Grant leads Union victories in the West

The first major battles of 1862 took place in the West, where Union troops led by Major General Henry W. Halleck (1815-1872) and Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell (1819-1898) faced Confederate forces commanded by General Albert S. Johnston (18031862). In February 1862, both sides concentrated their attention on western Kentucky. There, two major rivers offered access deep into Confederate territory. These rivers—the Cumberland and the Tennessee—were protected by two Confederate forts, but Halleck was determined to seize control of the waterways. As Buell engaged some of Johnston's Confederate troops in central Kentucky, Halleck ordered one of his commanders, a little-known soldier named Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), to launch an assault on the two rebel forts.

Leading fifteen thousand infantrymen and a fleet of ironclad gunboats under the direction of Commodore A. H. Foote (1806-1863), Grant quickly overwhelmed Fort Henry, the Confederate fortress that guarded the Tennessee River. After capturing Fort Henry on February 6, Grant turned his attention to Fort Donelson, the rebel stronghold that stood watch over the Cumberland River. Grant launched his initial assault on February 12, but conquering Fort Donelson proved to be a difficult task. Protected by a garrison (armed force) of fifteen thousand soldiers equipped with cannons, the Confederate fort put up a hardy fight. By February 16, though, it was clear that the fort was doomed to fall, and Grant demanded an "unconditional and immediate surrender." The beaten Confederate garrison complied, surrendering control of the fort to the Federal troops.

Grant's exploits at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson made him a hero in the North, and he was quickly promoted to the position of major general. The conquest of the two forts also gave the Union control over two major Southern rivers. Halleck wasted little time in taking advantage of this situation. His Union forces immediately made their way down the Cumberland, and on February 24 they captured Nashville, the Confederate state capital of Tennessee.

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