February 1862: Harper’s Weekly celebrates the capture of Fort Donelson

Battle of Fort Donelson

Harper’s recaps the fall of Fort Donelson in their March 1 issue.

WE illustrate on the preceding page a thrilling scene in the attack upon Fort Donelson, which took place on 14th, 15th, and 16th ult., the fort surrendering to General Grant on the morning of 16th. The victory was complete, resulting, as it did, in the capture of 15,000 rebel troops, an immense amount of war material, and the persons of Generals A. S. Johnston and Buckner. General Floyd sneaked off with his brigade of five thousand men on Saturday night. A special dispatch from Fort Donelson says:

The forces were about equal in numbers, but the rebels had all the advantage of position, being well fortified on two immense hills, with their fort near the river on a lower piece of ground. From the foot of their intrenchments rifle pits and abattis extended up the river behind the town of Dover. Their fortifications on the side back from the river were at least four miles in length. The water battery, in the centre of the fortifications, where it came down to the river, mounted nine heavy guns.

The rebels were sure of success. In any other cause, and against less brave troops, they could easily have held the position against a hundred thousand men.

At daylight Saturday the enemy opened on the Eighteenth Illinois, when Colonel Oglesby’s brigade was soon engaged, and was soon followed by Wallace’s and M’Arthur’s brigades, the latter acting under General McClernand, as the position of the troops had been changed during the night, and General Grant had been called away during the night to the gun-boats. The movements of all the troops except those attached to General M’Clernand’s division were made without any thing except general orders. At a suggestion from General M’Clernand, General Wallace sent up four regiments to support his division, who were nearly out of ammunition.

From the commencement till near ten o’clock the fighting was terrific. The troops on the right were disposed as follows: M’Arthur’s brigade, composed of the Ninth, Twelfth, Forty-first, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Illinois regiments; next, General Oglesby’s brigade, consisting of the Eighth, Thirteenth, Twenty-ninth, Thirtieth, and Thirty-first Illinois regiments; Schwartz’s and Dresser’s batteries; next was General Wallace’s brigade of the Eleventh, Twentieth, Forty-fifth, and Forty-eighth Illinois regiments. These three brigades composed General M’Clernand’s division, and bore the brunt of the battle.

It was found that the enemy was concentrating his main force to turn our right, which was done by our men getting out of ammunition, and in the confusion of getting up reinforcements retreating about half a mile. As soon as the division, which had stood its ground manfully for three hours, retired, the enemy occupied the field, when General Grant ordered General Smith to move forward his division and storm the enemy’s works on our left.
This order was obeyed with great alacrity, and soon the cheers of our daring soldiery were heard, and the old flag displayed from within the enemy’s inrenchments.

General Grant then sent word to General M’Clernand and General Wallace that General Smith was within the enemy’s intrenchments, ordering their forces to move forward and renew the attack on the right. One of General Wallace’s brigades-the Eleventh Indiana, Eighth Missouri, and some Ohio regiments—were rapidly thrown into position, and company A, of the Chicago Light Artillery, was planted in the road, and as the rebels, supposing we were in retreat, came yelling out of their works into the road, the Chicago boys poured a hail—storm of grape and canister into their ranks, slaughtering dozens of them.

Simultaneously with this the infantry commenced firing at will, and the rebels went pell-mell back into their works, our men advancing and taking possession of the ground lost, and a hill besides. Fresh troops, who had not been in the action, were then thrown forward, and as the shades of night drew on were in a strong position to participate in a simultaneous attack to be made on Sunday morning.

Some of our best officers and men have gone to their long home. Hardly a man that went over the field after the battle but discovered some comrade who had fallen. We lost three lieutenant-colonels, and at least one-quarter of all the other officers were wounded or killed.

During Saturday night a contraction of all our lines was made for a simultaneous assault from every point, and orders were given by General Grant to take the enemy at the point of the bayonet. Every man was at his post, the Fifty-seventh Illinois on the extreme right.

At daylight the advance was made, and when the full light of day broke forth white flags were hung in many places on the enemy’s works.

An officer at a convenient point was informed that they had stacked their arms and surrendered early in the morning.
The following correspondence passed between the commanders :

SIR,—In consideration of all the circumstances governing the present situation of affairs at this station, I propose to the commanding officer of the Federal forces the appointment of commissioners to argue upon terms of capitulation of the forces at this post under my command; in that view I suggest an armistice until twelve o’clock to-day.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier-General, C. S. A.
To Brigadier-General U. S. Grant, commanding United States forces near Fort Donelson.

FORT DONELSON, February 16, 1862.
To General S. B. Buckner:
SIR,—Yours of this date, proposing an armistice and the appointment of commissioners to settle on the terms of capitulation, is just received.
No terms, except unconditional and immediate surrender, can be accepted.
I propose to move immediately on your works.
I am very respectfully, your obedient servant,
U. S. GRANT, Brigadier-General Commanding.

February 16, 1862. Brigadier-General U. S. Grant, U. S. A.
SIR,—The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose. I am, Sir, your servant,
S. B. BUCKNER, Brigadier-General C. S. A

Our force was soon in the enemy’s camp, when the rebel officers gave up their swords.
Immediately on the receipt of the news of the capture of Fort Donelson by the Secretary of War, he sent the name of General Grant to the President for promotion to a Major-Generalship.

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