The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Fort Donelson and Fort Henry

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The American Cyclopædia
Fort Donelson and Fort Henry
Edition of 1879. See also Battle of Fort Donelson on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

FORT DONELSON and Fort Henry, two fortifications in N. W. Tennessee, near the border of Kentucky, erected by the confederates late in 1861, and captured by the Union forces in February, 1862. The Cumberland and Tennessee rivers run nearly parallel, at a distance of about 10 m., for about 50 m. before they fall into the Ohio. Near the point where this parallel course begins, Fort Henry was built on the Tennessee, and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. The positions were of importance as covering the passage by boats up these rivers, and as protecting the railway communication between Memphis and Bowling Green, Ky., which was then the central point of confederate operations in this region. In February, 1862, a combined naval and military expedition was planned against these forts. Admiral Foote arrived before Fort Henry on the 6th, and commenced the attack without waiting for the arrival of the land forces. After a bombardment of an hour the fort was surrendered; but the garrison, about 3,000 strong, escaped to Fort Donelson, with the exception of about 60 who were made prisoners. Gen. Grant with about 30,000 men moved, partly by water and partly by land, upon Fort Donelson, which was now commanded by Gen. Floyd, formerly United States secretary of war, who had in all about 15,000 men. Next in command were Gens. Pillow and Buckner. On the 13th about half the Union force had come up, and there was sharp skirmishing, in which each side lost about 200 in killed and wounded. On the 14th the gunboats arrived, and in the afternoon opened fire, and had nearly silenced the batteries of the fort when the steering apparatus of the two largest vessels was shot away, and the fleet was forced to withdraw, with a loss of 54 men. Grant, meanwhile, was proceeding to invest the fort, when on the morning of the 15th the confederates made a sudden sally, hoping to break through the lines of investment and make their way to Nashville; but after gaining some considerable advantages they were, late in the afternoon, driven back into their intrenchments by superior numbers. The loss on each side was about 2,000 killed, wounded, and prisoners. During the night a council of war was held, in which it was decided that the fort must be given up. But Floyd declared that he would not surrender himself; he said, “You know my position with the federals: it would not do.” Pillow was in favor of still trying to cut their way out; in any case, he would not make the surrender. It was finally decided that Floyd should make over the command to Pillow, who should in turn make it over to Buckner, and in the mean while Floyd and Pillow might try to save their respective commands. About half of these, some 2,000, succeeded in getting across the river, and escaped. On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 16, Grant was drawn up ready to assault, when a flag of truce came from Buckner, who proposed the appointment of commissioners to agree upon terms of capitulation, and asked for an armistice until noon for that purpose. Grant replied: “No terms other than an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner responded: “The overwhelming force under your command compels me, notwithstanding the splendid success of the confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.” The number of prisoners was about 13,000, with 48 guns, and large quantities of small arms, ammunition, and supplies. The conduct of Floyd and Pillow was sharply censured by the confederate government, and both were suspended from their commands.