War in the West: The Opening Attack
The second target in the Grant/Foote attack plan was Fort Donelson. As you can see from the map, this fort was a short march to the East from Fort Henry for Grant’s force of about 15,000 men. Captain Foote moved his fleet from the Tennessee to the Cumberland River in order to play his part in the attack.
This time, however his fleet would not command the battle. The guns of Fort Donelson did serious damage to his flotilla. The capture of this fort would therefore be a job for the army. Grant was not able to head his force in that direction until Feb. 12, 1862. By this time his army had grown to 25,000 men. Besides strength of numbers, Grant had another advantage. The Confederate defenders were led by two political appointees of CSA President Davis: Generals Pillow and Floyd. Neither man had any military experience.
Even with this weak leadership, Fort Donelson would be more difficult to capture than Fort Henry. It had a strong position on the Cumberland River, extensive armament and almost 15,000 defenders. Never-the-less, Grant intended to move against the fort as soon as all his troops were in position.
On February 14th, Captain Foote sailed his fleet of ironclads and timber clad vessels withing 350 yards of the fort. Moving on swift water and well below the plunging fire of its guns, Foote’s ships suffered such serious damage that all of them had to be withdrawn. In fact, Foote’s ship the St. Louis was hit so badly that it had to be withdrawn from the fight and seek repairs.
Meanwhile, Grant’s force began to dig in, surrounding the fort.
Before he could complete his arrangements, however, CSA General Floyd ordered an attack against the weakest part of Grant’s position. This attack was designed to forge an escape route away from Donelson and a path toward Nashville for the surrounded army. After what has been described as fierce fighting, the Confederates were successful. But instead of taking advantage of the opening, thus saving the Confederate army, CSA General Pillow suddenly, and without explanation, ordered a withdrawal to the safety of the fort instead.
Grant moved quickly to close the opening in his lines and ordered a general attack of his own. As a result, the original lines were re-established. Generals Floyd and Pillow then decided to flee and to surrender their army and the fort to Grant. They left General Buckner in charge with orders to stay and handle the surrender. Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest refused to surrender and escaped to Nashville with is cavalry.
When General Buckner asked for terms, Grand replied, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” Buckner had no choice, he agreed to surrender his command and the fort to Grant. So, on February 16th, 1862 the two men met at the Dover Hotel to formalize the surrender.
The cost of the surrender and the effect it had on the Confederacy was profound:
- An entire army of almost 15,000 soldiers was taken prisoner and sent to Federal prisons in the North. (This was the largest number of prisoners taken up to that point in the war.)
- Both the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers came under Union control and were therefore open to Northern traffic once again.
- Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, a vital manufacturing and rail center had to be abandoned by Confederate forces on February 23 rd and was occupied by Federal troops on February 24th.
- Columbus, KY and the Confederate fort there dominating the Mississippi River had to be abandoned.
- By capturing Forts Henry and Donelson, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston had to move his forces out of Kentucky, abandon Nashville and move his defensive line south to Corinth, Mississippi. Thus Grant’s victory had forced the Confederates to give up all hope of controlling Kentucky as well as virtually all of Middle and Western Tennessee.
Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston said the loss was, ‘disastrous and almost without remedy.”
The Northern press hailed this first Northern victory of the war and dubbed Grant, “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” He became an overnight hero in the North.
The Road to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee (Shiloh)
Following the smashing Union victory at Fort Donelson, Grant had several daunting tasks before him.
- After accepting the surrender of an entire Confederate army, Grant had to accommodate almost 15,000 prisoners.
- Grant and his staff also had to re-organize his victorious army and prepare it to move further South.
- Grant was ordered to return 5,000 troops he had been ‘loaned’ from Buell’s army for the Donelson campaign.
- Grant had to move his 25,000 man army to Pittsburg Landing as ordered. And, once there, await the arrival of General Buell’s army coming from Nashville, Tennessee.
Once at Pittsburg Landing, did Grant and his commanders properly protect his army from attack? The Union camp was established between two bodies of water. Thousands of white Sibly tents were set up on the dry strip of land between them.
Had a defensive line been ordered at the southern end of that land, that position would have been nearly impregnable. Using ditches, embrasures, artillery batteries, abates with cleared fields of fire an attack from that direction would have been foolish. But none of that defensive work was ordered.
When asked, after the attack Grant and Sherman said that they decided to use the time for drill instead of constructing a defensive position. Even the overall commander General Halleck had suggested that constructing defensive positions might send a message of fear to the Union troops.
To make matters worse, when reports of suspicious enemy activity from the South was given to Sherman and his staff, he castigated the officers reporting. When such reports continued to be made, he threatened to arrest those giving the reports.
Meanwhile, General Grant was residing down river a few miles at the Cherry mansion. On the Sunday morning of April 6th, he had just sat down to breakfast when the sound of Confederate artillery was heard. He put his coffee cup down and left immediately for his command ship, the Tigress for the two hour trip upstream for Pittsburg Landing.
Subsequent to the battle, a Northern news report claimed that he was drunk when the battle began. This was a claim that he and members of his staff denied. But, his commander, General Halleck believed the news report.
Years later, Mrs. Cherry, mistress of the Cherry Mansion and a Confederate sympathizer, who was present at breakfast with Grant the morning of April 6, 1862 replied to a question on this subject. She wrote,
You letter of inquiry concerning ‘Gen. Grant’s physical condition on the morning of the battle of Shiloh began, is received. You will please accept my assurance, gladly given, that on the date mentioned I believe Gen. Grant was thoroughly sober. He was at my breakfast table when he heard the report from a cannon. Holding, untasted, a cup of coffee, he paused in conversation to listen a moment at the report of another cannon. He hastily arose, saying to his staff officer, “Gentlemen, the ball is in motion, let’s be off.”
The lack of defensive preparations and the discounting of enemy activity reports made it possible for Confederate forces to surprise the Union forces at Pittsburg Landing. The element of surprise only added to the effectiveness of the surprise attack that inflicted horrendous causalities during the initial few hours of the battle.
Next: The Shiloh Battle
CONSEQUENCES OF THE LOSS
After the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson, everything changed in the Western Theater.
As you follow the white line on the map below, you can see that Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston felt it necessary to withdraw all his troops from Kentucky. In effect, that state was lost to the Confederacy and the Ohio River would never again be the Northern border of the Confederacy.
In addition, General Johnston felt it necessary to continue his withdrawal further South. By doing so, he had to also abandon Nashville, Tennessee. This was not only the capital of that state but was also an major industrial and railroad center.
With this withdrawal, the Confederacy also lost Fort Columbus dominating the Northern reaches of the Mississippi River, all of western Tennessee in addition to losing control of both the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers.
In effect, Johnston had to establish a new northern border for the Confederacy. By doing so, he also established a new line of defense that stretched from Chattanooga, TE in the East to Corinth, Mississippi in the West. A massive amount of land and resources were thus lost to the Confederacy with the fall of Fort Donelson.
PREPARATIONS FOR RECOVERY
Then Johnston moved his forces to the rail center at Corinth, Mississippi. He and his second in command General Beauregard, gathered men and equipment there from as far away as New Orleans. This was in preparation for an assault on Grant’s army forming twenty some miles away at Pittsburgh Landing, TE. General Johnston was determined to regain the initiative and the lost territory.
Johnston believed he could attack and destroy Grant’s 25,000 man army gathering there. To accomplish that, he had to attack Grant before Union General Buell’s 25,000 man army from the East could join him. So, in March, General Johnston gathered a force equal to Grants at Corinth. (see the map I sent you earlier for an overview of the area)
As plans for his attack were being determined, General Beauregard suggested postponing the attack until the size of their force could be increased. Johnston refused to wait and replied,
“I would attack them even if they were a million.”
All was not well on the Union side either. Not all of Grant’s superior’s were pleased with all the accolades he was receiving after the victory at Fort Donelson. President Lincoln, on the other hand, was happy that he had at last found a general who was willing and able to fight. But Grant’s immediate superior, General Halleck was irritated with Grant’s notoriety and found fault with Grant’s paperwork. He wrote to his superior in Washington City, General McClellan and accused Grant of ‘neglect and inefficiency’. He also accused Grant of returning to his old habit of heavy drinking.
Grant further irritated his superiors by suggesting that he be allowed to send troops to occupy Nashville, TE recently abandoned by the Confederates. His request was denied by General Halleck. Instead, he was ordered to return the 5,000 troops he had been ‘loaned’ from General Buell’s force for the attack on Fort Donelson.
When he received that order, he was on his command ship, the Tigress. Grand considered his options with his staff. He dismissed the notion of disobeying his superior’s order and moving on Nashville himself. He also had to obey the direct order to return the ‘borrowed’ 5,000 men to General Buell.
Grant decided to return the ‘borrowed’ forces to General Buell by sending that force to Nashville to await Buell’s arrival. Thus, Grant obeyed his superior’s order and captured Nashville for the Union without firing a shot. The Northern press loved it, and so did Lincoln. Neither Buell or Halleck liked Grant’s slight of hand move.
Lincoln Steps In
Halleck complained to his superior again about Grant and was reminded that he could always relieve Grant of command or court martial him. Halleck chose to remove Grant from command. Lincoln got wind of it and ordered Halleck to either bring charges against Grant or restore him to command. It seems that Lincoln knew of the jealousy behind the affair and did not want to lose the only successful fighting general he had in either the East or the West.
“I can’t spare that man,” Lincoln was heard to comment at the time. “He fights.”
So, on March 13, 1862 General Grant was returned to his command. He now found himself at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee (Shiloh) in charge of organizing the largest army the war had yet seen.
The stage was being set for the bloodiest battle of the Civil War up to that time.
General Grant and Cigar Smoking
It is generally known that General U.S. Grant smoked cigars. During the Civil War period, cigars, pipes and chew were the popular forms of using tobacco. When the war began, Grant enjoyed an occasional cigar.
And when he led the Union forces to victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862, he became a much-publicized hero in the Northern press. At that time, he was pictured in the press during the fighting clenching a cigar in his teeth. So, it was natural that people thought he liked to smoke cigars.
“I had been a light smoker before the attack on Fort Donelson.” He said to an aide. “(But) in the accounts published in the papers, I was represented as smoking a cigar in the midst of the conflict; and many persons, thinking, no doubt, that tobacco was my chief solace, sent me boxes of the choicest brands… As many as ten thousand were soon received. I have away all I could get ride of, but having such a quantity on hand, I naturally smoked more than I would have done under ordinary circumstances, and I have continued ever since.”
His popularity grew when it was reported that General Ulysses S. Grant demanded of the Confederate commander at Ft. Donelson, unconditional surrender of the fort and his 15,000 man army Thereafter, Grant was called ‘Unconditional Surrender Grant.’
The flood of cigars continued. So did his smoking.
He is said to have continued chain smoking cigars while he was President of the United States. Shortly after leaving office, he was diagnosed as having cancer of the mouth/tongue. He died a few days after finishing his hand written memoirs.
Instant Foods During the War
In response to wartime problems of transportation and food preservation, enterprising inventors responded to meet this twin wartime emergency.
The first of these problems involved coffee. Union soldiers loved their cup of coffee. But transporting the bulky coffee beans and sugar was a problem. It took too much space in the transportation system used at the time. So, early in the war Secretary of War Cameron sent out a call for a solution. Three proposals to solve the problem are described below.
The most expensive proposal was a process invented by a Professor W. L. Tilden called, Extract of Coffee. His process cost $3.11 per gallon. Another proposal was offered by the American Desicating Company at #3.00 per gallon. The Bordon Company offered a third solution at $2.66 per gallon. All three included sugar. Bordon included it’s milk concentrate as well.
The advantage of all three products was that it used only 45% of the shipping space taken by green coffee beans/sugar The concentrate also weighed only half as much as the raw beans. Thus, the individual soldier found these products much easier to carry.
All three products were tested in the field with soldiers. Tilden’s extract was greeted with enthusiasm in the volunteer regiment where it was tested. It was said that his product,
“…ensured the soldier, on the march or in camp, a supply of coffee as good as could be procured at a first rate hotel.”
Despite its higher cost, Tilden’s proposal was adopted for widespread use by the Union’s military. I was not able to find any mention of what might have gone on behind the scene in the selection process. It is known, however that Secretary of War Cameron was removed from office by President Lincoln after charges of graft surfaced early in the war.
The second problem was that of the need for fresh vegetables. Given the seasonal nature of most vegetables and the additional difficulty of trainspotting them, Union soldiers lacked vegetables in their diets.
Military around the world had always had a problem providing fresh vegetables for their troops. Vegetables spoiled quickly and were heavy and hard to transport when available. So, as early as the Crimean War , a product called desiccated vegetables was developed and issued to the troops involved in that conflict.
The Union adopted its use in Utah before the Civil War began. The product was a mixture of potatoes, cabbage, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, beans, lentils and celery. These raw vegetables were cleaned, shredded and mixed. The mixture was put under pressure in a massive press to compress the mix thus moving the juices. The compressed blocks were then dried in large ovens. The resulting blocks were ‘hard as a rock’ but were expected to soften when boiled. It was claimed that a cubic yard of desiccated vegetables would contain 16,000 servings.
But the troops were not impressed with the products, however. One soldier wrote home that:
“We have boiled, fried, stewed, pickled, sweetened, salted and tried this stuff in puddings, cakes and pies. But it sets all modes of cooking in defiance so the boys break it up and smoke it in their pipes.”
Others were said to have called the concoction, ‘desecrated vegetables’.
Civil War Christmas
The Civil War did not stop for Christmas. However, as was customary in 1861, major military activity usually had stopped for the winter months. (note: fighting did not stop in the East after Grant took over.)
Soldiers on both sides of the conflict did not receive special rations to celebrate Christmas. Many charitable groups sent holiday rations to their troops, though. Officers on both sides sometimes provided treats like foul, holiday fixings and even alcohol for their men.
Christmas trees found their way into tents. Such trees were often decorated with makeshift ornaments by soldiers. Church services were provided in camps to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Nevertheless, hundreds of thousands of families on both sides were separated during the Christmas season. And, most every family had at least one empty chair at their Christmas dinner.
Military bands played Christmas music and soldiers sang traditional songs. The favorites were, “Deck the Halls, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald angels, Jingle Bells, It came Upon a Midnight Clear, and We Three Kings.”
Sometimes, men would receive a package from home. usually these were shared with others in their unit. Southern children were told that Santa would not come for Christmas because of the Yankee blockade.
General Sherman sent President Lincoln a greeting in December of 1864 announcing the capture of the Southern city of Savannah, Georgia. He said it was his Christmas present to the President.
Once General Halleck approved the Gen Grant & naval Capt. Foote joint operation to attack Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, he gave the project all his support. He even transferred 5,000 men to Grants land force from General Buell’s army.
The stakes were high. At stake for the Confederates was their entire position in Kentucky, control of Nashville, Tennessee and the two major rivers commanded by the forts under attack, the fortified position on the Mississippi at Columbus, KY, control of the Memphis – Charleston railroad in the West and potentially a large area of land extending East to Chattanooga, Tennessee and south to the Cotton States.
Grant had difficulty finding adequate transport for his approximate 15,000 man force. Divided into two divisions, he could only move one at a time into position for his move on Fort Henry. that and bad roads ans streams swollen by spring flooding showed him down. So, naval Capt. Andrew Foote began the attack on Feb. 6th, 1862 against Fort Henry without infantry support.
His ironclads led the attack firing directly into the fort. The timber- clads under his command followed in line to lob mortar shells into Fort Henry. In short order the fort’s building and tents were ablaze and only four of it’s eleven guns remained in operation. But, the Confederates gave as good as they got, damaging several of the Federal boats. Facing the arrival of Grands force though, the Confederate commander General Tilghman ordered the white flag of surrender raised and directed his soldiers who remained fit for duty to leave for Fort Donelson twelve miles away.
Several of Capt Foote’s boats had been damaged seriously enough during the fight to be withdrawn and repaired. They would not be available for the attack on Fort Donelson located on the Cumberland River. So, while the victory at Fort Henry had been a naval victory, the infantry under Gen. Grant would have to lead the assault on Fort Donelson.
Just to let you know, I just mailed out eight books from the seven book Civil War series, the Drieborg Chronicles. all of them were purchased from the web site www.civilwarnovels.com and Pay Pal. Amazon notified me that another seventeen books from this series were purchased and shipped by them to buyers.
Check out purchases from this series for Christmas. If you are getting one or more of these books as a first time gift, start with the novel 1860, then Duty and Honor, Duty Accomplished, Honor Restored, The Lincoln Assassination, The Way West and finally Civil War Prisons.
The River War 1861 – 1862
General Winfield Scott’s plan to defeat the Confederate States needed a river navy to succeed in the West and an ocean navy to succeed in the East. In the last blog, I outlined the creation of the Brown River Navy with the building of the Pook boats under the direction of an engineer named Eads. Before those boats were delivered at the end of 1861, steam driven river paddle boats were refitted to carry troops & supplies with others armed with mortars and artillery to support military activity on the Western rivers.
The first of such military activity was on September 3rd, 1861 at Columbus, KY when CSA General Polk occupied the eastern bluffs at this site to dominate the Mississippi River just south of Cairo, IL
Then, on September 6th, under orders from General Fremont, General Grant took a force up the Ohio River and occupied Paducah, KY. Located on the Ohio River. The fort at Paducah gave the Union control of the exits of the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Grant’s force occupied the city and it’s dominating fort without firing a shot. His move preceded a Confederate force that was just sixteen miles East, moving to take the river city for the CSA.
Subsequently, General Fremont was replace by General Halleck. Not a Grant supporter, Halleck non-the-less ordered Grant to attack Confederate forces at Belmont, MO south of Cairo, Ill. It was on the West side of the 800 yard wide Mississippi River across from the Confederate stronghold of Columbus, KY.
So, Grant loaded his troops on converted river boats and moved his force South from Cairo, IL.. They unloaded north of Belmont early in the morning and surprised the Confederate force there. Grant’s force was later repulsed, retreating to the river where they left the area on their river transports under the protective fire of Union gunboats.
Back in Washington City, President Lincoln was pressing for more action in the Western theater. General Halleck, much like his superior General-in-Chief McClellan hesitated to attack Confederate positions in his theater of operations. General Grant proposed an attack on Forts Henry and Donelson.
See the map I sent you earlier.
Capturing these two positions for the Union would be catastrophic for the CSA’s war strategy in the West. Never-the-less, Halleck denied Grant permission to proceed. We will cover this issue in a future blog.
The first such Thanksgiving celebration likely happened between September and November in the Plymouth Bay colony pf 1821. It was a day set aside to thank the Lord for the harvest. Whether or not they were invited, 90 Wampanoag Indians under the leader Massasoit attended. Edward Winslow said of the event:
“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer.”
What was served at this first thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony? As you read from Winslow’s quote, fowl and deer were served. It is reported by Sara Josepha Hale in the Goody’s Lady’s Book that turkey was the fowl served. In addition, fish, mussels and oysters, corn dishes,and breads were prepared for all the attendees.
The custom continued in New England after the fall harvest but not in the rest of the country. The Continental Congress declared the first national Thanksgiving to be celebrated on December 8, 1777. In 1789, George Washington declared the fourth Thursday of November a day of thanksgiving and prayer. James Madison did likewise during his presidency. Few future presidents did this.
But in 1845, Sarah Josepha Hale began campaigning for such an annual day of thanksgiving. Finally in 1863, (During the Civil War) Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a national day of day of thanks, and a holiday.
“It seems to me fit and proper that they (gifts) should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do therefore, invite my fellow citizens to every part of the United States, and also those who are at seas and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
New York volunteers sent 400,000 pounds of turkey by ship to Grant’s army at City Point, VA for the observance of Thanksgiving in 1863. The observance of Thanksgiving continued to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November until President Roosevelt changed it to the fourth Thursday of November. It was codified into law in December 1941. It has remained a national legal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November ever since.
The next blog will review the first major Union victory of the war. Do you remember it? It was during the winter of 1862. Was it in the East or the West? Tune in during December. Happy Thanksgiving all.