Capture of Fort Donelson (part 1)
by Lew Wallace
from The Century Magazine,
Vol. XXIX, Dec., 1884
NOTE FROM THIS
WEB SITE OWNER: The
author is Lewis "Lew" Wallace, Civil War
general who wrote Ben Hur. Wallace was born April
10 1827, Brookville IN; died Feb. 15 1905,
Crawfordsville, IN. Before the Civil War, he was a
politician and lawyer and served in the Mexican War. He
became a Maj. General in March 1862. After the Civil War,
he served on the military commission which tried the
Lincoln conspirators. Wallace was president of the
court-martial of Henry Wirz, the Confederate officer who
ran Andersonville prison. He became Governor of New
Mexico Territory, and US minister to Turkey.
This is a text-only version of the magazine article that
appeared in Dec. 1884. To see a version complete with
photos, graphics, art work, and maps, click here: Ron
O'Callaghan's Civil War Home Page. O'Callaghan is an antique
dealer who happened upon a collection of antique
magazines. He kindly scanned the graphics,
"OCR-ed" the text, and put it all up on the
If there is an error in what appears here, it is not the
error of Lew Wallace. After Wallace put pen to paper, a
magazine editor would have made some changes; the editor
added a few notes. Then a printer set the type, and
another printed the pages of the magazine. The ink aged
on paper for over a hundred years, waiting to be found by
Mr. O'Callaghan. The OCR-scanning software read only what
was there, and could not account for "b"s
that had lost ink at the bottom and looked like "h"s,
or "l"s that had lost ink and looked
like exclamation marks. In cases where it was obvious
that a letter was showing incorrectly, I made the
correction. At some point along the travel of Wallace's
words, someone inserted "sic" twice.
Whether done by the magazine editor, a printer, or by Mr.
O'Callaghan, is unknown. Computer software has moved this
text file back and forth a few times. Therefore, if there
is an error, please understand that Lew Wallace did not
make the error.
[Info on the generals who participated in this battle is
at the bottom of this page.]
by Lew Wallace
(part one of two parts)
The village of Dover was -- and for that matter yet is --
what our English cousins would call the shire-town of the
county of Stewart, Tennessee. In 1860 it was a village
unknown to fame, meager in population, architecturally
poor. There was a court-house in the place, and a tavern,
remembered now as double-storied, unpainted, and with
windows of eight-by-ten glass, which, if the panes may be
likened to eyes, were both squint and cataractous.
Looking through them gave the street outside the
appearance of a sedgy slough of yellow backwater. The
entertainment furnished man and beast was good of the
kind; though at the time mentioned a sleepy traveler,
especially if he were of the North, might have been
somewhat vexed by the explosions which spiced the good
things of a debating society that nightly took possession
of the bar-room, to discuss the relative fighting
qualities of the opposing sections. The pertinency of the
description lies in the fact that on these occasions the
polemicists of Dover, even the wisest of them, little
dreamed how near they were to a day when trial of the
issue would be had on the hills around them, and at their
very doors, and that another debating society assembled
in the same tavern would shortly pass upon the same
question under circumstances to give its decision a real
sanction, and clothe the old town, obscure as it was,
with an abiding historical interest.
If there was little of the romantic in Dover itself,
there was still less of poetic quality in the country
round about it. The only beautiful feature was the
Cumberland river, which, in placid current from the
south, poured its waters, ordinarily white and pure as
those of the springs that fed it, past the village on the
east. Northward there was a hill, then a small stream,
then a bolder hill round the foot of which the river
swept to the west, as if courteously bent on helping
Hickman's creek out of its boggy bottom and cheerless
ravine. North of the creek all was woods.
Taking in the ravine of the creek, a system of hollows,
almost wide and deep enough to be called valleys,
inclosed the town and two hills, their bluffest ascents
being on the townward side. Westward of the hollows there
were woods apparently interminable. From Fort Henry,
twelve miles north-west, a road entered the village,
stopping first to unite itself with another wagon-way,
now famous as the Wynne's Ferry road, coming more
directly from the west. Still another road, leading off
to Charlotte and Nashville, had been cut across the low
ground near the river on the south. These three highways
were the chief reliances of the people of Dover for
communication with the country, and as they were more
than supplemented by the river and its boatage, the three
were left the year round to the guardianship of the winds
However, when at length the Confederate authorities
decided to erect a military post at Dover, the town
entered but little into consideration. The real
inducement was the second hill on the north; more
properly it might be termed a ridge. Rising about a
hundred feet above the level of the inlet at its feet,
the reconnoitering engineer, seeking to control the
navigation of the river by a fortification, adopted it at
sight. And for that purpose the bold bluff was in fact a
happy gift of nature, and we shall see presently how it
was taken in hand and made terrible.
It is of little moment now who first enunciated the idea
of attacking the rebellion by way of the Tennessee river;
most likely the conception was simultaneous with many
minds. The trend of the river; its navigability for large
steamers; its offer of a highway to the rear of the
Confederate hosts in Kentucky and the State of Tennessee;
its silent suggestion of a secure passage into the heart
of the belligerent land, from which the direction of
movement could be changed toward the Mississippi, or,
left, toward Richmond; its many advantages as a line of
supply and of general communication, must have been
discerned by every military student who, in the summer of
1861, gave himself to the most cursory examination of the
It is thought better and more consistent with fact to
conclude that its advantages as a strategic line, so
actually obtrusive of themselves, were observed about the
same time by sensible men on both sides of the contest.
With every problem of attack there goes a counter problem
of defense. A peculiarity of the most democratic people
in the world is their hunger for heroes. The void in that
respect had never been so gaping as in 1861. General
Scott was then old and passing away, and the North caught
eagerly at the promise held out by George B. McClellan;
while the South, with as much precipitation, pinned its
faith and hopes on Albert Sidney Johnston. There is
little doubt that up to the surrender of Fort Donelson
the latter was considered the foremost soldier of all who
chose rebellion for their part. When the shadow of that
first great failure fell upon the veteran, President
Davis made haste to re-assure him of his sympathy and
unbroken confidence. In the official correspondence which
has survived the Confederacy there is nothing so
pathetic, and at the same time so indicative of the manly
greatness of Albert Sidney Johnston, as his letter in
reply to that of his chief.
When General Johnston assumed command of the Western
Department, the war had ceased to be a new idea. Battles
had been fought. Preparations for battles to come were
far advanced. Already it had been accepted that the North
was to attack and the South to defend. The Mississippi
river was a central object ; if opened from Cairo to Fort
Jackson (New Orleans), the Confederacy would be broken
into halves, and good strategy required it to be broken.
The question was whether the effort would be made
directly or by turning its defended positions. Of the
national gun-boats afloat above Cairo, some were
formidably iron-clad. Altogether the flotilla was strong
enough to warrant the theory that a direct descent would
be attempted; and to meet the movement the Confederates
threw up powerful batteries, notably at Columbus, Island
No. 10, Memphis, and Vicksburg. So fully were they
possessed of that theory that they measurably neglected
the possibilities of invasion by way of the Cumberland
and Tennessee rivers. Not until General Johnston
established his headquarters at Nashville was serious
attention given to the defense of those streams. A report
to his chief of engineers of November 21, 1861,
establishes that at that date a second battery on the
Cumberland at Dover had been completed; that a work on
the ridge had been laid out, and two guns mounted; and
that the encampment was then surrounded by an abatis of
Later, Brigadier-general Lloyd Tilghman was sent to Fort
Donelson as commandant, and on January 25th he reports
the batteries prepared, the entire field-works built with
a trace of two thousand nine hundred feet, and rifle-pits
guarding the approaches commenced. The same officer
speaks further of reenforcements housed in four hundred
log cabins, and adds that while this was being done at
Fort Donelson, Forts Henry and Heiman, over on the
Tennessee, were being thoroughly strengthened. January
30th, Fort Donelson was formally inspected by
Lieutenant-Colonel Gilmer, chief engineer of the Western
Department, and the final touches ordered to be given it.
It is to be presumed that General Johnston was satisfied
with the defenses thus provided for the Cumberland River.
From observing General Buell at Louisville, and the stir
and movement of multiplying columns under General U. S.
Grant in the region of Cairo, he suddenly awoke
determined to fight for Nashville at Donelson. To this
conclusion he came as late as the beginning of February;
and thereupon the brightest of the Southern leaders
proceeded to make a capital mistake. The Confederate
estimate of the Union force at that time in Kentucky
alone was one hundred and nineteen regiments. The force
at Cairo, St. Louis, and the towns near the mouth of the
Cumberland river was judged to be about as great. It was
also known that we had unlimited means of transportation
for troops, making concentration a work of but few hours.
Still General Johnston persisted in fighting for
Nashville, and for that purpose divided his thirty
thousand men. Fourteen thousand he kept in observation of
Buell at Louisville. Sixteen thousand he gave to defend
Fort Donelson. The latter detachment he himself called
"the best part of his army." It is difficult to
think of a great master of strategy making an error so
Having taken the resolution to defend Nashville at
Donelson, he intrusted the operation to three chiefs of
brigade -- John B. Floyd, Gideon J. Pillow, and Simon B.
Buckner. Of these, the former was ranking officer, and he
was at the time under indictment by a grand jury at
Washington for malversation as Secretary of War under
President Buchanan, and for complicity in an embezzlement
of public funds. As will be seen, there came a crisis
when the recollection of the circumstance exerted an
unhappy influence over his judgment. The second officer
had a genuine military record; but it is said of him that
he was of a jealous nature, insubordinate, and
quarrelsome. His bold attempt to supersede General Scott
in Mexico was green in the memories of living men. To
give pertinency to the remark, there is reason to believe
that a personal misunderstanding between him and General
Buckner, older than the rebellion, was yet unsettled when
the two met at Donelson. All in all, therefore, there is
little doubt that the junior of the three commanders was
the fittest for the enterprise intrusted to them. He was
their equal in courage; while in devotion to the cause
and to his profession of arms, in tactical knowledge, in
military bearing, in the faculty of getting the most
service out of his inferiors, and inspiring them with
confidence in his ability, -- as a soldier in all the
higher meanings of the word, he was greatly their
FORT DONELSON READY FOR BATTLE.
The 6th of February, 1862, dawned darkly after a
thunder-storm. Pacing the parapets of the work on the
hill above the inlet formed by the junction of Hickman's
creek and the Cumberland River, a sentinel, in the
serviceable butternut jeans uniform of the Confederate
army of the West, might that day have surveyed Fort
Donelson almost ready for battle. In fact, very little
was afterward done to it. There were the two water
batteries sunk in the northern face of the bluff, about
thirty feet above the river; in the lower battery nine
thirty-two pounder guns and one ten-inch Columbiad, and
in the upper another Columbiad, bored and rifled as a
thirty-two-pounder, and two thirty-two-pounder
carronades. These guns lay between the embrasures, in
snug revetment of sand in coffee-sacks, flanked right and
left with stout traverses. The satisfaction of the sentry
could have been nowise diminished at seeing the backwater
lying deep in the creek; a more perfect ditch against
assault could not have been constructed. The fort itself
was of good profile, and admirably adapted to the ridge
it crowned. Around it, on the landward side, ran the
rifle-pits, a continuous but irregular line of logs,
covered with yellow clay.
From Hickman's Creek they extended far around to the
little run just outside the town on the south. If the
sentry thought the pits looked shallow, he was solaced to
see that they followed the coping of the ascents, seventy
or eighty feet in height, up which a foe must charge, and
that, where they were weakest, they were strengthened by
trees felled outwardly in front of them, so that the
interlacing limbs and branches seemed impassable by men
under fire. At points inside the outworks, on the inner
slopes of the hills, defended thus from view of an enemy
as well as from his shot, lay the huts and log-houses of
the garrison. Here and there groups of later comers,
shivering in their wet blankets, were visible in a
bivouac so cheerless that not even morning fires could
relieve it. A little music would have helped their
sinking spirits, but there was none. Even the picturesque
eftect of gay uniforms was wanting.
In fine, the Confederate sentinel on the ramparts that
morning, taking in the whole scene, knew the jolly
rollicking picnic days of the war were over.
To make clearer why this 6th of February is selected to
present the first view of the fort, about noon that day
the whole garrison was drawn from their quarters by the
sound of heavy guns, faintly heard from the direction of
Fort Henry, a token by which every man of them knew that
a battle was on. The occurrence was in fact expected, for
two days before a horseman had ridden to General Tilghman
with word that at 4:30 o'clock in the morning rocket
signals had been exchanged with the picket at Bailey's
Landing, announcing the approach of gun-boats. A second
courier came, and then a third; the latter, in great
haste, requesting the general's presence at Fort Henry.
There was quick mounting at headquarters, and, before the
camp could be taken into confidence, the general and his
guard were out of sight. Occasional guns were heard the
day following. Donelson gave itself up to excitement and
conjecture. At noon of the 6th, as stated, there was
continuous and heavy cannonading at Fort Henry, and
greater excitement at Fort Donelson. The polemicists
hastened their departure from town. At exactly midnight
the gallant Colonel Heiman marched into Fort Donelson
with two brigades of infantry rescued from the ruins of
Forts Henry and Heiman. The officers and men by whom they
were received then knew that their turn was at hand; and
at day-break, with one mind and firm of purpose, they set
about the final preparation.
Brigadier-General Pillow reached Fort Donelson on the
9th; Brigadier-General Buckner came in the night of the
11th; and Brigadier-General Floyd on the 13th. The
latter, by virtue of his rank, took command.
The morning of the 13th -- calm, springlike, the very
opposite of that of the 6th -- found in Fort Donelson a
garrison of twenty eight regiments of infantry: thirteen
from Tennessee, two from Kentucky, six from Mississippi,
one from Texas, two from Alabama, four from Virginia.
There were also present two independent battalions of
Kentuckians, one regiment of cavalry, and artillerymen
for six light batteries and seventeen heavy guns, making
a total of quite eighteen thousand effectives.
General Buckner's division -- six regiments and two
batteries -- constituted the right wing, and was posted
to cover the land approaches to the water batteries. A
left wing was organized into six brigades, commanded
respectively by Colonels Heiman, Davidson, Drake,
Wharton, McCausland, and Baldwin, and posted from right
to left in the order named. Four batteries were
distributed amongst the left wing. General Bushrod R.
Johnson, an able officer, served the general commanding
as chief-of-staff. Dover was converted into a depot of
supplies and ordnance stores. These dispositions made,
Fort Donelson was ready for battle.
EN ROUTE TO FORT DONELSON.
It may be doubted if General Grant called a council of
war. The nearest approach to it was a convocation held on
the Tigress, a steam-boat renowned throughout the
Army of the Tennessee as his headquarters. The morning of
the 11th of February, a staff-officer visited each
commandant of division and brigade with the simple verbal
"General Grant sends his compliments, and requests
to see you this afternoon on his boat." Minutes of
the proceedings were not kept; there was no adjournment;
each person retired when he got ready, knowing that the
march would take place next day, probably in the
There were in attendance on the occasion some officers of
great subsequent notability. Of these Ulysses S. Grant
was first. The world knows him now; then his fame was all
before him. A singularity of the volunteer service in
that day was that nobody took account of even a
first-rate record in the Mexican War. The battle of
Belmont, though indecisive, was a much better reference.
A story was abroad that Grant had been the last man to
take boat at the end of that affair, and the addendum
that he had lingered in face of the enemy until he was
hauled aboard with the last gang-plank, did him great
good. From the first his silence was remarkable. He knew
how to keep his temper. In battle, as in camp, he went
about quietly, speaking in a conversational tone; yet he
appeared to see everything that went on, and was always
intent on business. He had a faithful assistant
adjutant-general, and appreciated him; he preferred,
however, his own eyes, word, and hand. His aides were
little more than messengers. In dress he was plain, even
negligent; in partial amendment of that his horse was
always a good one and well kept. At the council --
calling it such by grace -- he smoked, but never said a
word. In all probability he was framing the orders of
march which were issued that night.
Charles F. Smith, of the regular army, was also present.
He was a person of superb physique, very tall, perfectly
proportioned, straight, square-shouldered, ruddy-faced,
with eyes of genuine blue, and long snow-white mustaches.
He seemed to know the army regulations by heart, and
caught a tactical mistake, whether of command or
execution, by a kind of mental coup d'oeil. He was
naturally kind, genial, communicative, and never failed
to answer when information was sought of him; at the same
time he believed in "hours of service"
regularly published by the adjutants as a rabbi believes
in the ten tables, and to call a court-martial on a
"bummer" was in his eyes a sinful waste of
stationery. On the review he had the look of a marshal of
France. He could ride along a line of volunteers in the
regulation uniform of a brigadier-general, plume,
chapeau, epaulets and all, without exciting laughter --
something nobody else could do in the beginning of the
war. He was at first accused of disloyalty, and when told
of it, his eyes flashed wickedly; then he laughed, and
said, "Oh, never mind! They'll take it back after
our first battle." And they did. At the time of the
meeting on the Tigress he was a brigadier-general,
and commanded the division which in the land operations
against Fort Henry marched up the left bank of the river
against Fort Heiman.
Another officer worthy of mention was John A. McClernand,
also a brigadier. By profession a lawyer, he was in his
first of military service. Brave, industrious,
methodical, and of unquestioned cleverness, he was
rapidly acquiring the art of war.
There was still another in attendance on the Tigress
that day not to be passed -- a young man who had followed
General Grant from Illinois, and was seeing his first of
military service. No soldier in the least familiar with
headquarters on the Tennessee can ever forget the slender
figure, large black eyes, hectic cheeks, and sincere,
earnest manner of John A. Rawlins, then assistant
adjutant-general, afterward major-general and secretary
of war. He had two devotions in especial -- the cause and
his chief. He lived to see the first triumphant and the
latter first in peace as well as in war. Probably no
officer of the Union was mourned by so many armies.
Fort Henry, it will be remembered, was taken by
Flag-Officer Foote on the 6th of February. The time up to
the 12th was given to reconnoitering the country in the
direction of Fort Donelson. Two roads were discovered:
one of twelve miles direct, the other almost parallel
with the first, but, on account of a slight divergence,
two miles longer.
By eight o'clock in the morning, the first division,
General McClernand commanding, and the second, under
General Smith, were in full march.
McClernand's was composed of Illinois troops entirely,
with the exception of company C, Second United States
cavalry and Company I, Fourth United States cavalry. The
first brigade, Colonel Richard J. Oglesby, five regiments
of infantry, the Eighth, Eighteenth, Twenty-ninth,
Thirtieth, and Thirty-first Illinois; artillery,
batteries A and B, Illinois; cavalry, besides the
companies stated, Carmichael's, Dollins', O'Harnett's,
and Stewart's. The second brigade, Colonel W. H. L.
Wallace, four regiments of infantry, the Eleventh,
Twentieth, Forty-fifth, and Forty-eighth Illinois;
artillery, batteries B and D; cavalry, the Fourth
Illinois. Third brigade, Colonel W. R. Morrison, two
regiments of infantry, the Seventeenth and Forty-ninth
Illinois. General Smith's division was more mixed, being
composed, first brigade, Colonel John McArthur, of the
Ninth, Twelfth, and Forty-first Illinois; third brigade,
Colonel John Cook, the Seventh and Fiftieth Illinois, thc
Fifty-second Indiana, Fourteenth Iowa, and Thirteenth
Missouri, with light artillery batteries D, H, and K,
Missouri; fourth brigade, Colonel Jacob G. Lauman,
infantry, the Twenty-fifth Indiana, Second, Seventh, and
Fourteenth Iowa, and Berge's sharp-shooters; fifth
brigade, Colonel Morgan L. Smith, infantry, the Eighth
Missouri and Eleventh Indiana.
It is to be observed now that the infantry of the command
with which, on the morning of the 12th of February,
General Grant set out to attack Fort Donelson was
twenty-five regiments in all, or three less than those of
the Confederates. Against their six field-batteries he
had seven. In cavalry alone he was materially stronger.
The rule in attacking fortifications is five to one; to
save the Union commander from a charge of rashness,
however, he had at control a fighting quantity ordinarily
at home on the sea rather than the land.
After receiving the surrender of Fort Henry, Flag Officer
Foote had hastened to Cairo to make preparation for the
reduction of Fort Donelson. With six of his boats, he
passed into the Cumberland River; and on the 12th, while
the two divisions of the army were marching across to
Donelson, he was hurrying, fast as steam could drive him
and his following, to a second trial of iron batteries
afloat against earth batteries ashore. The
"Carondelet," Commander Walke, having preceded
him, had been in position below the fort since the 12th.
By sundown of the 12th, McClernand and Smith reached the
points designated for them in orders.
On the morning of the 13th of February General Grant,
with about 20,000 men, was before Fort Donelson. [Ed.
Note: General Grant estimates his available forces at
this time at 15,000, and on the last day at 27,000; 5,000
or 6,000 of whom were guarding transportation trains in
the rear.] We have had a view of the army in the
works ready for battle; a like view of that outside and
about to go into position of attack and assault is not so
easily to be given. At dawn the latter host rose up from
the bare ground, and, snatching bread and coffee as best
they could, fell into lines that stretched away over
hills, down hollows, and through thickets making it
impossible for even colonels to see their regiments from
flank to flank.
Pausing to give a thought to the situation, it is proper
to remind the reader that he is about to witness an event
of more than mere historical interest; he is about to see
the men of the North and North-west and of the South and
South-west enter for the first time into a strife of
arms; on one side, the best blood of Tennessee, Kentucky,
Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, aided materially by
fighting representatives from Virginia; on the other, the
best blood of Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri,
THE FEDERALS FIND POSITIONS.
We have now before us a spectacle seldom witnessed in the
annals of scientific war -- an army behind field-works
erected in a chosen position waiting quietly, while
another army very little its superior in numbers proceeds
at leisure to place it in a state of siege. Such was the
operation General Grant had before him at day-break of
the 13th of February. Let us see how it was accomplished
and how it was resisted.
In a clearing about two miles from Dover there was a
log-house, at the time occupied by a Mrs. Crisp. As the
road to Dover ran close by, it was made the headquarters
of the commanding general. All through the night of the
12th, the coming and going was incessant. Smith was
ordered to find a position in front of the enemy's right
wing, which would place him face to face with Buckner.
McClernand's order was to establish himself on the
enemy's left, where he would be opposed to Pillow.
A little before dawn Berge's sharp-shooters were astir.
Theirs was a peculiar service. Each was a preferred
marksman, and carried a long-range Henry rifle, with
sights delicately arranged as for target practice. In
action each was perfectly independent. They never
maneuvered as a corps. When the time came they were
asked, "Canteens full?" "Biscuits for all
day?" Then their only order, "All right; hunt
you holes, boys." Thereupon they dispersed, and,
like Indians, sought cover to please themselves, behind
rocks and stumps, or in hollows. Sometimes they dug
holes; sometimes they climbed into trees. Once in a good
location, they remained there the day. At night they
would crawl out and report in camp. This morning, as I
have said, the sharp-shooters dispersed early to find
places within easy range of the breastworks.
The movement by Smith and McClernand was begun about the
same time. A thick wood fairly screened the former. The
latter had to cross an open valley under fire of two
batteries, one on Buckner's left, the other on a high
point jutting from the line of outworks held by Colonel
Heiman of Pillow's command.
Graves commanded the first, Maney the second: both were
of Tennessee. As always in situations where the advancing
party is ignorant of the ground and of the designs of the
enemy, resort was had to skirmishers, who are to the main
body what antenna are to insects. Theirs it is to unmask
the foe. Unlike sharp-shooters, they act in bodies.
Behind the skirmishers, the batteries started out to find
positions, and through the brush and woods, down the
hollow's, up the hills the guns and caissons were hauled.
It is nowadays a very steep bluff, in face of which the
good artillerist will stop or turn back. At Donelson,
however, the proceeding was generally slow and toilsome.
The officer had to find a vantage-ground first; then with
axes a road to it was hewn out; after which, in many
instances, the men, with the prolongs over their
shoulders, helped the horses along. In the gray of the
dawn the sharp-shooters were deep in their deadly game;
as the sun came up, one battery after another, having
found position, opened fire, and was instantly and
gallantly answered; and all the time behind the hidden
sharpshooters, and behind the skirmishers, who
occasionally stopped to take a hand in the fray, the
regiments marched, route-step, colors flying, after their
About eleven o'clock Commander Walke, of the Carondelet,
engaged the water batteries. The air was then full of the
stunning music of battle; though as yet not a volley of
musketry had been heard. Smith, nearest the enemy at
starting, was first in place; and there, leaving the
fight to his sharp-shooters and skirmishers and to his
batteries, he reported to the chief in the log-house,
and, like an old soldier, calmly waited orders.
McClernand, following a good road, pushed on rapidly to
the high grounds on the right. The appearance of his
column in the valley covered by the two Confederate
batteries provoked a furious shelling from them. On the
doublequick his men passed through it; and when in the
wood beyond, they resumed the route-step and saw that
nobody was hurt, they fell to laughing at themselves. The
real baptism of fire was yet in store for them.
When McClernand arrived at his appointed place and
extended his brigades, it was discovered that the
Confederate outworks offered a front too great for him to
envelop. To attempt to rest his right opposite their
extreme left would necessitate a dangerous attenuation of
his line and leave him without reserves. Over on their
left, moreover, ran the road already mentioned as passing
from Dover on the south to Charlotte and Nashville, which
it was of the highest importance to close hermetically
that soon there would be no communication left General
Floyd except by the river. If the road to Charlotte were
left to the enemy, they might march out at their
The insufficiency of his force was thus made apparent to
General Grant, and whether a discovery of the moment or
not, he set about its correction. He knew a reenforcement
was coming up the river under convoy of Foote; besides
which a brigade, composed of the Eighth Missouri and the
Eleventh Indiana infantry and Battery A, Illinois, had
been left behind at Forts Henry and Heiman under myself.
A courier was dispatched to me with an order to bring my
command to Donelson. I ferried my troops across the
Tennessee in the night, and reported with them at
headquarters before noon the next day. The brigade was
transferred to General Smith; at the same time an order
was put into my hand assigning me to command the third
As the regiments marched past me in the road, I organized
them: first brigade, Colonel Cruft, the Thirty-first
Indiana, Seventeenth Kentucky, Forty-fourth Indiana, and
Twenty-fifth Kentucky; third brigade, Colonel Thayer, the
First Nebraska, and Seventy-sixth and Sixty-eighth Ohio.
Four other regiments, the Forty-sixth, Fifty-seventh, and
Fifty-eighth Illinois and Twentieth Ohio, intended to
constitute the second brigade, came up later, and were
attached to Thayer's command.
My division was thereupon conducted to a position between
Smith and McClernand, enabling the latter to extend his
line well to the left and cover the road to Charlotte.
Thus on the 14th of February the Confederates were
completely invested, except that the river above Dover
remained to them. The supineness of General Floyd all
this while is to this day incomprehensible. A vigorous
attack the morning of the 13th might have thrown Grant
back upon Fort Henry. Such an achievement would have more
than offset Foote's conquest. The morale to be
gained would have alone justified the attempt. But with
McClernand's strong division on the right, my own in the
center, and Smith's on the left, the opportunity was
gone. On General Grant's side the possession of the river
was all that was wanting; with that he could force the
fighting, or wait the certain approach of the grimmest
enemy of the besieged -- starvation.
ILLINOIS BREAKS A LANCE WITH TENNESSEE.
It is now -- morning of the 14th -- easy to see and
understand with something more than approximate exactness
the oppositions of the two forces. Smith is on the left
of the Union army opposite Buckner. My division, in the
center, confronts Colonels Heiman, Drake, and Davidson,
each with a brigade. McClernand, now well over on the
right, keeps the road to Charlotte and Nashville against
the major part of Pillow's left wing. The infantry on
both sides are in cover behind the crests of the hills or
in thick woods, listening to the ragged fusillade which
the sharp-shooters and skirmishers maintain against each
other almost without intermission. There is little pause
in the exchange of shells and round shot. The careful
chiefs have required their men to lie down. In brief, it
looks as if each party was inviting the other to begin.
These circumstances, the sharp-shooting and cannonading,
ugly as they may seem to one who thinks of them under
comfortable surroundings, did in fact serve a good
purpose the day in question in helping the men to forget
their sufferings of the night before. It must be
remembered that the weather had changed during the
preceding afternoon: from suggestions of spring it turned
to intensified winter. From lending a gentle hand in
bringing Foote and his iron-clads up the river, the wind
whisked suddenly around to the north and struck both
armies with a storm of mixed rain, snow, and sleet. All
night the tempest blew mercilessly upon the unsheltered,
fireless soldiers, making sleep impossible. Inside the
works, nobody had overcoats; while thousands of those
outside had marched from Fort Henry as to a summer fete,
leaving coats, blankets, and knapsacks behind them in
camp. More than one stout fellow has since admitted, with
a laugh, that nothing was so helpful to him that horrible
night as the thought that the wind, which seemed about to
turn his blood into icicles, was serving the enemy the
same way; they, too, had to stand out and take the blast.
In the hope now that the reader has a tolerable
presentment of the situation which the orators of Dover
had, to the extent of their influence, aided in bringing
upon their village that dreary morning of the 14th of
February, let us go back to the preceding day, and bring
up an incident of McClernand's swing into position.
About the center of the Confederate outworks there was a
V-shaped hill, marked sharply by a ravine on its right
and another on its left. This Colonel Heiman occupied
with his brigade of five regiments -- all of Tennessee
but one. The front presented was about twenty-five
hundred feet. In the angle of the V, on the summit of the
hill, Captain Maney's battery, also of Tennessee, had
been planted. Without protection of any kind, it
nevertheless completely swept a large field to the left,
across which an assaulting force would have to come in
order to get at Heiman or at Drake, next on the south.
Maney, on the point of the hill, had been active
throughout the preceding afternoon, and succeeded in
drawing the fire of some of McClernand's guns. The duel
lasted until night. Next morning it was renewed with
increased sharpness, Maney being assisted on his right by
Graves's battery of Buckner's division, and by some
pieces of Drake's on his left.
McClernand's advance was necessarily slow and trying.
This was not merely a logical result of unacquaintance
with the country and the dispositions of the enemy; he
was also under an order from Geueral Grant to avoid
everything calculated to bring on a general engagement.
In Maney's well-served guns he undoubtedly found serious
annoyance, if not a positive obstruction. Concentrating
guns of his own upon the industrious Confederate, he at
length fancied him silenced and the enemy's infantry on
the right thrown into confusion -- circumstances from
which he hastily deduced a favorable chance to deliver an
assault. For that purpose he reenforced his third
brigade, which was nearest the offending battery, and
gave the necessary orders.
Up to this time, it will be observed, there had not been
any fighting involving infantry in line. This was now to
be changed. Old soldiers, rich with experience, would
have regarded the work proposed with gravity; they would
have shrewdly cast up an account of the chances of
success, not to speak of the chances of coming out alive;
they would have measured the distance to be passed, every
foot of it under the guns of three batteries, Maney's in
the center, Graves's on their left, and Drake's on their
right -- a direct line of fire doubly crossed. Nor would
they have omitted the reception awaiting them from the
rifle-pits. They were to descend a hill entangled for two
hundred yards with underbrush, climb an opposite ascent
partly shorn of timber; make way through an abatis of
tree-tops; then, supposing all that successfully
accomplished, they would be at last in face of an enemy
whom it was possible to reenforce with all the reserves
of the garrison -- with the whole garrison, if need be. A
veteran would have surveyed the three regiments selected
for the honorable duty with many misgivings. Not so the
men themselves. They were not old soldiers. Recruited but
recently from farms and shops, they accepted the
assignment heartily and with youthful confidence in their
prowess. It may be doubted if a man in the ranks gave a
thought to the questions, whether the attack was to be
supported while making, or followed up if successful, or
whether it was part of a general advance. Probably the
most they knew was that the immediate objective before
them was the capture of the battery on the hill.
The line when formed stood thus from the right: the
Forty-ninth Illinois, then the Seventeenth, and then the
Forty-eighth, Colonel Haynie. At the last moment, a
question of seniority arose between Colonels Morrison and
Haynie. The latter was of opinion that he was the ranking
officer. Morrison replied that he would conduct the
brigade to the point from which the attack was to be
made, after which Haynie could take the command, if he
desired to do so.
Down the hill the three regiments went, crashing and
tearing through the undergrowth. Heiman, on the lookout,
saw them advancing. Before they cleared the woods, Maney
opened with shells. At the foot of the descent, in the
valley, Graves joined his fire to Maney's. There Morrison
reported to Haynie, who neither accepted nor refused the
command. Pointing to the hill, he merely said, "Let
us take it together." Morrison turned away, and
rejoined his own regiment. Here was confusion in the
beginning, or worse, an assault begun without a head.
Nevertheless, the whole line went forward. On a part of
the hill-side the trees were yet standing. The open space
fell to Morrison and his Forty-ninth, and paying the
penalty of the exposure, he outstripped his associates.
The men fell rapidly; yet the living rushed on and up,
firing as they went. The battery was the common target.
Maney's gunners, in relief against the sky, were shot
down in quick succession. His first lieutenant (Burns)
was one of the first to suffer. His second lieutenant
(Massie) was mortally wounded. Maney himself was hit;
still he stayed, and his guns continued their punishment;
and still the farmer lads and shop boys of Illinois clung
to their purpose. With marvelous audacity they pushed
through the abatis, and reached a point within forty
yards of the rifle-pits. It actually looked as if the
prize were theirs. The yell of victory was rising in
their throats. Suddenly the long line of yellow
breastworks before them, covering Heiman's five
regiments, crackled and turned into flame. The forlorn
hope stopped -- staggered -- braced up again -- shot
blindly through the smoke at the smoke of the new enemy,
secure in his shelter. Thus for fifteen minutes the
Illinoisans stood fighting. The time is given on the
testimony of the opposing leader himself. Morrison was
knocked out of his saddle by a musket-ball, and disabled;
then the men went down the hill. At its foot they rallied
round their flags, and renewed the assault. Pushed down
again, again they rallied, and a third time climbed to
the enemy. This time the battery set fire to the dry
leaves on the ground, and the heat and smoke became
stifling. It was not possible for brave men to endure
more. Slowly, sullenly, frequently pausing to return a
shot, they went back for the last time; and in going
their ears and souls were riven with the shrieks of their
wounded comrades, whom the flames crept down upon and
smothered and charred where they lay.
Considered as a mere exhibition of courage, this assault,
long maintained against odds -- twice repulsed, twice
renewed -- has been seldom excelled. One hundred and
forty-nine men of the Seventeenth and Forty-ninth were
killed and wounded. Of Haynie's loss we have no report.
Lew Wallace's account
of the capture of Fort Donelson continues. To see the
second half, click here: Capture of Fort Donelson (part
Buckner, Simon Bolivar (1823-1914)
Graduated West Point 1844; Mexican War.
After the war: Newspaper editor; Governor of Kentucky;
Vice-Presidential nominee 1896.
Floyd, John Buchanan (1806-1863)
Lawyer; Secretary of War to President Buchanan.
March 1862, relieved of his command in Nashville for
Johnson, Bushrod Rust (1817-1880)
Graduated West Point 1840; Seminole war; Mexican War.
After the war: Chancellor of University of Nashville,
Johnston, Albert Sidney (1803-1862)
Graduated West Point 1826; Black Hawk war; Mexican War;
fought for Texas independence.
Close friend of President Davis. Bleed to death at
Pillow, Gideon Johnson (1806-1878)
Lawyer; Mexican War.
After Donelson, suspended from command until August 1862.
Tilghman, Lloyd (1816-1863)
Graduated West Point 1836; Mexican War.
UNITED STATES ARMY GENERALS
Buell, Don Carlos (1818-1898)
Graduated West Point 1841; Mexican war.
Investigated by a military commission.
Regarded as overly cautious.
Grant, Ulysses Simpson (Hiram Ulysses) (1822-1885)
Graduated West Point 1843; Mexican war;
After the war: US President.
Logan, John Alexander (1826-1886)
Lawyer; Mexican war; US Congressman.
Medal of Honor.
After the war: US Senator.
McClellan, George Brinton (1826-1885)
Graduated West Point 1846; Mexican war; constructed forts
instructor at West Point; observer in Crimean War.
Commanded Army of the Potomac; appointed general-in-chief
Unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate in 1864.
After the war, Governor of New Jersey.
McClernand, John Alexander (1812-1890)
Black Hawk war; lawyer; US Xongressman.
Commanded 1st Divn at Forts Henry and Donelson.
Commanded 1st Divn/Dist of West Tennessee at Shiloh,
Vicksburg campaign, Arkansas Post.
Commanded XIII Corps at Vicksburg.
Removed from command by Grant.
Commanded XII Corps in Red River
Oglesby, Richard James "Uncle Dick"
Carpenter; Lawyer; Mexican war; gold prospector.
War Service: April 1861 Col. of 8th Illinois;
commanded 1st Bde/1st Division at Forts Henry and
After the war: Governor of Illinois; US Senator.
Rawlins, John Aaron (1831-1869)
Lawyer, city attorney.
Aide-de-camp and assistant adjutant to General Grant.
After the war: Secretary of War (briefly).
Credited with keeping Gen. Grant sober; from Grant's home
Smith, Charles Ferguson (1807-1862)
Graduated West Point 1825; Mexican war.
Commanded 2nd Divn/Army of Tennessee at Fts Henry and
Died of an infection and dysentery.
Wallace, William Henry/Harvey Lamb [W.H.L.]
Lawyer; Mexican war.
Commanded 2nd Bde/1st Divn at Forts henry and Donelson.
Commanded 2nd Divn at Shiloh (mortally wounded).
Wallace, Lewis "Lew" (1827-1905)
Lawyer; Mexican war.
Commanded 3rd Division at Shiloh.
Member of military commission which tried Lincoln
President of court-martial of Henry Wirz of Andersonville
After the war: Governor of New Mexico Territory; US
Minister to Turkey;
author; lecturer; speaker; wrote "Ben Hur: A Tale of
To see the history of
the 8th Illinois Infantry (which participated in this
battle) as written by the Adjutant General, click here: 8th IL Reg. History
To see the life story of one of the "grunts" in
the battle, click here: Frank Reed, a.k.a. Tom Doyle
K, 8th IL|
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