The Capture of Fort Donelson (part 1)

by Lew Wallace
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 'net.

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 and rains.

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 map.

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 felled timber.

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 perilous.

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 superior.


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.


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 message:

"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 forenoon.

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, and Nebraska.


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 colonels.

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 pleasure.

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 division.

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.


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 2)


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 desertion.

Johnson, Bushrod Rust (1817-1880)
Graduated West Point 1840; Seminole war; Mexican War.
After the war: Chancellor of University of Nashville, farmer.

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 Shiloh.

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.



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 & harbors:
instructor at West Point; observer in Crimean War.
Commanded Army of the Potomac; appointed general-in-chief Nov. 1861
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" (1824-1899)
Carpenter; Lawyer; Mexican war; gold prospector.
War Service: April 1861 Col. of 8th Illinois;
commanded 1st Bde/1st Division at Forts Henry and Donelson
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 town.

Smith, Charles Ferguson (1807-1862)
Graduated West Point 1825; Mexican war.
Commanded 2nd Divn/Army of Tennessee at Fts Henry and Donelson.
Died of an infection and dysentery.

Wallace, William Henry/Harvey Lamb [W.H.L.] (1821-1862)
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 conspirators.
President of court-martial of Henry Wirz of Andersonville fame.
After the war: Governor of New Mexico Territory; US Minister to Turkey;
author; lecturer; speaker; wrote "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ."

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

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