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Fort Donelson and Shiloh. Lsn 9. Fort Donelson. In the fall of 1861, Albert Sidney Johnston had constructed a defensive cordon that ran from Columbus, KY, on the Mississippi River to Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains

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Fort donelson
Fort Donelson

  • In the fall of 1861, Albert Sidney Johnston had constructed a defensive cordon that ran from Columbus, KY, on the Mississippi River to Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains

  • Many regarded Johnston as the Confederacy’s most capable general, but he had just 43,000 men to hold this 300-mile line

Fort donelson1
Fort Donelson

  • Two of his major positions were Forts Henry and Donelson just south of the Tennessee-Kentucky line

    • Fort Henry blocked the Tennessee River

    • Fort Donelson blocked the Cumberland River

Fort donelson2
Fort Donelson

  • The massive Federal logistical tail restricted it to movements where rail or river transportation was available

  • That left four avenues

    • Down the Mississippi against Columbus

    • Up the Tennessee River to Fort Henry

    • Up the Cumberland to Fort Donelson

    • Along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad to Bowling Green, KY

Fort donelson3
Fort Donelson

  • The Federals had unity of command problems

    • Control of the theater was divided between Major General Henry Halleck’s Department of Missouri and Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Department of Ohio

    • Major General George McClellan was supposed to coordinate their actions from Washington

  • All three men were cautious by nature, displayed great sensitivity about their own administrative domains, and believed the Confederates’ interior lines made offensive action difficult

Fort donelson4
Fort Donelson

  • This inertia was broken by Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant

  • Grant fell under Halleck’s command and he worked with Captain Andrew Foote to devise a plan to take a small joint force up the Tennessee River against Fort Henry

    • Halleck at first rejected Grant’s plan, but approved it after Foote lent his endorsement

  • At the time, the military had no doctrine on joint commands and unity of command problems would persist

Fort donelson5
Fort Donelson

  • The command arrangements that did exist hampered rather than encouraged successful joint operations

    • Foote’s instructions from the Navy Department were to cooperate, but he was not formally subordinated to the Army

    • Therefore Halleck, Grant’s departmental commander, really only commanded half of the joint operation

    • Furthermore, Halleck’s style of command made matters worse

    • Grant and Foote would work through these difficulties to achieve unity of effort

Henry Halleck

Unity of command vs unity of effort

Unity of Command

All forces operate under one responsible commander who possesses requisite authority to direct forces in pursuit of a common unified purpose

Unity of Effort

Coordination and cooperation among all forces, not necessarily part of the same command structure toward a commonly recognized objective

Unity of Command vs. Unity of Effort

Fort donelson6
Fort Donelson

  • Grant loaded 15,000 troops aboard transports and steamed up the Tennessee

  • Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman commanded both Forts Henry and Donelson

    • At Fort Henry he had approximately 3,000–3,400 poorly armed men

    • Fort Henry had 17 guns, eleven covering the river and the other six covering a land attack

    • When the river was at normal levels, the walls of the fort rose 20 feet about it, but in Feb 1862, heavy rains caused the river to rise and most of the fort was underwater

Fort donelson7
Fort Donelson

  • On Feb 6, Grant landed a few miles below Fort Henry while Foote’s gunboats steamed upriver to shell the fort

  • Tilghman realized he did not have a chance and withdrew much of his force to Fort Donelson before the battle

  • After just 75 minutes of shelling Tilghman surrendered


Fort donelson8
Fort Donelson

  • Fort Henry had fallen to the Federal Navy rather than Grant

  • With the Tennessee open, Foote raided as far south as Muscle Shoals, Alabama

  • Grant notified Halleck that he planned to attack Fort Donelson at once

  • For his part, Johnston saw the loss of Fort Henry as an indication he could not hold his entire defensive cordon and he began withdrawing scattered forces and reinforcing Fort Donelson

Fort donelson9
Fort Donelson

  • On Feb 13, Grant attacked Fort Donelson with 23,000 men

  • This time the Confederates held off against Foote’s gunboats

  • Fearing Grant would surround them, the Confederates broke out, but then incredibly returned to the trenches

Fort donelson10
Fort Donelson

  • Overall in command of the Confederates at Fort Donelson was Brigadier General John Floyd, a former secretary of war

  • Subordinate to him were political general Brigadier General Gideon Pillow and professional soldier Simon Bolivar

  • Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest commanded the cavalry

Fort donelson11
Fort Donelson

  • Pillow declared “that he thought there were no two persons in the Confederacy whom the Yankees would prefer to capture than himself and General Floyd”

  • Floyd turned to Pillow and said, “I turn the command over, sir.”

  • “I pass it,” Pillow replied promptly.

  • “I assume it,” said Buckner. “Give me pen, ink, and paper, and send for a bugler.”

  • As Buckner prepared to surrender, Floyd and Pillow made their escape.

As Secretary of War under President Buchanan, Floyd had been accused of sending Federal equipment to Southern arsenals where it would inevitably be seized when war broke out

Fort donelson12
Fort Donelson

  • Forrest was disgusted and declared, “I did not come here to surrender my command,” and breakouts with his 700 men

  • Buckner asked Grant for terms, to which Grant replied,

    • 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.

  • This is where Grant got his “Unconditional Surrender” nickname

“The Ghost Column” by Mort Kunstler

Fort donelson13
Fort Donelson

  • Buckner and Grant were old friends.

  • After the surrender they shared jokes about Pillow. Grant asked Buckner, “Where is [Pillow] now?”

  • Buckner replied, “Gone. He thought you’d rather get hold of him than any other man in the Southern Confederacy.”

  • “Oh,” said Grant, “if I had got him, I’d let him go again. He will do us more good commanding you fellows.”

Pillow had a reputation from Mexico of cowardice, connivance, and self-aggrandizement

Fort donelson14
Fort Donelson

  • Fort Donelson was the first major Federal victory of the Civil War

    • 12,500 Confederates surrendered

    • With the Cumberland River open Federal gunboats could move on Nashville, Tennessee’s capital and an important supply depot

    • The Confederates abandoned Nashville without a fight

Nashville’s important rail yard

Fort donelson15
Fort Donelson

  • Johnston was now in full retreat

  • Grant moved up the Tennessee River to within a few miles of the Mississippi state line

  • Buell occupied Nashville and moved slowly toward a junction with Grant

Fort donelson16
Fort Donelson

  • Showed that in the absence of unified command or meaningful joint doctrine, the conception and execution of joint operations totally depended on ad hoc actions by the responsible commanders, and therefore their personal chemistry and communications

    • Grant and Foote were totally different individuals but they worked well together


  • After Shiloh, Grant took up a position for Tennessee River steamboats known as Pittsburg Landing

  • Part of Pittsburg Landing’s importance was that it was just 20 miles from Corinth, Mississippi

  • Corinth was the junction of the north-south Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the east-west Memphis and Charleston Railroad

  • Many considered Corinth as important to the west as Richmond was to the east


  • Johnston had concentrated the forces he withdrew from the Kentucky-Tennessee line to Corinth and President Davis had also sent reinforcements there

  • By the end of March, Johnston had about 40,000 forces in Corinth

  • On Apr 3, he began moving them all to Pittsburg Landing


  • Johnston knew that numerically his army was barely equivalent to Grant’s but he determined to strike anyway

    • Could surprise Grant with his back to the Tennessee River

    • If he waited, Buell would unite with Grant meaning the Confederates would have to concede western and middle Tennessee to the Federals for good


  • The bad roads and unseasoned troops resulted in it taking two full days to cover the 20 miles from Corinth to Shiloh

  • Johnston’s second-in-command, Beauregard, urged the offensive be abandoned, but Johnston insisted, “I would fight them if they were a million.”

  • On the evening of Apr 5, Johnston deployed for battle


  • Amazingly the Federals had little suspicion of an impending Confederate attack

    • Sherman told one nervous colonel, “Take your damn regiment back to Ohio. There is no enemy nearer than Corinth.”

    • Grant was so confident he located his headquarters at Savannah, some ten miles downstream from Pittsburg Landing

    • Neither Grant nor Sherman ordered their men to entrench

William Sherman


  • Johnston let Beauregard develop the plan of attack

  • In a April 3 memorandum to his corps commanders, Johnston specifically stated that “every effort should be made to turn the left flank of the enemy so as to cut off his line of retreat to the Tennessee River, and throw him back on Owl Creek.”

  • Johnston expected to push rapidly with his right wing around the Federal left

  • Such a move would drive the Federals downstream away from their base of supplies at Pittsburg Landing

  • The Confederates would then envelop and defeat them


  • Beauregard, however, deviated from this intent in drafting the actual order for the attack

  • Beauregard was one of a small number of Mexican War veterans who continued to trust the frontal attack more than the turning movement

  • The result was a frontal attack in which it appeared that Beauregard felt that, by a combination of surprise and sheer numbers, he could simply overpower the Federals

  • Beauregard made no provision for placing a large number of troops on the Confederate right as would be required by Johnston’s plan

  • Beauregard appears to have never intended anything but a frontal attack


  • With disproportionate surprise, the Confederates attacked out of the woods on the morning of Apr 6

  • They came in waves with each of the four corps piling in one behind another


  • The unorthodox formation facilitated speed (rather than waiting to get everyone organized and on line), but quickly caused command and control problems

  • The initial onslaught created havoc in the Federal camp but by midday Confederate commanders had a tangled mess on their hands

  • By the time Grant reached the battlefield at about 8:30 a.m. the Federals were in a state of chaos and Grant devoted himself to rounding up stragglers and trying to hold some semblance of a line until reinforcements could arrive


  • Key to the Federal hopes was a position near the center of the line commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss

  • Prentiss covered a narrow road that ran parallel to the Confederate attack

  • Grant ordered Prentiss to hold the ground at all costs

  • The Confederates conducted eleven assaults and massed 62 artillery pieces against what became known as the “Hornet’s Nest”

  • Prentiss held until 5:30 p.m. when he was surrounded and forced to surrender


  • The Hornet’s Nest showed Beauregard’s unimaginative commitment to the frontal assault

    • An estimated 10,000 Confederates had been thrown into the Hornet’s Nest fight.

    • Precious time and lives had been lost on the frontal assault.

    • A flanking movement would probably have produced the desired results, but Beauregard and the Confederate command instead relied on brute force rather than on finesse

  • Many would consider the failure to destroy Grant on day one at Shiloh “The Lost Opportunity” of the Confederacy”


  • Prentiss’s stand made it possible for Grant to position his artillery a quarter of a mile from the landing and stop the Confederates from pushing all the way to the river

    • The fighting stopped with sundown and during the night Grant received 28,000 reinforcements which more than offset his losses

  • Among the Confederate losses was Johnston

    • Furthermore, the Confederates had no fresh units for the next day


  • In spite of the reinforcements, many of Grant’s officers, including Sherman, thought it wise to retreat

  • Sherman told Grant, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

  • Grant replied, “Yes. Lick ‘em in the morning though.”

  • Grant’s personal persistence and confidence would make the difference at Shiloh


  • As Grant predicted, the reinforced Federal army repulsed the Confederates on the second day

  • At sunset, the Confederates began retreating back to Corinth


  • Losses at Shiloh were horrific; exceeding those of any previous battle in American history

  • The Federals lost 13,047

  • The Confederates 10,699

  • Grant was severely criticized and accused of being drunk on the first day of the battle

The Bloody Pond


  • Still Shiloh was a Federal victory, especially coming on the heels of Fort Donelson

    • The Confederacy had lost much of western and middle Tennessee and Shiloh ensured it would stay that way

Lincoln on grant
Lincoln on Grant

  • Lincoln responded to criticisms of Grant after Shiloh by saying, “I can’t spare this man--he fights.”

  • Responding to complaints of Grant’s drinking, Lincoln said, “If I knew what brand of whiskey Grant drinks, I would send a barrel to my other generals.”

Fort donelson and shiloh

  • Second Manassas, Antietam, and the Emancipation Proclamation