The River War in the West #3
Once General Halleck approved the Gen Grant & naval Cat. 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Several of Capt Foote’s boats had been damaged seriously enough during the fight to be withdrawn and repaired.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.