Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

The North had a great number of educated and trained soldiers,
but the bulk of them were still in the army and were retained,
generally with their old commands and rank, until the war had
lasted many months. In the Army of the Potomac there was what
was known as the “regular brigade,” in which, from the
commanding officer down to the youngest second lieutenant, every
one was educated to his profession. So, too, with many of the
batteries; all the officers, generally four in number to each,
were men educated for their profession. Some of these went into
battle at the beginning under division commanders who were
entirely without military training. This state of affairs gave
me an idea which I expressed while at Cairo; that the government
ought to disband the regular army, with the exception of the
staff corps, and notify the disbanded officers that they would
receive no compensation while the war lasted except as
volunteers. The register should be kept up, but the names of
all officers who were not in the volunteer service at the close,
should be stricken from it.

On the 9th of November, two days after the battle of Belmont,
Major-General H. W. Halleck superseded General Fremont in
command of the Department of the Missouri. The limits of his
command took in Arkansas and west Kentucky east to the
Cumberland River. From the battle of Belmont until early in
February, 1862, the troops under my command did little except
prepare for the long struggle which proved to be before them.

The enemy at this time occupied a line running from the
Mississippi River at Columbus to Bowling Green and Mill Springs,
Kentucky. Each of these positions was strongly fortified, as
were also points on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers near the
Tennessee state line. The works on the Tennessee were called
Fort Heiman and Fort Henry, and that on the Cumberland was Fort
Donelson. At these points the two rivers approached within
eleven miles of each other. The lines of rifle pits at each
place extended back from the water at least two miles, so that
the garrisons were in reality only seven miles apart. These
positions were of immense importance to the enemy; and of course
correspondingly important for us to possess ourselves of. With
Fort Henry in our hands we had a navigable stream open to us up
to Muscle Shoals, in Alabama. The Memphis and Charleston
Railroad strikes the Tennessee at Eastport, Mississippi, and
follows close to the banks of the river up to the shoals. This
road, of vast importance to the enemy, would cease to be of use
to them for through traffic the moment Fort Henry became ours.
Fort Donelson was the gate to Nashville–a place of great
military and political importance–and to a rich country
extending far east in Kentucky. These two points in our
possession the enemy would necessarily be thrown back to the
Memphis and Charleston road, or to the boundary of the cotton
states, and, as before stated, that road would be lost to them
for through communication.

The designation of my command had been changed after Halleck’s
arrival, from the District of South-east Missouri to the
District of Cairo, and the small district commanded by General
C. F. Smith, embracing the mouths of the Tennessee and
Cumberland rivers, had been added to my jurisdiction. Early in
January, 1862, I was directed by General McClellan, through my
department commander, to make a reconnoissance in favor of
Brigadier-General Don Carlos Buell, who commanded the Department
of the Ohio, with headquarters at Louisville, and who was
confronting General S. B. Buckner with a larger Confederate
force at Bowling Green. It was supposed that Buell was about to
make some move against the enemy, and my demonstration was
intended to prevent the sending of troops from Columbus, Fort
Henry or Donelson to Buckner. I at once ordered General Smith
to send a force up the west bank of the Tennessee to threaten
forts Heiman and Henry; McClernand at the same time with a force
of 6,000 men was sent out into west Kentucky, threatening
Columbus with one column and the Tennessee River with another. I
went with McClernand’s command. The weather was very bad; snow
and rain fell; the roads, never good in that section, were
intolerable. We were out more than a week splashing through the
mud, snow and rain, the men suffering very much. The object of
the expedition was accomplished. The enemy did not send
reinforcements to Bowling Green, and General George H. Thomas
fought and won the battle of Mill Springs before we returned.

As a result of this expedition General Smith reported that he
thought it practicable to capture Fort Heiman. This fort stood
on high ground, completely commanding Fort Henry on the opposite
side of the river, and its possession by us, with the aid of our
gunboats, would insure the capture of Fort Henry. This report
of Smith’s confirmed views I had previously held, that the true
line of operations for us was up the Tennessee and Cumberland
rivers. With us there, the enemy would be compelled to fall
back on the east and west entirely out of the State of
Kentucky. On the 6th of January, before receiving orders for
this expedition, I had asked permission of the general
commanding the department to go to see him at St. Louis. My
object was to lay this plan of campaign before him. Now that my
views had been confirmed by so able a general as Smith, I renewed
my request to go to St. Louis on what I deemed important military
business. The leave was granted, but not graciously. I had
known General Halleck but very slightly in the old army, not
having met him either at West Point or during the Mexican war. I
was received with so little cordiality that I perhaps stated the
object of my visit with less clearness than I might have done,
and I had not uttered many sentences before I was cut short as
if my plan was preposterous. I returned to Cairo very much

Flag-officer Foote commanded the little fleet of gunboats then
in the neighborhood of Cairo and, though in another branch of
the service, was subject to the command of General Halleck. He
and I consulted freely upon military matters and he agreed with
me perfectly as to the feasibility of the campaign up the
Tennessee. Notwithstanding the rebuff I had received from my
immediate chief, I therefore, on the 28th of January, renewed
the suggestion by telegraph that “if permitted, I could take and
hold Fort Henry on the Tennessee.” This time I was backed by
Flag-officer Foote, who sent a similar dispatch. On the 29th I
wrote fully in support of the proposition. On the 1st of
February I received full instructions from department
headquarters to move upon Fort Henry. On the 2d the expedition

In February, 1862, there were quite a good many steamers laid up
at Cairo for want of employment, the Mississippi River being
closed against navigation below that point. There were also
many men in the town whose occupation had been following the
river in various capacities, from captain down to deck hand But
there were not enough of either boats or men to move at one time
the 17,000 men I proposed to take with me up the Tennessee. I
loaded the boats with more than half the force, however, and
sent General McClernand in command. I followed with one of the
later boats and found McClernand had stopped, very properly,
nine miles below Fort Henry. Seven gunboats under Flag-officer
Foote had accompanied the advance. The transports we had with
us had to return to Paducah to bring up a division from there,
with General C. F. Smith in command.

Before sending the boats back I wanted to get the troops as near
to the enemy as I could without coming within range of their
guns. There was a stream emptying into the Tennessee on the
east side, apparently at about long range distance below the
fort. On account of the narrow water-shed separating the
Tennessee and Cumberland rivers at that point, the stream must
be insignificant at ordinary stages, but when we were there, in
February, it was a torrent. It would facilitate the investment
of Fort Henry materially if the troops could be landed south of
that stream. To test whether this could be done I boarded the
gunboat Essex and requested Captain Wm. Porter commanding it, to
approach the fort to draw its fire. After we had gone some
distance past the mouth of the stream we drew the fire of the
fort, which fell much short of us. In consequence I had made up
my mind to return and bring the troops to the upper side of the
creek, when the enemy opened upon us with a rifled gun that sent
shot far beyond us and beyond the stream. One shot passed very
near where Captain Porter and I were standing, struck the deck
near the stern, penetrated and passed through the cabin and so
out into the river. We immediately turned back, and the troops
were debarked below the mouth of the creek.

When the landing was completed I returned with the transports to
Paducah to hasten up the balance of the troops. I got back on
the 5th with the advance the remainder following as rapidly as
the steamers could carry them. At ten o’clock at night, on the
5th, the whole command was not yet up. Being anxious to
commence operations as soon as possible before the enemy could
reinforce heavily, I issued my orders for an advance at 11 A.M.
on the 6th. I felt sure that all the troops would be up by that

Fort Henry occupies a bend in the river which gave the guns in
the water battery a direct fire down the stream. The camp
outside the fort was intrenched, with rifle pits and outworks
two miles back on the road to Donelson and Dover. The garrison
of the fort and camp was about 2,800, with strong reinforcements
from Donelson halted some miles out. There were seventeen heavy
guns in the fort. The river was very high, the banks being
overflowed except where the bluffs come to the water’s edge. A
portion of the ground on which Fort Henry stood was two feet
deep in water. Below, the water extended into the woods several
hundred yards back from the bank on the east side. On the west
bank Fort Heiman stood on high ground, completely commanding
Fort Henry. The distance from Fort Henry to Donelson is but
eleven miles. The two positions were so important to the enemy,
AS HE SAW HIS INTEREST, that it was natural to suppose that
reinforcements would come from every quarter from which they
could be got. Prompt action on our part was imperative.

The plan was for the troops and gunboats to start at the same
moment. The troops were to invest the garrison and the gunboats
to attack the fort at close quarters. General Smith was to land
a brigade of his division on the west bank during the night of
the 5th and get it in rear of Heiman.

At the hour designated the troops and gunboats started. General
Smith found Fort Heiman had been evacuated before his men
arrived. The gunboats soon engaged the water batteries at very
close quarters, but the troops which were to invest Fort Henry
were delayed for want of roads, as well as by the dense forest
and the high water in what would in dry weather have been
unimportant beds of streams. This delay made no difference in
the result. On our first appearance Tilghman had sent his
entire command, with the exception of about one hundred men left
to man the guns in the fort, to the outworks on the road to Dover
and Donelson, so as to have them out of range of the guns of our
navy; and before any attack on the 6th he had ordered them to
retreat on Donelson. He stated in his subsequent report that
the defence was intended solely to give his troops time to make
their escape.

Tilghman was captured with his staff and ninety men, as well as
the armament of the fort, the ammunition and whatever stores
were there. Our cavalry pursued the retreating column towards
Donelson and picked up two guns and a few stragglers; but the
enemy had so much the start, that the pursuing force did not get
in sight of any except the stragglers.

All the gunboats engaged were hit many times. The damage,
however, beyond what could be repaired by a small expenditure of
money, was slight, except to the Essex. A shell penetrated the
boiler of that vessel and exploded it, killing and wounding
forty-eight men, nineteen of whom were soldiers who had been
detailed to act with the navy. On several occasions during the
war such details were made when the complement of men with the
navy was insufficient for the duty before them. After the fall
of Fort Henry Captain Phelps, commanding the iron-clad
Carondelet, at my request ascended the Tennessee River and
thoroughly destroyed the bridge of the Memphis and Ohio Railroad.



I informed the department commander of our success at Fort Henry
and that on the 8th I would take Fort Donelson. But the rain
continued to fall so heavily that the roads became impassable
for artillery and wagon trains. Then, too, it would not have
been prudent to proceed without the gunboats. At least it would
have been leaving behind a valuable part of our available force.

On the 7th, the day after the fall of Fort Henry, I took my
staff and the cavalry–a part of one regiment–and made a
reconnoissance to within about a mile of the outer line of works
at Donelson. I had known General Pillow in Mexico, and judged
that with any force, no matter how small, I could march up to
within gunshot of any intrenchments he was given to hold. I
said this to the officers of my staff at the time. I knew that
Floyd was in command, but he was no soldier, and I judged that
he would yield to Pillow’s pretensions. I met, as I expected,
no opposition in making the reconnoissance and, besides learning
the topography of the country on the way and around Fort
Donelson, found that there were two roads available for
marching; one leading to the village of Dover, the other to

Fort Donelson is two miles north, or down the river, from
Dover. The fort, as it stood in 1861, embraced about one
hundred acres of land. On the east it fronted the Cumberland;
to the north it faced Hickman’s creek, a small stream which at
that time was deep and wide because of the back-water from the
river; on the south was another small stream, or rather a
ravine, opening into the Cumberland. This also was filled with
back-water from the river. The fort stood on high ground, some
of it as much as a hundred feet above the Cumberland. Strong
protection to the heavy guns in the water batteries had been
obtained by cutting away places for them in the bluff. To the
west there was a line of rifle pits some two miles back from the
river at the farthest point. This line ran generally along the
crest of high ground, but in one place crossed a ravine which
opens into the river between the village and the fort. The
ground inside and outside of this intrenched line was very
broken and generally wooded. The trees outside of the
rifle-pits had been cut down for a considerable way out, and had
been felled so that their tops lay outwards from the
intrenchments. The limbs had been trimmed and pointed, and thus
formed an abatis in front of the greater part of the line.
Outside of this intrenched line, and extending about half the
entire length of it, is a ravine running north and south and
opening into Hickman creek at a point north of the fort. The
entire side of this ravine next to the works was one long abatis.

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