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Chapter 15:


Towards the end of January, 1862, General Beauregard received a visit, at his headquarters at Centreville, from Colonel Roger A. Pryor, of Virginia, a member of the Military Committee of the Confederate Congress. He informed General Beauregard that he had been deputed by his committee, and the Representatives in Congress of the Mississippi Valley States generally, to confer with him upon a plan then under consideration at Richmond, and to urge him to give it his consent. This plan consisted in the transfer of General Beauregard to the conduct of the defence of the Mississippi Valley, upon which public attention had now centred, and about the security of which great apprehensions were expressed. President Davis himself—Colonel Pryor said— was desirous of ordering the transfer, should General Beauregard agree to it.

The immediate command thus proposed to General Beauregard included the forces under Major-General Polk, with headquarters at Columbus, Kentucky, within the Department of Kentucky and Tennessee, commanded by General Albert Sidney Johnston. [211]

Colonel Pryor gave many strong reasons for the transfer he had been sent to advocate, and mentioned, among others, the critical condition of affairs in that part of the country, owing, it was believed, to the bad organization and want of discipline of our troops, confronting whom were superior Federal forces known to be amply furnished with all the appliances of war. Well-founded fears of consequent disaster to the cause were very generally entertained, which, Colonel Pryor thought, could only be averted by prompt arid vigorous action on the part of the government.

General Beauregard at first declined to accede to the proposition. He was loath to separate himself from the Army of the Potomac, more than half of which he had organized and disciplined, and whose conduct in the battle of Manassas, and throughout the minor operations of the fall, gave assurance of still greater successes for the coming spring campaign. Moreover, he had just undergone a surgical operation of the throat, the result of which might lead to serious consequences, should he be too soon exposed to the inclemencies of the weather. But Colonel Pryor, notwithstanding the objections raised against the purpose of his mission, represented that General Beauregard's presence in the West was necessary to revive public confidence, then very much shaken by the defeat of Zollicoffer's command at Mill Spring, in eastern Kentucky, and that it would impart activity and efficiency to our operations. He also made a statement—the truth of which, he said, was vouched for by the Acting Secretary of War, Mr. Benjamin—that the effective force in General Johnston's department numbered fully seventy thousand men—forty thousand under General Johnston, in middle Kentucky, and the remainder under General Polk, in western Tennessee.

Meanwhile, many of General Beauregard's friends at Centreville and Richmond, aware of the efforts that were being made, sought to dissuade him from relinquishing his position in Virginia, and what was considered the chief field of operations of the Confederate forces. They argued, furthermore, that, should he consent to leave this army, he would never be allowed to return to it again, no matter upon what terms he might agree to accept the offer so alluringly presented to him. General Beauregard carefully weighed the strength of the arguments used on both sides. He knew that, owing to bad weather, impracticable roads, and other influences, there would probably be no military operations in [212] northeastern Virginia before the ensuing spring. He was gratified by the high mark of confidence and consideration conferred upon him by the gentlemen of Congress in whose names Colonel Pryor had spoken. He was then, as ever, ‘the soldier of the cause and of his country,’ ready ‘to do duty, cheerfully, wherever placed by the constituted authorities.’ So he finally yielded to Colonel Pryor's pressing representations, and informed him of his acceptance of the proposed transfer, but upon the three following conditions: first, that the Army of the West should consist of the effective force stated by him,1 or, if not, should be sufficiently reinforced to enable him to assume the offensive immediately after his arrival in the Mississippi Valley; second, that he should take with him his personal and general staff, and, if he required them, ten or twelve experienced officers from the Army of the Potomac—none above the rank of colonel—some of whom were to be promoted to be brigadier and major generals, the others to receive staff appointments, so as to aid in organizing and disciplining the forces to be placed under him; and, third, that he should return to the command of his own army in Virginia, as soon as his services could be dispensed with in the West, and, if possible, in time for the spring campaign. Colonel Pryor stated that he was not authorized to agree to the last two conditions, but would telegraph the answer of the War Department from Richmond. Accordingly, on the 23d, he telegraphed the following assent:

Richmond January 23d, 1862.
General Beauregard:
Have not seen Toombs. Committee extremely anxious you should go. Judge Harris is sure President consents to all your wishes. I send letter in the morning.

A letter to the same effect came the next day; and, on the 25th, the War Department was officially notified of General Beauregard's final acquiescence in the wishes of Congress and of the Executive.

So important to success did he consider it to have experienced [213] officers with him, that he immediately forwarded to the Adjutant-General's Department the names of six infantry colonels whom he had selected for promotion and transfer to the West, and of the engineers and other staff officers of lower grade, who should accompany him, And, in order to prevent error or unnecessary delay, he sent his Chief of Staff, Colonel Thomas Jordan, to Richmond, to confer directly on the subject with the Secretary of War.

On the 2d of February he parted, with much regret, at Manassas, from the last representatives of that great Army of the Potomac, which, afterwards, under the name of the ‘Army of Northern Virginia,’ achieved, by innumerable victories, undying renown for itself and its revered commander, General Robert E. Lee.

General Beauregard's journey from Manassas to Bowling Green, the headquarters of General Johnston, was marked by the most gratifying manifestations of confidence and enthusiasm on the part of the people. Every railroad station was crowded with men, women, and children, who, anticipating his arrival, had assembled to greet him, and wish Godspeed and continued success to the ‘hero of Sumter and Manassas.’ He was detained a day in Nashville, at the request of the State authorities, to be presented to the Legislature and receive its welcome.

He reached Bowling Green on the evening of the 4th, and there met, for the first time, General Albert Sidney Johnston, who gave him, on arrival in his department, a heartfelt greeting. The manly appearance, the simple, though dignified, bearing of this noble patriot and soldier, made a deep impression upon General Beauregard. He was drawn towards him by a spontaneous feeling of sympathy, which insured, in the future, complete harmony and effectual co-operation between them.

At General Beauregard's request, he made a succinct review of the situation in his department, and showed much anxiety when referring to the effects of Zollicoffer's late disaster at Mill Spring. General Buell had advanced his forces, numbering from seventyfive to eighty thousand men, to within forty miles of Bowling Green, at Bacon Creek, on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad; General Grant was at Cairo and Paducah, with twenty thousand men, pressing an expedition which was to move—General Johnston thought—either up the Tennessee River, against Fort Henry, [214] or up the Cumberland, against Fort Donelson; and General Pope, with at least thirty thousand men, in Missouri, stood confronting Major-General Polk. The entire Federal forces, under the chief command of General Halleck, with headquarters at St. Louis, amounted to about one hundred and thirty thousand men. To oppose such a host, General Johnston stated that he had, at Bowling Green, some fourteen thousand effectives of all arms; at Forts Henry and Donelson about five thousand five hundred more, under General Lloyd Tilghman; that General Floyd was covering Clarksville with eight thousand men, and that General Polk, in his district of West Tennessee and West Kentucky (but principally at and around Columbus), had some fifteen thousand men, not yet well organized and but poorly armed, including detached forces at Clarksville and Hopkinsville, under Generals Clark and Pillow. Thus the whole Confederate force in General Johnston's department numbered not more than forty-five thousand men of all arms and conditions.2 Tens of thousands of men were anxious to go into the army to defend their homes, but the Confederate government had no arms for them.

This fearful disparity between the actual effectiveness of General Johnston's command and the fanciful figures which, by authority of the Secretary of War, Colonel Pryor had given him, struck General Beauregard with amazement. He recounted to General Johnston the statement made of the strength of the Western army, and imparted to him the hopes he had entertained that, by a proper arrangement of the river defences for minimum garrisons, and a rapid concentration by railroad of all our available forces, we might suddenly have taken the offensive against Buell, who, unprepared for such an onslaught, would undoubtedly have been overpowered. Thus Kentucky would have fallen under our control, and its people would have freely joined the Confederate standard.

No less painfully surprised than General Beauregard was General Johnston, when apprised of the ignorance of the War Department about matters within its peculiar province. He confirmed General Beauregard's previously expressed opinion, by declaring at once that he never would have remained on the defensive with such forces under him, and with Buell only a short [215] distance in his front. He also said that he had little confidence in the defensive works on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, to inspect, strengthen, and complete which he had recently ordered his Chief-Engineer, Major J. F. Gilmer, an officer of the old service, whose worth was about to be tested.

When thus made acquainted with the deplorable situation of the Western department, General Beauregard, realizing to what an extent he had been misinformed, and how useless his presence would be to General Johnston, under the existing circumstances, informed the latter that, in his opinion, he had best return at once to Virginia, where an active campaign, in the early spring, was to be expected, and where he could be of more service to the cause than by remaining with a command which it was more than likely would be forced to stand passively on the defensive. General Johnston strenuously objected to his adopting such a course. He urged that General Beauregard's presence was most fortunate, and that his co-operation would be invaluable, not only in western Kentucky and western Tennessee, but in the whole Mississippi Valley.

Those who are well acquainted with General Beauregard have often had occasion to note how largely the trait of selfforgetful-ness enters into his character. He gave a strong proof of the fact on this occasion. With much disinterestedness, he immediately offered to General Johnston to waive his rank and, acting as his Chief-Engineer and Inspector-General, visit the various works and defences throughout the department, and make such suggestions for their improvement as his experience might dictate. But General Johnston was unwilling to accept so great a sacrifice, and insisted that General Beauregard should go to Columbus, there to ascertain, personally, the exact state of affairs, being convinced that, upon doing so, he would no longer hesitate to assume command. So earnest and pressing was he on this point that General Beauregard acceded to his wishes, and began making preparations to leave by the Louisville and Memphis Railroad. It was his nearest route, but, unless he used all due diligence, might be closed to him by the destruction of the bridge over the Tennessee River, should Fort Henry fall into the hands of the enemy. He delayed his departure, however, at General Johnston's request, and on the 5th of February inspected with him all the works in and around Bowling Green. He found them to be very strong, and so stated [216] to General Johnston, though he was not sure but that they could be turned a short distance above, on the right. He inquired whether, in such a case, General Johnston intended to remain and defend them. The latter replied that there was a ford not many miles above, and that, should the enemy advance by that way, upon his flank, he would be compelled to withdraw, as he was not strong enough to maintain the position with no army of relief to depend upon. General Beauregard having now asked what was the strength of Forts Henry and Donelson, General Johnston said they were tolerably well fortified, but he was doubtful of their ability long to withstand a determined attack. In the course of this inspection tour General Beauregard expressed his regret that the works at Bowling Green had not been limited to a tete de pont on the north side of the Barren River, and to a single fort on the south side, to defend the bridge, and enable the garrison of the former work to retire at the proper moment and destroy the bridge. The time and labor spent upon these extensive works by General Gilmer, he thought, might have been far more judiciously applied in the strengthening of Forts Henry and Donelson—particularly the former—as the command of the Tennessee was next in importance to that of the Mississippi. Its loss would not only cut off communication between General Johnston's and General Polk's forces, but allow the enemy to penetrate to Eastport and Florence, near the Memphis and Charleston Railroad; thus effectually turning all positions in middle Kentucky and middle Tennessee, on one side of the river, and west Kentucky and west Tennessee, on the other side, down to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

In view of the importance of holding Fort Henry, then seriously threatened by the Federal forces under General Grant, General Beauregard suggested to General Johnston the following views of the situation, as the result of his reflections after their interview of the previous evening.

That our defensive line, extending from Bowling Green on the extreme right to Columbus on the extreme left, with Forts Henry and Donelson at about the middle of the line, formed a reen-tering angle of nearly thirty miles, which was very much weakened by being intersected, nearly at right angles, by the two navigable streams on which those forts were located; that our flanks at Bowling Green and Columbus were so salient that the former [217] could be easily turned and must fall by its own weight, and that the latter would become untenable also, should Grant's attack on Fort Henry succeed;3 that, therefore, he thought it urgently necessary to abandon Bowling Green, except as a point of observation, and concentrate as rapidly as possible all readily available troops upon Henry and Donelson, so as to force Grant into a battle in that quarter, with decisive odds against him, and the disadvantage of isolation from immediate support. This General Beauregard urged, not only as an essential measure towards regaining control of the Tennessee River, and maintaining that of the Cumberland, but as a means of placing our forces in a better position, with respect to the ultimate defence of Nashville, than that which they held at Bowling Green, which could not be looked upon as safe, on account of its being too salient, and too easily turned.4

General Johnston, although admitting the force of these observations, objected, substantially, that we were not in a condition to risk too much; that if we failed to defeat Grant, we might be crushed between his forces and those of Buell; that, even if victorious over Grant, our own forces would be more or less disorganized, and if Buell, crossing the Big Barren River, above Bowling Green, and then the Cumberland above Nashville, should place himself between us and this latter city, and force us back against the Tennessee River (then open to the Federal gunboats), without the means of crossing or of extricating ourselves therefrom, we would be destroyed or captured, Nashville would fall, and the whole Tennessee and Mississippi valleys would be left unprotected, except by the as yet ill-organized forces of General [218] Polk, at Columbus, which were themselves threatened by greatly superior numbers assembling in southeast Missouri. He further said that, at present, the main object should be to gain time to remove the supplies of ammunition and provisions collected at Bowling Green, and the still larger supplies of pork, grain, and clothing accumulated at Clarksville and Nashville, contrary to his advice, by the Commissary and Quartermaster Departments at Richmond.

In answer, General Beauregard remarked, that even if these depots were to be endangered, it was more important to defeat the enemy than to protect the supplies; that Buell, being without a pontoon train, and unable to cross the Cumberland between Nashville and Donelson, we could have time to escape from between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, and establish ourselves behind the new defensive line of Duck River, or probably reach Nashville, if required, before the arrival of Buell, who would have to make a much longer march. That our success must lie in following the cardinal principle of war, the swift concentration of our masses against the enemy's exposed fractions; and that if we could concentrate our forces for the offensive with greater rapidity, all other things being equal, we had the chances in our favor; and that in war it was ‘Nothing venture, nothing win.’ General Johnston admitted this, but said that, owing to the great responsibility which rested on him, and the disaster to be apprehended to the Confederacy, should he meet with defeat, he must adhere to his intended plan of operations.

This was another of those fatal errors, and losses of priceless opportunity, which brought on the final defeat of our cause. The result was a proof of it.

Fort Henry, being attacked on the 6th, was surrendered on the same day, after a short, but soldierly, defence. Its commander, Brigadier-General Lloyd Tilghman, as soon as he discovered his inability to resist the overpowering land and naval forces brought against him, detached the supporting force—two thousand six hundred and ten strong—across the neck, to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River, remaining himself to work the guns with a handful of men—about one hundred—with whom he was captured.5 This was a conspicuous example of self-sacrifice and gallantry, [219] for General Tilghman would have been justified in retiring with the main body of his command, leaving a subordinate artillery officer to defend the work until compelled to surrender. The railroad-bridge, only about twelve miles south of Fort Henry, was now burned by the Federal gunboats, and that line of communication between General Johnston and his forces at Columbus, western Kentucky, was cut off, as had been apprehended, leaving, as the shortest route available, the line of railroad by Nashville, Decatur, Corinth, and Jackson.

On the morning of the 7th, while confined to his bed by sickness, General Beauregard was visited by General Hardee, a classmate of his at the Academy at West Point, who afterwards distinguished himself on many a battle-field during the Confederate war. Exposure to the weather had produced upon General Beauregard's health the effect he had feared when leaving Centreville. He was then suffering from a severe cold, accompanied by fever, and the violent inflammation of the throat (laryngitis) which resulted therefrom, detained him at Bowling Green until its evacuation, and, for six months afterwards, caused him acute pain and much discomfort. The fall of Fort Henry had, more than ever, convinced General Beauregard of the necessity of the concentration and aggressive movement he had already counselled. In his conversation with General Hardee he reiterated this opinion, and it was agreed between them that General Hardee should open the subject anew to General Johnston, and urge him to adopt General Beauregard's views. Later in the day a conference was held, at General Beauregard's room, between Generals Johnston, Hardee, and himself, Colonel Mackall, A. A. G., being present part of the time. General Beauregard again called the attention of General Johnston to the movement of concentration against General Grant, which he thought still practicable, if immediately carried out, General Hardee concurring, though not with much earnestness. General Johnston, after some discussion, adhered to the objections he had already made to this plan, and gave his own views as to the future operations of the campaign. He being Commander-in-Chief, and responsible for all [220] that might ensue, his views necessarily prevailed, and Colonel Mackall having been called out to attend to some pressing matters, relative to the fall of Fort Henry, in his absence Generals Beauregard and Hardee drew up a memorandum of General Johnston's projected plan, as then explained and insisted upon by him. He had declined to adopt General Beauregard's proposed concentration for the offensive, and had decided that his own and General Polk's army should operate on divergent lines. General Beauregard acquiesced in the details incident to General Johnston's campaign, as stated in the memorandum. But this was the extent of his concurrence. He was the author of none of the movements therein enumerated. The views he had expressed were diametrically opposite, and favored concentration against Grant at Donelson.

The following is the memorandum referred to:

Bowlin Green, Ky., February 7th, 1862.
At a meeting held to-day at my quarters (Covington House) by Generals Johnston, Hardee, and myself (Colonel Mackall, A. A. G., being present part of the time), it was determined that Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, having fallen yesterday into the hands of the enemy, and Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River, not being tenable, preparations should at once be made for the removal of this army to Nashville, in the rear of the Cumberland River, a strong point some miles below that city being fortified forthwith, to defend the river from the damage of gunboats and transports.

The troops at present at Clarksville shall cross over to the south side of that river, leaving only sufficient force in that town to protect the manufactories and other property, in the saving of which the Confederate government is interested.

From Nashville, should any further retrograde movement become necessary, it will be made to Stevenson, and thence according to circumstances.

It was also determined that the possession of the Tennessee River by the enemy, resulting from the fall of Fort Henry, separates the army at Bowling Green from the one at Columbus, Kentucky, which must henceforth act independently of each other until they can again be brought together. The first one having for object the defence of the State of Tennessee, along its line of operation, as already stated, and the other one of that part of the State lying between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi.

But as the possession of the former river by the enemy renders the lines of communication of the army at Columbus liable to be cut off at any time from the Tennessee River as a base, by an overwhelming force of the enemy, rapidly concentrated from various points on the Ohio, it becomes necessary, to prevent such a calamity, that the main body of that army should fall back to Humboldt, and thence, if necessary, to Grand Junction, so as to protect Memphis [221] from either point, and still have a line of retreat to the latter place, or to Grenada, Mississippi, and, if necessary, to Jackson, Mississippi.

At Columbus, Kentucky, will be left only a sufficient garrison for the defence of the works there, assisted by Hollins's gunboats, for the purpose of making a desperate defence of the river at that point.

A sufficient number of transports will be kept near that place for the removal of the garrison therefrom, when no longer tenable, in the opinion of the commanding officer.

Island No.10 and Fort Pillow will likewise be defended to the last extremity, aided also by Hollins's gunboats, which will then retire to the vicinity of Memphis, where another bold stand will be made.

G. T. Beauregard, Gen. C. S. A., W. J. Hardee, Maj.-Gen.

Orders were accordingly issued on that day (7th), for the evacuation of Bowling Green, which was begun on the 11th and completed on the 13th. General Beauregard left at that date, for Columbus, via Nashville. But the lapse of time and the hurrying of events since his conference with General Johnston made him desirous of obtaining, before his departure, specific instructions as to the immediate disposition of the force at Columbus. General Johnston, he thought, might have modified his views; or he might have received now directions from the War Department, it being well known that the authorities at Richmond favored the holding of Columbus. He therefore wrote the following letter, recapitulating the expressed views of General Johnston as to the military situation, and adding the suggestion that Columbus should be abandoned altogether, as soon as Island No.10 could be made ready for defence; and that instead of his falling back to Humboldt, and thence to Grand Junction and other points in rear, he should hold the Louisville and Memphis and the Memphis and Charleston railroads, with Jackson as his centre, and Humboldt and Corinth as left and right flanks, with proper detachments at Iuka, Tuscumbia, and even Decatur; thus guarding his communications by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad with the east, as he apprehended incursions in advance of the enemy's main offensive movement in that direction, by the Tennessee River.

Bowling Green, Ky., February 12th, 1862.
General,—By the fall of Fort Henry, the enemy having possession of the Tennessee River, which is navigable for their gunboats and transports to Florence, it becomes evident that the forces under your immediate command and those under General Polk, separated unfortunately by that river, can no longer [222] act in concert, and will be unable to support each other until the fortune of war shall have restored the Tennessee River to our possession, or combined the movements of the two armies in rear of it.

It also becomes evident that, by the possession of that river, the enemy can concentrate rapidly, by means of his innumerable transports, all his disposable forces on any point along its banks, either to attack Nashville in rear, or cut off the communications of Columbus by the Mississippi River with Memphis, and by the railroads with the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

Should the enemy determine on the former plan of operations, your army, threatened also in front and on the right flank by Buell's large army, will be in a very critical condition, and may be forced to take refuge on the south side of the Tennessee River. But should Halleck adopt the second plan re-. ferred to, the position at Columbus will then become no longer tenable for an army inferior in strength to that of the enemy, and must fall back to some central point, where it can guard the main railroads to Memphis, i. e., from Louisville and from Charleston. Jackson, Tennessee, would probably be the best position for such an object, with strong detachments at Humboldt and Corinth, and with the necessary advance guards.

The Memphis and Charleston Railroad, so important on account of its extension through eastern Tennessee and Virginia, must be properly guarded from Iuka to Tuscumbia, and even to Decatur, if practicable.

Columbus must either be left to be defended to the last extremity by its proper garrison, assisted by Hollins's fleet of gunboats, and provided with provisions and ammunition for several months,6 or abandoned altogether, its armament and garrison being transferred, if practicable, to Fort Pillow, which, I am informed, is naturally and artificially a strong position, about fifty miles above Memphis.

Island No.10, near New Madrid, could also be held by its garrison, assisted by Hollins's fleet, until the possession of New Madrid by the enemy would compel that position to be evacuated. I am clearly of the opinion that to attempt at present to hold so advanced a position as Columbus, with the movable army under General Polk, when its communications can be so readily cut off by a surprise force acting from the Tennessee River as a new base, would be to jeopardize, not only the safety of that army, but, necessarily, of the whole Mississippi valley. Hence I desire, as far as practicable, specific instructions as to the future movements of the army of which I am about to assume command. If it be necessary for the safety of the country to make, with all my forces, a desperate stand at Columbus, I am ready to do so.

I regret much that illness has prevented me from being already at my post, but during my stay here I believe I have made myself as well acquainted with your general views and intentions as circumstances have permitted, [223] and which I will always be happy to carry into effect to the best of my abilities.

I am, General, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

General Johnston, being then busy with the evacuation of Bowling Green, informed General Beauregard, by messenger, that he would confer with him at Nashville upon his arrival there. He established his headquarters at Edgefield, opposite Nashville, on the 13th, and the next day the two generals met in conference at the residence of Mr. Stevenson, President of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. General Beauregard was still quite unwell, but, notwithstanding his failing health, always attending, with scrupulous care, to the minutest details of his onerous duties.

In answer to his letter of the 12th, General Johnston said that his views were unchanged as to the plan of operations recorded in the memorandum of the 7th, with the exception that he assented to the entire abandonment of Columbus, should the War Department approve of it. He informed General Beauregard that when compelled to retire, he would do so along the line of the Nashville, Stevenson, and Chattanooga Railroad, to defend the country in that direction, and the crossing of the Tennessee River; and, as it was probable that the Federal forces would soon interpose between them, General Beauregard must take charge of the defence of the Mississippi Valley without instructions or orders, using his own judgment, in the event of that separation, to counteract the movements and designs of the enemy in that quarter.

Before leaving Bowling Green, General Beauregard had telegraphed Colonel Pryor, at Richmond, to meet him at Nashville, that he might see with his own eyes, and make known to the Military Committee and to the government the exact condition of affairs in the Western Department. Colonel Pryor came as far as Lynchburg, Va., but hearing that communications with Nashville were interrupted, and that the enemy was at Florence and Tuscumbia, concluded to go back to Richmond.

The day after his arrival at Nashville, General Beauregard, in reply to a letter from Colonel Pryor, dated February 9th, wrote him the following: [224]

Nashville, Tenn., February 14th, 1862.
Dear Colonel,—Your favor of the 9th inst. has been received. I regret much you did not come on from Lynchburg, for the rumors you refer to were all unfounded, and the matters General Johnston and myself had to communicate, through you, to the government, were of great importance—being to provide for the very unfortunate contingency now existing here.

Moreover, I desired you to see for yourself and others the exact condition of things here, in justice to my own self; for I am taking the helm when the ship is already on the breakers, and with but few sailors to man it. How it is to be extricated from its present perilous condition Providence alone can determine, and, unless with its aid, I can accomplish but little. My health, moreover, has failed me completely lately. I was confined to my room by a wretched cold all the time I was at Bowling Green. It was the most unfortunate thing that could have happened to me; for the loss of one or two weeks now is, or may be, most fatal to us. However, I am better now, and am hurrying on to my post as fast as possible. We must defeat the enemy somewhere, to give confidence to our friends. Large depots of provisions, ammunition, etc., ought to be provided for at Atlanta, Montgomery, and Jackson, Miss., etc., without loss of time, for future contingency.

We must give up some minor points, and concentrate our forces, to save the most important ones, or we will lose all of them in succession.

The loss of Fort Donelson (God grant it may not fall) would be followed by consequences too lamentable to be now alluded to.

General Johnston is doing his best, but what can he do against such tremendous odds?

Come what may, however, we must present a bold front and stout hearts to the invaders of our country.

In haste, yours truly,

General Beauregard left Nashville on the 15th, and as there was no train from Decatur that afternoon, resumed his journey next morning with the opportunity—which he desired—of observing the character of the country. At Corinth, on the morning of the 17th, Judge Milton Brown, President of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, arrived with a special train to take him to Columbus; but he felt so extremely unwell that he was compelled to stop at Jackson on the same day. There he became the guest of Judge Brown, from whose family he received the kindest attentions during his illness.

On his arrival at Corinth on the 16th, he found waiting for him two telegrams from Nashville—one from General Johnston, another from Colonel Mackall—informing him of the fall of Fort [225] Donelson at 2 o'clock A. M. on that day. The fort had surrendered, and the whole army was lost, except half of Floyd's brigade, which had crossed the river; and the head of General Johnston's columns was about reaching Nashville.

On the 6th of February, after the fall of Fort Henry, Brigadier-General Bushrod R. Johnson had arrived at Fort Donelson and assumed command; but on the 10th was relieved by his senior, Brigadier-General Gideon J. Pillow, who had been a majorgeneral during the Mexican war. On the 11th, BrigadierGen-eral S. B. Buckner came in with orders from General Floyd to withdraw his division to Cumberland City. These two officers, deeming the fort untenable for a long defence, preferred leaving a small force to hold it as long as possible, and then retire, if practicable, upon Nashville. General Pillow, who was still in command, insisted upon the retention of Buckner's division, and the transfer to the fort of Floyd's scattered forces, which that officer was still endeavoring to concentrate at Cumberland City. He applied to General Johnston, who ordered the movement on the night of the 12th. Meanwhile, Floyd, yielding to General Pillow's views, had entered Donelson on the 13th, before daylight, and assumed command, his whole force being fifteen thousand effectives.7 On the 12th General Grant appeared in front of Donelson, and, early on the 13th, commenced its investment with fifteen thousand men, increased to twenty-five thousand on the evening of the same day. Commodore Foote, with a fleet consisting of two wooden and four ironclad gunboats, made a determined attack on the 14th, but was definitively repulsed. A brilliant and successful sortie was effected the next day by the Confederates, but, not being properly sustained according to the plan decided upon, it failed of favorable results; so that, during the night between the 15th and 16th—as mentioned in General Johnston's telegram—the commanding officers, regarding the continuance of the struggle against the united

Federal land and naval forces as likely only to lead to a useless sacrifice of life, concluded to surrender. This unpleasant duty devolved upon General Buckner. About ten thousand men were surrendered; some two thousand were killed and wounded; and about two thousand escaped, with Generals Floyd and Pillow, by boats and otherwise; [226] while some five hundred cavalry, with Colonel Forrest, passed out between the enemy's right and the river.

The fall of Fort Henry and the calamitous capitulation of Fort Donelson, resulting in the loss of Kentucky and Tennessee, were blows that staggered the Confederacy. A cry of condemnation arose against General Johnston, upon whom, as commander of the Western Department, rested the responsibility of these irreparable disasters.

The disappointment and profound discouragement that became manifest all over the country, but especially in that portion of it lying in close proximity to the scenes of our successive defeats, cannot be described. The demoralization of the army and the panic of the people were complete; and bitter complaints against the general commanding our forces were heard on all sides. Pleas of incompetency and lack of generalship were openly urged, and direct demands were made to the President to remove the Commander-in-Chief and thus save the cause from irretrievable loss. General Johnston, with that elevation of mind and uncomplaining fortitude for which he was conspicuous, bore, unflinchingly, and without explanation, the reproaches and accusations levelled against him, though he was most keenly alive to the withdrawal of public confidence from him.

On the 18th of March, about forty days after the events above related, he wrote to President Davis a long and earnest letter, wherein he described the disastrous results which had followed the aggressive movement of the enemy, and explained what seemed to him to make necessary his plan of campaign as given in the ‘memorandumni’ we have already mentioned, and his evacuation of Bowling Green, pending the battle that was then being fought at Donelson. The letter was evidently meant as a justification of his defensive policy, and contained a synopsis of his views and embarrassments at that period. No one will ever question his sincerity or honesty of purpose as there expressed. Still, there are passages of this letter, and inconsistencies, almost amounting to contradictions, which it is but fair to point out and correct. We shall consider these matters at the proper time and place, as we proceed with our narrative.

Without wishing to cast undue blame on that gallant soldier, it may not be amiss to look back to what might have been done even with his small and ill-armed forces, had he followed a different [227] course and adopted General Beauregard's suggestions, made to him on the 6th of February, after their inspection of the works around Bowling Green.

General Grant, according to his official report, brought to the attack of Fort Henry, on the 6th of February, a force of fifteen thousand men of all arms. After a delay of a week he appeared before the unfinished defensive works of Fort Donelson with the very same troops, and was there joined, not earlier than the evening of the 13th, by a reinforcement of ten thousand men, including Lew Wallace's division of Buell's army. Buell's army, meanwhile, was at Bacon Creek (on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, about fifty-five miles northeast of Bowling Green) and in southeast Kentucky, with not less than seventy-three thousand five hundred effectives in all. He would have had to march at least one hundred and twenty-five miles by the shortest distance, and on unmacadamized roads, crossing two streams (the Big Barren and Cumberland), to form a junction with General Grant; which movement, with his many new levies, unused to marching, would have required at least ten days. That junction could not have been made before the 17th: whereas General Johnston had, at Bowling Green, on the 7th, about fourteen thousand men, of whom ten thousand could have been transported by rail—about eighty miles—to Cumberland city, thence, by boat—about twenty miles —to Fort Donelson, or by railroad to the vicinity of the fort, in two days at most; as there was ample rolling-stock available in west and middle Tennessee, and there was also a sufficient number of steamboats at Nashville.8 General Floyd had, at Russellville, eight thousand men, who, with over three thousand at Clarksville, could have been moved by railroad to Fort Donelson in two days at most from the date of the order. Fort Donelson already contained a force of five thousand seven hundred and fifty men. Thus, after leaving some troops—chiefly cavalry—at Bowling Green, to keep up appearances of occupation and to delay Buell at the Big Barren River while removing the public property collected there to Nashville, or southward, a force of about twentyseven thousand men could have been thrown suddenly upon General Grant's forces near Fort Donelson, by the 10th of February [228] at the latest. Such a force would have had ample time, before the 13th, to work the annihilation of General Grant's forces of fifteen thousand men, and would have regained Fort Henry and the control of the Tennessee River. The other ten thousand reinforcements of Buell's army, who arrived by boats on the evening of the 13th, would have met the same fate, had they landed on the left bank of the Cumberland. Such a victory over General Grant would certainly have deterred Buell from an offensive movement, while our own success would have given us the power to act immediately against him.

The Tennessee River was next in importance to the Mississippi; and Fort Henry was the position of first strategic value, east of Columbus, in the defensive line then held by General Johnston. It was, therefore, deeply to be regretted that he spent so much time, from September 18th to October 12th, superintending the fortifying of Columbus, without giving proper and sufficient attention to Fort Henry. The works at Columbus were made for a garrison of at least thirteen thousand men, armed with one hundred and forty (mostly heavy) guns; while the War Department was short of guns for other defenses and of men to operate with in the field, where the fate of the Confederacy was, after all, to be decided. The country about Columbus, on the left bank, afterwards proved, on proper examination, to be such as to afford advantages to a land attack; yet stores, for six months, had been accumulated there, although it is a well-known axiom in engineering, that field-works capable of complete investment by a sufficient force, without local advantages, cannot make a long defence, unless there be lack of judgment on the part of the assailant, in the investment and mode of attack. A well constructed work at Columbus, armed with seventy-five or eighty guns, and with a garrison of at most five thousand men, would have been capable of as long a defence as the extensive works there put up, leaving the remaining troops for operation in the field, and the remaining sixty guns for other works on the Mississippi, or for Fort Henry, on the Tennessee. The latter was a small and badly located work, commanded and enfiladed by heights within easy range, on both sides of the river.9 It was armed with seventeen guns—twelve of them [229] bearing on the river—and was manned by a force of two brigades, amounting to ‘two thousand six hundred and ten men, only one third of whom had been at all disciplined or well armed.’10

The position of Fort Donelson was no better, and its works were incomplete, until inspected and strengthened by Colonel Gilmer, on the 3d and following days of February.11 Its armament consisted of thirteen guns, two of them heavy ones. Had a reasonable portion of the time and labor misspent upon Columbus and Bowling Green been applied to the construction of proper defensive works on the Tennessee and Cumberland, and had the guns not required at the former places been added to those of the two forts and of other works on both rivers, our resistance at Henry and Donelson, if not finally successful, would have certainly afforded us ample time to retire with the whole of our forces, and to preserve, unaffected by too crushing a defeat, the morale of our troops, and the confidence of our people in the cause we were fighting for. It is even likely that, with sufficient energy, a system of works might have been constructed, after General Johnston's assumption of command, at the narrowest part of the neck of land where the rivers flow less than three miles apart, and nearly on a line with Bowling Green and Columbus. These would have given us complete command of the two rivers, and might have been defended by a limited force which could have been rapidly reinforced by boats held ready for the purpose, at Cumberland city, on the Cumberland River, or at Benton, where the Memphis and Louisville Railroad crosses the Tennessee River.

Under the circumstances, to prevent the loss of the Tennessee River, by which the whole country (including Columbus) north of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad was turned, and that great line of communication immediately exposed, the only course for General Johnston was to concentrate, at the proper time, at Henry and Donelson, and, for that purpose, to hold his forces and means of transportation well in hand, so as to be ready, at a moment's notice, to avail himself of his extraordinary advantages of communication by rail and water between his centre and wings. Thus Grant could have been opportunely met, and certainly crushed with superior numbers. After the fall of Henry this plan of concentration was again imperative for the regaining of the Tennessee [230] and the saving of the Cumberland, besides the great advantage and prestige of destroying one of the Federal armies. The means for such concentration were ample. It could have been effected in two or, at most, three days, and in good season. After the fall of Henry, on the 6th, General Grant did not move upon Donelson until the 12th, with fifteen thousand men, and was only reinforced to the number of twenty-five thousand on the evening of the 13th; while General Johnston could have been present with twenty-seven thousand men on the 10th, at the latest. No serious conflict occurred until the garrison itself attacked the Federals, on the 15th, and, in view of the brilliant success of that effort in its first stages, there can be no room for doubt as to what the result would have been if the Confederate forces had been ten thousand stronger.

General Johnston gave disproportionate consequence to the preservation of the depots of reserve supplies at Bowling Green, Clarksville, and Nashville. Their accumulation at those points was a serious error on the part of the government; and upon the assembling of such large, threatening forces along General Johnston's front, these supplies should have been speedily removed far to the rear, leaving the country and the army clear and free for action. But, this having been neglected, the operations of the army and the opportunity to defeat the enemy should not have been subordinated and sacrificed to the immediate effort to save supplies which, after all, were destroyed at Clarksville, and, in great measure, at Nashville.

This concentration should, therefore, have been made, or else Donelson should have been abandoned altogether; thereby saving its garrison, and part, at least, of the prestige of our arms. General Floyd, however, was left without specific instructions, until, with General Buckner's advice, he began to withdraw the latter's division from the fort, but, upon General Pillow's remonstrance, was ordered by General Johnston, on the night of the 12th, to go into Donelson with all the forces under his control, aggregating within the fort an effective force variously estimated at from thirteen thousand to fifteen thousand men, in the reports, and by other authorities at seventeen thousand.12 Upon the adoption of this [231] latter course, General Johnston should have left to General Hardee the evacuation of Bowling Green and the conduct of the retreat of its garrison upon Nashville, and should himself have repaired to Donelson, where so critical a struggle was imminent— nay, certain. Such a step on his part would have harmonized the divided counsels of the commanding officers, and undoubtedly have prevented the demoralization of their troops. It would have combined the resources of defence under his own inspiriting influence, and history, though not crediting us with a Confederate victory, would have spared us, at least, the humiliation of such an overwhelming defeat. As it was, on the very day of the attack on Fort Donelson—the 13th—the General-in-Chief, without being pressed by Buell, was retreating from the scene of conflict, and had even reached Nashville before evening. The Tennessee and Cumberland were lost. The whole of middle Kentucky and middle Tennessee, including Nashville, were given up. And, as a fatal consequence of this great calamity, west Kentucky and west Tennessee, with Columbus, and with most of the supplies sought to be saved, were also, shortly afterwards, entirely abandoned. About thirteen thousand men, organized and disciplined, were thereby withdrawn from operations in the field; a force which would have aided us to a complete and easy victory in the battle fought with General Grant two months later, or, rather, which would have enabled us to take the offensive some time earlier; disposing of General Grant's forces at Pittsburg Landing, recovering the Tennessee River, and then, if made strong enough, meeting and fighting Buell, as soon as the crossing of the river could be accomplished. These would have been the immediate results in the field, to say nothing of the indirect consequences from the encouragement and readiness of the people, instead of the anxiety and despondency which fell so heavily upon them.

1 The statement of this effective force at seventy thousand men, by Colonel Pryor, surprised General Beauregard to no small extent, as he could not understand how, with such a force in hand, General Johnston could so long remain inactive.

2 General Beauregard has furnished these figures from memory.

3 At Centreville, Va., and before his transfer, General Beauregard, while examining the military situation in the West, had regarded the position of Forts Henry and Donelson as faulty, the true position for the works to defend these rivers being at an advanced point, where the streams approached each other within three miles; and this opinion he had expressed in a conversation on the subject with his Chief of Staff, Colonel Jordan, at Centreville. In his interview with General Cooper, some days later, in the Adjutant-General's office, at Richmond, Colonel Jordan laid before him these radical strategic defects in the Confederate positions at Bowling Green, Forts Henry and Donelson, and Columbus. General Cooper expressed himself as convinced of the truth of these observations, and asked Colonel Jordan to present General Beauregard's views to the President.

4 The development of this plan of operations was also explained to Colonel Jordan by General Beauregard, before his departure for the West.

5 That gallant officer was subsequently killed while defending Port Hudson, on the Mississippi River, shortly after his return from captivity, which he had borne with no less patience than dignity. It is to be regretted that, since the war, calumny has endeavored to fix upon him the responsibility and odium of the loss of that weak and badly armed work. See, in Appendix, the report of General Tilghman.

6 This alternative recommendation was based on the supposition that Commodore Hollins's fleet of gunboats would prevent, or at least retard, the complete investment of the place, and that the country around Columbus was favorable to its defence.

7 Report of Colonel J. F. Gilmer, Chief Engineer.

8 There were, at that time, ten steamboats at Nashville, three of them in very good order. These three could have towed the others down the stream.

9 See reports of General Tilghman, commanding Fort Henry, and of Colonel Gilmer, Chief-Engineer.

10 See General Tilghman's 2d report.

11 Colonel Gilmer's report, see ‘Confederate Reports of Battles,’ p. 113 et seq.

12 See General Floyd's supplemental report in ‘Confederate Reports of Battles,’ pp. 55-57. See also his letter to General Johnston, of February 12th, advising concentration near Cumberland city.

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