February 14 1862

Confederate Army

1. At 2:35 PM. on February 14, 1862, Flag Officer Foote's fleet of four ironclad vessels (U.S.S. St. Louis, U.S.S. Louisville, U.S.S. Pittsburgh, and the U.S.S. Carotulelet) rounds the bend into full view of Fort Donelson. Under heavy fire, the vessels approach to within four hundred yards of the fort.

2. The U.S.S. St. Louis is struck repeatedly. With her pilot killed, her steering mechanism damaged, and Flag Officer Foote wounded, she drifts slowly downstream.

3. Soon the U.S.S. Louisville is severely damaged and forced out of action when her tiller cables are severed. The U.S.S. Pittsburgh, heavily punished and in danger of sinking, collides with the U.S.S. Carondelet as the former retires downriver.

4. The U.S.S. Carotulelet is the only vessel left in the fight. Damage to her starboard rudder, from the collision with the U.S.S. Pittsburgh, forces her to within 350 yards of the upper battery. Severly damaged, the U.S.S. Carotulelet slowly backs and haws her way downstream. At 4:30 p.m., the fight is over.

5. Confederate lower battery. This battery consisted of one 10-inch Colombiad, which fired one 128-pound shot and eight 32-pounders.

6. Confederate upper battery. This battery consisted of one 64-pounder and two 32-pounders.

7. The Union ironclads consistently overshoot the Confederate batteries. Several shells fall inside Fort Donelson while others drop onto Confederate postitions behind the fort.

Profile of Fort Donelson



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McClernand, ordered an unauthorized attack against some Confederate gun positions that was repulsed with heavy casualties. Those soldiers who had thought war to he an adventure looked on in horror as some of McClern-and's wounded burned to death in brush fires that had been ignited by cannon fire.

On the morning of February 14, Grant was reinforced by Andrew Foote's gunboats and an additional ten thousand men sent by General Halleck in St. Louis. Upon the troops' arrival, Grant immediately ordered attack plans to be made, illustrating how different he was from the generals in the East.

Eastern generals saw the maneuvering of their troops as the primary tactic to force the Confederates into positions where they would have to retreat—allowing the Union troops to capture their objectives—or be destroyed (in much the same way as Napoleon had defeated his enemies in the battles they had studied at West Point). These generals had studied the writings of the Swiss-born strategist, Jomini, and many even carried the master tactician's books with them in the field.

Grant was different. Although he had never read the books of Clausewitz, the Prussian strategist and rival of Jomini— Clausewitz's books were translated into English long after the end of the Civil War— there were large numbers of former German officers in Grant's army who would have known about Clausewitz's aggresive theories of strategy. These theories may have been discussed at some point, as some of Clausewitz's philosophy of combat was apparent in Grant's moves. If this was not the case, Grant knew instinctively that regardless of the central feature of the enemy's power—felt to be the city of Richmond in the East—the defeat and destruction of the enemy's fighting forces is the best way to begin any campaign. Eastern generals chose maneuver and countermaneu-ver as a means to gain a tactical advantage, but Grant generally chose to attack the enemy's fighting capability when he encountered it.

Flag Officer Foote was fresh from his magnificent victory at Fort Henry and Grant ordered him to move against Fort Donelson. Foote had moved his ironclad boats close to the low water-level batteries at Fort Henry and battered them with heavy cannon until they surrendered. His mobile, iron-shielded batteries had proved to be superior to the earthen, stationary guns at Fort Henry; not surprisingly, Foote attempted to repeat this successful tactic against Fort Donelson. He moved his vessels close to the fort as Grant closed the ring of Federal regiments around the besieged Confederates.

Foote moved his ships to within four hundred yards of the twelve large-bore Confederate guns facing him. Shortly after

Military Blacksmith Forge
Sert'ice aboard the ironclad vessels was not without risk. Any exploding shell that penetrated the gunboats' armor plating would deliver deadly, ricocheting fragments throughout the open interior.

ward, the river began to ring like a blacksmith's forge as solid shot from the fort ripped off iron plating and pierced turrets; a 128-pound shot smashed the huge anchor of the Carondelet. Several of the Federal vessels in the small flotilla lost their steering control, crashed into one another, and drifted helplessly away from the fort as the totally unharmed Confederate gunners cheered.

Foote made an error in repeating the tactics he had used at Fort Henry: the gun positions he now faced were placed high on a bluff and he had to elevate his guns to hit these targets. Most of his shots passed over their targets, doing no harm until they fell into the Confederate trenches opposing Grant's ground forces.

This initial round in the battle had gone to the Confederates, but there was little, if any, joy at Floyd's headquarters. The three brigadier generals—Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner—were fully aware by this time that they were caught in a trap that would cost

Confederate Trenches
Indiana provided General Lew Wallace for Federal service. His prompt action at Fort Donelson prevented the escape of the entire Confederate garrison. Later, he would write the popular novel Ben Hur.
Confederate Army
Ironclad gnnboats and open mortar boats were capable of delivering a tremendous bombardment against Confederate shore defenses.

them their army if they did not get out quickly. The gunboats would undoubtedly return. The lesson of Fort Henry was still fresh in their minds and they knew it was unlikely that Foote would repeat the error he had just made.

Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner were also aware that Johnston had completed his retreat from Kentucky, freeing them from their rear guard responsibilities at Donelson. They began to plan a breakout.

Their plan was bold and good: Pillow would concentrate the bulk of his forces on the Confederate left while Buckner shifted his regiments toward the center of the line to support Pillow's surprise blow against the thinly held Federal right, near the river where McClernand's troops had moved. Each of the attacking regiments was ordered to carry three days' rations in their haversacks— sufficient food to carry them through the entire attack and escape attempt.

The terrible weather, freezing cold, and howling wind masked Confederate preparations for the surprise attack. Federal pickets and nearby sharpshooters, secure in their knowledge that the siege of Fort Donelson had begun, huddled behind what protection from the elements they could find. They knew they had superior numbers, support from naval batteries, and a fighting commander who was unlikely to relinquish the initiative. They were sure that they would be the attackers when the time came.

Grant left his headquarters before dawn to coordinate his next moves with Foote, now suffering from a wound he had received during the earlier attack against Fort Donel-son's batteries. As he left his headquarters that morning, Grant issued orders for all of his subordinate commanders to hold their current positions, preventing any repetition of the unauthorized attack ordered by McClernand on February 13- None of the Federal officers suspected a Confederate assault against them and Grant left the field for his conference with Foote without designating an acting commander in his absence.

Shortly after Grant departed, Pillow ordered his regiments to move out of their trenches. Colonel Baldwin's brigade assumed lead positions in the assault, but his men quickly bogged down as they came into contact with McClernand's men. While they had struck hard at McClernand's right, where the Federal lines were most thinly held, the Union soldiers were not caught sleeping. Most had spent a sleepless night in the terrible cold and were in the act of kindling fires that would not attract the bullets of sharpshooters in the daylight when Baldwin's men struck. Their initial fire stopped Baldwin, but his reserve brigade, composed of recently arrived Virginians under Colonel John McCausland, were rushed forward. These hardy men, fresh from the mountain campaigns in western Virginia, attacked ferociously, and heavy fighting erupted around the Virginians. The cavalrymen of tough Nathan Bedford Forrest secured the left flank of the attackers and McClernand's men were forced back nearly two miles. The Virginians and Forrest's cavalry had broken through the Federal encirclement, secured the main road, and could now escape. The cost in casualties, however, was high on both sides.

McClernand's men fought until their ammunition began to run out. Panicked and repeated messages were sent for reinforcements, but Grant was still away from headquarters. The meeting with Foote to coordinate their next move had temporarily removed Grant from the scene, and lacking an acting commander, the Union officers at headquarters were unable to make a decision in response to the disaster facing them.

Brigadier General Lew Wallace acted on his own authority to release one of his brigades to go to the assistance of the beleaguered McClernand. Errors were made in the confusion and some of Wallace's men acci dentally fired into one of McClernand's retreating regiments, a sorely pressed unit that was fighting hard as it moved under pressure to the rear.

Grant returned to the field at approximately 1 p.m. and quickly took decisive action. (It was at this point in the Civil War that Grant demonstrated his great tenacity and decisiveness, which would prove to be precisely the qualities in a commander for which Lincoln would search in 1864.) Most of the commanders in the Union army at this time would have looked at the disaster facing them and would have pulled their men back into a general withdrawal in this lost battle. Grant quickly collected information regarding the enemy's activities and preparations for battle as he just as rapidly ordered troops forward to recapture the lost positions on the right of the Federal line.

After being advised that captured Confederate soldiers were carrying three days' rations with them, he knew the aim of his opponent was not to defeat the Union army in decisive battle but to escape. Grant knew that the ferocity of the attack meant the Confederates had had to shift large numbers of the men from within the defending earthworks into attack formations, so Grant ordered Brigadier General C.F. Smith to attack the fortress' outer works.

Grant's intuition, decisiveness, and ability as a field commander were shortly to receive

Confederate Mine
The end iras sealed for the Confederates at Fort Donelson as General Smith's men forced their tray into the trenches. Smith shouted, "You volunteered to be killed for love of country, and now you can he!" as his men stormed the Confederate defenses.

some much needed assistance from an unlikely source: General Pillow, who ordered the attacking regiments to return to the doomed fort. The trained soldier among Donelson's brigadiers, Buckner, refused to comply with Pillow's order. The militarily illiterate commander, Floyd, heard Buckner's complaint, and agreed to continue with the breakout attempt, but just as quickly reversed himself after a short discussion with the equally incompetent Pillow. As a result of this confrontation, the attackers gave up the field they had captured at so great a cost and returned to the trenches.

As the Confederates withdrew, Union troops followed closely and were soon in their old positions, which had been lost just that morning. Smith's Union regiments followed Grant's order to the letter as they smashed into the trench line on the Confederate left as the rebels retreated; severe fighting to control the breached defenses began. Buckner attempted to expel Smith's men, but Union artillery had been placed into positions from which they could fire on most of the Confederate soldiers who were counterattacking. With General Smith's men occupying the outer works it became obvious to the three generals that the fort could not be defended.

Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner met a second time at their headquarters to debate their next move. Floyd, untrained and inexperienced, was floundering as a commander just as he had in western Virginia the previous fall and winter. Pillow was equally useless, but both agreed with Buckner that the men lacked the strength to fight another battle.

They called the fort's cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was surprised that surrender was being discussed. His scouts had located an unguarded (but Hooded) road over which the entire garrison could escape. The surrender option was selected, however, as the generals felt the

Confederate Mine

Captain Edward McAllister's Illinois battery moved into positions from where they could fire upon a Confederate artillery position. Conveniently, the recoil from firing these guns threw the gunners and their weapons out of sight of their Confederate targets. McAllister's men fired recoiled into safety, and then fired again until their opponents' guns were silent.

Captain Edward McAllister's Illinois battery moved into positions from where they could fire upon a Confederate artillery position. Conveniently, the recoil from firing these guns threw the gunners and their weapons out of sight of their Confederate targets. McAllister's men fired recoiled into safety, and then fired again until their opponents' guns were silent.

men could not survive a march through the deep and freezing waters. Only the choice of commander for the surrender ceremony remained to be decided.

Floyd, the former Secretary of War, had been charged with various criminal actions while in office. Thus, he feared capture, trial, and imprisonment; in fact, he had been the first officer to withdraw from a similar trap at Camp Gauley following a battle with Rosecrans the previous September. He had also led a rapid retreat from a well-planned, but poorly executed Federal trap at Cotton Hill in November. Floyd was excellent in retreat and decided to relinquish command to Pillow.

Pillow, arrogantly overestimating his value to the Confederate war effort, felt the entire Confederacy would suffer a disaster if he were captured. He immediately relinquished command and crossed the Cumberland River in a skiff. Relatively useless, Pillow was the only Confederate officer held in open contempt by Grant.

Buckner, the soldier-officer, would remain in the fort to share the fate of the men under his command. He called for a messenger to carry a message to his old friend, Grant. Meanwhile, Floyd requested permission to escape, once again, from Federal prison—with his Virginian regiments this time. Buckner assented, but with the condition that the escape be completed before the terms of surrender were accepted.

Forrest returned to his cavalry regiment and collected his men. They were going to escape from the doomed fort or die in the attempt. They rode out on the flooded road to safety and many of the cavalrymen carried an infantryman behind him.

Floyd moved his men, two regiments of Virginians and the 20th Mississippi, a regiment placed under his command, to the river bank. Two steamers were approaching the landing at Fort Donelson with loads of corn—Floyd would commandeer the two boats and escape with his men. He ordered the men of the Mississippi regiment to secure the boat landing and form a cordon to hold back the deserters and stragglers who were expected to attempt to board the boats in their haste to escape the Union prisons. The men of the 20th Mississippi were also told to hold their positions until ordered to board the boats.

The Mississippians did their duty. Floyd and his Virginia regiments marched aboard the river boats and then left the Mississippi regiment to its fate. Floyd and Pillow escaped the fury of Grant, but they didn't do quite as well with Jefferson Davis, recently a United States Senator from Mississippi. Both were quickly relieved from command for their actions in escaping the fort; only Floyd would receive a minor command of troops again. Davis never forgave them for their actions at Fort Donelson.

Grant received the note from Buckner, a friend who had loaned him money when Grant had resigned from active service, and quickly considered terms that could be given. After a hasty conference with General Smith, Grant wrote:


Yours of this date, proposing armistice and appointment of commissioners to settle terms of capitulation, is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

U.S. Grant

Buckner accepted Grant's "ungenerous" terms and was having a sparse breakfast with Lew Wallace when Grant arrived at the Confederate headquarters to accept the final surrender of Fort Donelson.

This was a terrible loss for the Confederates to endure. Grant had captured at least twelve thousand men (and probably more), twenty thousand stand of arms (individual weapons and all associated equipment for each weapon). forty-eight pieces of artillery, the seventeen heavy guns that had held off Foote's gun boats, and large quantities of stores. The Confederates lost over 450 men killed and fifteen hundred wounded against slightly heavier Union losses in killed (five hundred) and wounded (twenty-one hundred).

Unfortunately for the Southern cause, the cost of their loss at Fort Donelson was far greater than the numbers might suggest. The fall of the fort opened the way south into the heartland of the Confederacy and allowed the Union forces to continue with the strategy of splitting the Confederacy along the Mississippi River. More seriously and immediate, however, was the approach of a Federal army at Nashville. As the Confederates evacuated Bowling Green. General Don Carlos Buell moved south from Louisville toward strategically important Nashville. The retreating Confederate army moved through Nashville toward new defensive positions south of the Tennessee River.

Johnston evacuated Nashville and left Floyd in charge temporarily as chaos developed among the city's inhabitants. Soon, Nathan Bedford Forrest arrived and took charge of security: military supplies were saved from looters, food was sent south for the retreating army, and ordinance machinery used in the manufacture of cannon was recovered and also sent south.

Johnston chose to concentrate his forces at Corinth, Mississippi, which bordered precariously close to the Gulf Coast. He could not afford to retreat any farther because important rail lines at Corinth connected vital areas of the Confederacy. Johnston knew that Corinth would become the next critical target of the Federal offensive and he began to assemble forces. There were approximately forty thousand men in Johnston's army by April 1862, when the western Confederates were planning to make their surprise move.

Grant was the man of the hour throughout the North. He became "Unconditional Surrender" Grant in the newspapers, and reports that he went into battle with his cigar led to the delivery of massive amounts of cigars from his admirers. He was very popular at the time—with everyone except General Henry Wager Halleck. Fort Donelson was the largest battle fought in the western theater up to that point, and Grant was shortly promoted to second-in-command, under Halleck, in the western region.

Grant had ranked low in his class at West Point and claimed little understanding of the literature of war. Halleck, "Old Brains" of the prewar National army, viewed himself as an intellectual and would not have been attracted to an officer who lacked similar intellectual qualities. Halleck actually appears to have been jealous of Grant's successes and may have attempted to have kept Grant under wraps as his second-in-command. This had little lasting effect, however, because Grant won battles and had proven the strategy of Winfield Scott—assemble a large army, support it with naval forces, and gradually disassemble the Confederacy—to be sound.

Grant was different from most of his contemporaries, who viewed the Civil War as

Surrender Confederate Army
Nathan Bedford Forrest, a legendary Confederate calvary commander, led his troops out of Fort Donelson. Refusing to surrender, he and his men rode through deep water and intense cold to make their escape.

a series of battles to be won or lost. He was able to rise above the rest of them, see battles as part of a long series of events, and make the outcome of each individual event—win, lose, or draw—serve his strategy equally well. Here was a general who knew how to fight a modern war, could accept the huge losses of men that resulted from the use of new technologies, and employed new strategies that were being developed to replace those that had been prevalent during Napo-leon's wars in Europe. More importantly, Lincoln knew he was there and took notice of the new commander and his men in the West.

The impact of the loss of Fort Donelson on the Confederacy was tremendous. Kentucky and territory from which attacks into the North—Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois—could be either threatened or conducted was lost. Tennessee, with its large agricultural capacity and manufacturing capability, was now denied to the South. One of the most strategically positioned of the border states on the western flank, Missouri, was threatened. The Federal forces had proven that their navy could operate successfully on the inland waters: they could attack land positions with heavy guns and deliver battle-ready assault troops and all the necessary supplies, which were being amply produced in the industrial centers of the rapidly mobilizing North.

The new Confederate defensive line was set in the state of Mississippi, resting on the Gulf of Mexico, because Federal gunboats were threatening to split the Confederacy along the Mississippi River. In fact, naval forces were converging from two directions: David G. Farragut's naval squadron was moving north toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and New Orleans, the Confederacy's largest city and principal port, as other gunboats moved downstream to test the South's defenses at Island Number Ten, a fortified position on the Mississippi River.

Albert Sidney Johnston collected all available men in the vicinity to fortify the new defensive line in northern Mississippi as Grant moved forward, waiting for Buell to arrive at Shiloh, Tennessee. Hoping to be able to destroy Grant's army before the arrival of Buell, Johnston and Beauregard attacked the surprised Federal army on April 6. The Union army was steadily driven back,

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but Johnston was killed and Beauregard suspended active operations a short time afterward. Buell arrived with twenty-five thousand reinforcements and on the following morning Grant regained all of the ground he had lost. The battle was inconclusive, but the Confederates again withdrew to Corinth, Mississippi, and were driven from there on May 30. The Union army now controlled much of Tennessee River, and the Mississippi River, as far downstream as Memphis.

Farragut penetrated the Confederate defenses at the mouth of the river and General Benjamin Butler occupied New Orleans on May 1 as Grant began to plan for operations against the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi: Vicksburg.

The taking of Fort Donelson had been the key that unlocked this great series of tactical successes and was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War.

The Supplies For The Confederate Army
Federal naval forces continued to press against Confederate strong points. Farragut's squadron soon moved against Neiv Orleans to allow Union troops under General Ben Butler to occupy the city.

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