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Chapter 12:

  • General character of the military events of the year 1862.
  • -- the Confederate situation in Kentucky. -- Gen. A. S. Johnston's command and position. -- battle of Fishing Creek. -- the Confederate right in Kentucky. -- Gen. Crittenden's command in extreme straits. -- difficulty in subsisting it. -- the decision to give battle to the enemy. -- Zollicoffer's brigade. -- the contested hill. -- death of Zollicoffer. -- defeat of the Confederates. -- Crittenden crosses the Cumberland. -- his losses.Importance of the disaster. -- designs of the energy in Western Kentucky. -- popular delusion as to Johnston's strength. -- hopelessness of his defence. -- official apathy in Richmond. -- Beauregard's conference with Johnston. -- the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. -- the avenue to Nashville. -- Grant's ascent of the Tennessee.capture of Fort Henry. -- noble and gallant conduct of Gen. Tilghman. -- battle of Fort Donelson. -- Johnston's reasons for making a battle there. -- commands of Buckner, Pillow, and Floyd. -- site and strength of the Fort. -- battle of the trenches.Engagement of the gunboats. -- two days success of the Confederates. -- suffering of the troops from cold. -- exposure of the wounded. -- Federal reinforcements. -- the Confederate council of war. -- plan of attack, to extricate the garrison. -- a fierce and terrible conflict. -- the Federals forced back towards the Wynn's Ferry road. -- the opportunity of exit lost. -- Gen. Buckner's explanation. -- a commentary on military hesitation. -- how the day was lost. -- nine hours of combat -- scenes on the battle-field. -- council of Confederate generals. -- Gen. Pillow's proposition. -- Literal report of the conversation of Gens. Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. -- a surrender determined. -- escape of Floyd and Pillow. -- Buckner's letter to Grant. -- Johnston's movement to Nashville. -- excitement there. -- retreat of Johnston's command to Murfreesboroa. -- panic in Nashville. -- capture of Roanoke Island by the enemy. -- Burnside's expedition. -- Gen. Wise's estimate of the importance of Roanoke Island. -- his correspondence and interviews with Secretary Benjamin. -- defences of the Island. -- naval engagement. -- Commodore Lynch's squadron. -- Landing of the enemy on the Island.-)defective reconnoissance of the Confederates. -- their works flanked. -- the surrender. -- pursuit of the Confederate gunboats. -- extent of the disaster. -- censure of the Richmond authorities. -- Benjamin accused by the Confederate Congress

The year 1862 is a remarkable one in the history of the war. It opened with a fearful train of disasters to the Confederacy that brought it [199] almost to the brink of despair, and then was suddenly illuminated by successes that placed it on the highest pinnacle of hope, and put it even in instant expectation of its independence.

In the latter part of 1861, while the Confederacy was but little active, the North was sending into camp, from her great population, regiments numbered by hundreds; was drilling her men, heaping up ammunition and provisions, building gunboats for the western rivers, and war-ships for the coast, casting mortars and moulding cannon. She was preparing, with the opening of the next campaign, to strike those heavy blows in Tennessee and Louisiana under which the Confederate States reeled and staggered almost to fainting, and from which they recovered by a series of successes in Virginia, the most important of the war, and the most brilliant in the martial annals of any people.

We enter first upon the story of disaster. Despite the victory of Belmont, the Confederate situation in Kentucky was one of extreme weakness. Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston had assumed command of the Confederate forces in the Western department. He had occupied Bowling Green in Kentucky, an admirably selected position, with Green River along his front, and railway communication to Nashville and the whole South. Had he simply to contend with an enemy advancing from Louisville, he would have had but little to fear; but Grant had command of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, and while he might thus advance with his gunboats and transports upon Nashville, Buell, the other Federal commander, was prepared to attack in front.

Battle of Fishing Creek.

Having failed, as we have seen, at Columbus, the next movement of the enemy in Kentucky was to be made against the Confederate right at Mill Springs, on the upper waters of the Cumberland. Brig.-Gen. Zollicoffer had been reinforced and superseded by Maj.-Gen. Crittenden, and a small but gallant army had been collected for the defense of the mountains. The position of the Confederates was advanced across the Cumberland to Camp Beech Grove; and the camp was fortified with earth-works.

The Federal army in Eastern Kentucky occupied Somerset and Columbia, towns to the north of, but in the vicinity of the upper part of the Cumberland River. Two strong columns of the enemy were thus advancing upon Gen. Crittenden; and he formed the determination to fall upon the nearest column, that under Thomas advancing from Columbia, before the arrival of the troops under General Schoepf from Somerset.

But there were other reasons which determined Crittenden with his small army of about four thousand men to risk a battle against Thomas' [200] column, which consisted of two brigades of infantry, and was greatly his superiour in artillery. I-is troops had been in an almost starving condition for some time. For several weeks bare existence in the camp was very precarious, from want of provisions and forage. Regiments frequently subsisted on one third rations, and this very frequently of bread alone. Wayne County, which was alone productive in this region of Kentucky, had been exhausted, and the neighbouring counties of Tennessee could furnish nothing to the support of the army. The condition of the roads and the poverty of the intervening section rendered it impossible to transport from Knoxville, a distance of one hundred and thirty miles. The enemy from Columbia commanded the Cumberland River, and only one boat was enabled to come up with supplies from Nashville. With the channel of communication closed, the position became untenable without attack. Only corn could be obtained for the horses and mules, and this in such small quantities that often cavalry companies were sent out on unshod horses which had eaten nothing for two days.

On the afternoon of the 18th of January a council of war was called. The position of the enemy was unchanged; Fishing Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland, was swollen by recent rains; the force of the enemy at Somerset was cut off by this stream, and could not be expected to join Thomas' column moving from Columbia, until the freshet had subsided. It was unanimously agreed to attack Thomas, before the Somerset brigade could unite with him.

The march began at midnight. The first column, commanded by Gen. Zollicoffer, consisted of four regiments of infantry and four guns; the second, under Gen. Carroll, in support, of three regiments and two guns, the reserve of one regiment and two battalions of cavalry. The Confederates were poorly supplied with artillery; but happily the undulating and wooded surface of the country presented but little opportunity for the use of that arm.

As the morning of the 19th January broke, the firing of the enemy's pickets made a brisk prelude to the contest, and by eight o'clock the battle opened with great fury. Zollicoffer's brigade pushed ahead, and drove the Federals some distance through the woods, and were endeavouring to force their way to the summit of a hill which fully commanded the whole field. He was ascending the hill when the heaviest firing told where the battle raged. He sent for reinforcements, and the brigade of Gen. Carroll was ordered up. When, in another moment, it was announced that he was killed, a sudden gloom pervaded the field and depressed the army. He had fallen on the crest of the hill — the stronghold of the enemy, which he had almost driven them from, and which once gained, the day was ours. The enemy in front of him in the woods, after a few moments' cessation of firing and some movements, was taken by him to be a regiment [201] of his own command, and he rode up to give them a command, when he was shot down, pierced by several balls.1

The fall of this gallant leader, and a movement of the enemy to flank the Confederates, completed their disorder. Gen. Crittenden attempted to rally the troops by the most conspicuous displays of personal daring, in which he seemed to court death, as he reined up his horse again and again abreast of the enemy's fire, and exhorted his men to stand their ground. But the tide of retreat had set in, and all that could be done was to steady the men as they moved back to their entrenchments at Camp Beech Grove. The Confederates left upon the field about three hundred killed and wounded, and lost about a hundred prisoners. But this was not the measure of the disaster.

The enemy did not attempt an energetic pursuit. He followed the retreating Confederates as far as their entrenchments, in front of which he halted for the night. The Confederates, unprovided with rations and the necessary supplies to enable them to hold their entrenched position, and fearing lest they should be cut off, retreated across the Cumberland River during the night. the crossing was effected by the aid of a small steamer, which had made its way with supplies for the army from Nashville some days previous. Time permitted, however, only the transportation of the men ; and Gen. Crittenden effected his retreat after having lost all his baggage, camp equipage, wagons, horses, and artillery.

The battle of Fishing Creek was not remarkable for lists of killed and wounded; but it was undoubtedly the most serious disaster that had yet befallen the Confederate arms. It practically surrendered to the enemy the whole of Eastern Kentucky. The right of the defensive line of the Confederates was now broken, and the value of their position greatly impaired. On the other part of their line — that through Western Kentucky, where the rivers and railroads passed which afforded an entrance into Tennessee, and so to the heart of the Southern States--an inadequate force under Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston was extended from Bowling Green on the right to Columbus on the left, presenting to the enemy advantages of attack which he could not fail to perceive. [202]

Never was there such a popular delusion in the Confederacy as that with respect to the strength of Johnston's army. The Richmond newspapers could not “see why Johnston did not muster his forces, advance farther into Kentucky, capture Louisville, push across the Ohio, sack Cincinnati, and carry the war into Africa.” But at the time these pleasing anticipations of an advance movement were indulged, Johnston actually did not have more than twenty-five thousand men. The utter inadequacy of his force, and the exposure of his flanks and rear, were well known to the proper Confederate authorities. But the Richmond Government appeared to hope for results without the legitimate means for acquiring them; to look for relief from vague and undefined sources; and to await, with dull expectation, what was next to happen. There is nothing more remarkable in the history of the war than the false impressions of the people of the South as to the extent of our forces at the principal strategic point in Kentucky, and the long and apathetic toleration by the Government in Richmond of a prospect that promised nothing but eventual disaster.

Shortly after the disaster at Fishing Creek, Gen. Beauregard had been sent from the Potomac to Gen. Johnston's lines in Kentucky. At a conference between the two generals, Beauregard expressed his surprise at the smallness of Gen. Johnston's forces, and was impressed with the danger of his position. Buell was in front; the right flank was threatened by a large Federal force under Thomas; while the Cumberland River offered an opportunity to an attack in the rear, and held the key to Nashville.

A large force of Federals had been collected at Paducah, at the mouth of the Tennessee River, with a view to offensive operations on the water. This river penetrated Tennessee and Alabama, and was navigable for steamers for two or three hundred miles. There was nothing to resist the enemy's advance up the stream but a weak and imperfectly constructed fort. The Cumberland was a still more important river, and the avenue to Nashville; but nothing stood in the way of the enemy save Fort Donelson, and from that point the Federal gunboats could reach Nashville in six or eight hours, and strike a vital blow at the whole system of Confederate defences north of the capital of Tennessee.

Gen. U. S. Grant commenced his ascent of the Tennessee River early in February, 1862, with a mixed force of gunboats and infantry columns, the latter making parallel movements along the banks. On the 4th of February the expedition arrived at Fort Henry, on the east bank of the river, and near the lines of Kentucky and Tennessee. The fort was obviously untenable, being so absurdly located, that it was enfiladed from three or four points on the opposite shore, while other points on the eastern bank of the river commanded it at easy cannon range. But there were more than twenty-five hundred Confederate troops in the vicinity, under the [203] command of Gen. Tilghman; and to cover the retreat of these, it became necessary to hold the fort to the last moment, and to sacrifice the small garrison for the larger number.

Gen. Grant was moving up the east bank of the river from his landing three miles below, with a force of twelve thousand men; whilst Gen. Smith, with six thousand men, was moving up the west bank to take a position within four or five hundred yards, which would enable him to enfilade the entire works. The only chance for Gen. Tilghman was to delay the enemy every moment possible, and retire his command, now outside the main work, to Fort Donelson. To this end it was necessary to fight the eleven guns of Fort Henry against an armament of fifty-four guns, and an enemy nearly twenty thousand strong, as long as possible.

Gen. Tilghman nobly devoted himself to the fate of the garrison, instead of joining the main body of troops retiring towards Fort Donelson, the safety of whom depended upon a protracted defence of the fort. He engaged the enemy for two hours and ten minutes; disabled one of his gunboats, and inflicted upon him a loss of seventy-three in killed and wounded; and surrendered only when the enemy was breaching the fort directly in front of his guns. The brave Confederate commander and the small garrison of forty were taken prisoners, after having sustained a loss of about twenty killed and wounded.

The fall of Fort Henry was an unimportant event, of itself; but it was the signal for the direction of the most anxious attention to Fort Donelson on the Cumberland.

Battle of Fort Donelson.

Grant approached Fort Donelson, with immense columns of infantry, and with his powerful fleet of gunboats under command of Commodore Foote. Gen. Johnston had devoted the larger part of his army to the defence of this important post. He had determined to fight for Nashville at Donelson; and he had given the best part of his army to do it, retaining only to cover his front about eleven thousand effective men. Gen. Buckner had repaired to Fort Donelson with a command embracing most of the troops who had composed the central army of Kentucky. On the 10th of February, Gen. Pillow arrived with a body of Tennessee troops. On the 13th, Gen. Floyd arrived with his brigade of Virginians, and as senior brigadier took command of the whole Confederate force assembled at Donelson.

The site of the fortification commanded a stretch of the river for more than two miles. The armament of the batteries consisted of eight 32-pounders, three 32-pound carronades, one 8-inch columbiad, and one [204] 32pounder rifled gun. A line of entrenchments about two miles in extent was occupied by the troops.

As the sun rose on the 13th of February, the cannonade from one of the enemy's gunboats announced the opening of the conflict, which was destined to continue for several days and nights. At eleven o'clock the enemy's infantry moved forward upon the entrenchments, along the whole line. They were met by a scorching fire, and were repeatedly driven back. The day closed with the disastrous repulse of the enemy from the trenches at every point of assault. They withdrew their infantry, but kept up an incessant fire of artillery and sharpshooters, by which the Confederates were harassed, and deprived of rest and refreshment.

It was expected that the next day the enemy would renew his attack upon the entrenchments. The morning passed without any indications of such an onset. The smoke of a large number of gunboats and steamboats on the river was observed a short distance below, and information at the same time was received within the Confederate lines of the arrival of reinforcements to the enemy, who was already reported to be more than twenty thousand strong.

At half-past 2 o'clock the Federal fleet drew near the fort. It consisted of six boats, carrying forty-six guns. Five of these iron-plated batteries approached in line of battle, en echelon. They kept up a constant fire for about an hour and a half. Once the boats got within a few hundred yards of the fort. When they reached the point of the nearest approach, the fire on both sides was tremendous. That of the Confederate batteries was too destructive to be borne. Fifty-seven shots struck the flag-ship, and more than a hundred in all, plunged upon the decks of the assaulting fleet. Every boat was disabled, except one, which kept beyond the range of fire. With great difficulty, the shattered iron-clads were withdrawn from the storm of shot hailed from the fort. Fifty-four men were killed and wounded on the boats, while in the batteries not one man was killed or seriously hurt, and no injury was done to the works.

The incidents of two days had been altogether in favour of the Confederates. Their casualties were small; but their sufferings had been extreme. The conflict had commenced on one of the coldest days of winter; the thermometer was twenty degrees below the freezing point; and while the troops watched on their arms in the trenches, it sleeted and snowed. Many of the men had their feet and hands frozen. Their clothes were stiff from frozen water. In the engagement in the trenches, many of the wounded who could neither walk nor crawl had been left in the narrow space between the two armies; and as no flag of truce was allowed, under which they might have been brought off, they lay there in the pitiless weather, calling in vain for help. Many thus died who otherwise might have been saved, and those of the wounded who were recovered alive, not [205] until the last act of the battle's tragedy had been closed, were blue with cold, and covered with frost and snow.

Reinforcements were now continually reaching the enemy. Transports were arriving nearly every hour, from which dark streams of men could be seen pouring along the roads, and completing the investment of the lines around the fort. Indeed, it might have been evident from the first, that the whole available force of the Federals on the western waters could and would be concentrated at Fort Donelson, if it was deemed necessary to reduce it. It was fair to infer that while the enemy kept up a constant menace of attack, his object was merely to gain time to pass a column above the works, both on the right and left banks, and thus to cut the Confederate communications and prevent the possibility of egress.

On the night of the 14th, Gen. Floyd called a council of the officers of divisions and brigades. It was unanimously determined that but one course was left by which a rational hope could be entertained of saving the garrison, and that was to dislodge the enemy from his position on our left, and thus to pass the troops into the open country lying southward, towards Nashville.

The plan of attack was that Gen. Pillow, aided by Brigadier-General Bushrod R. Johnson, with three brigades, should advance to the assault of the enemy on the right, while Gen. Buckner, with his force, chiefly of Kentucky and Tennessee troops, should advance upon the left and centre of the enemy along the Wynn's Ferry road, which led from the river and village of Dover, and was the only practicable route to Nashville. When Gen. Pillow moved out of his position next morning, he found the enemy prepared to receive him in advance of his encampment. For nearly two hours the battle raged fiercely on this part of the line, with very little change in the position of the adverse forces.

As the morning advanced, a brigade of Mississippians and Tennesseans was thrown forward, and advanced up a hollow, firing terrible volleys into the enemy's right flank. This heroic band of troops, less than fifteen hundred in number, marched up the hill, loading and firing as they moved, gaining inch by inch, on an enemy at least four times their number. For one long hour this point was hotly contested by the enemy. At last, unable to bear the hot assault, the Federals gave way, and fell back slowly to the left, retiring towards the Wynn's Ferry road.

Gen. Buckner's advance on the centre and left of the enemy was retarded by various causes, and it was nearly nine o'clock before this part of the Confederate forces became fairly engaged with the enemy. A portion of his artillery opened upon the flank and left rear of the enemy's infantry, who were being pressed back by Gen. Pillow's division.

As the enemy's line of retreat was along the Wynn's Ferry road, Gen. Buckner now organized an attack further to his right, up a deep valley, in [206] rear of the position occupied by the enemy's batteries. The advance of his column was covered by artillery. The movement, combined with the brisk fire of three batteries, induced a rapid retreat of the enemy, who abandoned a section of his artillery. At the same time that Buckner's infantry was thus penetrating the line of the enemy's retreat, Forrest, with a portion of his cavalry, charged upon their right, while Pillow's division was pressing their extreme right about half a mile further to the left.

It now appeared that the crisis of the battle was past. Victory, or such success as they had sought, seemed to be within the grasp of the Confederates. The Wynn's Ferry road was now not only open, but cleared of the enemy entirely on one side, and for a mile and a half on the other. Of this posture of affairs, Gen. Buckner, in his official report, writes: “I awaited the arrival of my artillery and reserves, either to continue the pursuit of the enemy, or to defend the position I now held, in order that the army might pass out on the road, which was now completely covered by the position occupied by my division. But Gen. Pillow had prevented my artillery from leaving the entrenchments, and also sent me reiterated orders to return to my entrenchments on the extreme right. I was in the act of returning to the lines, when I met Gen. Floyd, who seemed surprised at the order. At his request to know my opinion of the movement, I replied that nothing had occurred to change my views of the necessity of the evacuation of the post, that the road was open, that the first part of our purpose was fully accomplished, and I thought we should at once avail ourselves of the existing opportunity to regain our communications. These seemed to be his own views; for he directed me to halt my troops and remain in position until he should have conversed with Gen. Pillow, who was now within the entrenchments. After that consultation, he sent me an order to retire within the lines, and to repair as rapidly as possible to my former position on the extreme right, which was in danger of attack.”

It was long a source of keen regret among those few people in the Confederacy who knew the real history of the Fort Donelson battle, that their army did not attempt a retreat at the precise period of opportunity. But a few moments of that superabundant caution, which hesitates to seize the crisis, and insists upon reconnoitring an advantage, are often fatal upon a field of battle. It was thought by those superiour to Gen. Buckner in command, that it would be hazardous to attempt a retreat while the enemy, though defeated, was near at hand with fresh troops.

The hesitation was fatal. The effect of the violent attack of the Confederates on the enemy's right, followed up by Gen. Buckner's advance on his centre, had been to roll over his immense masses towards the right of the Confederate works, immediately in front of their river batteries. The advantage was instantly appreciated. The enemy drove back the Confederates, [207] advanced on the trenches on the extreme right of Gen. Buckner's command, getting possession, after a stubborn conflict of two hours, of the most important and commanding position of the battle-field, being in the rear of our river batteries, and, advancing with fresh forces towards our left, drove back our troops from the ground that had been won in the severe and terrible conflict of the early part of the day.

After nine hours of combat, the enemy held the field; he had changed the fortune of the day by a quick and opportune movement; and he now held the Confederates in circumstances of desperation. Of the results of the day, Gen. Floyd reported: “We had fought the battle to open our way for our army, and to relieve us from an investment which would necessarily reduce us and the position we occupied by famine. We had accomplished our object, but it occupied the whole day, and before we could prepare to leave, after taking in the wounded and the dead, the enemy had thrown around us again, in the night, an immense force of fresh troops, and reoccupied his original position in the line of investment, thus again cutting off our retreat. We had only about 13,000 troops, all told. Of these we had lost a large proportion in the three battles. The command had been in the trenches night and day for five days, exposed to snow, sleet, mud, and ice and water, without shelter, without adequate covering, and without sleep.”

The field of battle was thickly strewn with dead and wounded. The loss of the Confederates was estimated at fifteen hundred. That of the enemy Gen. Floyd conjectures, in his official report, to have been at least five thousand.

Ghastly spectacles were abundant, as the eye ranged over this scene of mortal strife; for the ground was in many places red with frozen blood, and the snow which lay under the pine thickets was marked with crimson streams. There were two miles of dead strewn thickly, mingled with firearms, artillery, dead horses, and the paraphernalia of the battle-field. Many of the bodies were fearfully mangled, and the ponderous artillery wheels had crushed limbs and skulls. The dead were promiscuously mingled, sometimes grappling in the fierce death-throe, sometimes facing each other as they gave and received the fatal shot and thrust, sometimes huddled in grotesque shapes, and again heaped in piles which lay six or seven feet deep.

“ I could imagine,” says an eye-witness of the field of carnage, “nothing more terrible than the silent indications of agony that marked the features of the pale corpses which lay at every step. Though dead and rigid in every muscle, they still writhed, and seemed to turn to catch the passing breeze for a cooling breath. Staring eyes, gaping mouths, clenched hands, and strangely contracted limbs, seemingly drawn into the smallest compass, as if by a mighty effort to rend asunder some irresistible bond [208] which held them down to the torture of which they died. One sat against a tree, and, with mouth and eyes wide open, looked up into the sky, as if to catch a glance at its fleeting spirit. Another clutched the branch of an overhanging tree, and hung half-suspended, as if in the death-pang he had raised himself partly from the ground; the other had grasped his faithful musket, and the compression of his mouth told of the determination which would have been fatal to a foe, had life ebbed a minute later. A third clung with both hands to a bayonet which was buried in the ground. Great numbers lay in heaps, just as the fire of the artillery mowed them down, mangling their forms into an almost undistinguishable mass.”

Late in the night of the 15th of February, another conference of general officers was called. It was, indeed, a memorable one. Gen. Pillow appears to have favoured a proposition for a desperate onset upon the right of the enemy's forces, with the prospect of thus extricating a considerable proportion of the command. Gen. Buckner remarked, that it would cost the command three-fourths its present numbers to cut its way out, and it was wrong to sacrifice three-fourths to save one-fourth; that no officer had a right to cause such a sacrifice. The alternative of the proposition was a surrender of the position and command. Gen. Floyd declared that he would not surrender himself a prisoner, and proposed to escape with such portion of his command as was possible on two small steamers, which had arrived from Nashville during the night. Gen. Pillow remarked that he thought there were no two persons in the Confederacy whom the “Yankees” would prefer to capture than himself and Gen. Floyd, and asked the latter's opinion as to the propriety of his accompanying him. To this inquiry Gen. Floyd replied that it was a question for every man to decide for himself. Gen. Pillow then addressed the inquiry to Gen. Buckner, to which Gen. Buckner remarked that he could only reply as Gen. Floyd had done; that it was a question for every officer to decide for himself, and that in his own case he regarded it as his duty to remain with his men and share their fate, whatever it might be.

It was then arranged that the command should be passed. Gen. Buckner asked, “Am I to consider the command as turned over to me?.” Gen. Floyd replied, “Certainly, I turn over the command.” Gen. Pillow replied quickly, “I pass it. I will not surrender.” Gen. Buckner then called for pen, ink, paper, and a bugler, and prepared to open communication with the Federal commander.

A number of men had fallen in battle; some of the sick and wounded had been removed; and detachments of troops had escaped under Floyd, Pillow, and Forrest; leaving the number surrendered by Gen. Buckner to the enemy less than nine thousand men. Gen. Grant had demanded “Unconditional surrender” --words, which the Northern populace afterwards attached to his name as a peculiar title to glory; and Gen. [209] Buckner replied: “The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.”

The fall of Fort Donelson was the heaviest blow that had yet fallen on the Confederacy. It opened the whole of West Tennessee to Federal occupation, and it developed the crisis which had long existed in the West. Gen. A. S. Johnston had previously ordered the evacuation of Bowling Green; and the movement was executed while the battle was being fought at Donelson. Gen. Johnston awaited the result of the battle opposite Nashville. At dawn of the 16th of February he received the news of a defeat. Orders were at once issued to push the army forward across the river as soon as possible. The city papers or extras of that morning published despatches announcing a “glorious victory.” The city was wild with joy. About the time the people were assembling at the churches, it was announced by later extras that “Donelson had fallen.” The revulsion was great. Governor Harris had been informed of the fact early in the morning, and had proceeded to Gen. Johnston's Headquarters to advise with him as to the best course to adopt under the altered circumstances. The General said that Nashville was utterly indefensible; that the army would pass right through the city; that any attempt to defend it with the means at his command would result in disaster to the army, and the destruction of the city; that the first and highest duty of the governor was to the public trusts in his hands, and he thought, to discharge them properly, he should at once remove the archives and public records to some safer place, and call the Legislature together elsewhere than at Nashville. Gen. Johnston retreated with his army towards Murfreesboroa, leaving behind him a scene of panic and dismay.

The confusion at Nashville did not reach its height until a humane attempt was made to distribute among the poor a portion of the public stores which could not be removed. The lowest passions seemed to have been aroused in a large mass of men and women, and the city appeared as if it was in the hands of a mob. A detachment of Forrest's cavalry endeavoured to enforce order. Houses were closed, carriages and wagons were concealed, to prevent the mob from taking possession of them. Horses were being seized everywhere. After every other means failed, Forrest charged the mob, before he could get it so dispersed as to get wagons to the doors of the departments, to load up the stores for transportation. The loss of public stores by depredations was not less than a million of dollars. “In my judgment,” said Col. Forrest, “if the quartermaster and commissary had remained at their posts, and worked diligently with the means at their command, the government stores might all have [210] been saved between the time of the fall of Fort Donelson and the arrival of the enemy in Nashville.”

We shall complete this chapter by a brief account of a defeat cf Confederate arms that preceded by several days the fall of Fort Donelson, and took place on a widely separated theatre of the war. The thread of Confederate disaster takes us here from the tributaries of the Mississippi to the low and melancholy sea-line of North Carolina.

Capture of Roanoke Island by the enemy.

About the middle of January, 1862, Gen. Burnside entered Pamlico Sound at the head of an expedition, consisting of more than sixty vessels of all kinds, twenty-six of them gunboats, and with at least fifteen thousand men. It readily became apparent that Roanoke Island was the first object of his attack. This important island lies in the broad inlet between Pamlico and Currituck Sounds, and about midway between the main land and the narrow strip of bank which dykes out the ocean. It was of great moment to the South to defend it, for its possession by the enemy would unlock to them Albemarle and Currituck Sounds, open to them eight rivers, give them access to the country chiefly supplying provisions to Norfolk, and enable them to menace that city, and the four canals and two railroads running through the country by which it was surrounded.

Gen. Henry A. Wise, who had been ordered to the command of the department embracing Roanoke Island, declared that it should be defended at the expense of twenty thousand men, and many millions of dollars. But to his estimates of the importance of the position he found that the Richmond authorities had a deaf ear. On the 7th of January, 1862, Gen. Wise assumed command, and made an examination of the defences. He found them inadequate, in his opinion, to resist even the force then at Hatteras, and as the Burnside expedition began already to point to the North Carolina coast, he called urgently for reinforcements. He addressed a letter to Mr. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of War, and followed it by a personal interview, in which he strenuously insisted that more troops should be sent to the island. He urged that a large part of Gen. Huger's command, at Norfolk, might be safely detached, and used for the defence of Roanoke. He argued that the fifteen thousand men under Huger were idle, and were only kept at Norfolk in view of a possible attack, and that they would much more advantageously defend the city, by guarding the approaches through the Sound, than by remaining inactive. He explained that Roanoke Island guarded more than four-fifths of all Norfolk's supplies of corn, pork and forage, and that its capture by the enemy would cut the command of Gen. Huger off from all its most [211] efficient transportation. But Mr. Benjamin would not adopt these views, and would not disturb Gen. Huger; he told Wise sullenly that there were no men to spare to reinforce him; and at last he brought the conferences and protestations of the General to an abrupt termination by a peremptory military order, dated the 22d of January, requiring him to proceed immediately to Roanoke Island.

The defences of the island consisted of seven small gunboats and six land batteries, not casemated, and wholly inefficient. After manning the forts, there were scarcely more than eight hundred effective men. In the sickness of Gen. Wise, who was confined to his bed at Nag's Head, the immediate command devolved upon Col. Shaw, the senior officer present.

In the morning of the 7th of February the enemy made an attack, with twenty-two heavy steamers, upon the little Confederate squadron under the command of Commodore Lynch, and upon Fort Bartow, the most southern of the defences on the west side of the island. The action commenced at two miles distance, the Confederate gunboats retiring slowly with the intention of drawing the enemy under the guns of the batteries. Soon the air was filled with heavy reports, and the sea was disturbed in every direction by fragments of shell. Explosions of shell rang through the air; and occasionally a large one hundred and twenty-four pounder thundered across the waves, and sent its ponderous shot in the midst of the flotilla. At times, the battery would be enveloped in the sand and dust thrown up by shot and shell. The scene of this bombardment, which lasted continuously from ten in the morning until half-past 5 in the afternoon, was a singular and picturesque one. The melancholy shoreline which bound it, was an unbroken one of dark cypresses and pines. On the water were the enemy's vessels rapidly pouring out shot and shell at the line of Confederate gunboats or at the batteries. Still further on, just gleaming through the sunlight, was the forest of masts and the white sails of the transports, kept far in the rear out of the reach of danger.

Our casualties on the gunboats were only one man killed and three wounded. But the engagement had been disastrous. The Curlew, our largest steamer, was sunk, and the Forrest, one of the propellers, disabled. Commodore Lynch writes, in his official report, that at the close of the action he had “not a pound of powder or a loaded shell remaining.” This singular deficiency of ammunition and the disasters he had already sustained, determined the policy of retreat, and under cover of the night, the squadron was drawn off to Elizabeth City.

Gen. Burnside gave orders that a landing should be made on the island the next morning. It was accomplished under cover of the gunboats, about the centre of the western shore. At nine o'clock the enemy advanced through a country swampy and covered with forest. About the centre of the island an entrenchment had been thrown up, covered on the [212] flanks by marshy ground; and here the Confederates took position to dispute the enemy's advance. But the marshes were found to be practicable. The Federals advanced with flanking columns debouching to the right and left. Their overwhelming numbers literally crowded upon and crushed our battery of three field-pieces on the left, 2 while at the same time the enemy passed through the cypress swamp, which Col. Shaw thought impracticable, and turned the right flank. The order was given to spike the guns in the battery, and retreat to the northern end of the island. The Confederates were followed up to the shore, slowly and cautiously, by the enemy. Some effected their escape in boats, which were quickly towed away by a steamer; but the bulk of the command was captured, including two boats conveying the wounded, which were compelled to return by the enemy's fire.

The capture of the island was immediately followed by the pursuit of the Confederate gunboats. A squadron, consisting of fourteen gunboats, was detached for that purpose, and, on the 10th of February, found the remaining Confederate vessels drawn up in line in the narrow channel which leads up to Elizabeth City. After a brief and desultory engagement, the crews of the Confederate gunboats, after setting fire to the vessels, abandoned them, and fled for the shore. Thus was the disaster of Roanoke Island complete. The Confederates had lost in all the actions but twenty-three killed and fifty-eight wounded. But the disaster in other respects was great. The enemy had taken six forts, forty guns, nearly two thousand prisoners, and upwards of three thousand small arms; secured the water avenue of Roanoke River, navigable for one hundred and twenty miles; got possession of the granary and larder of Norfolk, and threatened the back-door of that city.

The disaster of Roanoke Island dates the period when public censure towards the Richmond Government appeared to have first awakened. Heretofore the administration of that Government had gone on almost [213] without inquiry, the people presuming on the wisdom of their rulers, and having but little curiosity to penetrate the details of their business, or to violate that singular official reserve which was thrown around the military condition of the Confederacy from the first gun of the war down to the final catastrophe. But such a disaster as that referred to, in which improvidence stared out, and in which an army had been put, as it were, in a mash-trap — in a condition in which it could neither hope for success nor extricate itself from a besetting peril-provoked public inquiry, and demanded an investigation.3

A committee was accordingly ordered in the Confederate Congress to report upon the affair of Roanoke Island. It declared that the Secretary of War, Mr. J. P. Benjamin, was responsible for an important defeat of our arms, which might have been safely avoided by him; that he had paid no practical attention to the appeals of Gen. Wise; and that he had, by plain acts of omission, permitted that general and an inconsiderable force to remain to meet at least fifteen thousand men, well armed and equipped. No defence to this charge was ever attempted by Secretary Benjamin or his friends; and the unanimous conclusion of the committee, charging one of President Davis' Cabinet with a matter of the gravest offence known to the laws and the interests of the country, was allowed to remain on the public record without commentary or consequence.

1 The dead body of Zollicoffer was brutally insulted by the enemy. The Cincinnati Commercial contained the following sentiment expressed on behalf of what was styled in the usual Yankee magniloquence and virtuous phrase “a conquering army, battling for the right:”

The corpse lay by the side of the road along which we all passed, and all had a fair view of what was once Zollicoffer. I saw the lifeless body as it lay in a fence-corner by the side of the road, but Zollicoffer himself is now in hell. Hell is a fitting abode for all such arch-traitors. May all the other chief conspirators in this rebellion soon share Zollicoffer's fate-shot dead through the instrumentality of an avenging God-their spirits sent straightway to hell, and their lifeless bodies lie in a fence-corner, their faces spattered with mud, and their garments divided up, and even the hair of their head cut off and pulled out by an unsympathizing soldiery of a conquering army, battling for the right.

2 In this action was killed Capt. 0. Jennings Wise, of the “Richmond Blues,” a son of Gen. Wise, a young man of brilliant promise, prominently connected with the Richmond press before the war, and known throughout the State for his talents, chivalric bearing, and modesty of behaviour. A correspondent furnishes the following particulars of the death of this brilliant young officer:

About ten o'clock Capt. Wise found his battalion exposed to the galling fire of a regiment; turning to Capt. Coles, he said: “ This fire is very hot; tell Col. Anderson we must fall back or be reinforced.” Capt. Coles turned to pass the order, and was shot through the heart, dying instantly. Capt. Wise was wounded, first in the arm and next through the lungs, which latter wound brought him to the ground. He was borne to the hospital in charge of Surgeon Coles, and received two additional wounds while being borne from the field. That evening Surgeon Coles put him into a boat to send him to Nag's Head, but the enemy fired upon it, and he was obliged to return. The enemy seemed to regret this, and treated him very kindly, taking him out of the boat on a mattress, and starting back to the hospital. The next day, about eleven o'clock A. M., he calmly and in his perfect senses, without suffering, softly passed away. A Federal officer, standing by him and witnessing his death, said, “ There is a brave man!”

3 The Richmond Enquirer had the following commentary on the Roanoke Island affair. It contains a picture of Confederate improvidence, which was to be repeated at many stages of the war, and to put our scantiness and shiftlessness in frightful contrast with the active zeal and munificent preparations of the enemy:

On the island no preparations whatever had been made. Col. Shaw's regiment, Col. Jordan's, and three companies of Col. Marten's regiment, had been on the island for months. These regiments numbered, all present, one thousand nine hundred and fourteen. Of these, about one thousand seven hundred were soldiers. There were four hundred and fifty absent and sick, leaving one thousand two hundred and fifty for all duty. From these, five batteries had to be manned, leaving, on the morning of the eighth, only eight hundred and three North Carolina infantry reported for duty. These had not been paid, or clothed, or fed, or drilled. The island had no implements for the labour on the works, no teams but two pair of broken-down mules, and no horses for field-artillery. There were but three pieces of field-artillery-one twenty-four pounder, one eighteen pounder, and one brass howitzer — the mules drew the latter, and the men the heavier pieces through the sand. There was only twelve-pounder ammunition for any of the large pieces. The forts, built on the island before Gen. Wise was assigned to the command, were all in the wrong places-at the north end of the island-leaving all the landings on the south end uncovered by a single battery. No breastworks had been made, and there were no tools to make any — the marshes at the south end of the island had no defensive works upon them. But one steam-tug and two barges were provided, and there were no means of retreat either by tugs or ferry. Thus it will be seen there were provided no means of defence, and still less of escape, though timely notice and a providential warning of twenty-five days had been given.

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