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February 2, 1862: Andrew H. Foote issues orders to his boat captains

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From the American Civil War web site: http://www.civilwar-online.com/

Two days earlier, Andrew H. Foote and Ulysses S. Grant had been given the go ahead to attempt the capture of Fort Henry. In a situation where so many other Civil War leaders might have dithered or delayed, Foote and Grant acted with speed and decision. On this day 150 years ago, Foote issued three "special" orders to his boat commanders, laying down his expectations for their conduct in the coming battle.

SPECIAL ORDERS,

No. 1.

U.S. GUNBOAT TYLER,

Ohio River, February 2, 1862.

The captains of the gunboats, before going into action, will always see that the hoods covering the gratings of the hatches at the bows and sterns and elsewhere are taken off, otherwise great injury will result from the concussion of the guns in firing. The anchors also must be unstocked if they interfere with the range of the bow guns.

In attacking the fort, the first order of steaming will be observed; as, by the vessels being parallel, they will be much less exposed to the enemy's range than if not in a parallel line, and by moving ahead or astern, which all the vessels will do by following the motions of the flagship, it will be difficult for the enemy to get an accurate range of the gunboats.

Equal distances from one another must be observed by all the vessels in action. The flagship will, of course, open the fire first, and then others will follow when good sight of the enemy's guns in the fort can be obtained.

There must be no firing until correct sights can be obtained, as this would not only be throwing away ammunition, but it would encourage the enemy to see us firing wildly and harmlessly at the fort. The captains will enforce upon their men the absolute necessity of observing this order, and let it be also distinctly impressed upon the mind of every man firing a gun that, while the first shot may be either of too much elevation or too little, there is no excuse for a second wild fire, as the first will indicate the inaccuracy of the aim of the gun, which must be elevated or depressed, or trained, as circumstances require. Let it be reiterated that random firing is not only a mere waste of ammunition, but, what is far worse, it encourages the enemy when he sees shot and shell falling harmlessly about and beyond him.

The great object is to dismount the guns in the fort by the accuracy of our fire, although a shell in the meantime may occasionally be thrown in among a body of the enemy's troops. Great caution will be observed, lest our own troops are mistaken for the enemy.

When the flagship ceases firing, it will be a signal for the other vessels also to cease, as the ceasing of fire will indicate the surrender, or the readiness to surrender the fort. As the vessels will all be so near one another, verbal communication will be had with the commander in chief when it is wanted. The commander in chief has every confidence in the spirit and valor of officers and men under his command, and his only solicitude arises lest the firing should be too rapid for precision, and that coolness and order, so essential to complete success, should not be observed, and hence he has in this general order expressed his views, which must be observed by all under his command.

A. H. FOOTE,

Flag-Officer, Commanding Naval Forces, Western Waters.

SPECIAL ORDERS,

No.2.

U. S. GUNBOAT TYLER,

Ohio River, February 2, 1862.

The division of the three gunboats, not armored, and consequently, not prepared to encounter at so short a range the batteries of the fort as the four armored boats; will take a position astern, and, if practicable, inshore on the right of the main division. Lieutenant Commanding Phelps, in charge of this division, from his great experience and successful charge of our interest, for most of the time on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, will, I trust, be enabled to throw shells into Fort Henry with no greater exposure to his division, comparatively, than that of the armored boats, while the main division more directly in the face of the fort, attempts to dismount its guns in close range by a more direct fire. The captains of this division will also see that no gun is fired without accurate aim, as we have no ammunition to throw away, but, what would be far worse, rapid, random, harmless firing would encourage the enemy to a more determined resistance.

Great care must be observed lest our troops should be mistaken for the enemy. When the main division ceases firing, it will be an indication that the fort is ready to surrender.

A.H. Foote,

Flag-Officer, Commanding Naval Forces, Western Waters.

SPECIAL ORDERS,

No.3.

U.S. GUNBOAT TYLER,

Paducah, February 2, 1862.

Lieutenant-Commanding Phelps will, as soon as the fort shall have surrendered and upon signal from the flagship, proceed with the Conestoga, Tyler, and Lexington up the river to where the railroad bridge crosses, and, if the army shall not already have got possession, he will destroy so much of the track as will entirely prevent its use by the rebels. He will then proceed as far up the river as the stage of water will admit and capture the enemy's gunboats and other vessels which might prove available to the enemy.

A.H. FOOTE,

Flag-Officer, Comdg. Naval Forces, Western Waters.

The third special order is particularly interesting as it shows that Foote wasn't merely planning for the seizure of Fort Henry, he was also planning ahead on how best to exploit the victory he anticipated. Once the fort was in Union hands, Foote's light wooden gunboats would stab deep into the enemy's rear to disrupt transportation and wreck his supply and logistics.

It was a fateful moment in the history of the United States. The ironclads of the Western Gunboat Squadron were the right weapon, western Tennessee was the right place to strike the Confederacy, and Foote and Grant were the right kind of aggressive leaders to press home a determined attack on this weak spot in the Confederacy's defense.

Foote's orders show that he was exactly the kind of naval leader the Union needed on the Western Waters, a man determined to come to grips with the enemy and destroy him.

Jim

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It was a fateful moment in the history of the United States. The ironclads of the Western Gunboat Squadron were the right weapon, western Tennessee was the right place to strike the Confederacy, and Foote and Grant were the right kind of aggressive leaders to press home a determined attack on this weak spot in the Confederacy's defense.

Foote's orders show that he was exactly the kind of naval leader the Union needed on the Western Waters, a man determined to come to grips with the enemy and destroy him.

I don't think I could agree more with those paragraphs. A "fateful moment in the history of the United States" is exactly right, and Foote and Grant were indeed the right kind of leaders for the job.

I think I've said this before, and it might sound a little overly-dramatic, but I'm honestly not sure that it's possible to overstate the significance of what happened at Fort Henry. Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of an incredibly important day in American history, and most folks won't even be aware of it. Fort Henry marks the moment when the North really began it's long, slow, terribly costly march toward winning the war. And for the South, it marks the moment when victory and independence began slipping out of reach. Shiloh was where they made the supreme effort to reverse what began at Fort Henry, and the fact that they came incredibly close before failing, only adds to the legacy of both places, as well as Fort Donelson.

Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, are all connected parts of a major turning point in the war that ended with the fall of Corinth. Fort Donelson and Shiloh typically grab the headlines, but Fort Henry was where it all began. The fort itself might be gone, but the impact of what happened there can still be felt.

Take a moment tomorrow for this overlooked moment in history. It mattered then, and it matters now.

Perry

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