Gen. Grant Gives the Union Its Second Major Victory: The Battle of Fort Donelson
The first year of the Civil War did not go well for the North. The Confederacy won the war’s opening contest—the Battle of Fort Sumter—and the year’s biggest clash—the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). As 1862 began President Lincoln and the Northern public were desperate for an aggressive general and a significant Union victory. Then in the Western theater of the war a young, relatively unknown General Ulysses S. Grant suddenly answered the North’s wishes with two important victories in Tennessee: the Battle of Fort Henry followed by the Battle of Fort Donelson.
Article continues after this newspaper image from the Feb. 19, 1862, issue of the New York Daily Herald (New York)
When Fort Henry fell to Grant’s forces on Feb. 6, 1862, the Union gained control of the Tennessee River, opening up an invasion path into the interior of the Confederacy. Grant immediately turned his attention 12 miles east, where Fort Donelson guarded the other important waterway into the heart of Tennessee, the Cumberland River. Grant attacked with an army of 24,500 men supported by Flag Officer Foote with four ironclad and three wooden gunboats. The battle raged from Feb. 12 to 16, when the fort surrendered.
Fort Donelson was a far more formidable target than Fort Henry, which had been built on low swampy land and was being flooded by the Tennessee River at the time of Grant’s attack. By contrast Fort Donelson, built on a bluff 100 feet above the Cumberland River, could pour artillery fire down onto attacking gunboats. The fort was strengthened by miles of encircling entrenchments and about 17,000 troops led by four Confederate generals: John B. Floyd, Gideon J. Pillow, Simon B. Buckner and Bushrod Johnson.
The Confederates knew Grant’s men were marching east from Fort Henry, and that Foote’s gunboats were coming up the Cumberland River. An attack on Fort Donelson was expected, the stakes were high—and the South was ready. This article was printed by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on the front page of its Feb. 10, 1862, issue:
Louisville, Ky., Feb. 7.—Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River, will be attacked tomorrow. The Confederates from Fort Henry retreated to Paris, Tenn., leaving part of their guns in the Fort. The Federal cavalry is in pursuit of the Confederates.
The Northern press also knew a major battle was imminent. This article was printed by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on Feb. 12, 1862:
Expected Battle at Fort Donelson
St. Louis, Feb. 11.—The enemy at Fort Donelson has been rapidly reinforced, and the prisoners say they are confident they can hold their position. Trees are being felled two miles around the fort by a gang of negroes. Gen. Pillow is in command there with two thousand men, embracing some of the best artillerists from Columbus. There are two small forts and three camps several hundred yards from the main fortification, and present appearances indicate that the coming battle will be much more desperate than that at Fort Henry.
Cincinnati, Feb. 11.—A special dispatch from Cairo to the Gazette says that Federal officers from Fort Donelson report that Gen. Grant has surrounded the fort with seven batteries of artillery, and that the fort will be shelled or surrendered today or tomorrow. Eight thousand rebels are at the fort.
The Confederates remained confident on the eve of the battle. The Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) printed this article on the front page of its Feb. 12, 1862, issue:
From Fort Donelson
Nashville, 10th—Passengers by the boat this evening state that our scouts report that the Federal infantry and cavalry were within four miles of Fort Donelson yesterday. Other passengers state that the Federal gunboats were in sight of the Fort yesterday.
A private dispatch received from Clarksville today, states that Fort Donelson is safe and cannot be taken.
The battle began on Feb. 12, when the first of Grant’s arriving army attacked the entrenched Southern troops and a lone gunboat came up the Cumberland River to lob shells into the fort to test its defenses. The action was reported on the front page of the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on Feb. 13, 1862:
Late from Fort Donelson
Nashville, Feb. 12.—A dispatch received here from Cumberland City, this evening, says that one of the enemy’s gunboats came in sight of Fort Donelson this morning about 10 o’clock. She opened fire on the fort, but without injury to our side. The fort returned the fire, whereupon the gunboat retired.
The Federals have landed a force, and a battle with light artillery commenced this evening. They are reported to have ten or twelve thousand men. When the steamer left Fort Donelson, a battle was raging, but nothing further is known of it.
The fighting grew heavier on Feb. 13 with Grant’s army in place, and the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) again reported the news on the front page, this time on Feb. 14, 1862:
Later from Fort Donelson!
Fort Still Holds Out—Enemy Repulsed at Every Point!
Federal Gunboats Forced to Retire Badly Damaged!
Our Men in Good Spirits and Confident of Success!
Enemy’s Loss Supposed Large, Our Loss Not Very Great!
Attack Probably Resumed Today!
Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 13.—The following dispatches have been received here from Fort Donelson:
Fort Donelson, Feb. 13, 11:30 a.m.—The firing of artillery commenced this morning before sunrise, and has continued ever since to the present time, increasing in the number of pieces and occasionally in the rapidity of firing. The enemy keeps at a respectful distance. The field artillery is engaged all along the line.
Fort Donelson, 2:45 p.m.—The firing has ceased, probably that the enemy may change his position. We have, so far, repulsed the enemy at every point of our lines. Our loss is small. The Federal gunboats have retired; we think that they are seriously injured. Our men are in fine spirits.
Fort Donelson, Feb. 13, p.m.—The day has almost passed. We still hold our own. We have repulsed the enemy, driven back his gunboats, and whipped him by land and water. He still lies around, and will probably attack us again tomorrow. Our loss is not very great. That of the enemy must be heavy. We had lively fighting and heavy cannonading all around our line all day. We repulsed the enemy everywhere, and are satisfied that we injured his gunboats materially, as he retired twice. Our lines were entrenched all around.
The fighting on Feb. 13 was fierce at times, as reported by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on Feb. 15, 1862:
Attack on Fort Donelson
A special dispatch to the Tribune, dated “Camp on the field, near Fort Donelson, Feb. 13, 12:30,” says: Fort Donelson is invested by our troops. Our lines are formed from right to left and from north to south, nearly surrounding the fort…All the officers are acting with great valor, exhibiting a fearlessness highly creditable to our western army. Gen. Grant and staff have been riding along the lines all the morning, regardless of the grapeshot that is being showered in every direction.
Another dispatch—13th—says: The rebel rifle-shots and grape have been flying thick and fast about here all day. Some six shots struck about General Grant and staff this afternoon, while they were riding along the lines. One bullet hit one of the horses of the bodyguard nearly. The fort will be stormed in two days, if not surrendered before that time. Our men have driven back the enemy in every instance.
The fort’s defenders were determined and fought well, and General Grant turned to Flag Officer Foote’s gunboats on the battle’s third day, Feb. 14. The ironclads had been highly effective at Fort Henry, and the same success was expected at Fort Donelson—but it was not to be. After a furious 75-minute barrage the gunboats were badly damaged and forced to retire. They succeeded in knocking out some of their enemy’s guns, but the combined firepower of the Confederate batteries proved too much for the Union flotilla.
The New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) printed Flag Officer Foote’s official report of the unsuccessful gunboat attack on Feb. 17, 1862:
The Battle at Fort Donelson.
A Desperate Resistance.
Three Days’ Fighting.
Gallant Attack by the Gunboats.
Official Report of Com. Foote.
The Commodore Slightly Wounded.
The Gunboats Badly Damaged.
Special Dispatch to the N.Y. Tribune.
Washington, Feb. 15, 1862.
The following dispatch was this morning received at the Navy Department from Flag Officer Foote:
U.S. Flag-Ship St. Louis, near Fort Donelson, via Paducah, Feb. 15, 1862.
To the Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
I made an attack on Fort Donelson yesterday at 3 o’clock p.m., with four iron-clad gunboats and two wooden ones, and after one hour and a quarter severe fighting, the latter part of the day within less than four hundred yards of the fort, the wheel of this vessel and the tiller of the Louisville were shot away, rendering the two boats unmanageable. They then drifted down the river. The two remaining boats were also greatly damaged between wind and water. This vessel alone received 59 shots, and the others about half that number each. There were 54 killed and wounded in this attack, which we have reason to suppose would, in fifteen minutes more, could the action have been continued, have resulted in the capture of the fort bearing upon us, as the enemy was running from his batteries when the two gunboats helplessly drifted down the river from disabled steering apparatus, as the relieving tackles could not steer the vessels in the strong current. The fleeing enemy returned to the river battery guns from which they had been driven, and again hotly poured fire upon us. The enemy must have brought over twenty guns to bear upon our gunboats from the water battery and the main fort on the hill, while we could only return the fire with twelve boat guns from the four boats. One rifled gun aboard the Carondelet burst during the action.
The officers and men in this hotly contested but unequal fight behaved with the greatest gallantry and determination, all deploring the accident which rendered two of our gunboats helpless in the narrow river and swift current. On consultation with Gen. Grant and my own officers—as my services here, until we can repair damages by bringing up a competent force from Cairo to attack the fort, are much less required than they are at Cairo—I shall proceed to that place.
I have sent the Tyler to the Tennessee River to render the railroad bridge impassable.
—A. H. Foote, Flag Officer Commanding Naval Force Western Division.
The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) printed this report of the third day’s fighting on the front page of its Feb. 15, 1862, issue:
Later from Fort Donelson!
Another Desperate Attack—Enemy Again Repulsed—Gunboats Badly Damaged—The Fort Still Holds Out!
New Orleans, Feb. 14.—A private dispatch from Nashville, received here today, says:
A dispatch was received here today, from Cave Johnson, saying that we had 18 killed and 15 wounded at Fort Donelson, while the enemy’s loss in killed was from four to five hundred. Pillow whipped them. The enemy’s gunboats are materially damaged.
Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 14.—The enemy’s gunboats opened fire on Fort Donelson at half past three o’clock this afternoon.
There are only ten feet of water on Harpeth Shoals, for about 35 miles between this place and Asheville. The river is falling rapidly, and our pilots say that the enemy’s gunboats cannot pass over tomorrow.
A special dispatch to the Nashville Union & American from Fort Donelson, Feb. 14th, says: Six gunboats attacked the Fort this afternoon. A terrific fight ensued, which lasted for two hours. Not a man or gun on our side was hurt. Two of the enemy’s gunboats were badly damaged, and a third crippled; whereupon, they all retired.
No demonstrations were made by the infantry today. It is believed that the enemy has received reinforcements, and we expect a fight all around tomorrow.
Further details of the gunboats’ assault were provided in this article printed by the Lowell Daily Citizen and News (Lowell, Massachusetts) on Feb. 17, 1862:
From Fort Donelson
The news from this point is glorious and decisive. The fight began on Thursday, and was kept up with only brief intermissions through Friday and Saturday. The result, so far as known, is that we have taken a redoubt, commanding the fort, and General Grant was confident of taking the works yesterday. Flag Officer Foote, as appears by his report, opened fire with only four iron-clad gunboats and two wooden ones. After an hour-and-a-quarter’s fighting within 400 yards of the fort, the wheel of the St. Louis and the tiller of the Louisville were shot away, rendering the two boats unmanageable. The two remaining iron-clad boats were greatly damaged, the flag-ship (St. Louis) receiving 59 shots, and the others an average of half that number. Our loss in killed and wounded upon the fleet was 54. Commodore Foote was slightly wounded, and retired to Cairo [Kentucky]. The mortar-fleet from the latter place for Fort Donelson. The rebels had three batteries, bearing upon the river, one above another, the highest (which the land forces have taken) being 110 feet above the water.
A special dispatch to St. Louis, from Cairo, dated yesterday afternoon, says:
Commodore Foote reached here at 12 o’clock last night on board the gunboat Conestoga. He stormed Fort Donelson Friday afternoon with the gunboats St. Louis, Louisville, Pittsburg, Carondelet, Tyler and Conestoga. After fighting a little over an hour he withdrew. Fifty-four were killed and wounded, our gunboat pilots, Riley and Hinton, of the St. Louis, being among the latter. Commander Foote, while standing on the pilot house of the St. Louis, his flag-ship, was slightly wounded. The Tyler and Conestoga remained out of range of the enemy’s guns.
The fire from the enemy’s three batteries, is described as very accurate. The upper one mounted four 18-pounders, and was held in reserve until our boats got within 400 yards of the fort. Our fire was directed principally at the water battery. One of the enemy’s guns burst and a number were dismounted. The enemy could be seen carrying the dead out of their trenches.
A dispatch, dated in rear of the fort, Friday afternoon, says:
Last night was very severe on our troops, rain having set in which turned to snow. It is freezing today, and old citizens say they rarely have such cold weather in this latitude. The more I see of the fort the more convinced am I that it cannot be reduced without a terrible battle. Its rear seems almost impregnable. The outer works and bastions of the fort are located on ridges 150 to 250 feet high, covered with dense timber and underbrush.
Before dawn on Feb. 15, Gen. Grant—not expecting much action that morning—went downriver to confer with Flag Officer Foote aboard his flag-ship St. Louis. What he did not know was that the Confederates held a war council during the night and decided their situation was dire; they knew they were outnumbered and could not withstand a long siege. Early on the morning of Feb. 15 they suddenly attacked the right flank of the Union line in a desperate attempt to open up an escape route for their army of 17,000 men. The fighting was close, heavy, and very bloody—much hand-to-hand fighting and many casualties. Throughout the morning the Union lines reeled and fell back before the furious Confederate assault. Then two things happened: at 1:00 Grant came galloping up to rally his men, and at 1:30 the Confederate General Pillow lost his nerve and ordered his men back to their trenches. Throughout the afternoon the Northern troops aggressively pushed the Southerners back, and by nightfall the Confederates had given up all the ground they gained in the morning, and even lost some of their original position.
The Southern papers received dispatches detailing the morning’s successful attack, and told their readers the Confederacy had won a big victory that day—not knowing that in the afternoon, the invigorated Federals had rallied and prevailed. The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) printed this report on the front page of its Feb. 17, 1862, issue:
Later from Fort Donelson!
Fight Still Going On—Final Result Uncertain—Fighting Desperate and Terrible.
Fort Donelson, Feb. 15—10:30 a.m.—One of the fiercest fights on record commenced this morning about 7 o’clock, on our left wing. We have driven the enemy past his camp with great slaughter. The fight is still raging with great fury on both sides. I have just seen a Lincoln prisoner, belonging to the 30th Illinois regiment, who says that the Federalists number 30,000 men, and are commanded by Gen. McClernand. Our boys are fighting with great gallantry, driving the enemy before them.
Eleven a.m.—We have captured three of the enemy’s batteries, and repulsed them everywhere. The loss is reported heavy on both sides, but worst on that of the Yankees.
The troops of Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and other States, are doing the thing finely.
12:50 p.m.—I think that I can safely say the day is ours. The enemy’s loss is tremendous; about 200 Yankees have been taken prisoners. One just brought in reports that numbers of regiments have been nearly annihilated.
1:30 p.m.—We fought the enemy outside of our entrenchments from 5:30 this morning until 1:00 this afternoon, driving him inch by inch from every point of the field, capturing four pieces of artillery and capturing a large number of prisoners. Our loss is heavy, but we have inflicted a heavier loss on the enemy. The Federalists have been largely reinforced, and may attack us again.
The Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) also printed accounts of the morning’s successful attack on the front page of its Feb. 17, 1862, issue. It printed this notice:
Thank God we are able to give good news today. After three days’ successive struggles at Fort Donelson the enemy, fifty thousand strong and three times our number, are for a fourth time, and effectually, beaten—driven off in dismay at the point of the bayonet, losing two of their batteries. Patriots, thank God, take courage and redouble your energies.
It also printed this article, giving more details:
Bloody Fight at Fort Donelson.
Confederates Drive Back the Lincolnites with Cold Steel.
Capture Their Batteries, &c.
Nashville, 15th—11 ½ a.m.—Dispatches just received from Fort Donelson state that the fight commenced at seven o’clock this morning, and raged with fury all the morning, with great slaughter on both sides. The enemy has been driven to the back part of his camp. We have captured two of the enemy’s batteries. A Federal who was taken prisoner says that Gen. McClernand is commanding, and has 50,000 men. Our troops are still driving the enemy back with cold steel.
Memphis, 15th—The Federal loss at Fort Donelson on Thursday was 500—ours 25. Gen. Pillow is in command at the Fort, and Gens. Floyd and Buckner of the land forces. It is the most terrific contest of the war.
The Macon Daily Telegraph also printed this notice on its front page:
Late Saturday afternoon, when the telegram announcing the glorious victory at Fort Donelson was placed upon our bulletin board, quite a large crowd soon congregated in front of our office. It was pleasing to witness the crowd, their demonstrations and remarks. One would say, “glory enough for one day,” and go on his way rejoicing. Another thought it was a good offset to Roanoke. But the Lord High Admiral grew enthusiastic. Says he, “If Pillow commands the Fort, and Floyd and Buckner the land forces, the De’il himself can’t whip ’em.” Another equally exultant said: “I salute thee upon that, Admiral.” But while we rejoice, don’t let us relax our exertions. Remember John Hampden’s advice. “Bring them to the push of pike.” That’s the word.
While the public in the South was celebrating an apparent victory, the Confederate generals in Fort Donelson knew better. On the night of Feb. 15, General Pillow fled, escaping across the Cumberland River in a small boat. Early in the morning of Feb. 16, General Floyd also escaped, boarding a steamer with two regiments. It was left to Generals Buckner and Johnson to surrender the fort and the remaining troops, about 12,500 discouraged men. When General Buckner asked for terms of surrender the morning of Feb. 16, General Grant sent back his famous answer, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted,” earning for himself the immortal nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.
Even before official word of Fort Donelson’s surrender was received, Northern papers were anticipating the victory and appreciating its significance. This article was printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on Feb. 17, 1862:
Rebel Strategy—Its Weak Points
We have now the fullest knowledge of the character and connections of the Rebel strategy, and they have as complete proofs that, excellent as it is, it cannot resist the superior plans, the bravery and the numbers of the loyal patriots, whose present business it is to confound and overwhelm their plans and devices. “Nothing,” says an old adage, “is stronger than its weakest point,” and more than one weak point in their line has been discovered when viewed from the front, not to speak of its assailableness in the rear. Bowling Green…to a front attack seems to be very strong. But when Fort Henry fell, and permitted the victorious gunboats to saunter leisurely up to Muscle Shoals, educing a strong expression of love for the “dear old flag” along the banks of the Tennessee, the only shadow of a chance for Bowling Green in that direction rested on Fort Donelson. If the latter fall, the former will, in all probability, be evacuated; indeed, we have a dispatch from General Buell, announcing his belief that they are already leaving it. We already know that the fighting at Fort Donelson is desperate, because the Rebels are reduced now “to neck or nothing”; and even before this article appears it may be, that even that shadow of a chance had disappeared.
Thanks to the miracle of the telegraph, even Union papers on the West Coast were able to follow closely the Battle of Fort Donelson. This thorough recounting of the entire battle was printed by the Evening Bulletin (San Francisco, California) on Feb. 17, 1862—just the day after Fort Donelson’s surrender:
The Victory at Fort Donelson
Fort Donelson is situated on the southwesterly bank of the Cumberland river, but a few miles south of the Kentucky line in Tennessee. It was constructed on the left bank of the river doubtless to support Fort Henry which lies a dozen miles or so west of it on the Tennessee river. When the Union forces took Fort Henry, the enemy fled to Fort Donelson, and thither reinforcements hastened from Bowling Green and Nashville by railroad. There it was absolutely necessary that the progress of the Unionists be stopped. Nashville was in danger the day it was taken, and with Nashville taken, the rebel cause was lost in Tennessee. All foresaw then that there would, there must be a gallant defense at Donelson.
Our readers know already how promptly after Fort Henry fell our forces pushed on to Donelson. Today we have the story of their success told us by telegraphic dispatches that left Chicago at 11 o’clock this forenoon. The story is the rehearsal of another glorious victory. The fight began on Thursday, and was continued throughout the day, with no decisive results. That evening the rebels made a sortie from their fortifications upon Lt. Taylor’s battery of light artillery. Our men experienced considerable loss, but they saved their battery, and drove the enemy back within their entrenchments, and when night set in what there was of victory was on our side.
At daybreak of Friday the firing of the gunboats was renewed, the enemy from the fort and from the water batteries briskly responding, but the time for the land forces to move had not come…At 4 p.m. the firing ceased, and by that time there were but six of the water battery guns of the rebels that were not silenced. It was a glorious day’s work.
On Saturday, the black flag was plainly discernible on the fort. The rebels would give no quarter then, nor ask any—they would “die in the last ditch” but they would never surrender—that is what the black flag means, and hot work was the day’s inevitable programme, for, resolute as were rebels, the fall of the fort was resolved on. The gunboats appear to have resumed their operations early, and at noon the land forces were at liberty to fall to. They stormed the fortifications on the enemy’s right wing—the northwest side of the fort—and carried them. It must have been a terrible fight, for the bluff is high, the forests thick, and felled trees obstructed the approach of the assailants. The 17th and 18th Illinois Regiments were sadly cut up, but apparently the courage of the dying escaped into and animated their surviving comrades. The gallant Iowa 7th, who were with Lyon when he fell at Springfield, fought bravely and suffered much loss. Saturday closed, and the work was not ended though beautifully advanced.
On Sunday (yesterday) morning the good work was completed, Generals Johnson and Buckner and 15,000 rebel soldiers were made prisoners, and the stars and stripes floated over the stronghold, to protect which Bowling Green had been evacuated, Fort Henry after a short brisk fight surrendered, and all the force in Western Tennessee had been rallied.
…The importance to them of holding the position was vital, their defeat is the heaviest blow yet struck at the insurrection…Bowling Green is gone, Kentucky is gone, and the war is carried down to Central Tennessee. Nowhere more clearly than at Richmond is it seen that the day of the rebels’ doom swiftly approaches, that the lines of fire close in upon them, day by day, from two sides—the Northwest and the East; that McClellan holds Beauregard and Joseph Johnston, and the great body of the Southern army “in a vice” on the Potomac, that McClellan’s plan of the war is complete, thorough, and the one that of all others, Jeff Davis feels will be most suddenly and swiftly fatal to his wretched Confederacy.
The Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) printed the announcement of Fort Donelson’s surrender on Feb. 18, 1862:
Official Announcement of the Capture of Fort Donelson
Cairo, February 17, 1862.
Major General McClellan:
The Union flag floats over Fort Donelson. The Carondelet, Capt. Walker, brings the glorious intelligence.
The fort surrendered at 9 o’clock yesterday (Sunday) morning. Generals Johnson and Buckner and fifteen thousand prisoners and a large amount of material of war are the trophies of victory. Loss heavy on both sides.
Floyd stole away during the night previous with five thousand men, and is denounced by the rebels as a traitor.
I am happy to inform you that Flag Officer Foote, though suffering with his foot, with the noble spirit characteristic of our navy, notwithstanding his disability, will take up immediately two gunboats, and with the eight mortar boats which he will overtake will make an immediate attack on Clarksville, if the stage of water will permit.
We are now firing a national salute from Fort Cairo, Gen. Grant’s late post, in honor of the glorious achievement.
--Geo. W. Cullum, Brig. Gen. Vol. and U.S.A. and Chief of Staff and Engineers.
The Northern press recognized the significance of the capture of Fort Donelson. This article was printed by the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.) on Feb. 18, 1862:
A Signal Victory
Another brilliant victory has crowned the National Arms! Fort Donelson, in West Tennessee, has been taken by the brave troops under command of Gen. Grant, and fifteen thousand prisoners, including among them several of the ablest field officers of the enemy, have fallen into the hands of our conquering forces.
A victory so complete and decisive, occurring at a position said to be of great importance in the strategic combinations of the enemy, must strike dismay in the hearts of the insurgents, while to the loyal adherents of the Government (and especially to such of them as dwell in the Seceded States) it will everywhere bring joy, as the harbinger of that returning peace and Union which were first madly disturbed by a causeless revolt. If this joy is tempered by the thought that the victory is won over our own countrymen, arrayed against us in an unnatural strife, it behooves the philanthropist to remember that it is only by such stern discipline that the nation can hope to procure a speedy and permanent repose from the horrors of such a contest.
The Southern press also recognized the significance of Fort Donelson’s surrender, and were dismayed by it. With the fort lost the Cumberland River was open to invasion, and Nashville must fall. This was how the Daily Columbus Enquirer (Columbus, Georgia) announced the disturbing news, on Feb. 18, 1862:
Fort Donelson and 13,000 Confederates Surrendered!
After we had commenced printing our paper this (Monday) morning, a private dispatch from Chattanooga was received by a gentleman of this city, announcing that Fort Donelson and 13,000 Confederate troops had surrendered to the Federals, and that the enemy had proceeded to Nashville and captured that city!
A dispatch from the operator at Macon to the operator here confirms this bad news.
This article was printed by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on Feb. 18, 1862:
Taking of Fort Donelson!
Thirteen Thousand Confederates Captured—Nashville Surrendered.
(Hearing a rumor that important news had been received in Columbus, we telegraphed to John H. Martin, Esq., Editor of the Columbus Enquirer, who kindly forwarded us the following dispatch. We have no heart for comment.—Ed. Chron.)
Columbus, Ga., Feb. 17, 8 o’clock p.m.
Editor Chronicle & Sentinel: The following dispatch was received here early this morning causing intense anxiety and excitement here.
Chattanooga, Feb. 17
Fort Donelson is taken with thirteen thousand (13,000) Confederates. Nashville has surrendered. Later dispatches from Shelbyville confirm the taking of Nashville by the Federals.
The South was dismayed, but the North was jubilant. Grant’s victory the week before at Fort Henry, the Union’s first major victory of the war, had excited the North—but the capture of Fort Donelson not only opened up another Southern river, it brought with it the surrender of an entire Confederate army. Cities all across the North celebrated wildly, as detailed in this article printed by the Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) on the front page of its Feb. 18, 1862, issue:
How the News Was Received.
Rejoicing throughout the Country.
A General Jubilee.
The News at West Chester.
Special dispatch to the Inquirer.
West Chester, Feb. 17.—Great demonstrations are making here today in honor of the capture of Fort Donelson. The bells are ringing and cannons firing. All countenances are beaming with joy, except those of a few sympathizers with the Rebels.
Special dispatch to the Inquirer.
Cincinnati, Feb. 17, 1862.—The people here are crazy with excitement over the news of the capture of the Rebel army. The streets are crowded with men hurrahing, and flags are being run up at all points and salutes are fired.
Baltimore, Feb. 17, 1862.—The Inquirer’s Cincinnati dispatch caused great excitement in provisions, and holders were withdrawn from market. Pork held three-quarters to one per cent. higher; stock small. Beef partakes of the same excitement. Stocks also advanced materially.
Chicago, Feb. 17.—The people of Chicago claim the honor of the victory for Illinois—there having been engaged twenty-five regiments of infantry of Illinois, six of Iowa, and four of Indiana; also, four regiments of cavalry from Illinois and six companies from Missouri.
New York, Feb. 17.—The city is jubilant. Flags are everywhere displayed, and there is every demonstration of joy.
Utica, Feb. 17.—Guns are firing, flags flying, fireworks and bonfires blazing, and the city is in a ferment.
Burlington, Vt., Feb. 17.—Vermont fires all the guns she has left at home and rings all her bells in token of her great rejoicing over the feats of valor performed by the men of the West.
Albany, Feb. 17.—In the Assembly this morning, Mr. Royal Phelps rose, announcing that he had just received the gratifying intelligence of the capture of Fort Donelson by our troops, and also of the capture of the city of Savannah. A scene of much excitement ensued. All the rules of order were disregarded, the House rising and giving cheer after cheer, throwing up their hats, clapping their hands, &c., in which demonstration the galleries heartily joined.
Boston, Feb. 17.—The news of the capture of Fort Donelson creates an immense, patriotic, and jubilative furor in this city. There has not been so much joy manifested in Boston since the days of the old Revolution.
A salute of a hundred guns will be fired tomorrow by direction of the Mayor, and all the bells in the city will be rung. The citizens will also fire five hundred guns.
Resolutions were unanimously passed in both branches of the Legislature, presenting the thanks of the people of the State to the gallant officers and soldiers of the Army and sailors of the Navy, on the occasion of the series of brilliant achievements won by their courage and skill in the States of South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the Governor was requested to fire a salute in honor of these great successes of the Union.
Dispatches from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont announce the general manifestation of enthusiasm and thanksgiving for the glorious result.
Auburn, N.Y., Feb. 17.—A hundred guns were fired today, in honor of the great victory.
Geneva, N.Y., Feb. 17.—Bells are ringing and cannon firing.
Troy, N.Y., Feb. 17.—A salute of a hundred guns was fired here today.
Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Feb. 17.—A salute of a hundred guns was fired here today.
Rochester, N.Y., Feb. 17.—Our citizens are enjoying a general jubilee. Cannon are being fired, bells rung, &c.
Indianapolis, Feb. 17.—The greatest excitement prevails here, increased by the terrible anxiety of the friends of the soldiers engaged in the struggle. A special train has left with physicians, twenty-five volunteer nurses and a large quantity of hospital stores. A citizens’ meeting has been called for taking care of the wounded that will be sent here. Governor Morton will leave for Fort Donelson tonight.
There was no celebrating in the South, of course. The Confederate mood was somber, yet resolute, as reflected in this editorial reprinted by the Macon Daily Telegraph (Macon, Georgia) on Feb. 22, 1862:
The Dark Days of the Republic
(From the Memphis Appeal.)
The fall of Fort Donelson on Saturday last, the evacuation of Bowling Green and the unexplained agreement to surrender Nashville on yesterday, have forcibly engendered the conviction in the public mind that Gen. Sydney Johnston has been out-generaled by Buell in the progress of army operations in Kentucky. We have no disposition to harshly judge him in this matter, but the fact is too palpable for denial that some of his blunders have at least temporarily transferred the war from Kentucky to Tennessee soil.
In the events of the last few days we witness disasters which will arouse the spirit of our people throughout the whole Confederacy. There is nothing, it is true, in the surrender of a city, or the fall of a fort, to discourage or alarm us. These things have happened before without proving the harbingers of subjugation or of fatal disaster to a nation struggling bravely for its freedom. The price of liberty is blood, and if we would obtain the boon, we must pay the price. We cannot expect to achieve our independence without undergoing at least some of the hardships and incurring some of the misfortunes and obstacles that befell our forefathers in the dark days of the American Revolution. The colonies passed through the fiery ordeal of defeat after defeat, and were baptized with continual disasters, without allowing a cowardly despair to seize upon their hearts.
When the British captured Charleston and Savannah, and routed the Continental forces at Camden, South Carolina, there was no thought of surrender; nor even yet when defeat overtook the American army at Bunker Hill, and Gen. Washington was compelled to evacuate New York, and make a precipitate retreat—leaving the snow stained with the blood of his barefooted and fugitive soldiers.
These disasters only nerved a brave and invincible people to renewed determination. The dark hour of trial was upon them, but they saw the light of victory peering through the clouds in the distance. Shall we be less brave, resolute or self-sacrificing than they? Have we less hope than they? On the contrary we have more to gain by victory—more to lose by defeat. Now is the time to test the metal of the true and loyal patriots, and to expose the base treason of the hypocrite and the time server. We have not the shadow of a doubt of the final result in this conflict even yet. Defeats may protract the war, but can subjugate us never! never!! never!!!
Rise, fellow-men! our country yet remains
By that loved name, we wave the sword on high,
And swear for her to live! With her to die.
Click here for more articles about the American Civil War.