THE BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON IN 1862
When thinking about historical and decisive battles that were fought in the Civil War, most people would think of The Battle of Gettysburg or the bloodiest day of the war at The Battle of Antietam. The mention of The Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862 would probably get mostly blank stares and questions about where this battle occurred. To say that one battle is more important than the other on the grand scheme of the Civil War is foolish, because each inch of ground gained through each battle contributed to the final outcome of the Civil War. The Battle of Fort Donelson is no different in this respect. It was one battle among many in the strategic move to gain a foot hold in the south. It occurred on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, which allowed another foothold for the Union Army in their pursuit of their enemies in the southern states. The Union forces for this battle were led by Ulysses S. Grant, and the Confederacy by Gideon J. Pillow. Ulysses S. Grant gained prominence in this battle through his brilliant victories over the Confederacy, and established himself as a no nonsense type of leader. This paper will give an overview of the history, execution, and lessons learned from this battle, with a primary focus on the Union’s victory and Grant’s
At the time of this battle, the overall spirits of the Union and North were low, due to recent defeats. “After the stinging defeats in the summer and autumn of 1861 at Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff.”1 The Cumberland River and area north of Nashville into Kentucky was a stronghold for the Confederate Army, and the only thing that stood in between the Union Army in the Western Campaign and their foothold into the south.
Northern Tennessee had become a critical point to hold after Kentucky decided not to join with the Confederacy. With Kentucky’s decision to not join the Confederacy, southern military leaders were forced to create key defensive positions along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, south of the Kentucky border. Forts Henry, Heiman, and Donelson were devised to protect western Tennessee from Union forces using the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers as approach avenues. Unfortunately for the Confederacy, there were few good locations to choose from along the two rivers.2
With the sister post of Fort Henry being defeated by iron clad river gunboats just days before, Grant gathered the Generals that were under his command for this campaign, seeking a consensus on whether or not move on Fort Donelson without delay. The unit commanders under Grant’s control were BG McClernand, BG Smith, and BG Wallace. Although they were all of the same rank, Grant was placed in charge of the assault by their higher headquarters commander MG Halleck. “As soon as Fort Henry fell, Grant called his chief officers together to discuss the possibility of attacking Fort Donelson.”3 Working in one of the earliest...