Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy Memorial Day!

Take time to remember your loved ones who have already passed and those who paid the ultimate price to protect our freedom.

Fort Donelson

After the fall of Fort Henry on February 6, 1862, General U. S. Grant quickly turned his attention to capturing Fort Donelson, the Confederate fort controlling entry and exit to the Cumberland River. Captuiring the fort would allow Union forces to use the Cumberland as a highway into the interior of the Confederacy.

A force of 17,000 Rebels under Brigadier General John B. Floyd held Fort Donelson and a outlying entrenchments. After several probing attacks on the 13th Union gunboats closed in on the 14th. Plunging fire from the well-situated fort (unlike Fort Henry) disabled the USS St. Louis, Louisville and Pittsburg. Despite the failed naval assault, Union troops surrounded the Rebels. A Confederate offensive on the 15th, led by Brigadier General Gideon Pillow succeeded in pushing back the Union right flank and opening an escape route for the trapped soldiers. Believing Union reinforcements were at hand, the Confederates lost their nerve and fell back to their original lines instead of escaping.

Though pleased with the day's results, the Confederate leaders still believed their position to be untenable. Floyd, fearing capture and trial in the North, resigned command, passing it to Pillow. Pillow also decided to take a pass, leaving Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner to surrender the fort while Pillow and Floyd turned tail and ran. Buckner contacted Grant for terms of surrender. Grant responded:

Sir: Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.
I propose to move immediately upon your works.
I am Sir: very respectfully
Your obt. sevt.
U.S. Grant
Brig. Gen.

Though Buckner complained about Grant's "ungenerous and unchivalrous terms," he felt compelled to accept them. On February 16th upwards of 15,000 troops and 48 artillery pieces surrendered. Grant had captured the first of three Confederate armies during the Civil War. 

For his role in capturing the fort, Grant was promoted to Major General and rose from obscurity to a public figure. He also earned the nickname "Unconditional Surrender" Grant, using the initials of his name. Grant's personal account of this battle and the rest of his Civil War experiences are recorded in his memoirs. Parts of the battlefield have been preserved by the National Park Service.