Relative positions of both forts and the connecting roads during the siege of February 1216 1862

Approximate scale in miles 0 5

PAGE 15: This Currier and Ives print depicts General Ulysses S. Grant demonstrating his tenacity and highly developed military skills as he struck hard at the Confederate defenders at Fort Donelson.

Previous Confederate defensive measures along the Mississippi system were designed to prevent powerful Union flotillas from accomplishing the much-desired military goal of splitting the enemy (the Confederacy) into two parts. The Confederacy built powerful fortresses at such strategic points as Island Number Ten, Memphis, and Vicksburg to impede any Federal attempts to attack down the Mississippi from the base of operations at St. Louis. In their rush to defend the obvious route of attack, however, Confederate planners neglected the possibility of invasion along the smaller Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

It was late in November 1861 when serious attention was given to these rivers by both sides. One defensive position, Fort Heniy, was hastily constructed on the right bank of the Tennessee River just to the south of Tennessee's boundary with Kentucky. A second, larger defensive position, Fort Donelson, was just as quickly built at a location on the Cumberland River twelve miles away from Fort Henry. Together, these two fortresses constituted the primary Confederate defenses in the region.

Fort Heniy was the first to feel the pressure of the Federal offensive. Naval forces— consisting of newly developed ironclad vessels equipped with heavy guns—moved against Fort Henry and managed to force the small garrison to surrender (without the use of infantry support) on February 6, 1861. Most of the defending garrison, however, escaped capture and retreated to reinforce Fort Donelson.

Federal vessels were soon able to graphically demonstrate the military advantage they had gained on the river systems. Three gun-

Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were hastily constructed as Confederate strategic planners began to realize that combined Federal naval and army operations could penetrate deeply into rebel territory on the rivers. Boats could move fresh Union troops to new attacking points more quickly than the Confederates could march to oppose them.

Approximate scale in miles 0 5

Confederate

Fort Henry Tennessee

Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were hastily constructed as Confederate strategic planners began to realize that combined Federal naval and army operations could penetrate deeply into rebel territory on the rivers. Boats could move fresh Union troops to new attacking points more quickly than the Confederates could march to oppose them.

Confederate

Troops Marchiung Fort Donelson

boats moved up the newly opened Tennessee River, past the now-occupied Fort Henry, attacked a vital railroad, destroyed Confederate shipping on the river, and penetrated into Alabama—a state that lay against the Gulf of Mexico. This demonstration showed the danger the defenders were facing as the attacking Federal forces began to gain more and more momentum.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederacy's regional commander, was placed in an extremely vulnerable position, what with the ability of the Federal navy to conduct unimpeded operations along the Tennessee River, as illustrated by the loss of Fort Henry. There were no defensive positions available to him in Tennessee that Federal forces could not simply bypass to land an army in the defender's rear and then supply them by the river. His defensive line had been easily broken at Fort Henry, and the gathering Union forces could now attack Johnston's remaining forces in Kentucky—at Bowling Green or Columbus—at their leisure. Johnston knew that disaster had struck and that he must evacuate the forces under his command to new positions below the Tennessee River in Alabama.

The military situation of the Confederate army was complicated by the recent arrival of a new subordinate for Johnston, General P.T.G. Beauregard, the man who had commanded forces at Fort Sumter at Bull Run. The touchy, vain general had quarreled with Confederate President Jefferson Davis and had been transferred to the west. Johnston met with Beauregard in Bowling Green on February 7, 1861, the day after the disaster at Fort Henry. They agreed that there were few options to be considered. First, they could concentrate all of their available forces at Fort Donelson in an attempt to crush the army of Grant, the new fighting general in the Union army. Once this was accomplished, they could shift forces to deal with Buell's army in Kentucky, a separate force that was larger than Johnston's entire army. Second, they could leave a small garrison at Fort Donelson in order to delay the pending attack by Grant as the entire Confederate

Charleston Resists Attack
Ironclad gunboats, which were relatively new innovations of military engineering, began to appear in large numbers on western rivers. These mobile fortresses could deliver enormous fire power against Confederate defenses and were decisive elements of the Federal attack at Fort Henry.
Confederate Army Uniforms 1862

IN GOD ViE TB.M8T

Charleston Resists Attack

General P.T.G. Beauregard teas the Confederate commander at Charleston, South Carolina, and ordered the first volley fired in the war, but he proved to be ineffective in the western theater.

Defiant Confederate soldiers confidently moved into positions to resist attacks by large numbers of Union troops. Although the Confederate troops were successful in early transition battles, the Union Army's superior numbers and ready access to military supplies and equipment led to a Confederate defeat at Fort Donelson.

General P.T.G. Beauregard teas the Confederate commander at Charleston, South Carolina, and ordered the first volley fired in the war, but he proved to be ineffective in the western theater.

army was withdrawn. Remaining in their current location as large Federal armies approached was not an alternative to be considered. The loss of Fort Henry left the Confederate army's lines penetrated and their forces vulnerable.

Curiously, Johnston pursued neither of these options. He was afraid to concentrate his units against Grant because any losses would devastate the entire Confederacy in the West. Rather than assign an expendable rear guard to delay Grant at Fort Donelson, he decided to commit additional troops in an attempt to hold Fort Donelson, a position he feared could be captured by gunboats alone (as had happened at Fort Henry). By the time Grant had closed off the escape route from the fort, Johnston had managed to send

Confederate Generals Fort Donelson

General John B. Floyd, a militarily illiterate former governor of Virginia, was placed in command at Fort Donelson by virtue of his seniority. Under indictment in the North for allegations of fraud while serving in the Buchanan administration, Floyd greatly feared capture by the Federal army.

A former lawyer and a greatly overconfident soldier, General Gideon Pillow became second-in-command at the doomed fortress. He had served in the Mexican War, but Pillow knew little about the art of land warfare.

Like the Confederates, the Federal army at Fort Donelson was burdened with politicians serving as generals. General John A. McClernand would be the first to feel the wrath of the trapped Confed erates as they attempted a breakout. Sherman called McClernan, an ambitious person, "the meanest man we had in the West."

General John B. Floyd, a militarily illiterate former governor of Virginia, was placed in command at Fort Donelson by virtue of his seniority. Under indictment in the North for allegations of fraud while serving in the Buchanan administration, Floyd greatly feared capture by the Federal army.

A former lawyer and a greatly overconfident soldier, General Gideon Pillow became second-in-command at the doomed fortress. He had served in the Mexican War, but Pillow knew little about the art of land warfare.

Like the Confederates, the Federal army at Fort Donelson was burdened with politicians serving as generals. General John A. McClernand would be the first to feel the wrath of the trapped Confed erates as they attempted a breakout. Sherman called McClernan, an ambitious person, "the meanest man we had in the West."

nearly one third of his available strength to Donelson's defense.

Johnston's total force of forty-five thousand men had several effective commanders to lead it, but a curious decision was made as to the command at Fort Donelson. Beauregard was an experienced combat commander who was available for command duty, but he was sent to manage the withdrawal from Columbus, Kentucky. Major General Hardee, a West Point graduate, was already in command at Bowling Green, but Johnston nevertheless went there to assist him with the retreat from Kentucky rather than seeing to it that one of them went to Donelson.

Instead, Johnston allowed three brigadier generals to command within the Confederate fortress rather than assign a major general to manage them. Senior among these was John B. Floyd, recently Secretary of War in the Buchanan administration and a former governor of Virginia. Floyd, totally untrained as a military officer, had recently demonstrated his level of military incompetence by mismanaging a campaign against William S. Rosecrans in western Virginia, a series of minor battles and retreats described by Henry Heth as a "comic opera" campaign. This Confederate loss led directly to the creation of a new Union state, West Virginia, in 1863 and was a major political defeat for the efforts of the South to gain foreign recognition. Having been accused of corruption while serving as Secretary of War, Floyd feared indictment, trial, and the "iron cage" in which the Federal army had promised to display him, if he were captured. This lackluster brigadier general was senior to the other two generals by virtue of the date he had been commissioned—thus, Floyd was in command at Fort Donelson.

Second in seniority at Fort Donelson was Gideon Pillow, a Mexican War veteran, Tennessee lawyer, and politician. Like Floyd, Pillow was overconfident and poorly suited for command. His commission date gave him the position of second-in-command.

Unfortunately for the officers and men at the doomed fort, the best qualified of the brigadier generals, Simon Bolivar Buckner, was the lowest-ranking brigadier general on hand. He was a West Point graduate—and a personal friend of Grant—who had left the prewar National army to manage his wife's extensive estate in Kentucky. While he was the best of the lot, Buckner had been the last to receive his commission. Their respective dates of rank set the command structure: Floyd was commander of the fort; Pillow, deputy commander; and Buckner, commander of his own brigade.

The fortress was considerably more inspiring than its commanders. Extensive earthworks curved back to rest one flank on the river while the northern end of the works was protected by swamps and a flooded stream. Large artillery positions sited on a high bluff completed the defenses.

Attackers would be moving against Fort Donelson soon. General Grant began to move fifteen thousand men from Fort Henry on February 12, 1862. Unseasonably warm weather induced the troops to discard both blankets and overcoats in the springlike weather. Thus, the Union forces moved quickly, covering the twelve-mile march in a single day, and began investing the Confederate fort by dusk. The perimeter of the Union attackers was large, however, and a large gap was left on the far right of the line. Grant immediately sent for reinforcements that had been left behind to garrison Fort Henry under the command of Brigadier General Lew Wallace. This group of two thousand men was soon marching to close the opening near the river.

Late in the afternoon, the weather began to change dramatically. The springlike conditions of the morning were replaced by sleet as temperatures dropped to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The soldiers of both sides began to experience what they would later describe as the worst night of the war. Both sides had deployed sharpshooters, and any attempt to build fires attracted bullets. Without fire, all of the soldiers began to feel the effects of the bitter cold.

On February 13, one of Grant's untrained political-appointee brigadier generals, John

Fort Donelstm became a trap for twelve thousand to fifteen thousand soldiers after the breakout attempt of February 12, 1862, failed. Once General Lew Wallace closed off the escape route, the garrison was left with only one option: surrender. Terribly cold weather complicated operations and only a few Confederates escaped capture.

Confederate Army

Fort Donelson

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  • gabriel
    What happend at fort pillow?
    8 years ago

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