Tag: Andrew Foote

Ulysses S. Grant Begins Western Campaign 2 February 1862

Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com [CC BY 3.0 or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

On 2 February 1862, the Commander of the Union’s Army of the Tennessee, U.S. Grant, began the action that would lead to his being recognized by President Abraham Lincoln as a General with a bias for action. Grant launched his forces from Cairo, Illinois, through far western Kentucky towards Forts Heiman, Henry (on the Tennessee River) and Donelson (on the Cumberland River).

Grant Begins Western Campaign

Grant had a sizable force consisting of three infantry divisions, led by John A. McClernand, Charles F. Smith and Lew Wallace. There were also two regiments of cavalry and eight batteries of artillery. Grant also had Captain Andrew Foote’s squadron of seven gunboats. (troop numbers are from the excellent military history of the USA Civil War, The Longest Night by David J. Eicher)

The force, although reasonable, was not huge, so Grant had to make a decision to attack or wait for the initiative to be sent to him from his superiors. However, the western theatre (generally in Kentucky and south of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains, but also in Kansas and Missouri) was split into three commands. Those commands were frozen by indecision on how to attack the south, so Grant might have waited forever to get his chance to attack. The known forces were unclear to both sides, as proven by the still debatable troop numbers present at Fort Donelson to weeks later. Grant chose the warrior’s path of seizing the initiative whilst others debated strategy. He proposed to his Commander, General Henry Halleck, that he proceed to take Fort Henry and open up Tennessee via the Tennessee River. The rest as they say is history. Grant’s star was on the rise.

Grant Begins Western Campaign Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

Leaving Cairo, Illinois, cross the Ohio River near its confluence with the Mississippi River on U.S. Highway 51 towards Paducah, Kentucky. Take US-62 out of Paducah and US-68 down to KenLake State Resort Park on the Cumberland River (now Kentucky Lake) pretty much following the path that Grant followed to get to the Fort Henry area. Continue on KY-SR-94 down to Paris Landing State Park in Tennessee and then into the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. In the southwest corner of LBL, near the Piney Bay Campground, you can find the remains of Fort Henry. A map of the ride is here.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson 12-16 Feb 1862

On 13 February 1862, Union commanding General U.S. Grant’s positioning was complete and the time had come to attack Fort Donelson. The Union forces had spent the 12th of February closing in from Fort Henry and exchanging picket fire with the Confederates manning the earthen works of Fort Donelson. The gunboats had also spent the 12th testing the river batteries and found them tough, but assumed they could be taken as Fort Henry’s had been.

A False Start

On the morning of 13 February 1862, Grant meant to have a simultaneous push along the right and left, but General John A. McClernand had jumped the gun and got manhandled by the Confederates, led by General Gideon Pillow. A push on the other side by General C.F. Smith was more disciplined and originally successful, but met with the same fate at the hands of General Simon Bolivar Buckner’s troops. Overnight, a snow and ice storm befell the area and the lines woke on the 14th to a white landscape, ice laden trees and wounded who had died from exposure overnight.

Commodore Foote’s Gunboats

On 14 February 1862, Commodore Andrew Foote was to unleash his gunboats on the Fort Donelson river batteries just like he had at Fort Henry. However, Donelson was not Henry. Fort Donelson’s batteries were on tiered bluffs overlooking the Cumberland River, which gave them great range and an enviable angle of fire up close. This was to prove decisive. Foote was to preclude the ground assault with a show of force and hopefully take out the batteries. Foote came on and made considerable progress, until the flotilla got close enough for the Confederate gunners to zero in. When very close, the Donelson guns were firing right down on the Yankee ships, delivering devastating blows. Virtually the entire flotilla lost navigation capabilities due to direct hits and were floating helplessly down stream. Foote was seriously injured and many were dead. Donelson would not be another Henry. The overall Rebel commander, General John B. Floyd, was ecstatic, because his original mission was to slow down the Yankee advance long enough to let Rebel troops in Bowling Green, Kentucky retreat to Nashville unhindered and this he had accomplished. His follow-on mission would drive the course of the battle, though.

Fight in the Snow and Ice

Grant now had to face the very real possibility that his confidence in taking Donelson was misplaced. The next day would be critical, but not in the way Grant expected. On 15 December 1862, Grant had to go meet Foote as the Navy man was too injured to travel to Grant. As Grant left, he left explicit instructions not to engage with the Confederates in the belief that the Confederates would not dream of attacking. Grant met with Foote and asked for whatever force Foote could give the following day to keep the batteries busy, whilst he attacked on land. As Grant rode back on the icy roads, he got news that McClernand was under pressure on the right. The fight was on, but not at Grant’s bidding.

Bickering Confederates

The Confederate leadership of Floyd, Buckner and Pillow had querulously decided to attempt a breakout around Dover. Buckner was to provide a rear guard, Pillow, with the help of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry, would push McClernand out of the way, then Floyd would lead the vanguard to Nashville. Pillow and Buckner would then retreat under fire and provide cover for Floyd.
Pillow’s and Forrest’s push on McClernand was what the reports Grant was receiving were all about. Grant made his way forward and heard that the Rebels were carrying 3 days of rations on them. This told him that they were trying to breakout. Grant immediately ordered re-enforcements to McClernand and also told Smith to attack Buckner’s rear guard with force. Smith put such pressure on Buckner that Pillow had to send some help to stave off a collapse of the rear. Pillow thought this was OK, because he and Forrest had opend the road near Dover for a retreat. However, as the Rebels settled back into their positions after opening the road, a stasis developed. As the intitative ebbed away, Floyd, Pillow and Buckner traded turns in being optimistic, pessimistic and openly hostile to each other.

Unconditional Surrender Grant Takes Fort Donelson

Floyd was a deer in the headlights now. Finally, Pillow wanted to hold the position and Buckner wanted to ram the forces through the hole created during the day. Floyd lost nerve and decided to hold the position. The day ended in much the same position as it had began with the notable exception of some of Smith’s unit occupying some of the ridge line near the fort, putting artillery in range of the main fort. It might have continued that way had Pillow and Floyd stuck around, but both were former Federal officials and feared being tried for treason if caught. So, under the cover of darkness, they caught the first thing steaming to Nashville. A small number of Confederate troops also got up river that night. Forrest, who was disgusted by the trio of Generals, stomped out and took his cavalry command across a swollen stream and into the Tennessee darkness. Buckner was left in charge and immediately drafted a request for terms to send to his old friend, Grant. Buckner was probably hoping for some leniency based on his previous relationship with Grant. The request reached Grant in the early morning and he responded with what was to make him famous, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner called him “unchivalrous,” but accepted the terms anyway.

Grant Takes Fort Donelson Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

This is my home ride and I recommend it as one of the most beautiful rides anywhere. It splits the the Land Between the Lakes from North to South. Along the way, you will pass the Homeplace 1850s Working Farm and Living History Museum which gives you a good feel for how the people lived in that area in that era. Finish off the ride with a visit to Fort Campbell, KY, home of the 101st Airborne Division’s Don F. Pratt Museum and a little WWII to modern era military history.

Grant Takes Forts Heiman and Henry on Tennessee River 6 Feb 1862

On 6 February 1862, Union forces descended on the hapless Forts Heiman and Henry on the Tennessee River near the Kentucky / Tennessee border. If there was the one action that precipitated the fall of the Confederate west militarily, this was it. With control of the Tennessee River from Illinois through western Kentucky and western Tennessee all the way down to North Alabama, the Union changed the war with one stroke.

Forts Heiman and Henry

Fort Henry was under the Confederate command of General Lloyd Tilghman, but little could any General do about a poor position and a rising river. If Grant and Foote had not taken him, the river would have. Torrential rains had made the fort almost untenable for river guns. The heights across the river at Fort Heiman were to have been improved and might have made a difference, but the lack of men and equipment meant that the construction was not complete.

Confederate hopes flooded

A few days previous, Tilghman actually thought the Rebels might inflict a terrible loss on the Yankees, if reserves could be brought down from Columbus and over from Bowling Green. In the end, Tilghman saw he had a losing hand when no re-enforcements came to his call. Tilghman decided to save the infantry and personally join a small artillery detachment to hold off the Yankees long enough to let the infantry escape to Fort Donelson. He succeeded and surrendered to Foote on a gunboat at the entrance to the fort. Grant’s infantry divisions were bogged down in mud on either side of the river after alighting from Foote’s troop transports, so they didn’t even get in place before the surrender.

Commodore Foote’s ironclads had taken a significant beating in the battle with the Confederate river guns, but Foote had a few fast timberclads continue up the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to wreak havoc with Confederate shipping and railway river bridges.

Whiskey and Combined Operations

An excellent anecdote from Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: Fort Sumter to Perryville pages, 184-185;
“At fifty-six he [Foote] had spent forty years as a career officer fighting two things he hated most, slavery and whiskey. It was perhaps a quirk of fate to have placed him thus alongside Grant, who could scarcely be said to have shown an aversion for either.” But both men got along, because they both believed in combined operations fervently. Foote was quoted as saying the Army and Navy “were like blades of shears–united, invincible; separated, almost useless.”

Forts Heiman and Henry Motorcycle Ride Recommendation

If you’re in Memphis, try this ride through beautiful far west Tennessee going through the Reelfoot Lake State Park area and on to the Fort Henry area in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

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