Fort Donelson - Encyclopedia

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FORT DONELSON, an entrenched camp at Dover, Tennessee, U.S.A., erected by the Confederates in the Civil War to guard the lower Cumberland river, and taken by the Federals on the 16th of February 1862. It consisted of two continuous lines of entrenchments on the land side, and water batteries commanding the river. After the capture (Feb. 6) of Fort Henry on the lower Tennessee the Union army (three divisions) under Brigadier-General U. S. Grant marched overland to invest Donelson, and the gunboat flotilla (Commodore A. H. Foote) descended the Tennessee and ascended the Cumberland to meet him. Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederate commander in Kentucky, had thrown a. large garrison under General Floyd into Donelson, and Grant was at first outnumbered; though continually reinforced, the latter had at no time more than three men to the Confederates' two. The troops of both sides were untrained but eager.

On the 12th and 13th of February 1862 the Union divisions, skirmishing heavily, took up their positions investing the fort, and on the 14th Foote's gunboats attacked the water batteries. The latter received a severe repulse, Foote himself being amongst the wounded, and soon afterwards the Confederates determined to cut their way through Grant's lines. On the 15th General Pillow attacked the Federal division of McClernand and drove it off the Nashville road; having done this, however, he halted, and even retired. Grant ordered General C. F. Smith's division to assault a part of the lines which had been denuded of its defenders in order to reinforce Pillow. Smith personally led his young volunteers in the charge and carried all before him. The Confederates returning from the sortie were quite unable to shake his hold on the captured works, and, Grant having reinforced McClernand with Lew Wallace's division, these two generals reoccupied the lost position on the Nashville road. On the 16th, the two senior Confederate generals Floyd and Pillow having escaped by steamer, the infantry left in the fort under General S. B. Buckner surrendered unconditionally. The Confederate cavalry under Colonel Forrest made its escape by road. The prisoners numbered about 15,000 out of an original total of 18,000.

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