previous next

The fall of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

Henry W. Elson

Iron-clad on a river.


The first clash west of the Mississippi: Camp Jackson, St. Louis, Missouri, May, 1861 Near here the citizens of St. Louis saw the first blood spilled in Missouri at the outbreak of the War. By order of Governor Jackson, a Camp had been formed in the western suburbs of the city for drilling the militia. It was named in honor of the Governor, and was in command of General D. M. Frost. Captain Nathaniel Lyon was in command of the United States troops at the Arsenal in St. Louis. Lyon, on May 10th, marched nearly five thousand strong, toward Camp Jackson, surrounded it, planted batteries on all the heights over-looking it, and set guards with fixed bayonets and muskets at half cock. Meanwhile the inhabitants of St. Louis had gathered in great crowds in the vicinity, hurrying thither in carriages, baggage-wagons, on horses and afoot. Many of the men had seized their rifles and shotguns and had come too late to the assistance of the State troops. Greatly outnumbered by Lyon, General Frost surrendered his command, 689 in all. The prisoners, surrounded by a line of United States soldiers, at half-past 5 in the afternoon were marched out of camp, on the road leading to St. Louis, and halted. After a short wait the ominous silence was suddenly broken by shots from the head of the column. Some of Lyon's soldiers had been pressed and struck by the crowd, and had discharged their pieces. No one was injured. Tranquillity was apparently restored when volley after volley broke out from the rear ranks, and men, women, and children were seen running frantically from the scene. It was said that Lyon's troops were attacked with stones and that two shots were fired at them before they replied. Twenty-eight citizens — chiefly bystanders including women and children — were killed. As Lyon, with his prisoners, marched through the city to the Arsenal, excitement ran high in St. Louis. A clash occurred next day between troops and citizens and it was many weeks before the uproar over Lyon's seizure quieted down. Meanwhile Camp Jackson became a drill-ground for Federal troops, as we see it in the picture.

[173] [174]

Where Western soldiers were trained by Grant: Camp Butler, near Springfield, Illinois, in 1862 Here, under Ulysses S. Grant, many a Western raw recruit was whipped into shape for active service. Grant, who served under Taylor and Scott, through the Mexican War, had resigned his commission of captain in 1854 and settled in St. Louis. He was among the first to offer his services to his country in 1861. He went to Springfield, Illinois, and Governor Yates gave him a desk in the Adjutant General's office. He soon impressed the Governor with his efficiency and was made drill officer at Camp Butler. Many Illinois regiments, infantry, artillery, and especially cavalry, were organized and trained at Camp Butler under the watchful eye of Grant. By May, 1861, his usefulness had become so apparent that he was made mustering officer and aide, with the complimentary rank of colonel. In June he was appointed Colonel of the Seventh District Regiment, then at Camp Yates on the State Fair Grounds at the western edge of Springfield. On June 28th this regiment became the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers, and on July 3d started for northern Missouri. This photograph was taken in 1862, after Grant had left Camp Butler and was winning laurels for himself as Commander of the District and Army of West Tennessee.

[175] [176]

Mounting artillery in Fort Darling at Camp defiance

Reaching out for the river These busy scenes were enacted in the late spring of 1861, by five regiments under Brig.-General Swift, who had been ordered by Secretary of War Cameron to occupy Cairo at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and save it from the fate of Sumter, which it was anticipated the Confederate gunboats coming up the Mississippi might visit upon it, and thus gain access to the Ohio. It was tedious work for the men of the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Illinois Volunteers, who, began the building of barracks, cleared parade grounds, mounted guns, and threw up fortifications against the attack which never came. In the upper pictures the men are at work rushing to completion the unfinished Fort Darling, which was situated to the left of the drill grounds seen in the lower panorama. In the latter we see one of the innumerable drills with which the troops were kept occupied and tuned up for the active service before them. Across the Mississippi was the battery at Bird's Point, on the Missouri shore. This and Fort Darling were occupied by the First and Second Illinois Light Artillery, but their labors were chiefly confined to the prevention of contraband traffic on the river. The troops at Cairo did not see any campaigning till Grant led them to Paducah, Ky., September 5-6, 1861.


Uncompleted earthworks, Camp defiance

Drill grounds of the defenders of Cairo, Ill.


By this brilliant and important victory Grant's fame sprang suddenly into full and universal recognition. President Lincoln nominated him major-general of volunteers, and the Senate at once confirmed the appointment. The whole military service felt the inspiriting event.--Nicolay and Hay, in Life of Lincoln.

The grasp of a great section of western Kentucky and Tennessee by the Northern armies, the capture of a stronghold that was thought impregnable, the forced surrender of a great army, and the bringing into public notice of a new commander who was destined to outshine all his fellows — these were the achievements of the short, vigorous campaign of Fort Donelson.

There were two great battle-grounds of the Civil War, nearly a thousand miles apart — Virginia and the valley of the great river that divides the continent — and the two definite objects of the Northern armies during the first half of the war period were to capture Richmond and to open the Mississippi. All other movements and engagements were subordinate to the dramas of these two great theaters, incidental and contributory. The South, on the other hand, except for the early threatening of Washington, the Gettysburg campaign, the raid of Morgan in Ohio, and the expeditions of Bragg and Hood into Kentucky and Tennessee, was on the defensive from the beginning of the war to the end.

In the East after the initial engagement at Bull Run “all was quiet along the Potomac” for some months. McClellan had loomed large as the rising hero of the war; but McClellan did not move with the celerity that was expected of him; the North became impatient and demanded that [179]

Cairo citizens who may have recalled this day With his hands thrust in his pockets stands General Grant, next to General McClernand, who is directly in front of the pillar of the Cairo post-office. The future military leader had yet his great name to make, for the photograph of this gathering was taken in September, 1861, and when, later, the whole world was ringing with his praises the citizens who chanced to be in the group must have recalled that day with pride. Young Al Sloo, the postmaster's son, leans against the doorway on Grant's right, and next to him is Bob Jennings; then comes Dr. Taggart, then Thomas, the mason, and Jaques, the butcher. On the extreme right, facing the camera, is young Bill Thomas. Up in the windows sit George Olmstead and Will Smith. In his shirt sleeves, on General McClernand's left, is C. C. Davidson. In the group about him are Benjamin Munn, Fred Theobold, John Maxey, and Phil. Howard. Perhaps these men told their children of the morning that Grant left his headquarters at the St. Charles Hotel and met them here. Who knows?

[180] something be done. But while the public was still waiting there were two occurrences in the West that riveted the attention of the nation, sending a thrill of gladness through the North and a wave of depression over the Southland. These were the fall of Fort Henry and of Fort Donelson.

After Missouri had been saved to the Union in spite of the disaster at Wilson's Creek in August, 1861, a Union army slowly gathered in southern Illinois. Its purpose was to dispute with the Confederates their hold on Kentucky, which had not seceded, and to regain control of the Mississippi. To secure the latter end a flank movement was decided upon — to open the mighty river by moving up the Cumberland and Tennessee--the greatest flanking movement in the history of warfare. It began at Fort Henry and ended at Vicksburg, covered a year and five months, and cost tens of thousands of human lives and millions of dollars' worth of property — but it was successful.

Eastern Kentucky, in the early days of 1862, was also in considerable ferment. Colonel James A. Garfield had driven the Confederate commander, General Humphrey Marshall, and a superior force into the Cumberland Mountains, after a series of slight encounters, terminating at Paintsville on the Big Sandy River, on January 10th. But one later event gave great encouragement to the North. It was the first substantial victory for the Union arms. General Zollicoffer held the extreme Confederate right at Cumberland Gap and he now joined General George B. Crittenden near Mill Springs in Central Kentucky. General Buell, in charge of the Army of the Ohio, had placed General George H. Thomas at Lebanon, and the latter promptly moved against this threatening Confederate force. A sharp engagement took place at Logan's Cross Roads near Mill Springs on January 19th. The Confederate army was utterly routed and Zollicoffer was killed. The Union loss was about two hundred and sixty, and the Confederate over twice that number. It was not a great [181]

Captain Clark B. Lagow

Dr. James Simons.

Brigadier-General U. S. Grant winning his spurs at Cairo. Few will recognize in this early and unusual photograph the man who at Appomattox, wore plain fatigue dress in striking contrast with the fully uniformed Lee. Here Grant appears in his full-dress Brigadier-General's uniform as he came to Cairo to assume command of a military district including southern Illinois, September 4, 1861. Grasping at once the problems of his new post he began the work of reorganization, assisted by a well-chosen staff. Without waiting for permission from Fremont, his immediate superior, Commander of the Department of the West, Grant pushed forward a force and occupied Paducah, Kentucky, before the Confederates, approaching with the same purpose, could arrive. Grant was impatient to drive back the Confederate lines in Kentucky and Tennessee and began early to importune Washington to be allowed to carry out maneuvers. His keen judgment convinced him that these must quickly be made in order to secure the advantage in this outlying arena of the war. Captain Rawlins was made Assistant Adjutant-General by Grant, and lifted from his shoulders much of the routine of the post. Captain Lagow and Captain Hillyer were two of the General's aides-de-camp. Dr. James Simons was Medical Director of the District.

Captain William S. Hillyer

Captain John A. Rawlins.

[182] battle, but its effect on the North was most stimulating, and the people first learned to appreciate the abilities of their great general, George H. Thomas.

It was now February, 1862. General U. S. Grant was in command of the Union forces in western Kentucky and Tennessee. The opposing commander was Albert Sidney Johnston, then reputed the ablest general of the South. At Bowling Green, Kentucky, he had thirty thousand men. Believing, perhaps, that he could not hold Kentucky, he determined to save Tennessee for the South and took his stand at Nashville.

On February 2d, 1862, General Grant left Cairo with his army of seventeen thousand men and on transports moved up the Ohio and the Tennessee to attack Fort Henry. Accompanying him was Flag-Officer Foote with his fleet of seven gunboats, four of them ironclads.

Fort Henry was garrisoned by an army of about three thousand men under the command of General Lloyd Tilghman, a brave officer who was destined to give his life for the Confederate cause, the following year, near Vicksburg. It covered about three acres and mounted seventeen heavy guns. Grant's plan of attack was to land his army four miles below the fort, to move across the country and seize the road leading to Fort Donelson, while Foote should move up the river with his fleet and turn his guns on the Confederate batteries.

On February 6th, Foote formed his vessels into two lines, the ironclads — the Cincinnati, the Carondelet, the Essex, and the St. Louis — forming a front rank. Slowly and cautiously he approached the fort, firing as he went, the guns on the parapet answering those of the fleet. Several of the Confederate guns were disabled. The fleet was yet unhurt when the first hour had passed. Then a 24-pound shot struck the Essex, crashed through her side and penetrated her boiler, instantly killing both her pilots and flooding the vessel from stem to stern with scalding steam. The Essex, wholly disabled, drifted [183]

The Unlucky Essex after Fort Henry

Commander W. D. Porter The thousand-ton ironclad Essex received the severest punishment at Fort Henry. Fighting blood surged in the veins of Commander W. D. Porter, son of Admiral David Porter and brother of Admiral David D. Porter. The gunboat which he led into action at Fort Henry was named after the famous Essex which his father commanded in the War of 1812. Fifteen of the shots from Fort Henry struck and told upon the Essex, the last one penetrating her armor and piercing her middle boiler. Commander Porter, standing among his men directing the fight, was terrible scalded by the escaping steam, as were twenty-seven others. Wrongly suspected of disloyalty at the outbreak of the war, Commander Porter's conduct during the struggle gave the lie to such calumny. He recovered after Fort Henry, and was made Commodore in July, 1862. Again in command of the Essex he attempted unsuccessfully to destroy the dread Confederate ram Arkansas at Vicksburg on July 22d. Porter and the Essex then joined Farragut's fleet. His shells helped the Union forces to repulse the Confederates at Baton Rouge, August 5th, and he witnessed the blowing up of the Arkansas the following day. He died May 1, 1864.

The Essex two years later

[184] down stream, while her companion ships continued their advance and increased their fire.

Presently, a sound exceeding the roar of cannon was heard above the tumult. A great gun in the Fort had exploded, killing or disabling every man who served it. A great 10-inch columbiad was also destroyed. Tilghman, seeing that he had no hope of holding the fort, decided to save his army by sending it to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River. This he did, reserving fewer than a hundred men to work the guns. He then raised the white flag and surrendered the seventy-eight that remained. Grant had failed to reach the road to Fort Donelson until the Confederates had escaped. The Southerners hastened across the country and added their numbers to the defenders of Donelson-and by so doing they deferred surrender for ten days.

Fort Donelson was a fortified enclosure of a hundred acres that crowned a plateau on the Cumberland River. It was just south of the boundary between Kentucky and Tennessee and close by the little village of Dover, consisting of a court-house, a two-story tavern, and a few houses scattered about. Beneath the bluff and on the river bank were two powerful batteries commanding the approach to the river. Outside the Fort and stretching far along the ridges that enclosed it were rifle-pits, lines of logs covered with yellow clay. Farther beyond, the hillsides were covered with felled trees whose interlacing branches were supposed to render the approach of the foe impossible under fire.

At this moment Donelson was held by eighteen thousand men under the command of General John B. Floyd, late Secretary of War in the cabinet of Buchanan. Next to him were Gideon J. Pillow and Simon B. Buckner. The Union army under Grant was divided into three parts under the respective commands of Charles F. Smith, a veteran of the regular army; John A. McClernand, an Illinois lawyer and member of Congress, and Lew Wallace, the future author of “Ben Hur.” [185]

The gunboat that fired the first shot at Fort Henry

Flag-officer Foote Here, riding at anchor, lies the flagship of Foote, which opened the attack on Fort Henry in the first movement to break the backbone of the Confederacy, and won a victory before the arrival of the army. This gunboat, the Cincinnati, was one of the seven flat-bottom ironclads built by Captain Eads at Carondelet, Missouri, and Mound City, Illinois, during the latter half of 1861. When Grant finally obtained permission from General Halleck to advance the attack upon Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, near the border of Kentucky, Flag Officer Foote started up the river, February 2, 1862, convoying the transports, loaded with the advance detachment of Grant's seventeen thousand troops. Arriving before Fort Henry on February 6th, the intrepid naval commander at once began the bombardment with a well-aimed shot from the Cincinnati. The eleven heavy guns of the Fort responded in chorus, and an iron rain began to fall with telling effect upon the Cincinnati, the Essex, the Carondelet, and the St. Louis, which were steaming forward half a mile in advance of the rear division of the squadron. At a range of 1,700 yards the Cincinnati opened the engagement. After a little over an hour of heavy firing the colors on Fort Henry were lowered and General Tilghman surrendered it to Flag-Officer Foote. When General Grant arrived an hour later, Foote turned over the Fort to him and returned to Cairo with his disabled gunboats.


With waving banners the divisions of Smith and McClernand marched across country on February 12th, arriving at noon and encircling the doomed Fort ere nightfall. Smith was stationed on the left and McClernand on the extreme right, near the village of Dover. This left an open space in the center, to be filled by Lew Wallace, who arrived with his division the next day. On the 13th there was a continuous bombardment from morning till night, punctuated by the sharp crack of the sharpshooter's rifle.

The chief action of the day that involved the infantry was an attempt to capture a battery on a hill, near the center of the Confederate line of battle, known as Maney's Battery, commanded by Captain Maney, of Tennessee. This battery had annoyed McClernand greatly, and he delegated his third brigade to capture it. The charge was led by Colonel Morrison of Illinois, and a braver one never was made through-out the whole period of the war. The men who made it were chiefly youths from the farms and workshops of Illinois. With no apparent thought of danger they sallied forth, determined at all hazards to capture the battery on the hill, which stood out in relief against the sky. As they ran up the hill, firing as they went, their numbers were rapidly thinned by the terrific cross-fire from this battery and two others on adjoining hills. Still the survivors pushed on and their deadly fire thinned the ranks of the men at the battery. At length when they came within forty yards of the goal a long line of Confederate musketry beside the battery suddenly burst into flame and a storm of bullets cut down the brave boys of Illinois, with fearful slaughter. Even then they stood for fifteen minutes, returning volley for volley, before retreating. Reaching the foot of the hill, they rallied under the Stars and Stripes, and returned to the assault. Even a third time they charged, but the dry leaves on the ground now caught fire, the smoke stifled them, and they had to retreat. As they returned down the hill, Lew Wallace tells us, “their ears and souls were [187]

Two gallant gun-boats.

With the shots from the Confederate batteries ringing and bounding off her iron plates, this gallant gunboat that Foote had chosen for his flagship, entered the zone of fire at Fort Donelson. In the confined space of her smoke-filled gun-deck, the river sailors were loading and firing the heavy broadsides as fast as the great guns could be run out and aimed at the frowning line of entrenchments on the river bank. From them the concentrated hail of iron was poured upon her and the marksman-ship was good. Fifty-nine times was this brave vessel struck. But her armored sides withstood the heavy shocks although the plating, dented and bent, bore record of each impact. Nearer and nearer grew the forts as up the narrow channel the flag-ship led the way, the Louisville, the Carondelet, and the Pittsburgh belching their fire at the wooded heights, as though endeavoring to attract the attention of the Confederate gunners to themselves and save the flag-ship from receiving more than her share. Up in the pilot-house the brave man who knew the channel stood at the wheel, his eyes firmly fixed ahead; and on the “texas,” as the upper deck was called, within speaking distance of him, stood Foote himself. A great shot, aimed accurately as a minie ball, struck the frail pilot-house. It was as if the vessel's heart was pierced. The wheel was swept away from the pilot's hand and the brave river guide was hurled into the corner, mangled, bleeding and soon to die. Flag Officer Foote did not escape. He fell badly wounded in the leg by a fragment of the shell — a wound from which he never fully recovered. Helpless now, the current swept the St. Louis' bow around, and past her consorts that were still fighting, she drifted down the stream and out of action; later, in convoy of the Louisville, she returned to Cairo, leaving the Carondelet and Pittsburgh to escort the transports. Meanwhile on shore, Grant was earning his first laurels as a soldier in a big battle. The disabling of the gunboats caused the Confederates to make the fatal attack that resulted so disastrously for them. Assailing Grant's right wing that held a strong position, on the 15th of February, 19,000 men were hurled against a force 8,000 greater in number. But the repulse was complete. Shattered they retreated to their works, and in the morning of the 16th, the Confederate general, Buckner, surrendered. About 14,000 prisoners were taken. The Federal loss was nearly 3,000, and that of the Southern cause about 1,000 less. For the capture of Fort Donelson Grant was made major-general. The first step to the conquest of the Mississippi had been achieved. In October, 1862, the river fleet was transferred from the Army to the Navy Department, and as there was another vessel in the service, bearing the same name the St. Louis was renamed the Baron de Kalb. At Fort Henry, she went into action lashed to the Carondelet on account of the narrowness of the stream; and later again, the gallant gunboat won laurels at Island No.10, Fort Pillow, Memphis, and Vicksburg.

The Flag-ship St. Louis viewed from astern

The Louisville — a fighter at port.

[188] riven with the shrieks of their wounded comrades, upon whom the flames crept and smothered and charred where they lay.”

Thus ended the 13th of February. That night the river gunboats, six in number, four of them ironclads, under the command of Andrew H. Foote, arrived. Grant had sent them down the Tennessee to the Ohio and up the Cumberland, to support his army at Fort Donelson. On the 14th, about three in the afternoon, Foote steamed with his four ironclads to a point in the river within four hundred yards of the two powerful batteries on the river bank under the Fort and opened fire with his cannon while continuing to advance. The reply from the Confederate batteries was terrific and many of their shots struck home. In a short time the decks of the vessels were slippery with human blood. Foote himself was severely wounded. At length a solid shot struck the pilot house of the flagship and tore away the pilot wheel. At almost the same moment another gunboat was disabled. The two vessels, one of which had been struck fifty-nine times, could no longer be managed; they turned about with the eddies of the river and floated down with the current. The others followed.

The Confederates raised a wild shout of joy at this, their second victory since the coming of the Union army. But what will be the story of the morrow? With the reenforcements brought by Foote, Lew Wallace's division, Grant's army was now swelled to twenty-seven thousand, and in spite of the initial repulse the Federals felt confident of ultimate victory. But a dreary night was before them. The springlike weather had changed. All that fearful night of February 14th there was a fierce, pitiless wind with driving sleet and snow. Thousands of the men, weary of the burden of their overcoats and blankets during the warm preceding days, had thrown them away. Now they spent the night lying behind logs or in ditches or wherever they could find a little protection from the wintry blasts. General Floyd, knowing that Grant's army was much [189]

River gunboats.

Lying at anchor in the Ohio River this little wooden gunboat is having the finishing touches put to her equipment while her officers and men are impatiently waiting for the opportunity to bring her into action. A side-wheel river steamer originally, she was purchased at Cincinnati by Commander John Rodgers in the spring of 1861 and speedily converted into a gunboat. Her boilers and steam pipes were lowered into the hold and the oaken bulwarks five inches thick which we see were put on her and pierced for guns. She got her first taste of fighting when, at Lucas Bend, she engaged the land batteries and a Confederate gunboat, September 10, 1861. She was present at Fort Henry in the second division of the attacking fleet, and also at Fort Donelson.

The adventurous gunboat Conestoga

The Tyler: a sister-ship of the Conestoga. She was present both at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson.

[190] stronger than his own, decided, after consulting with Pillow and Buckner, to attack the Union right at dawn on the 15th.

The night was spent in preparing for this, and in the morning Pillow with ten thousand men fell upon McClernand, and Buckner soon joined him with an additional force. Toward noon many of McClernand's men ran short of powder and he was forced to recede from his position. Pillow seems then to have lost his head. He felt that the whole Union army was defeated, and though the road to Nashville was open, the Confederates made no attempt to escape. Just then General Grant rode upon the scene. He had been absent all morning down the river consulting Foote, not knowing that the Confederates had planned an escape. This moment, says Lew Wallace, was the crisis in the life of Grant.

Hearing the disastrous news, his face flushed for a moment; he crushed some papers in his hand. Next instant he was calm, and said in his ordinary tone, to McClernand and Wallace, “Gentlemen, the position on the right must be retaken.” Then he galloped away to General Smith. In a short time the Union lines were in motion. General Smith made a grand assault on the Confederate outworks and rifle-pits. When his lines hesitated Smith waved his cap on the point of his sword and rode in front, up the hill, in the hottest fire of the foe, toward the rifle-pits — and they were carried. At the same moment Lew Wallace was leading his division up another slope with equal gallantry. Here again the Confederates retired, and the road to Nashville was no longer open. Furthermore, Smith held a position from which he could shell the Fort on the inside, and nothing was left to the inmates but surrender or slaughter on the morrow.

A council was held by Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. Buckner, who was a master in the art of warfare, declared that he could not hold his position for half an hour in the morning. The situation was hopeless. Floyd was under indictment at Washington for maladministration in the Buchanan cabinet. [191]

Two unwilling guests of the North

The Captured Commanders of Forts Henry and Donelson.--It requires as much moral courage to decide upon a surrender, even when odds are overwhelming, as it does physical bravery, in maintaining a useless fight to the death. Brigadier-General Tilghman, who commanded the Confederate Fort Henry on the Tennessee and General Simon Bolivar Buckner in command of the Confederate Fort Donelson--a much stronger position on the Cumberland only a few miles away — were men who possessed this kind of courage. Both had the misfortune to hold untenable positions. Each displayed generalship and sagacity and only gave up to the inevitable when holding out meant nothing but wasted slaughter and the sacrifice of men who had been called upon to exert every human effort. Fort Henry, on the banks of the Tennessee, was held by a few thousand men and strongly armed with twenty guns including one 10-inch Columbiad. But on the 6th of February it fairly lay in the possession of the Federals before a shot had actually been fired, for Grant with 17,000 men had gained the rear of the fortification after his move from Cairo on the 30th of the previous month. The actual reduction of the Fort was left to the gunboat flotilla under Flag Officer Foote, whose heavy bombardment began early in the morning. General Tilghman had seen from the first that the position could not be held. He was trapped on all sides, but he would not give way without a display of resistance. Before the firing began, he had sent off most of the garrison and maintained the unequal combat with the gun-boats for an hour and a quarter with less than a hundred men, of whom he lost twenty-one. Well did this handful serve the guns on the river bank. One shot struck the gun-boat Essex, piercing her boilers, and wounding and scalding twenty-eight men. But at last, enveloped on all sides, his retreat cut off — the troops who had been ordered to depart in the morning, some three thousand in number, had reached Fort Donelson, twelve milesaway--General Tilghman hauled down his flag, surrendering himself and eighty-four men as prisoners of war. Here we see him — a brave figure of a man — clad in the uniform of a Southern Colonel. There was never the slightest doubt of his courage or of his proper discretion in makingthissurrender. Only for a short time was he held a prisoner, when he was exchanged and welcomed back with all honor into the ranks of the Confederacy, and given an important command. He did not, however, live long to serve his cause, for shortly after rejoining the army he was killed at the battle of Baker's Creek, Mississippi, on the 16th of May, 1863. It is not often that on the battlefield ties of friendship are cemented that last a lifetime, and especially is this so between conqueror and conquered. Fort Donelson, that was, in a measure, a repetition of Fort Henry, saw two fighting foes become thus united. It was impossible for the garrison of Fort Donelson to make its escape after the flotilla of gunboats had once appeared in the river, although General Floyd, its senior commander, the former Secretary of War under President Buchanan, had withdrawn himself from the scene tendering the command to General Pillow, who in his turn, after escaping with his own brigade, left the desperate situation to be coped with by General Buckner. Assailed in the rear by an army that outnumbered the defenders of the Fort by nearly eight thousand and with the formidable gunboats hammering his entrenchments from the river, Buckner decided to cut his way out in a desperate charge, but being repulsed, saw his men flung back once more into the fort. There was nothing for it but to make terms. On February 16th, in a note to Grant he asked what might be granted him. Here, the coming leader won his nickname of “Unconditional surrender” Grant. Buckner was informed that the Federal army was about to move upon his works. Hurt and smarting under his position, he sent back a reply that in a few short hours he would, perhaps, have been willing to recall. Yielding to circumstances he accepted what he bluntly pronounced, “ungenerous and unchivalrous terms.” But when the capitulation had taken place and nearly fifteen thousand men had surrendered, a greater number than ever before laid down their arms upon the continent, Grant was so generous, that then and there began the friendship that grew as close as if the two men were brothers of the blood. Most of the prisoners were paroled. Each one was allowed to retain his personal baggage, and the officers to keep their side arms. Grant had known Buckner in the Mexican War, and received him after the battle as his guest. For a short time General Buckner was kept a prisoner at Fort Warren until he was exchanged. But the friend-ship between the two leaders continued. When General Grant, after having been twice President, failed in his business career, Buckner sent him a check, trusting that it might be of use in his time of trouble. Grant, shortly before his death, wrote his old-time comrade and antagonist requesting that Buckner do him the final honors by becoming one of his pallbearers.

General Lloyd Tilghman.

Buckner, the defender of Donelson


He declared that he must not be taken, and that with his Virginia troops he would escape on two little boats that were to arrive from Nashville in the morning. He passed the command to Pillow, and Pillow, declaring that he too would escape, passed it on to Buckner. Floyd and Pillow with their men made good their escape; so did Colonel Forrest, the cavalry leader, and his mounted force.

In the early morning Buckner sent a note to Grant offering to capitulate. The answer is well known. Grant demanded “unconditional surrender,” and added, “I propose to move immediately on your works.” Buckner was too good a soldier to sacrifice his men in needless slaughter. His men were so worn with eighty-four hours of fighting and watching that many of them had fallen asleep while standing in battle-line and under fire. He accepted the “ungenerous and unchivalrous terms,” as he pronounced them, and surrendered Fort Donelson and the army, consisting of at least fourteen thousand men, with all its stores of ammunition. The Union loss was over twenty-eight hundred men. The Confederate loss, killed and wounded, was about two thousand.

The capture of Fort Donelson did three things. First, it opened up the way for the Federal army to penetrate the heart of the western South and gave it control of Kentucky and of western Tennessee. Second, it electrified the North with confident hopes of ultimate success. It was the first great victory for the North in the war. Bull Run had been a moral victory to the South, but the vanquished were weakened scarcely more than the victors. At Donelson, the victors gained control of an extensive territory and captured a noble army which could ill be spared by the South and which could not be replaced. Third, the capture of Donelson forced before the nation a new man — Ulysses S. Grant.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Fort Henry (Tennessee, United States) (22)
Fort Donelson (Tennessee, United States) (18)
Kentucky (Kentucky, United States) (12)
Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (10)
Cairo, Ill. (Illinois, United States) (10)
Illinois (Illinois, United States) (6)
Cincinnati (Ohio, United States) (6)
Vicksburg (Mississippi, United States) (4)
Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (4)
Edgefield (Tennessee, United States) (4)
Washington (United States) (3)
Missouri (Missouri, United States) (3)
Drewry's Bluff (Virginia, United States) (3)
Tennessee River (United States) (2)
Springfield (Illinois, United States) (2)
Pittsburg Landing (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Paducah (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Ohio (United States) (2)
Mill Springs (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Louisville (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Dover, Tennessee (Tennessee, United States) (2)
Donelson (Indiana, United States) (2)
Cumberland River (Kentucky, United States) (2)
Bull Run, Va. (Virginia, United States) (2)
Arkansas (Arkansas, United States) (2)
Wilson's Creek (Missouri, United States) (1)
United States (United States) (1)
St. Louis (Missouri, United States) (1)
Springfield, Mo. (Missouri, United States) (1)
Paintsville (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Ohio (Ohio, United States) (1)
Mound City (Illinois, United States) (1)
Island Number Ten (Missouri, United States) (1)
Fort Warren (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Cumberland Gap (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Carondelet (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Bowling Green (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Bird's Point, Mo. (Missouri, United States) (1)
Big Sandy (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Baton Rouge (Louisiana, United States) (1)
Bakers Creek (Mississippi, United States) (1)
Appomattox (Virginia, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: