The Battle of Fort Donelson

(February 12th- 16th, 1862)


"The First Great Victory"

 

        The battle of Fort Donelson, fought from February 12-16, 1862, resulted in the first major Union victory of the Civil War, and fame for the general who brought about that victory: Ulysses S. Grant.  Fort Donelson, built early in the war by Confederate soldiers, was at an important crossroads between two states which were vital to the Confederate war effort: Tennessee and Kentucky.  In early 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant tested Confederate strength at Belmont and then Fort Henry, just west of Fort Donelson.
        C.S. General Albert Sidney Johnston, the overall commander of Confederate troops in the west, decided to concentrate his troops at Fort Donelson, anticipating an attack from Grant which could possibly lead to the fall of Nashville.  By the time Grant had encircled the fort on February 12th, nearly 21,000 Confederate soldiers had retreated into the fort, and by February 13th, Grant had been re-enforced, and had at his disposal nearly 27,000 troops.  
        The first major action of the battle occurred on February 14th, when six Federal ships tried to penetrate past the powerful Confederate batteries which overlooked the Cumberland River.  The batteries inflicted heavy damage on the Union ships, which were forced to retreat.  On the 15th, actual fighting began, when C.S. General Pillow led a devastating attack on the right flank of the Union army, which began to roll back onto itself.  Unfortunately, Pillow did not use this victory to his advantage and further attack the Union lines or evacuate the fort, but instead retreated back into the fort.  This was the final break-out attempt the Confederates would have, and on February 16th, C.S. General Buckner, who was left in command of the fort after most of the top brass had evacuated, surrendered to General Grant at the Dover Hotel, just east of the battlefield.  This Confederate defeat led to the loss of nearly all of Kentucky and western Tennessee, and the vitally important city of Nashville.  


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