full of usefulness to the cause he espoused. At [413] the close of the war he was at the head of the engineer department of the Confederate army.

General Johnston was well pleased with this assignment to him of a trained soldier, on whose scientific knowledge he could rely. After a full conference with him on the plan of defense already adopted, he promptly sent him back to establish a second defensive line along the Cumberland from Nashville to Donelson and thence to Henry, which might prove not only a secure place of retreat in case of disaster, but an effectual barrier to the invader. General Johnston gave him letters to Governor Harris at Nashville and Senator G. A. Henry at Clarksville, explaining his business and invoking their aid and influence, and suggesting the employment of slave-labor on the fortifications, to hasten their construction. Gilmer's orders were:

To arrange the works for the defense and obstruction of the river “at Donelson, Clarksville, and Nashville, and to intrust the construction to subordinates. He was” to spare no cost, procuring barges, steamboats, and whatever else may aid in the work. “His orders ran:” Arrange a plan of defensive works for Nashville, and urge them forward by all the means you can command. If you find that the work of troops will be useful, report at once here the numbers you can use, that they may be sent you.

General and specific directions were also issued to all the staff departments to furnish Major Gilmer funds, tools, materials, subsistence, transportation, and other facilities for the construction of the defenses; and Lieutenant-Colonel McGavock was ordered to work his troops day and night until the guns at Fort Donelson were protected by parapets.

The objections to the sites of the forts were quite apparent; but the purpose to maintain, instead of removing them, was not the result of a blind or careless policy, but of a deliberate weighing of difficulties and advantages. General Johnston could not give the matter his personal attention, owing to the pressure elsewhere; but, even if he had done so, his only course, as a sober-minded man, would have been to concur in the calm decision of his chief-engineer, an able and skillful officer, who, with all the lights before him, concluded to retain positions already established, in preference to attempting the construction of new forts elsewhere.

Major Gilmer, in a report of November 3d, says:

As to the defenses of the Cumberland River below Clarksville, they should be at least as low down as Fort Donelson. Our efforts for resisting gunboats should be concentrated there; and, to this end, Captain Dixon will do everything in his power to hasten forward the works at that point. Lineport, fifteen miles below Donelson, presents many advantages for defending the river; but, as the works at Fort Donelson are partially built, and the place susceptible of a good defense landward, I advised Captain Dixon to retain the position, and construct the additional defenses as rapidly as possible. [414]

To obstruct the Cumberland at points below Donelson, old “barges” and “flats” have been sunk at Ingraham's Shoals, a few miles above Eddyville, and at Line Island, three miles below Lineport. In all ordinary stages of water the obstructions render the river impassable for gunboats, and for any other boats at this time. Such, at least, is the judgment of Captain Dixon, who superintended the sinking of the barges.

Three of the barges sunk were one hundred and twenty-seven feet long by twenty-seven feet wide and eight feet deep. These, with two smaller boats, loaded with about 1,200 tons of stone, made a sufficient obstruction for the time; but one difficulty of these waters is, that a flood will almost always wash out a new channel.

Major Gilmer reported, November 4th, that the armament of Fort Donelson was four thirty-two-pounders and two naval guns, and recommended that it should be doubled. He added, “There are also two small iron guns and a battery of field-pieces for the land-defenses;” and recommended an additional supply of twelve-pounder guns, mounted on siege-carriages, and some howitzers for throwing shells. General Johnston sent four more thirty-two-pounders within the next four days. Within the same period the gunboats of the enemy were stopped by the obstructions near Eddyville.

General G. A. Henry, Confederate States Senator from Tennessee, a resident of Clarksville, and deeply interested in the defense of the Cumberland, accompanied Major Gilmer on this tour of inspection. He wrote to General Johnston as follows:

Fort Henry is in fine condition for defense, the work admirably done, as Major Gilmer thinks . . . Fort Donelson is in a very bad condition. No work has been done of any account, though Lieutenant Dixon, a young officer of great energy, will soon, I hope, have it put in a fine state of defense. Captain Harrison, an old steamboat-captain familiar with the river, concurs with Lieutenant Dixon that the work of obstruction is effectually done. They think it will be impossible for the gunboats to pass Ingraham's Shoals, even when the water is ten feet higher than it is now. Though Donelson is unfortunately located on the river, it certainly possesses great advantages against a land-attack. A succession of deep ravines nearly surrounds it, including some ten or twelve acres of land, thickly lined with trees in the right place (for an abattis).

Again, Major Gilmer wrote on the 16th of November:

At Clarksville I also employed a competent person to establish a timber-obstruction in the Cumberland River, under the range of the guns of Fort Donelson.

He adds that he had chartered “a steamer to go to Fort Donelson to be employed in placing the obstructions in the river.”

Each of the forts was garrisoned by a regiment of infantry, supporting the artillery-companies stationed in them. When the movement of [415] the Federal army was made along the lines, early in November, General Johnston, fearing an attack on the Cumberland, ordered Pillow from Columbus, with 5,000 men, to defend this line. Why this movement was not made has already been explained in a previous chapter; but the following extract from a letter of General Johnston to the Secretary of War, November 15th, is not out of place here. He said:

I had left but the choice of difficulties — the great probability of defeat at Columbus, or a successful advance of the enemy on my left. I have risked the latter. The first would be a great misfortune, scarcely reparable for a long time; the latter may be prevented.

On the 17th of November Brigadier-General Lloyd Tilghman, who had been in command at Hopkinsville, was ordered to turn over his command there to General Charles J. Clark, and proceed to the Cumberland River, to take charge of Forts Donelson and Henry and their defenses, and the intermediate country, under General Polk, the division commander. Tilghman's orders continue:

The utmost vigilance is enjoined, as there has been gross negligence in this respect. . . . You will push forward the completion of the works and their armament with the utmost activity, and to this end will apply to the citizens of the surrounding country for assistance in labor, for which you will give them certificates for amounts of such labor.

Authority was also given to make all needful requisitions.

General Tilghman had been assigned to General Johnston with considerable éclat. General Johnston, desiring a proper commander for the defenses of Columbus, had very strongly recommended for that purpose the promotion of Major A. P. Stewart to be a brigadier-general. On the 11th of October Mr. Benjamin replied as follows:

I have your letter asking for the appointment of a brigadier to command at Columbus, Kentucky, in your absence. Your recommendation of Major A. P. Stewart has been considered with the respect due to your suggestions, but there is an officer under your command whom you must have overlooked; whose claims in point of rank and experience greatly outweigh those of Major Stewart, and whom we could not pass by, without injustice — I refer to Colonel Lloyd Tilghman, whose record shows longer and better service, and who is, besides, as a Kentuckian, specially appropriate to the command of Columbus. He has, therefore, been appointed brigadier-general, but of course you will exercise your own discretion whether to place him in command at Columbus or not.

Though General Johnston had no objection to Tilghman's promotion, knowing that Polk had previously recommended him, he accepted the secretary's letter as a rebuke. Polk urged, October 31st, that Tilghman should be assigned to the command of the defenses of the [416] Tennessee and Cumberland, which General Johnston ordered, as soon as the pending movements by the Federals permitted.

As soon as Tilghman took command he stopped the work of obstruction on the Cumberland, which led to a sharp remonstrance from Gilmer, and a direction from headquarters not to interfere with Gilmer. General Johnston, on November 21st, ordered Lieutenant Dixon to lay out a field-work on the commanding ground opposite Fort Henry; and on the 29th telegraphed Gilmer that “these works should not be stopped. Push them on at the same time with the obstructions at Fort Donelson.” Tilghman, on the same day, wrote, pointing out the necessity of a small field-work on this eminence, and the want of a field-battery there; but did not suggest a removal of the forts, or any other change.

As General Johnston desired the line of the Cumberland to rally on in case of retreat, he gave directions for the construction of extensive field-works, so located that they might be occupied and held by brave but undisciplined militia, without the necessity of performing tactical maneuvers in the field. But it was impossible to convince the people of their value. Their construction required a large amount of labor. The troops worked reluctantly, and the slave-owners hired their negroes grudgingly, and were continually demanding their return. Fifteen hundred laborers were needed at Nashville, as many at Clarksville, 1,000 were called for at Fort Donelson by Lieutenant Dixon, November 15th, and the same number could have been usefully employed at Fort Henry. Instead of 5,000, not 500 could be got together in all. Much of the work was done by the soldiers, at the cost of health, drill, and discipline.

The authorities of Tennessee and Alabama did what they could to obtain the labor demanded. Official action was supplemented by patriotic voluntary effort. A committee of leading citizens of North Alabama and Tishomingo County, Mississippi, headed by General Samuel D. Weakley, appealed to the people in a private circular letter, November 23d, to furnish negro-laborers and volunteers to build and defend the works at Fort Henry. They plainly said that these defenses were important and unsafe, and that no time could be lost. They said:

If our people were convinced as we are that a deadly struggle for our homes and property is impending — that the enemy in a few days will put forth his whole strength for our subjugation — they would rally en masse for the public defense.

But the American people are so used to rhetorical exaggeration, that fervor of language has ceased with them to be taken as a measure of earnestness of conviction. The response was tardy and feeble. An insufficient number of negroes reached Fort Henry early in January. Still, if their labor had then been vigorously applied, it would have made a difference in the preparation. [417]

Governor Harris, with that inflexible courage which he ever displayed, dared to tell the Legislature and people of Tennessee, in his next message, these truths, in reference to the loss of the forts:

Many weeks before this crisis in our affairs, General Johnston sent a highly accomplished and able engineer, Major Gilmer, to Nashville, to construct fortifications for the defense of the city. Laborers were needed for their construction. I joined Major Gilmer in an earnest and urgent appeal to the people to send in their laborers for this purpose, offering full and fair compensation. This appeal was so feebly responded to, that I advised General Johnston to impress the necessary labor; but, owing to the difficulty in obtaining the laborers, the works were not completed; indeed, some of them little more than commenced, when Fort Donelson fell.

General Johnston did order the impressment of 1,500 negroes near Nashville; but not more than fifty were collected for some time, and never more than 200 in all.

It may be thought strange that, when the formidable naval preparations of the United States for operations on the Western rivers were well known to the Confederate authorities, very slight efforts were made to meet them with similar gunboats or with rams. While it is true that this application of public money was excluded by the language of the appropriation bill passed by Congress, yet the Government could have confidently relied on a deficiency bill covering any necessary expenses in this direction. The true reason was a lack of skilled labor, of docks, and of materials for construction, which could not be improvised in a beset and blockaded country.

Proposals were considered both for building gunboats and for converting the ordinary side-wheel high-pressure steamboats into gunboats. Though anxious to avail itself of this means of defense, the engineer department decided that it was not feasible. Steamboats in armor, like the ass dressed in the lion's hide, would incur more danger than they would do damage. There was not plate-iron with which to armor a single iron-clad, and even railroad-iron could not be spared. The weight of these steamboats made their draught so great that they could only be used in floods; and, unless a fleet could be built to match the enemy's, the vessels could only be used as floating batteries under the guns of the forts, where they would enjoy no advantage over the land-batteries. It was thought best to concentrate the resources on what seemed practicable. One iron-clad gunboat, however, the Eastport, was undertaken on the Tennessee River, but under so many difficulties that, after the surrender of Fort Henry, while still unfinished, it was destroyed lest it should fall into the hands of the enemy.

While these feebly-sustained attempts at defense were in progress, the mighty wealth and energy of the North were concentrating themselves for one supreme effort of invasion. All summer and fall the [418] ring of hammer and anvil told of the toil of thousands of skilled mechanics and sturdy laborers in the great work of preparation and armament. The best talents of the country were employed in the work of construction, organization, and equipment, and in training and fighting the iron-clad fleet that was to pierce the barriers of the Western rivers.2

As early as May 16, 1861, Commander John Rodgers had been sent West by the United States Government to provide an armed flotilla, to serve on the Western rivers. He bought steamboats, which were fitted, armored, and armed as gunboats. On the 30th of August Captain Andrew H. Foote, of the United States Navy, was ordered to take command of the naval operations upon the Western waters. When Foote took command there were three wooden vessels in commission, and nine iron-clad gunboats and thirty-eight mortar-boats in process of construction. This is not the place to relate the history of the United States Navy in the civil war ; but, as an illustration of the magnitude and celerity of its preparations, it may be stated, on the authority of Prof. Hoppin, Foote's biographer, that 600 vessels “were, in a space of time to be reckoned by months, made ready for efficient service.” The fleet of gunboats on the Mississippi and its tributaries, when finally completed, “consisted of twelve gunboats, seven of them ironclad, and able to resist all except the heaviest solid shot, and costing on an average $89,000 each. The boats were built very wide in proportion to their length, so that on the smooth river-waters they might have almost the steadiness of stationary land-batteries when discharging their heavy guns.” 3 This flotilla carried 143 guns; some sixty-four-pounders, some thirty-two pounders, and some seven-inch rifled guns carrying eighty-pound shells. Each boat had also a Dahlgren ten-inch shell-gun. Eight of the boats were powerful engines of war. They were of about “600 tons burden each, drawing six feet, carrying thirteen heavy guns, plated with iron two and a half inches thick, and to steam nine miles per hour. They were 175 feet long, 511 feet wide; the hulls of wood; their sides projected from the bottom of the boat to the water-line at an angle of about thirty-five degrees, and from the water-line the sides fell back at about the same angle to form a slanting casemate, the gun-deck being about a foot above water. This slanting casemate extended across the hull, near the bow and stern, forming a quadrilateral gun-deck. Three nine or ten inch guns were placed in the bow, four similar ones on each side, and two smaller ones astern. The casemate inclosed the wheel, which was placed in a recess on the stern of the vessel.” 4 To build this powerful squadron, all the resources [419] of the forests, mines, rolling-mills, founderies, machine-shops, and dockyards, of the Northwest were brought under full requisition.

As early as the beginning of September, the Federal gunboats were cruising on the Ohio and Mississippi, overawing and distressing the people along the banks. On the 12th of October the gunboat Conestoga, Lieutenant Phelps, ascended the Tennessee, and made a reconnaissance of Fort Henry. In November the fleet took part in the battle of Belmont, as has been related.

About the middle of January the United States forces developed an intention of moving on the Confederate lines by way of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and early in February carried out the design. This danger was one that General Johnston had foreseen, and had attempted to provide against. While this is abundantly evinced even in the allusions in his correspondence given herein to illustrate other aspects of the campaign, it will not be amiss to add some brief extracts bearing directly on this subject.

As early as October 27, 1861, he wrote the adjutant-general, pointing out the three lines in Kentucky on which “the enemy seem to design to operate:” first, against Zollicoffer; second, by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad; “and the other against Polk, and will perhaps endeavor to use the Tennessee in aid of the movement.”

For some time after this the rivers were too low to be used by the heavy armored flotilla; and the movements of the enemy seemed to be directed from South Carrollton against Clarksville as the objective point. But as the rainfall and the advance of winter made the roads difficult and the rivers navigable, the danger evidently became more imminent at the forts and less so at Clarksville; and military movements and preparations were, of course, modified accordingly.

On the 10th of December General Johnston, writing to General Polk, pointed out the lines by which the enemy might attempt to turn and carry Columbus: first, by a force from Cape Girardeau to New Madrid; second, by another moving on the west bank to a point below Columbus, to cut off supplies; and, third, by a movement on transports up the Tennessee to the ferry, and thence to Paris. “This movement they would probably cover by a demonstration toward Columbus.”

He urged General Polk, in this last contingency, to compel the column to give him battle on ground of his own choosing, or to impede and harass it, and engage it at a disadvantage. It will be seen, by his correspondence in January, that General Johnston used every endeavor to animate his subordinates and guard against an attack by the rivers.

The respective advocates of Grant, Sherman, Foote, Halleck, and Buell, have debated with considerable heat the question, “Who is entitled to the credit of the movements against Forts Henry and Donelson?” The movement seems so obvious that the writer always supposed [420] it was a long-settled purpose, deliberately carried out. Indeed, it was but part of a general plan early matured in the mind of a person who seems to have been lost sight of by the later generation of great men. It was well known at General Johnston's headquarters that General Winfield Scott told General William Preston, in August, 1861, that his plan was to bisect the Confederacy by opening and holding the Mississippi River, and then to divide its eastern half diagonally. It was now evident that the bisection by the Mississippi was effectually stopped by Columbus with its 140 guns. The diagonal movement must, therefore, be made first; but winter rendered a mountain campaign through East Tennessee clearly impracticable. It was, therefore, left to the Federal commanders to force the position at Bowling Green at great sacrifice, or to attempt to reduce the forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland. What more natural than that the Federal commanders, arrested in their advance elsewhere, and seeking a weaker point in the defensive line, should discover it on these interior rivers that marked the second line of advance laid down in General Scott's original scheme of invasion?

General Sherman gives a picturesque narrative of the origin of this movement in his “Memoirs” (vol. i., page 220). He says that, in a council between Generals Halleck, Cullom, and himself-

General Halleck had a map on his table, with a large pencil in his hand, and asked, “Where is the rebel line?” Cullom drew the pencil through Bowling Green, Forts Donelson and Henry, and Columbus, Kentucky. “That is their line,” said Halleck. “Now, where is the proper place to break it?” And either Cullom or I said, “Naturally, the centre.” Halleck drew a line perpendicular to the other near its middle, and it coincided nearly with the general course of the Tennessee River, and he said, “That is the true line of operations.” This occurred more than a month before General Grant began the movement; and, as he was subject to General Halleck's orders, I have always given Halleck the full credit for that movement, which was skillful, successful, and extremely rich in military results; indeed, it was the first real success on our side in the civil war.

General H. V. Boynton, in his volume entitled “Sherman's historical raid” (Chapter II.), denies the justice of this claim. He gives the credit to General Grant; but also shows, from the correspondence of Buell and Halleck, that, on the 3d of January, Buell proposed a combined attack on the centre and flanks of Johnston's lines. Buell estimated the Confederate force at double its actual strength, and concluded his note, “The attack upon the centre should be made by two gunboat expeditions, with, I should say, 20,000 men on the two rivers.”

Boynton also quotes a letter from Halleck to McClellan, January 20, 1862, which says:

The idea of moving down the Mississippi by steam is, in my opinion, impracticable, or at least premature. It is not the proper line of operations, at [421] least now. A much more feasible plan is to move up the Cumberland and Tennessee, making Nashville the present objective point. This would threaten Columbus, and force the abandonment of Bowling Green. . . . This line of the Cumberland and Tennessee is the great central line of the Western theatre of the war, with the Ohio below the mouth of Green River as the base, and two great navigable rivers extending far into the theatre of operations.

These views were eminently judicious; but Halleck, overrating General Johnston's force and means of resistance, adds, “But the plan should not be attempted without a large force — not less than 60,000 effective men.”

Halleck's plan was to move against the Confederate lines with deliberation and in force. But, as this plan was slowly maturing in the brain of the chief, the conflict was precipitated by the more eager and active temper of his subordinates at the mouth of the Ohio. These were three of the ablest and boldest officers in the service of the United States: Grant, C. F. Smith, and Foote. These enterprising officers, finding by due pressure the weak point of a strong line to be on their own immediate front, were not slow to seize the advantage.

Early in January, McClellan, the general-in-chief, directed Halleck, commanding the Western Department, to make a demonstration in Western Kentucky which should prevent reinforcements being sent to Bowling Green, toward which Buell was still reaching out. Grant, under orders from Halleck, sent McClernand, with 6,000 men, from Cairo to Milburn, to menace Columbus; and C. F. Smith, with two brigades, from Paducah toward Mayfield and Murray, threatening Fort Henry and the country from there to Columbus.

McClernand's expedition occupied the time from January 10th to January 20th, the infantry marching about seventy-five miles, the cavalry farther. Smith's movement took a little longer. These commands were moved with extraordinary precautions. Although there was no fighting, the soldiers suffered greatly from cold, and from the effects of a violent storm of rain and snow. They subsisted chiefly on plunder.5 General Polk believed that the retreat of these columns was due to a movement toward their rear by 1,000 cavalry and some Confederate infantry regiments sent out by him. But, as the demonstration had produced its effect, impressing the garrison at Columbus with the apprehension of an advance in force on that point, besides having resulted in valuable information of the defenses of the Tennessee River, it is more probable that the columns retired because they had accomplished their objects. Their movements were too cautious and insufficiently developed to allow General Polk to follow General Johnston's instructions of December 10th, and harass or attack them. These expeditions, undertaken [422] in the depth of winter, improved the morale of the Federal troops, and accustomed them to the hardships of a winter campaign.

In this demonstration, C. F. Smith moved his column in concert with the gunboats, returning by the left bank of the Tennessee to Paducah. Lieutenant Phelps, of the Conestoga, after a reconnaissance as far as the Tennessee State line, made on the 7th of January, reported “the water barely sufficient to float this boat, drawing five feet five inches.” He says, “Fort Henry I have examined, and the work is formidable.” Again, on the 16th, he “proceeded up the river, accompanied by the transport-steamer Wilson, having on board a force of 500-infantry and artillery — under Major Ellston, and anchored for the night near where the Tennessee line strikes the right bank of the river.” The next day they proceeded up the river, shelling the banks, and fired a few shells at Fort Henry, at two and a half miles distance, without effect.6

The transport then landed the troops a few miles below, at Aurora, whence they proceeded to Murray, and threatened Paris. This movement, in conjunction with the demonstration against Columbus, exactly verified the prediction of General Johnston in his letter of December 10th. The columns, moving by the west bank of the Mississippi, advanced later. But the blow struck against Zollicoffer at this very date had also been pointed out, October 27th, by General Johnston, as probable.

On their return from these January expeditions, Grant telegraphed Halleck, January 28th, from Cairo:

With permission, I will take Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there.

On the same day Foote telegraphed Halleck that Fort Henry could be carried with four iron-clad gunboats and troops to permanently occupy it, and for authority to move.

On January 29th Grant wrote Halleck fully, urging an immediate advance and attack on Fort Henry, and thence on Fort Donelson, Memphis, or Columbus.

Halleck gave the fullest authority, and instructions, also, for the execution of the plan. Badeau says:

On the 2d of February Grant started from Cairo with 17,000 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.

The only practicable approaches to the fort by land were double this distance. Grant himself took command on the east bank, with [423] the main column; while C. F. Smith, with two brigades — some 5,000 or 6,000 men-landed on the left bank, with orders to take the earthwork opposite Fort Henry, known as Fort Heiman. During the debarkation on the 4th three of the gunboats approached the forts and tried the range of their guns, throwing solid shot and nine-inch shells at a mile's distance, and burying their shot in the fort, but doing no other damage. The fort replied with a columbiad and a rifle-gun, without effect, but had to stop firing on account of an injury to a clamp of the carriage of the columbiad. On the 5th the landing was completed, and the noon of the next day was fixed as the time of attack. Some delay had occurred while coming up the river, in fishing up the torpedoes anchored a little below the surface. Lieutenant Phelps, who had experience with river-obstructions, took up eight.

General Johnston's letters had constantly urged upon his subordinates the prompt construction, and upon the bureaus the proper armament, of the forts. But the needs of the country for ordnance were so much greater than the ability to supply it, that Columbus alone was as yet in a state of defense. The fortifications had been delayed for lack of labor, and from the difficulty of employing efficiently troops unused and unwilling to build them. The call for slaves for this purpose had been responded to slowly and feebly, as has been shown.

The condition of the Confederates in that quarter may be understood from an extract from a letter of General Polk to General Johnston, dated January 11, 1862:

My available force is greatly reduced by sickness and absence . . . There are many regiments in my division who are without arms, and several poorly armed. The unarmed regiments are stationed at Forts Pillow, Donelson, and Henry; at Trenton, Union City, and Henderson Station. In my return you will find embraced the brigade of Brigadier-General Alcorn. His men are sixty-day troops from Mississippi, who are armed with every variety of weapon. They are sick with measles, raw, and undisciplined. This brigade cannot be expected to be very effective.

I also send you a weekly report of the troops at this post, and am sorry to remark that they have been much reduced by sickness. My effective force is now, as you will see, only about 12,000.

On the 18th of January Colonel Munford, aide to General Johnston, received the following letter, written the day before, by the Hon. James E. Saunders:

Nashville, January , 17, 1862.
dear sir: I am just starting for Fort Heiman, opposite Fort Henry, where I have been for some time. I was sent for ammunition and equipments (which I have obtained), as none of the officers could be spared.

We carried a large negro force down. They have literally done nothing, for want of the intrenchments being laid off ready to commence work as soon as [424] the shelters were made. When the engineer, Captain Hayden, was urged to his work, the answer was that General Tilghman had not passed on the plan. A courier was sent to General Tilghman on the 3d or 4th of January, advising him that laborers were then in transitu from North Alabama. The general came to Fort Henry on the 15th-and then it was, when I left, debated whether it was not too late to throw up works on the west side, as contemplated by Captain Dixon and every general who knows anything of the position of the fort. All did concur in the opinion that a failure to occupy the heights would be equivalent to abandoning Fort Henry.

The Alabama troops are raw and undisciplined. In my poor opinion, a disciplined regiment should be sent to Fort Heiman, and another or two to Rickman's furnace, half-way between Forts Donelson and Henry, six miles from each, where there is a village of houses to shelter the men.

Hurriedly, your friend, James E. Saunders.

P. S.-The Alabama volunteers will have finished their 100 cabins by the time I get back. Taking care of the men is of prime importance at this season of the year.

Colonel E. W. Munford.

General Johnston could not neglect this warning from a zealous and intelligent citizen, and telegraphed Tilghman immediately:

Occupy and intrench the heights opposite Fort Henry. Do not lose a moment. Work all night.

General Johnston certainly had some right to feel disappointed at Mr. Saunders's account of the condition of things at Fort Henry. Tilghman had written him, December 28th, before the arrival of the Alabama negroes, and while as yet he had only slaves borrowed in the neighborhood, giving an encouraging account of the progress of the fortifications at Fort Donelson. The arrival of the Alabama negroes gave him the means of doing at least as much at Fort Henry. At Clarksville some 300 negroes were employed, but the works there seem not to have been pushed vigorously. Slaves, reluctantly loaned, slothful in habits, and badly organized, could not be expected to prove very efficient laborers.

The demonstrations from Cairo and Paducah, and the simulated attack on Fort Henry, January 17th, made it clear that this position was liable to attack at any moment. General Johnston telegraphed, January 19th, to the Secretary of War, an accurate account of the enemy's movements and strength. He adds:

I desire the Government, if it be possible, to send a strong force to Nashville, and another to Memphis.

On January 27th General Johnston wrote Polk, Tilghman's immediate commander: [425]

Urge upon General Tilghman the necessity of immediate attention to the discipline and instruction of his command. A grave disaster has just befallen our arms at Mill Springs on our right, by neglect of this essential.

Next day he wrote Tilghman:

As you have now a large number of raw troops on hand, push forward their instruction as earnestly as possible.

He also authorized him to employ special instructors, and ordered him to recall all absent medical officers, and employ skillful surgeons, “as he would soon want all his medical skill at Forts Donelson and Henry.”

The information received throughout January, from both Polk and Tilghman, based on intelligence received through the lines, was positive as to a projected attack on Columbus, and indicated a strong probability of a simultaneous assault on Forts Donelson and Henry. This was the plan proposed by Buell to Halleck, which the latter did not feel strong enough to attempt. At the same time, Lovell recalled to New Orleans two regiments loaned for the defense of Columbus at a critical time. Hence Polk called for reinforcements, which were collected for him from scattered recruiting-stations, and small detached commands. The same relief was sent to Henry and Donelson, and men and artillery were also drawn from Columbus to their aid.

On the 20th of January General Johnston detached 8,000 men, Floyd's brigade and part of Buckner's, from his army at Bowling Green. The infantry, artillery, and baggage, were sent to Russellville by rail, the cavalry and artillery horses moving by land. General Johnston's army at Bowling Green had numbered, December 8th, 18,000 men, including 5,000 sick. December 24th, his effective force had increased to 17,000; December 30th, to 19,000; and January 8th, by reenforcements-Bowen's brigade from Polk, and Floyd's brigade sent from Western Virginia by the War Department-his army attained the greatest strength it ever had, 23,000 effective troops. On January 20th it had fallen off to 22,000 from camp-diseases, and these numbers were again reduced, by the detachment above named, to 14,000. With this force he faced Buell's army, estimated at 80,000 men, for three weeks longer.

The following letter from General Johnston to the adjutant-general, written January 22d, gives his own conception of the situation at that time. After recounting Zollicoffer's defeat, he says:

Movements on my left, threatening Forts Henry and Donelson, and Clarksville, have, I do not doubt, for their ultimate object, the occupation of Nashville. I have already detached 8,000 men to make Clarksville secure and drive the enemy back, with the aid of the force at Clarksville and Hopkinsville; but to make another large detachment toward my right would leave this place untenable. The road through this place is indispensable to the enemy to enable them to advance with their main body. They must have river or railroad [426] means of transportation to enable them to invade with a large force. While it is of vital importance to keep back the main body, it is palpable this great object cannot be accomplished if detachments can turn my position, and attack and occupy Nashville and the interior of the State, which it is the special object of this force to defend. A reserve at Nashville seems now absolutely necessary to enable me to maintain this position.

A successful movement of the enemy on my right would carry with it all the consequences which could be expected by the enemy here, if they could break through my defenses. If I had the force to prevent a flank movement, they would be compelled to attack this position, which we doubt not can make a successful defense.

If force cannot be spared from other army corps, the country must now be roused to make the greatest effort that it will be called upon to make during the war. No matter what the sacrifice may be, it must be made, and without loss of time. Our people do not comprehend the magnitude of the danger that threatens. Let it be impressed upon them.

The enemy will probably undertake no active operations in Missouri,7 and may be content to hold our force fast in their position on the Potomac for the remainder of the winter; but, to suppose, with the facilities of movement by water which the well-filled rivers of the Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee, give for active operations, that they will suspend them in Tennessee and Kentucky during the winter months, is a delusion. All the resources of the Confederacy are now needed for the defense of Tennessee.

With great respect, etc.,

A. S. Johnston.

At the time of the attack upon Fort Henry, it had been well fortified, though not strongly enough for the force brought against it. Hoppin, in his “Life of Foote,” following Lossing, says:

It lay in a bend of the stream, and was at times almost surrounded by water; its guns commanded a reach of the river below, toward “Panther Island,” for about two miles. It was a strong earthwork, constructed with much scientific skill, covering ten acres, with five bastions from four to six feet high, the embrasures knitted firmly together with sand-bags.

If the work was not strong, the responsibility rested chiefly with the officer in charge, General Tilghman, who had been in immediate command for two months and a half.

Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. Gilmer was ordered by General Johnston, January 29th, to proceed to Fort Henry to inspect the works and direct what was necessary to be done. He met General Tilghman there on the 31st. His report upon the defenses of Forts Henry and Donelson, made March 17, 1862, presents an intelligent and dispassionate account of these transactions. He says:

By the exertions of the commanding general, aided by Lieutenant Joseph Dixon, his engineer-officer, the main fort (a strong field-work of five-bastion [427] front) had been put in a good condition for defense, and seventeen guns mounted on substantial platforms; twelve of which were so placed as to bear well on the river. These twelve guns were of the following description: one ten-inch columbiad, one rifled-gun of twenty-four-pounder calibre (weight of ball sixty-two pounds), two forty-two-pounders, and eight thirty-two-pounders, all arranged to fire through embrasures, formed by raising the parapet between the guns with sand-bags carefully laid.

In addition to placing the main work in good defensive order, I found that extensive lines of infantry cover had been thrown up by the troops forming the garrison, with a view to hold commanding ground, that would be dangerous to the fort if possessed by the enemy. These lines and the main work were on the right bank of the river, and arranged with good defensive relations, making the place capable of offering a strong resistance against a land-attack coming from the eastward.

On the left bank of the river there was a number of hills within cannonrange, that commanded the river-batteries on the right bank. The necessity of occupying these hills was apparent to me at the time I inspected Fort Henry, early in November last; and on the 21st of that month Lieutenant Dixon, the local engineer, was ordered from Fort Donelson to Fort Henry to make the necessary surveys, and construct the additional works ....

The surveys were made by the engineer, and plans decided upon without delay; but, by some unforeseen cause, the negroes were not sent until after the 1st of January last. Much valuable time was thus lost, but, under your urgent orders when informed of the delay, General Tilghman and his engineers pressed these defenses forward so rapidly night and day, that, when I reached the fort (January 31st), they were far advanced, requiring only a few days' additional labor to put them in a state of defense. But no guns had been received that could be put in these works, except a few field-pieces; and, notwithstanding every effort had been made to procure them from Richmond, Memphis, and other points, it was apprehended they would not arrive in time to anticipate the attack of the enemy, which, from the full information obtained by General Tilghman, was threatened at an early day either at Fort Henry or Fort Donelson, or possibly on both at the same time. The lines of infantry-cover, however, which had been thrown up, were capable of making a strong resistance, even without the desired artillery, should the attack be made on that (the left) bank of the river. A defect was found in the carriage of the ten-inch columbiad, which was partially remedied. With this exception, the guns were in fair working order.

After the batteries of the main work were mounted General Tilghman found much difficulty in getting competent artillerists to man them, and he was not supplied with a sufficient number of artillery-officers.

It is proper to state that an Alabama regiment of 300 artillerists was ordered from Tuscumbia, Alabama, January 18th, but, for some reason, probably a deficiency in organization and equipment, did not go to Fort Henry.

Impressed with the great deficiency in the preparations for defending the passage of the river, the commanding officer expressed to me his fears that it [428] might cause disaster if the place were vigorously attacked by the enemy's gunboats. This he thought his greatest danger. In conjunction with General Tilghman, I made every effort during the three days I remained at Fort Henry to get all the works and batteries in as good condition for defense as the means at hand would permit. The 3d of February we went over to Fort Donelson to do the same.

On the 4th General Tilghman was startled by heavy firing at Fort Henry, at 10-A. M., and by a message from Colonel Heiman, received at 3z P. M., that the enemy were landing. He and Gilmer returned to Fort Henry that night, arriving there at midnight. The 5th of February and the morning of the 6th were spent in preparations and dispositions for defense, and in the instruction of the various commands in the duties assigned them. Tilghman seemed, up to this time, to have feared the effects of the overflow on the mud walls of his fort more than the gunboats, and the gunboats more than Grant's army.

General Tilghman says in his report in one place that his force was 2,734 effective troops at Fort Henry, in another that it was 2,610; and General Gilmer puts it at about 3,200. A careful examination of the returns satisfies the writer that the latter statement is nearly correct, and that Tilghman had about 3,400 men present at Fort Henry, and 2,300 or 2,400 more at Fort Donelson. On January 31st he had 3,033 effectives at Henry, and 1,956 at Donelson. The Fiftieth Tennessee, numbering 386, was transferred from Henry to Donelson, leaving 2,647 at the former and 2,342 at the latter. Subsequently, there arrived at Fort Henry reinforcements from General Polk, the Forty-eighth and Fifty-first Tennessee, and the Fifteenth Arkansas, which added some 700 or 800 effectives to his numbers, and gave him at the two forts about 5,750 men.

In his report of the bombardment of Fort Henry General Tilghman says:

Had I been reinforced, so as to have justified my meeting the enemy at the advanced works, I might have made good the land-defense on the east bank.

In his supplemental report he says:

The failure of adequate support, doubtless from sufficient cause, cast me on my own resources.

All the telegrams from Colonel Heiman, commanding at Fort Henry, and from General Tilghman, during the 4th and 5th of February, breathe a confident spirit. In transmitting Colonel Heiman's dispatch, General Tilghman telegraphed, 4 P. M., February 4th, to Colonel Mackall:

Better send two regiments to Danville, subject to my orders. [429]

An hour later he telegraphed:

The landing of the enemy is between rivers, perhaps from both rivers. Give me all the help you can, light battery included. Off for Henry.

On the 5th, at 8 A. M., General Tilghman telegraphed from Fort Henry:

My force in good spirits, but badly armed. I will hold my position to the last, but should be reinforced amply, at once, if possible.

At midnight, before his surrender, General Tilghman again telegraphed:

Our scouts engaged advanced posts of the enemy yesterday afternoon. Our cavalry retired. I reinforced, and enemy retired. We lost one man. Enemy fortifying three miles below. They were reinforced yesterday. I hope not to lose the chance proposed to the general yesterday. I must have reinforcements and with well-drilled troops. The green men with me are well-nigh worthless. More of them would be in my way. The high water threatens us seriously. Enemy evidently intend to prevent us landing troops or supplies at fort, and they can do it. If you can reinforce strongly and quickly, we have a glorious chance to overwhelm the enemy. Move by Clarksville to Donelson, and across to Danville,8 where transports will be ready. Enemy said to be intrenching below. My plans are to concentrate closely in and under Henry.

This dispatch was received on February 6th by General Johnston. A few hours later Fort Henry surrendered.

General Tilghman's requests were not neglected; indeed, they were anticipated, but too late to save Fort Henry. There was a delay of three or four hours in transmitting dispatches by courier from Fort Henry to Donelson, and a further delay thence to the nearest telegraph-office. On the 5th General Johnston ordered a regiment, just armed, from Nashville to Donelson, and on the 6th Colonel Smith's regiment from Tuscumbia, Alabama. He also ordered Floyd, on the 6th, to proceed with his command from Russellville to Clarksville, without a moment's delay, and at the same time sent all the rolling-stock he could command to take the troops. Before any concentration could possibly have been made, Tilghman had surrendered.

On leaving Fort Donelson Tilghman ordered Colonel Head to hold his own and Sugg's regiment, together about 750 strong, ready to move at a moment's notice, with two pieces of artillery; and on the morning of the 5th he ordered him, if no advance had been made against Fort Donelson, to take position at the Furnace, half-way on the road to Fort Henry. This gave him more than 4,000 men confronting Grant with his column of 12,000 men, on the east bank of the Tennessee; though, of course, it was in Grant's power to draw reinforcements from [430] Smith, who was on the west bank. The Confederate force was raw, badly armed, and imperfectly disciplined ; but it is not improbable that, if well handled, they could have held the assailants at bay on the narrow approaches of that overflowed country, and with the advantage of breastworks to retire to. Even when not meeting a show of resistance, Grant advanced slowly, cautiously, and painfully, making no attempt even to carry the intrenchments until after the surrender. Indeed, he could not have done so without exposing himself to a fire from the five heavy guns of the fort mounted landward.

General Tilghman complained that the small force at his command did not enable him to avail himself of his line of defenses. Nevertheless, he drew in all his troops from the west bank, and placed his whole command in the rifle-pits. He says, “Minute instructions were given, not only to brigades, but to regiments and companies, as to the exact ground each was to occupy.” It is evident that, on the 5th, Tilghman meant to dispute Grant's advance. But on the 6th, just before the attack by the gunboats, he changed his purpose, abandoned all hope of a successful defense, and made arrangements for the escape of his main body to Fort Donelson, while the guns of Fort Henry should return the fire of the gunboats.

There had been some inconsiderable skirmishing on the 5th, and on the morning of the 6th it was plain that a combined attack was impending. Tilghman ordered Colonel Heiman to withdraw the command to Fort Donelson, while he himself would obtain the necessary delay for the movement by standing a bombardment in Fort Henry. For this purpose, he retained his heavy artillery company-seventy-five men — to work the guns; a number quite unequal to the strain and labor of the defense, as was demonstrated. It was probably impossible to repair the oversight of not having more men who had been trained at the guns, but the presence of mere laborers would have helped the tired and discouraged artillerists.

Whatever may have been Tilghman's want of earnestness in preparation during the two months and a half he held command at Fort Henry, and of judgment and steadiness of purpose in the final hours before the attack, he perfectly vindicated his personal gallantry and self-devotion in the hour of imminent peril.

Noon was fixed as the time of attack; but Grant, impeded by the overflow, and unwilling to expose his men to the heavy guns of the fort, held back his troops in the wet woods until the result of the gunboat attack should develop some point of weakness in the defense. In the mean time the Confederate troops were in retreat.

On February 6th, at 11 A. M., the fleet set forward in two divisions. The first, under Captain Foote, consisted of the flagship Cincinnati, the Carondelet, and the St. Louis, each carrying thirteen guns, [431] and the Essex of nine guns, all iron-plated gunboats. The second, under Lieutenant Phelps, three unarmored gunboats, each with nine guns, followed at the distance of about half a mile. At 11.45 A. M. the main division opened fire, at 1,700 yards, with their bow-guns, and kept firing as they slowly steamed up, until within 600 yards. Here they took position abreast, firing with all their might, to dismount the guns of the fort. The unarmored boats, at safer distance, kept up a bombardment of shells that fell within the works. The firing, which had increased in rapidity and precision on both sides, now became terrible indeed. The armored boats, each carrying three ten-inch guns in its bow, sent their formidable missiles, at short range, five or six a minute, some 400 in all, into the fort. This heavy cannonading, besides the bursting of shells, taxed the utmost energy of officers and men inside the fort. They were not slow to respond, and as many as fifty-nine of their shot were counted by the Federal officers as striking the gunboats. Where these hit the iron armor they bounded harmless from the surface. One thirty-two-pound shot, entering at the bow of the flagship, ranged its whole length, killing one seaman. In the course of the action, nine more seamen were wounded on this vessel. One man was killed on the Essex by a cannon-ball; and a shot through the boiler caused an explosion that scalded Commander Porter, twenty-eight seamen, and nineteen soldiers, many of whom died. The Essex was thus forced to retire.

Five minutes after the fight began in earnest, that is, at twenty-five minutes before one o'clock, the twenty-four-pounder rifle-gun, one of the most prized in the fort, burst, disabling every man at the piece. Then a shell, entering the embrasure, exploded at the muzzle of one of the thirty-two-pounders, ruining the gun, and killing or wounding all the men at the piece. About the same moment, a premature discharge occurred at one of the forty-two-pounder guns, killing three men and seriously injuring others. But now occurred a still greater loss. A priming-wire was jammed and broken in the vent of the ten-inch columbiad, the only gun able to match the artillery of the assailants. An heroic blacksmith labored for a long time, with great coolness, to remove it, under the full fire of the enemy,. but in vain.

The men had fought with courage and enthusiasm; but they now became both weary and discouraged. They lost confidence in their guns, and some of them ceased to work the thirty-two-pounders, thinking them useless against the invulnerable mail of the gunboats. Seeing this, Tilghman did what was possible to encourage the men, serving himself at a thirty-two-pounder some fifteen minutes. Only four guns were now replying to the rapid fire of the enemy, which was telling with powerful effect. The men were exhausted, they lost all hope, and there were none to replace them. Tilghman's spirit rose with [432] the danger. To a suggestion to surrender, he answered, “I shall not give up the works.” He sent out to try to get volunteers from his retreating forces, to replace his exhausted artillerists at the deserted guns. But it was too late. The retiring troops already felt the demoralization of a retreat.

Tilghman struggled on, but there is a limit to human endurance. Though but four of his guns were disabled, six stood idle for want of artillerists, and but two guns were replying to the enemy. At five minutes before two o'clock, after an engagement of two hours and ten minutes, he ceased firing and lowered his flag. He had certainly done all that was necessary to vindicate his personal prowess and honor, and to cover the retreat of his command; but the fort was gone, the Tennessee River was open, and a base by short lines was established against Fort Donelson.

Tilghman's casualties were five killed and sixteen wounded; those of the enemy were sixty-three of all kinds. Twelve officers and sixty-six non-commissioned officers and privates were surrendered with the fort. Captain Foote treated his prisoners with courtesy, though the contrary has sometimes been alleged. In a letter written to General Pillow, February 10th, Colonel Gilmer expressed the opinion that the comparatively small damage done to the gunboats “was due in great measure to the want of skill in the men who served the guns, and not to the invulnerability of the boats themselves.”

When the surrender was determined on, Colonel Gilmer and a few others, unwilling to be included in it, escaped, and made their way an foot to Fort Donelson. The troops retreating to Fort Donelson lost twenty or thirty stragglers, captured by the Federal cavalry, and left some guns on the road, on account of the mud. Their precipitate retreat demoralized these brave but undisciplined soldiers, and prepared them to accept a greater disaster. On the other hand, the unexpected rapidity and brilliancy of their naval success at Fort Henry filled the Northern troops with exultation, and inspired them with an eager desire to surpass it with still brighter achievements. This signal victory gave great prestige to the gunboats, and added to their assault at Fort Donelson, under entirely different circumstances, a moral weight far beyond their real power.

Foote, with his usual vigor, ordered Phelps to push up the Tennessee River with his three gunboats, while he himself returned to Paducah with his iron-armored gunboats to make ready for the attack on Fort Donelson. The Tennessee River was open to the keels of Phelps's flotilla, and he ascended that stream, destroying whatever could be useful to the Confederate defense, and spreading as much terror among the simple inhabitants as any marauding viking a thousand years before along the coast of France. General Johnston telegraphed to the authorities [433] of the principal towns on the Tennessee River, on the day of the fall of Fort Henry, warning them to send all boats up the river, and to take other proper precautions; but the disaster seemed to paralyze the faculties and energies of the most patriotic, so that the gunboats swept the Tennessee River with impunity.

1 The italics are his.

2 Most of the details in regard to these naval operations are from Hoppin's “Life of Admiral Foote.”

3 Ibid., p. 157.

4 Boynton's “History of the Navy during the rebellion.”

5 Badeau's “Life of Grant,” vol. i., p. 25; McClellan's report, “Rebellion record,” vol. IV., p. 49.

6 Hoppin's “Life of Foote,” pp. 191, 192, and Confederate archives.

7 General Johnston had no advices from the West, indicating an active campaign.

8 Tennessee River railroad-crossing, twenty miles above Henry.

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