Fort Donelson, better late than never

The last few days have been a bit busy with the Lincoln bicentennial, but I realized just now that I forgot to write something about another important early victory in the West, the surrender of Fort Donelson. This victory followed up the victory earlier in February 1862 at Fort Henry. An alert reader reminded me of the important role in that battle of the fleet of gunboats commanded by Andrew Foote. Fort Donelson was different, with Foote attempting to soften the fort for Grant’s troops being repulsed by the Confederate defenders under the command of Generals Floyd, Pillow, and Buckner. Unfortunately for them, Grant extended his flanks and attacked the fort on February 15.

The Confederates attempted to break out and almost succeeded, forcing Union forces to retreat, until, in confusion, they were ordered back to their trenches. When General Buckner asked Grant for terms the next morning, Grant responded in what became one of his more famous quotes, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” Buckner surrendered that day.

The victory opened up the Cumberland River for the Union army and made Grant’s career. He earned the promotion to major general and, with two victories behind him went on to greater renown in the West. February will alwasy be an important month in Civil War history, as it contains the anniversaries of Forts Henry and Donelson, as well as the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Another victory in the West 147 years ago.


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