The Capture of Fort
Donelson (part 2)
by Lew Wallace
from The Century Magazine
Vol. XXIX, Dec., 1884
To see Part 1 of
this account, click here:
The Capture of Fort
Donelson (part 1)
NOTE FROM THIS WEB SITE OWNER: The author is Lewis
"Lew" Wallace, Civil War general who wrote Ben
Hur. 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
O'Callaghan's Civil War Page Mr. 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. Please note that if there is an error in what
appears here, it is not the error of Lew Wallace.
Info on the generals who participated in the battle is at
the bottom of this page.
by Lew Wallace
(part two of two parts)
THE BATTLE OF THE GUN-BOATS.
There are few things connected with the operations
against Fort Donelson so relieved of uncertainty as this:
that when General Grant at Fort Henry became fixed in the
resolution to undertake the movement, his primary object
was the capture of the force to which the post was
intrusted. To effect their complete environment, he
relied upon Flag-Officer Foote, whose astonishing success
at Fort Henry justified the extreme of confidence.
Foote arrived on the 14th, and made haste to enter upon
his work. The Carondelet (Commander Walke) had
been in position since the 12th. Behind a low outpost of
the shore, for two days, she maintained a fire from her
rifled guns, happily of greater range than the best of
those of the enemy. [Ed. Note: A fuller account of the
part the gun-boats took in the attack will be included in
an illustrated paper on the work of Foote and the Western
Flotilla, to appear in the next issue of "The
Century" by Commander (now Rear-Admiral) Walke, who
was one of the chief actors in this important service.
The construction of the fleet will also be described by
Captain James B. Eads, who planned and built the
At nine o'clock on the 14th, Captain Culbertson, looking
from the parapet of the upper battery, beheld the river
below the first bend full of transports, landing troops
under cover of a fresh arrival of gun-boats. The
disembarkation concluded, Foote was free. He waited until
noon. The captains in the batteries mistook his
deliberation for timidity. The impinging of their shot on
his iron armor was heard distinctly in the fort a mile
and a half away. The captains began to doubt if he would
come at all. But at three o'clock they took position
under fire: the Louisville on the right, the St.
Louis next, then the Pittsburg; then the Carondelet,
Five hundred yards from the batteries, and yet Foote was
not content! In the Crimean War the allied French and
English fleets, of much mightier ships, undertook to
engage the Russian shore batteries, but little stronger
than those at Donelson. The French on that occasion stood
off eighteen hundred yards. Lord Lyons fought his Agamemnon
at a distance of eight hundred yards. Foote forged ahead
within four hundred yards of his enemy, and was still
going on. His boat had been hit between wind and water;
so with the Pittsburg and Carondelet. About
the guns the floors were slippery with blood, and both
surgeons and carpenters were never so busy. Still the
four boats kept on, and there was great cheering; for not
only did the fire from the shore slacken; the lookouts
reported the enemy running. It seemed that fortune would
smile once more upon the fleet, and cover the honors of
Fort Henry afresh at Fort Donelson. Unhappily, when about
three hundred and fifty yards off the hill, a solid shot
plunged through the pilot-house of the flag-ship, and
carried away the wheel. Near the same time the
tiller-ropes of the Louisville were disabled. Both
vessels became unmanageable, and began floating down the
current. The eddies turned them round like logs. The Pittsburg
and Carondelet closed in and covered them with
Seeing this turn in the fight, the captains of the
batteries rallied their men, who cheered in their turn,
and renewed the contest with increased will and energy. A
ball got lodged in their best rifle. A corporal and some
of his men took a log fitting the bore, leaped out on the
parapet, and rammed the missile home. "Now,
boys," said a gunner in Bidwell's battery, "see
me take a chimney!" The flag of the boat and the
chimney fell with the shots. [Ed. Note: One of the
gunners is said to have torn up his coat in lieu of
When the vessels were out of range, the victors looked
around them. The fine form of their embrasures was gone;
heaps of earth had been cast over their platforms. In a
space of twenty-four feet they picked up as many shot and
shells. The air had been full of flying missiles. For an
hour and a half the brave fellows had been rained upon;
yet their losses had been trifling in numbers. Each
gunner had selected a ship, and followed her faithfully
throughout the action, now and then uniting fire on the Carondelet.
The Confederates had behaved with astonishing valor.
Their victory sent a thrill of joy through the army. The
assault on the outworks, the day before, had been a
failure. With the repulse of the gun-boats the
Confederates scored success number two, and the
communication by the river remained open to Nashville.
The winds that blew sleet and snow over Donelson that
night were not so unendurable as they might have been.
A DAY OF BATTLE.
The night of the 14th of February fell cold and dark, and
under the pitiless sky the armies remained in position so
near to each other that neither dared light fires.
Overpowered with watching, fatigue, and the lassitude of
spirits which always follows a strain upon the faculties
of men like that which is the concomitant of battle,
thousands on both sides lay down in the ditches and
behind logs, and whatever else would in the least shelter
them from the cutting wind, and tried to sleep. Very few
closed their eyes. Even the horses, after their manner,
betrayed the suffering they were enduring.
That morning General Floyd had called a council of his
chiefs of brigades and divisions. He expressed the
opinion that the post was untenable, except with fifty
thousand troops. He called attention to the heavy
reenforcements of the Federals, and suggested an
immediate attack upon their right wing to re-open land
communication with Nashville, by way of Charlotte. The
proposal was agreed to unanimously. General Buckner
proceeded to make dispositions to cover the retreat, in
the event the sortie was successful. Shortly after noon,
when the movement should have begun, the order was
countermanded at the instance of Pillow. Then came the
battle with the gunboats.
In the night the council was recalled, with general and
regimental officers in attendance. The situation was
again debated, and the same conclusion reached. According
to the plan resolved upon, Pillow was to move at dawn
with his whole division, and attack the right of the
besiegers. General Buckner was to be relieved by troops
in the forts, and with his command to support Pillow by
assailing the right of the enemy's center. If he
succeeded, he was to take post outside the entrenchments
on the Wynn's Ferry road to cover the retreat. He was
then to act as rear-guard. Thus early, leaders in
Donelson were aware of the mistake into which they were
plunged. Their resolution was wise and heroic. Let us see
how they executed it.
Preparations for the attack occupied the night. The
troops were for the most part taken out of the
rifle-pits, and massed over on the left to the number of
ten thousand or more. The ground was covered with ice and
snow; yet the greatest silence was observed. It seems
incomprehensible that columns mixed of all arms,
infantry, cavalry, and artillery, could have engaged in
simultaneous movement, and not have been heard by some
listener outside. One would think the jolting and rumble
of the heavy gun-carriages would have told the story. But
the character of the night must be remembered. The
pickets of the Federals were struggling for life against
the blast, and probably did not keep good watch.
[Ed. Note: Captain McAllister's battery did good
service the next day. In his report he describes the
manner of working the battery as follows: "I
selected a point, and about noon opened on the four-gun
battery through an opening in which I could see the foe.
Our fire was promptly returned, with such precision that
they cut our right wheel on howitzer number three in two.
I had no spare wheel, and had to take one off the limber
to continue the fight. I then moved all my howitzers over
to the west slope of the ridge and loaded under cover of
it and ran the pieces up by hand until I could get the
exact elevation. The recoil would throw the guns back out
of sight, and thus we continued the fight until the
enemy's battery was silenced."]
Oglesby's brigade held McClernand's extreme right. Here
and there the musicians were beginning to make the woods
ring with reveille, and the numbed soldiers of the line
were rising from their icy beds, and shaking the snow
from their frozen garments. As yet, however, not a
company had "fallen in." Suddenly the pickets
fired, and with the alarm on their lips rushed back upon
their comrades. The woods on the instant became alive.
The regiments formed, officers mounted and took their
places; words of command rose loud and eager. By the time
Pillow's advance opened fire on Oglesby's right, the
point first struck, the latter was fairly formed to
receive it. A rapid exchange of volleys ensued. The
distance intervening between the works on one side and
the bivouac on the other was so short that the action
began before Pillow could effect a deployment. His
brigades came up in a kind of echelon, left in front, and
passed "by regiments left into line," one by
one, however; the regiments quickly took their places,
and advanced without halting. Oglesby's Illinoisans were
now fully awake. They held their ground, returning in
full measure the fire that they received. The Confederate
Forrest rode around as if to get in their rear, and it
was then give and take, infantry against infantry. [Ed.
Note: Colonel John McArthur, originally of C.F. Smith's
division, but then operating with McClernand, was there,
and though at first discomfited, his men beat the cavalry
off, and afterward shared the full shock of the tempest
with Oglesby's troops. -- L. W.] The semi-echelon
movement of the Confederates enabled them, after an
interval, to strike W. H. L. Wallace's brigade, on
Oglesby's left. Soon Wallace was engaged along his whole
front, now prolonged by the addition to his command of
Morrison's regiments. The first charge against him was
repulsed; whereupon he advanced to the top of the rising
ground behind which he had sheltered his troops in the
night. A fresh assault followed, but aided by a battery
across the valley to his left, he repulsed the enemy a
second time. His men were steadfast, and clung to the
brow of the hill as if it were theirs by holy right. An
hour passed, and yet another hour, without cessation of
the fire. Meantime the woods rang with a monstrous
clangor of musketry, as if a million men were beating
empty barrels with iron hammers.
Buckner flung a portion of his division on McClernand's
left, and supported the attack with his artillery. The
enfilading fell chiefly on W. H. L. Wallace. McClernand,
watchful and full of resources, sent batteries to meet
Buckner's batteries. To that duty Taylor rushed with his
Company B; and McAllister pushed his three
twenty-four-pounders into position and exhausted his
ammunition in the duel. The roar never slackened. Men
fell by the score, reddening the snow with their blood.
The smoke, in pallid white clouds, clung to the
underbrush and tree-tops as if to screen the combatants
from each other. Close to the ground the flame of
musketry and cannon tinted everything a lurid red. Limbs
dropped from the trees on the heads below, and the
thickets were shorn as by an army of cradlers. The
division was under peremptory orders to hold its position
to the last extremity, and W. H. L. Wallace was equal to
It was now ten o'clock, and over on the right Oglesby was
beginning to fare badly. The pressure on his front grew
stronger. The "rebel yell," afterward a
familiar battle-cry on many fields, told of ground being
gained against him. To add to his doubts, officers were
riding to him with a sickening story that their commands
were getting out of ammunition, and asking where they
could go for a supply. All he could say was to take what
was in the boxes of the dead and wounded. At last he
realized that the end was(sic) (had) come. His right
companies began to give way, and as they retreated,
holding up their empty cartridge-boxes, the enemy were
emboldened, and swept more fiercely around his flank,
until finally they appeared in his rear. He then gave the
order to retire the division.
W. H. L. Wallace from his position looked off to his
right and saw but one regiment of Oglesby's in place,
maintaining the fight, and that was John A. Logan's
Thirty-first Illinois. Through the smoke he could see
Logan riding in a gallop behind his line; through the
roar in his front and the rising yell in his rear, he
could hear Logan's voice in fierce entreaty to his
"boys." Near the Thirty-first stood W. H. L.
Wallace's regiment, the Eleventh Illinois, under
Lieutenant-colonel Ransom. The gaps in the ranks of the
two were closed up always toward the colors. The ground
at their feet was strewn with their dead and wounded; at
length the common misfortune overtook Logan. To keep men
without cartridges under fire sweeping them front and
flank would be cruel, if not impossible; and seeing it,
he too gave the order to retire, and followed his
decimated companies to the rear. The Eleventh then became
the right of the brigade, and had to go in turn.
Nevertheless, Ransom changed front to rear coolly, as if
on parade, and joined in the general retirement. Forrest
charged them and threw them into a brief confusion. The
greater portion clung to their colors, and made good
their retreat. By eleven o'clock Pillow held the road to
Charlotte and the whole of the position occupied at dawn
by the first division, and with it the dead and all the
wounded who could not get away.
Pillow's part of the programme, arranged in the council
of the night before, was accomplished. The country was
once more open to Floyd. Why did he not avail himself of
the dearly bought opportunity, and march his army out?
THE THIRD DIVISION
Without pausing to consider whether the Confederate
general could now have escaped with his troops, it must
be evident that he should have made the effort. Pillow
had discharged his duty well. With the disappearance of
W. H. L. Wallace's brigade, it only remained for the
victor to deploy his regiments into column and march into
the country. The road was his. Buckner was in position to
protect Colonel Head's withdrawal from the trenches
opposite General Smith on the right; that done, he was
also in position to cover the retreat. Buckner had also
faithfully performed his task.
On the Union side the situation at this critical time was
favorable to the proposed retirement. My division in the
center was weakened by the dispatch of one of my brigades
to the assistance of General McClernand; in addition to
which my orders were to hold my position. As a point of
still greater importance, General Grant had gone on board
the St. Louis at the request of Flag-Officer
Foote, and he was there in consultation with that
officer, presumably uninformed of the disaster which had
befallen his right. It would take a certain time for him
to return to the field and dispose his forces for
pursuit. It may be said with strong assurance,
consequently, that Floyd could have put his men fairly en
route for Charlotte before the Federal commander
could have interposed an obstruction to the movement. The
real difficulty was in the hero of the morning, who now
made haste to blight his laurels. General Pillow's vanity
whistled itself into ludicrous exaltation. Imagining
General Grant's whole army defeated and flying in rout
for Fort Henry and the transports on the river, he
deported himself accordingly. He began by ignoring Floyd.
He rode to Buckner and accused him of shameful conduct.
He sent an aide to the nearest telegraph station with a
dispatch to Albert Sidney Johnston, then in command of
the Department, asseverating, "on the honor of a
soldier," that the day was theirs. Nor did he stop
at that. The victory, to be available, required that the
enemy should be followed with energy. Such was a habit of
Napoleon. Without deigning even to consult his chief, he
ordered Buckner to move out and attack the Federals.
There was a gorge, up which a road ran toward our central
position, or rather what had been our central position.
Pointing to the gorge and the road, he told Buckner that
was his way, and bade him attack in force. There was
nothing to do but obey; and when Buckner had begun the
movement, the wise programme decided upon the evening
before was wiped from the slate.
When Buckner reluctantly took the gorge road marked out
for him by Pillow, the whole Confederate army, save the
detachments on the works, was virtually in pursuit of
McClernand, retiring by the Wynn's Ferry road -- falling
back, in fact, upon my position. My division was now to
feel the weight of Pillow's hand; if they should fail,
the fortunes of the day would depend upon the veteran
When General McClernand perceived the peril threatening
him in the morning, he sent an officer to me with a
request for assistance. This request I referred to
General Grant, who was at the time in consultation with
Foote. Upon the turning of Oglesby's flank, McClernand
repeated his request, with such a representation of the
situation that, assuming the responsibility, I ordered
Colonel Cruft to report with his brigade to McClernand.
Cruft set out promptly. Unfortunately a guide misdirected
him, so that he became involved in the retreat, and was
prevented from accomplishing his object.
I was in the rear of my single remaining brigade, in
conversation with Captain Rawlins, of Grant's staff, when
a great shouting was heard behind me on the Wynn's Ferry
road, whereupon I sent an orderly to ascertain the cause.
The man reported the road and woods full of soldiers
apparently in rout. An officer then rode by at full
speed, shouting, "All's lost! Save yourselves!"
A hurried consultation was had with Rawlins, at the end
of which the brigade was put in motion toward the enemy's
works, on the very road by which Buckner was pursuing
under Pillow's mischievous order. It happened also that
Colonel W. H. L. Wallace had dropped into the same road
with such of his command as stayed by their colors. He
came up riding and at a walk, his leg over the horn of
his saddle. He was perfectly cool, and looked like a
farmer from a hard day's plowing.
"Good-morning," I said.
"Good-morning," was the reply.
"Are they pursuing you?"
"How far are they behind?"
That instant the head of my command appeared on the road.
The colonel calculated, then answered:
"You will have about time to form line of battle
"Thank you. Good-day."
At that point the road began to dip into the gorge; on
the right and left there were woods, and in front a dense
thicket. An order was dispatched to bring Battery A
forward at full speed. Colonel John A. Thayer, commanding
the brigade, formed it on the double-quick into line; the
First Nebraska and the Fifty-eighth Illinois on the
right, and the Fifty-eighth Ohio, with a detached
company, on the left. The battery came up on the run and
swung across the road, which had been left open for it.
Hardly had it unlimbered, before the enemy appeared, and
firing began. For ten minutes or thereabouts the scenes
of the morning were reenacted. The Confederates struggled
hard to perfect their deployments. The woods rang with
musketry and artillery. The brush on the slope of the
hill was mowed away with bullets. A great cloud arose and
shut out the woods and the narrow valley below. Colonel
Thayer and his regiments behaved with great gallantry,
and the contest was over. The assailants fell back in
confusion and returned to the entrenchments. W. H. L.
Wallace and Oglesby re-formed their commands behind
Thayer, supplied them with ammunition, and stood at rest
waiting for orders. There was then a lull in the battle.
Even the cannonading ceased, and everybody was asking,
Just then General Grant rode up to where General
McClernand and I were in conversation. He was almost
unattended. In his hand there were some papers, which
looked like telegrams. Wholly unexcited, he saluted and
received the salutations of his subordinates. Proceeding
at once to business, he directed them to retire their
commands to the heights out of cannon range, and throw up
works. Reenforcements were en route, he said, and it was
advisable to await their coming. He was then informed of
the mishap to the First Division, and that the road to
Charlotte was open to the enemy.
In every great man's career there is a crisis exactly
similar to that which now overtook General Grant, and it
cannot be better described than as a crucial test of his
nature. A mediocre person would have accepted the news as
an argument for persistence in his resolution to enter
upon a siege. Had General Grant done so, it is very
probable his history would have been then and there
concluded. His admirers and detractors are alike invited
to study him at this precise juncture. It cannot be
doubted that he saw with painful distinctness the effect
of the disaster to his right wing. His face flushed
slightly. With a sudden grip he crushed the papers in his
hand. But in an instant these signs of disappointment or
hesitation -- as the reader pleases -- cleared away. In
his ordinary quiet voice he said, addressing himself to
both officers, "Gentlemen, the position on the right
must be retaken." With that he turned and galloped
Seeing in the road a provisional brigade, under Colonel
Morgan L. Smith, consisting of the Eleventh Indiana and
the Eighth Missouri infantry, going, by order of General
C. F. Smith, to the aid of the First Division, I
suggested that if General McClernand would order Colonel
Smith to report to me, I would attempt to recover the
lost ground; and the order having been given, I
reconnoitered the hill, determined upon a place of
assault, and arranged my order of attack. I chose Colonel
Smith's regiments to lead, and for that purpose conducted
them to the crest of a hill opposite a steep bluff
covered by the enemy. The two regiments had been formerly
of my brigade. I knew they had been admirably drilled in
the Zouave tactics, and my confidence in Smith and in
McGinness, colonel of the Eleventh, was implicit. I was
sure they would take their men to the top of the bluff.
Colonel Cruft was put in line to support them on the
right. Colonel Ross, with his regiments, the Seventeenth
and Forty-ninth, and the Forty-sixth, Fifty-seventh, and
Fifty-eighth Illinois, were put as support on the left.
Thayer's brigade was held in reserve. These dispositions
filled the time till about two o'clock in the afternoon,
when heavy cannonading, mixed with a long roll of
musketry, broke out over on the left, whither it will be
necessary to transfer the reader.
CHARLES F. SMITH'S
The veteran in command on the Union left had contented
himself with allowing Buckner no rest, keeping up a
continual sharp-shooting. Early in the morning of the
14th he made a demonstration of assault with three of his
regiments, and though he purposely withdrew them, he kept
the menace standing, to the great discomfort of his viz-a-viz.
With the patience of an old soldier, he waited the
pleasure of the general commanding, knowing that when the
time came he would be called upon. During the battle of
the gun-boats he rode through his command and grimly
joked with them. He who never permitted the slightest
familiarity from a subordinate, could yet indulge in
fatherly pleasantries with the ranks when he thought
circumstances justified them. He never for a moment
doubted the courage of volunteers; they were not regulars
-- that was all. If properly led, he believed they would
storm the gates of his Satanic Majesty. Their hour of
trial was now come.
From his brief and characteristic conference with
McClernand and myself, General Grant rode to General C.
F. Smith. What took place between them is not known
further than that he ordered an assault upon the outworks
as a diversion in aid of the assault about to be
delivered on the right. General Smith personally directed
his chiefs of brigade to get their regiments ready.
Colonel John Cook by his order increased the number of
his skirmishers already engaged with the enemy.
Taking Lauman's brigade General Smith began the advance.
They were under fire instantly. The guns in the fort
joined in with the infantry who were at the time in the
rifle-pits, the great body of the Confederate right wing
being with General Buckner. The defense was greatly
favored by the ground, which subjected the assailants to
a double fire from the beginning of the abatis. The men
have said that "it looked too thick for a rabbit to
get through." General Smith, on his horse, took
position in the front and center of the line.
Occasionally he turned in his saddle to see how the
alignment was kept. For the most part, however, he held
his face steadily toward the enemy. He was, of course, a
conspicuous object for the sharp shooters in the
rifle-pits. The air around him twittered with
minie-bullets. Erect as if on review, he rode on, timing
the gait of his horse with the movement of his colors. A
soldier said: "I was nearly scared to death, but I
saw the old man's white mustache over his shoulder, and
On to the abatis the regiments moved without hesitation,
leaving a trail of dead and wounded behind. There the
fire seemed to grow trebly hot, and there some of the men
halted, whereupon, seeing the hesitation, General Smith
put his cap on the point of his sword, held it aloft, and
called out, "No flinching now, my lads! -- Here --
this is the way!" Come on!" He picked a path
through the jagged limbs of the trees, holding his cap
all the time in sight; and the effect was magical. The
men swarmed in after him, and got through in the best
order they could -- not all of them, alas! On the other
side of the obstruction they took the semblance of
re-formation and charged in after their chief, who found
himself then between the two fires. Up the ascent he
rode; up they followed. At the last moment the keepers of
the rifle-pits clambered out and fled. The four regiments
engaged in the feat -- the Twenty-fifth Indiana, and the
Second, Seventh, and Fourteenth Iowa -- planted their
colors on the breastwork. And the gray-haired hero set
his cap jauntily on his head, pulled his mustache, and
rode along the front, chiding them awhile, then laughing
at them. He had come to stay. Later in the day, Buckner
came back with his division; but all his efforts to
dislodge Smith were vain.
THE THIRD DIVISION RETAKES THE HILL.
We left my division about to attempt the recapture of the
hill, which had been the scene of the combat between
Pillow and McClernand. If only on account of the results
which followed that assault, in connection with the
heroic performance of General C. F. Smith, it is
necessary to return to it.
Riding to my old regiments, -- the Eighth Missouri and
the Eleventh Indiana, -- I asked them if they were ready.
They demanded the word of me. Waiting a moment for Morgan
L. Smith to light a cigar, I called out, "Forward it
is, then!" They were directly in front of the ascent
to be climbed. Without stopping for his supports, Colonel
Smith led them down into a broad hollow, and catching
sight of the advance, Cruft and Ross also moved forward.
As the two regiments began the climb, the Eighth Missouri
slightly in the lead, a line of fire ran along the brow
of the height. The flank companies cheered while
deploying as skirmishers. Their Zouave practice proved of
excellent service to them. Now on the ground, creeping
when the fire was hottest, running when it slackened,
they gained ground with astonishing rapidity, and at the
same time maintained a fire that was like a sparkling of
the earth. For the most part the bullets aimed at them
passed over their heads, and took effect in the ranks
behind them. Colonel Smith's cigar was shot off close to
his lips. He took another and called for a match. A
soldier ran and gave him one. "Thank you. Take your
place now. We are almost up," he said, and, smoking,
spurred his horse forward. A few yards from the crest of
the height the regiments began loading and firing as they
advanced. The defenders gave way. On the top there was a
brief struggle, which was ended by Cruft and Ross with
The whole line then moved forward simultaneously, and
never stopped until the Confederates were within the
works. There had been no occasion to call on the
reserves. The road to Charlotte was again effectually
shut, and the battle-field of the morning, with the dead
and wounded lying where they had fallen, was in
possession of the Third Division, which stood halted
within easy musket-range of the rifle-pits. It was then
about half-past three o'clock in the afternoon. I was
reconnoitering the works of the enemy preliminary to
charging them, when Colonel Webster, of General Grant's
staff, came to me and repeated the order to fall back out
of cannon range and throw up breastworks. "The
General does not know that we have the hill," I
said. Webster replied: "I give you the order as he
gave it to me." "Very well," said I,
"give him my compliments, and say that I have
received the order." Webster smiled and rode away.
The ground was not vacated, though the assault was
deferred. In assuming the responsibility, I had no doubt
of my ability to satisfy General Grant of the correctness
of my course; and it was subsequently approved.
When night fell, the command bivouacked without fire or
supper. Fatigue parties were told off to look after the
wounded; and in the relief given there was no distinction
made between friend and foe. The labor extended through
the whole night, and the surgeons never rested. By sunset
the conditions of the morning were all restored. The
Union commander was free to order a general assault next
day or resort to a formal siege.
THE LAST COUNCIL OF WAR.
A great discouragement fell upon the brave men inside the
works that night. Besides suffering from wounds and
bruises and the dreadful weather, they were aware that
though they had done their best they were held in a close
grip by a superior enemy. A council of general and field
officers was held at headquarters, which resulted in a
unanimous resolution that if the position in front of
General Pillow had not been re-occupied by the Federals
in strength, the army should effect its retreat. A
reconnaissance was ordered to make the test. Colonel
Forrest conducted it. He reported that the ground was not
only re-occupied, but that the enemy were extended yet
farther around the Confederate left. The council then
held a final session.
General Buckner, as the junior officer present, gave his
opinion first; he thought he could not successfully
resist the assault, which would be made at daylight by a
vastly superior force. But he further remarked, that as
he understood the principal object of the defense of
Donelson was to cover the movement of General A. S.
Johnston's army from Bowling Green to Nashville, if that
movement was not completed he was of opinion that the
defense should be continued at the risk of the
destruction of the entire force. General Floyd replied
that General Johnston's army had already reached
Nashville, whereupon General Buckner said that "it
would be wrong to subject the army to a virtual massacre,
when no good could result from the sacrifice, and that
the general officers owed it to their men, when further
resistance was unavailing, to obtain the best terms of
capitulation possible for them."
Both Generals Floyd and Pillow acquiesced in the opinion.
Ordinarily the council would have ended at this point,
and the commanding general would have addressed himself
to the duty of obtaining terms. He would have called for
pen, ink, and paper, and prepared a note for dispatch to
the commanding general of the opposite force. But there
were circumstances outside the mere military situation
which at this juncture pressed themselves into
consideration. As this was the first surrender of armed
men, banded together for war upon the general government,
what would the Federal authorities do with the prisoners?
This question was of application to all the gentlemen in
the council. It was lost to view, however, when General
Floyd announced his purpose to leave with two steamers
which were to be down at daylight, and to take with him
as many of his division as the steamers could carry away.
General Pillow then remarked that there were no two
persons in the Confederacy whom the Yankees would rather
capture than himself and General Floyd (who had been
Buchanan's Secretary of War, and was under indictment at
Washington). As to the propriety of his accompanying
General Floyd, the latter said, coolly, that the question
was one for every man to decide for himself. Buckner was
of the same view, and added that as for himself he
regarded it as his duty to stay with his men and share
their fate, whatever it might be. Pillow persisted in
leaving. FIoyd then directed General Buckner to consider
himself in command. Immediately that the council was
concluded, General Floyd prepared for his departure. His
first move was to have his brigade drawn up. The
peculiarity of the step was that, with the exception of
one Missouri regiment, his regiments were all Virginians.
A short time before daylight the two steam-boats arrived.
Without loss of time the General hastened to the river,
embarked with his Virginians, and at an early hour cast
loose from the shore, and in good time, and safely, he
reached Nashville. He never satisfactorily explained upon
what principle he appropriated all the transportation on
hand to the use of his particular command.
Colonel Forrest was present at the council, and when the
final resolution was taken, he promptly announced that he
neither could nor would surrender his command. The bold
trooper had no qualms upon the subject. He assembled his
men, all as hardy as himself, and after reporting once
more at headquarters, he moved out and plunged into a
slough formed by backwater from the river. An icy crust
covered its surface, the wind blew fiercely, and the
darkness was unrelieved by a star. There was fearful
floundering as the command following(sic) (followed) him.
At length he struck dry land, and was safe. He was next
heard of at Nashville.
General Buckner, who throughout the affair, bore himself
with dignity, ordered the troops back to their positions
and opened communications with General Grant, whose
laconic demand of "unconditional surrender," in
his reply to General Buckner's overtures, became at once
a watch-word of the war.
The Third Division was astir very early on the 16th of
February. The regiments began to form and close up the
intervals between them, the intention being to charge the
breastworks south of Dover about breakfast time. In the
midst of the preparation a bugle was heard, and a white
flag was seen coming from the town toward the pickets. I
sent my adjutant-general to meet the flag halfway and
inquire its purpose. Answer was returned that General
Buckner had capitulated during the night, and was now
sending information of the fact to the commander of the
troops in this quarter, that there might be no further
bloodshed. The division was ordered to advance and take
possession of the works and of all public property and
prisoners. Leaving that agreeable duty to the brigade
commander, I joined the officer bearing the flag, and
with my staff rode across the trench and into the town,
till we came to the door of the old tavern already
described, where I dismounted. The tavern was the
headquarters of General Buckner, to whom I sent my name;
and being an acquaintance, I was at once admitted.
I found General Buckner with his staff at breakfast. He
met me with politeness and dignity. Turning to the
officers at the table, he remarked: "General
Wallace, it is not necessary to introduce you to these
gentlemen; you are acquainted with them all." They
arose, came forward one by one, and gave their hands in
salutation. I was then invited to breakfast, which
consisted of corn bread and coffee, the best the gallant
host had in his kitchen. We sat at table about an hour
and a half, when General Grant arrived, and took
temporary possession of the tavern as his headquarters.
Later in the morning the army marched in and completed
In case you somehow
found your way to this page without seeing the first-half
of Lew Wallace's 1884 article, and now you'd like to see
the first-half of the article, click here: Capture of Ft. Donelson (part 1)
Buckner, Simon Bolivar (1823-1914)
Graduated West Point 1844; Mexican War.
After the war: Newspaper editor; Governor of Kentucky;
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
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,
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 12th Illinois Infantry (which participated in this
battle) as written by the Adjutant General, click here: 12th IL Reg. History
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|
email Alice Marie Beard