Page images

already in motion to invest it. It was an embarrassing ques tion to determine what was to be done. Gen. Tilghman's little army was in the jaws of the lion, and the question was, how could it be extricated.

Gen. Tilghman at once solved the problem, by ordering it to retreat by the upper ronte. He remained with his sixty men in the fort, where he was surrounded by water, and unable to get away.

A few minutes before the surrender, the scene in and around the fort exhibited a spectacle of fierce grandeur. Many of the cabins and tents in and around the fort were in flames : added to the scene were the smoke from the burning timber, and the curling but dense wreaths of smoke from the guns; the constantly recurring spattering and whizzing of fragments of crashing and bursting shells; the deafening roar of artillery ; the black sides of five or six gunboats, belching fire at every port-hole; the volumes of smoke settled in dense masses along the surrounding back-waters ; and up and over that fog, on the heights, the army of Gen. Grant (10,000) deploying around our small army, attempting to cut off its retreat. In the midst of the storm of shot and shell, the small force outside of the fort had succeeded in gaining the upper road, the gunboats having failed to notice their movements until they were out of reach.

To give them further time, the gallant Tilghman, exhausted and begrimed with powder and smoke, stood erect at the middle battery, and pointed gun after gun. It was clear, however, that the fort could not hold out much longer. A white flag was raised by the order of Gen. Tilghman, who remarked, “it is vain to fight longer ; our gunners are disabled ; our guns dismounted; we can't hold out five minutes longer.” As soon

1 as the token of submission was hoisted, the gunboats came alongside the fort and took possession of it, their crews giving three cheers for the Union. Gen. Tilghman and the small garrison of forty were taken prisoners.

The fall of Fort Henry was the signal for the direction of the most anxious attention to Fort Donelson, on the Cumber land.

We have noticed before the extreme inadequacy of Gun Jolinston's forces. It is dcubtful whether he ever had over

[ocr errors]

23,000 effective troops at Bowling Green. Of these, after reinforcing Fort Donelson, he had scarcely more than eleven thousand effective men. Shortly after the disaster at Mill Springs, Gen. Beauregard had been sent from the Potomac to Gen. Johnston's line in Kentucky. At a conference which took place between the two generals, Gen. Beauregard expressed his surprise at the smallness of Gen. Johnston's forces, and was impressed with the danger of his position. There is nothing more remarkable in the history of the war than the false impressions of the people of the South as to the extent of our forces at the principal strategic point in Kentucky, and the long and apathetic toleration, by the government in Richmond, of a prospect that promised nothing but eventual disaster. On establishing himself in Bowling Green early in October, General Johnston wrote to the War Department: “We have received but little accession to our ranks since the Confederate forces crossed the line-in fact, no such enthusiastic demonstration as to justify any movements not warranted by our ability to maintain our own communications.” He repeatedly called upon the government for reinforcements. He made 8 call upon several States of the Southwest, including Tennessee, for large numbers of troops. The call was revoked at the instance of the authorities in Richmond, who declined to furnish twelve months' volunteers with arms; and Gen. Johnston, thus discouraged and baffled by a government which was friendly enough to him personally, but insensible to the public exigency for which he pleaded, was left in the situation of imminent peril, in which Gen. Beauregard was so surprised to find him.

A memorandum was made of the conference between the two generals. In the plans of Gen. Johnston, Gen. Beauregard entirely concurred. It was determined to fight for Nashville at Donelson, and Gen. Johnston gave the best part of his army to do it, retaining only, to cover his front, fourteen thouband men, about three thousand of whom were so enfeebled by recent sickness that they were unable to march.


On the 9th February, Gen. Pillow had been ordered to pro

ceed to Fort Donelson and take command at that place, which it was supposed would be an immediate object of attack by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his combined land and naval forces No time was lost in getting the works in defensible condition. The armament of the batteries consisted of thirteen guns or different calibres. The site of the fortification was plainly unfavorable in view of a land attack, being commanded by the heights above and below the river, and by a continuous range of hills all around the work to its rear. A line of intrenchments about two miles in extent was occupied by the troops.

On the morning of the 13th of February, Gen. Floyd, who had been stationed at Russellville, reached the fort by orders transmitted by telegraph from Gen. A.S. Johnston, at Bowling Green. Soon after his arrival, the intrenchments were fully occupied from one end to the other, and just as the sun rose the cannonade from one of the enemy's gunboats announced the opening of the conflict, which was destined to continue for several days and nights. The fire soon became general alonge our whole lines.

During the whole day the enemy kept up a general and ac. tive fire from all arms upon our trenches. At several points along the line he charged with uncommon vigor, but was met with a spirit of courageous resistance, which by nightfall had driven him, discomfited and cut to pieces, back upon the position he had assumed in the morning. The results of the day were encouraging. The strength of our defensive line had been pretty well tested, and the loss sustained by our forces was not large, our men being mostly under shelter in the rifle pits.

The enemy continued his fire upon different parts of the intrenchments throughout the night, which deprived the Confederate troops of any opportunity to sleep. They lay that night upon their arms in the trenches. A more vigorous attack from the enemy than ever, was confidently expected at the dawn of day; but in this the Confederates were entirely mistaken. The day advanced, and no preparation seemed to be making for a general onset. The smoke of a large number of gunboats and steamboats on the river was observed a short distance below, and information at the same time was received within our lines of the arrival of a large number of new troops


greatly increasing the strength of the enemy's forces, already said to be from twenty to thirty thousand strong.

About three o'clock in the afternoon the enemy's fleet on gunboats, in full force, advanced upon the fort and opened fire They advanced in the shape of a crescent, and kept up a con stant fire for an hour and a half. Once the boats reached a point within a few hundred yards of the fort. The effects of our shot upon the iron-cased boats were now distinctly visible. Two or three well-directed shots from the heavy guns of the fort drove back the nearest boat; several shot struck another boat, tearing her iron case and splintering her timbers, and making them crack as if by a stroke of lightning, when she, too, fell back. A third boat received several severe shocks, making her metal ring and her timbers crack, when the whole line gave way and fell rapidly back from the fire of the fort, until they passed out of range.

The incidents of the two days had all been in our favor. We had repulsed the enemy in the battle of the trenches, broken the line of his gunboats, and discomfited him on the water.

In the mean time, however, reinforcements were continually reaching the enemy; and it might have been evident from the first that the whole available force of the Federals on the western waters could and would be concentrated at Fort Donelson, if it was deemed necessary to reduce it. A consultation of the officers of divisions and brigades was called by General Floyd, to take place after dark. It was represented that it was an absolute impossibility to hold out for any length of time with our inadequate number and indefensible position; that there was no place within our intrenchments but could be reached by the enemy's artillery from their boats or their batteries; that it was but fair to infer that, while they kept up a sufficient fire npon our intrenchments to keep our men from sleep and prevent repose, their object was merely to give time to pass a

, column above us on the river, and to cut off our communications; and that but one course was left by which a rational hope could be entertained of saving the garrison, and that was to dislodge the enemy from his position on our left, and the to pass our troops into the open country lying southward towards Nashville.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

It was thus determined to remove from the trenches at an early hour the next morning, and attack the enemy in his position. There was, in fact, no other alternative. The enemy had been busy in throwing his forces of every arm around the Confederates, extending his line of investment entirely around their position, and completely enveloping them. Every road and possible avenue of departure was intercepted, with the certainty that our sources of supply by the river would soon be cut off by the enemy's batteries placed upon the river above us.

The sufferings of our army had already been terrible. The day of the opening of the battle (Thursday) was very cold, the mercury being only ten degrees above zero, and during the night, while our troops were watching on their arms in the trenches, it sleeted and snowed. The distance between the two armies was so slight that but few of the dead of either could be taken off, and many of the wounded who could neither walk nor crawl remained for more than two days where they fell. Some of our men lay wounded before our earth-works at night, calling for help and water, and our troops who went out to bring them in were discovered in the moonlight and fired upon by the enemy. Many of our wounded were not recovered until Sunday morning—some of them still alive, but blue with cold, and covered with frost and snow. It would have been merciful if each army had been permitted, under a flag of truce, to bring off its wounded at the close of each day; but was not so, and they lay in the frost and sleet between the two armies—many to hear, but none to help them.

For nearly a week a large portion of our troops had been guarding their earth-works, and from the day of the battle they had been out in force night and day. Many of them in the rifle-pits froze their feet and hands. The severity of the cold was such that the clothes of many of the troops were so stiff from frozen water, that could they have been taken off, : they would have stood alone.

At the meeting of general officers called by Gen. Floyd on Friday night, it was unanimously determined to cut open a route of exit, and thus to save our army. The plan of attack agreed upon and directed by Gen. Floyd was, that Gen. Pillow assisted by Gen. Bushröd Johnson, having also under his com: mand commanders of brigades, Col. Baldwin, commanding

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »