Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

General Halleck commenced his efforts in all quarters to get
reinforcements to forward to me immediately on my departure from
Cairo. General Hunter sent men freely from Kansas, and a large
division under General Nelson, from Buell’s army, was also
dispatched. Orders went out from the War Department to
consolidate fragments of companies that were being recruited in
the Western States so as to make full companies, and to
consolidate companies into regiments. General Halleck did not
approve or disapprove of my going to Fort Donelson. He said
nothing whatever to me on the subject. He informed Buell on the
7th that I would march against Fort Donelson the next day; but on
the 10th he directed me to fortify Fort Henry strongly,
particularly to the land side, saying that he forwarded me
intrenching tools for that purpose. I received this dispatch in
front of Fort Donelson.

I was very impatient to get to Fort Donelson because I knew the
importance of the place to the enemy and supposed he would
reinforce it rapidly. I felt that 15,000 men on the 8th would
be more effective than 50,000 a month later. I asked
Flag-officer Foote, therefore, to order his gunboats still about
Cairo to proceed up the Cumberland River and not to wait for
those gone to Eastport and Florence; but the others got back in
time and we started on the 12th. I had moved McClernand out a
few miles the night before so as to leave the road as free as

Just as we were about to start the first reinforcement reached
me on transports. It was a brigade composed of six full
regiments commanded by Colonel Thayer, of Nebraska. As the
gunboats were going around to Donelson by the Tennessee, Ohio
and Cumberland rivers, I directed Thayer to turn about and go
under their convoy.

I started from Fort Henry with 15,000 men, including eight
batteries and part of a regiment of cavalry, and, meeting with
no obstruction to detain us, the advance arrived in front of the
enemy by noon. That afternoon and the next day were spent in
taking up ground to make the investment as complete as
possible. General Smith had been directed to leave a portion of
his division behind to guard forts Henry and Heiman. He left
General Lew. Wallace with 2,500 men. With the remainder of his
division he occupied our left, extending to Hickman creek.
McClernand was on the right and covered the roads running south
and south-west from Dover. His right extended to the back-water
up the ravine opening into the Cumberland south of the village.
The troops were not intrenched, but the nature of the ground was
such that they were just as well protected from the fire of the
enemy as if rifle-pits had been thrown up. Our line was
generally along the crest of ridges. The artillery was
protected by being sunk in the ground. The men who were not
serving the guns were perfectly covered from fire on taking
position a little back from the crest. The greatest suffering
was from want of shelter. It was midwinter and during the siege
we had rain and snow, thawing and freezing alternately. It would
not do to allow camp-fires except far down the hill out of sight
of the enemy, and it would not do to allow many of the troops to
remain there at the same time. In the march over from Fort Henry
numbers of the men had thrown away their blankets and
overcoats. There was therefore much discomfort and absolute

During the 12th and 13th, and until the arrival of Wallace and
Thayer on the 14th, the National forces, composed of but 15,000
men, without intrenchments, confronted an intrenched army of
21,000, without conflict further than what was brought on by
ourselves. Only one gunboat had arrived. There was a little
skirmishing each day, brought on by the movement of our troops
in securing commanding positions; but there was no actual
fighting during this time except once, on the 13th, in front of
McClernand’s command. That general had undertaken to capture a
battery of the enemy which was annoying his men. Without orders
or authority he sent three regiments to make the assault. The
battery was in the main line of the enemy, which was defended by
his whole army present. Of course the assault was a failure, and
of course the loss on our side was great for the number of men
engaged. In this assault Colonel William Morrison fell badly
wounded. Up to this time the surgeons with the army had no
difficulty in finding room in the houses near our line for all
the sick and wounded; but now hospitals were overcrowded. Owing,
however, to the energy and skill of the surgeons the suffering
was not so great as it might have been. The hospital
arrangements at Fort Donelson were as complete as it was
possible to make them, considering the inclemency of the weather
and the lack of tents, in a sparsely settled country where the
houses were generally of but one or two rooms.

On the return of Captain Walke to Fort Henry on the 10th, I had
requested him to take the vessels that had accompanied him on
his expedition up the Tennessee, and get possession of the
Cumberland as far up towards Donelson as possible. He started
without delay, taking, however, only his own gunboat, the
Carondelet, towed by the steamer Alps. Captain Walke arrived a
few miles below Donelson on the 12th, a little after noon. About
the time the advance of troops reached a point within gunshot of
the fort on the land side, he engaged the water batteries at
long range. On the 13th I informed him of my arrival the day
before and of the establishment of most of our batteries,
requesting him at the same time to attack again that day so that
I might take advantage of any diversion. The attack was made and
many shots fell within the fort, creating some consternation, as
we now know. The investment on the land side was made as
complete as the number of troops engaged would admit of.

During the night of the 13th Flag-officer Foote arrived with the
iron-clads St. Louis, Louisville and Pittsburg and the wooden
gunboats Tyler and Conestoga, convoying Thayer’s brigade. On
the morning of the 14th Thayer was landed. Wallace, whom I had
ordered over from Fort Henry, also arrived about the same
time. Up to this time he had been commanding a brigade
belonging to the division of General C. F. Smith. These troops
were now restored to the division they belonged to, and General
Lew. Wallace was assigned to the command of a division composed
of the brigade of Colonel Thayer and other reinforcements that
arrived the same day. This new division was assigned to the
centre, giving the two flanking divisions an opportunity to
close up and form a stronger line.

The plan was for the troops to hold the enemy within his lines,
while the gunboats should attack the water batteries at close
quarters and silence his guns if possible. Some of the gunboats
were to run the batteries, get above the fort and above the
village of Dover. I had ordered a reconnoissance made with the
view of getting troops to the river above Dover in case they
should be needed there. That position attained by the gunboats
it would have been but a question of time–and a very short
time, too–when the garrison would have been compelled to

By three in the afternoon of the 14th Flag-officer Foote was
ready, and advanced upon the water batteries with his entire
fleet. After coming in range of the batteries of the enemy the
advance was slow, but a constant fire was delivered from every
gun that could be brought to bear upon the fort. I occupied a
position on shore from which I could see the advancing navy. The
leading boat got within a very short distance of the water
battery, not further off I think than two hundred yards, and I
soon saw one and then another of them dropping down the river,
visibly disabled. Then the whole fleet followed and the
engagement closed for the day. The gunboat which Flag-officer
Foote was on, besides having been hit about sixty times, several
of the shots passing through near the waterline, had a shot enter
the pilot-house which killed the pilot, carried away the wheel
and wounded the flag-officer himself. The tiller-ropes of
another vessel were carried away and she, too, dropped
helplessly back. Two others had their pilot-houses so injured
that they scarcely formed a protection to the men at the wheel.

The enemy had evidently been much demoralized by the assault,
but they were jubilant when they saw the disabled vessels
dropping down the river entirely out of the control of the men
on board. Of course I only witnessed the falling back of our
gunboats and felt sad enough at the time over the repulse.
Subsequent reports, now published, show that the enemy
telegraphed a great victory to Richmond. The sun went down on
the night of the 14th of February, 1862, leaving the army
confronting Fort Donelson anything but comforted over the
prospects. The weather had turned intensely cold; the men were
without tents and could not keep up fires where most of them had
to stay, and, as previously stated, many had thrown away their
overcoats and blankets. Two of the strongest of our gunboats
had been disabled, presumably beyond the possibility of
rendering any present assistance. I retired this night not
knowing but that I would have to intrench my position, and bring
up tents for the men or build huts under the cover of the hills.

On the morning of the 15th, before it was yet broad day, a
messenger from Flag-officer Foote handed me a note, expressing a
desire to see me on the flag-ship and saying that he had been
injured the day before so much that he could not come himself to
me. I at once made my preparations for starting. I directed my
adjutant-general to notify each of the division commanders of my
absence and instruct them to do nothing to bring on an engagement
until they received further orders, but to hold their
positions. From the heavy rains that had fallen for days and
weeks preceding and from the constant use of the roads between
the troops and the landing four to seven miles below, these
roads had become cut up so as to be hardly passable. The
intense cold of the night of the 14th-15th had frozen the ground
solid. This made travel on horseback even slower than through
the mud; but I went as fast as the roads would allow.

When I reached the fleet I found the flag-ship was anchored out
in the stream. A small boat, however, awaited my arrival and I
was soon on board with the flag-officer. He explained to me in
short the condition in which he was left by the engagement of
the evening before, and suggested that I should intrench while
he returned to Mound City with his disabled boats, expressing at
the time the belief that he could have the necessary repairs made
and be back in ten days. I saw the absolute necessity of his
gunboats going into hospital and did not know but I should be
forced to the alternative of going through a siege. But the
enemy relieved me from this necessity.

When I left the National line to visit Flag-officer Foote I had
no idea that there would be any engagement on land unless I
brought it on myself. The conditions for battle were much more
favorable to us than they had been for the first two days of the
investment. From the 12th to the 14th we had but 15,000 men of
all arms and no gunboats. Now we had been reinforced by a fleet
of six naval vessels, a large division of troops under General L.
Wallace and 2,500 men brought over from Fort Henry belonging to
the division of C. F. Smith. The enemy, however, had taken the
initiative. Just as I landed I met Captain Hillyer of my staff,
white with fear, not for his personal safety, but for the safety
of the National troops. He said the enemy had come out of his
lines in full force and attacked and scattered McClernand’s
division, which was in full retreat. The roads, as I have said,
were unfit for making fast time, but I got to my command as soon
as possible. The attack had been made on the National right. I
was some four or five miles north of our left. The line was
about three miles long. In reaching the point where the
disaster had occurred I had to pass the divisions of Smith and
Wallace. I saw no sign of excitement on the portion of the line
held by Smith; Wallace was nearer the scene of conflict and had
taken part in it. He had, at an opportune time, sent Thayer’s
brigade to the support of McClernand and thereby contributed to
hold the enemy within his lines.

I saw everything favorable for us along the line of our left and
centre. When I came to the right appearances were different. The
enemy had come out in full force to cut his way out and make his
escape. McClernand’s division had to bear the brunt of the
attack from this combined force. His men had stood up gallantly
until the ammunition in their cartridge-boxes gave out. There
was abundance of ammunition near by lying on the ground in
boxes, but at that stage of the war it was not all of our
commanders of regiments, brigades, or even divisions, who had
been educated up to the point of seeing that their men were
constantly supplied with ammunition during an engagement. When
the men found themselves without ammunition they could not stand
up against troops who seemed to have plenty of it. The division
broke and a portion fled, but most of the men, as they were not
pursued, only fell back out of range of the fire of the enemy.
It must have been about this time that Thayer pushed his brigade
in between the enemy and those of our troops that were without
ammunition. At all events the enemy fell back within his
intrenchments and was there when I got on the field.

I saw the men standing in knots talking in the most excited
manner. No officer seemed to be giving any directions. The
soldiers had their muskets, but no ammunition, while there were
tons of it close at hand. I heard some of the men say that the
enemy had come out with knapsacks, and haversacks filled with
rations. They seemed to think this indicated a determination on
his part to stay out and fight just as long as the provisions
held out. I turned to Colonel J. D. Webster, of my staff, who
was with me, and said: “Some of our men are pretty badly
demoralized, but the enemy must be more so, for he has attempted
to force his way out, but has fallen back: the one who attacks
first now will be victorious and the enemy will have to be in a
hurry if he gets ahead of me.” I determined to make the assault
at once on our left. It was clear to my mind that the enemy had
started to march out with his entire force, except a few
pickets, and if our attack could be made on the left before the
enemy could redistribute his forces along the line, we would
find but little opposition except from the intervening abatis.
I directed Colonel Webster to ride with me and call out to the
men as we passed: “Fill your cartridge-boxes, quick, and get
into line; the enemy is trying to escape and he must not be
permitted to do so.” This acted like a charm. The men only
wanted some one to give them a command. We rode rapidly to
Smith’s quarters, when I explained the situation to him and
directed him to charge the enemy’s works in his front with his
whole division, saying at the same time that he would find
nothing but a very thin line to contend with. The general was
off in an incredibly short time, going in advance himself to
keep his men from firing while they were working their way
through the abatis intervening between them and the enemy. The
outer line of rifle-pits was passed, and the night of the 15th
General Smith, with much of his division, bivouacked within the
lines of the enemy. There was now no doubt but that the
Confederates must surrender or be captured the next day.

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