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Perry Cuskey

Watershed Moment in Time

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Fort Henry surrendered 150 years ago today, starting a chain of events that would alter the course of the war that altered the course of the country's history. What began at Fort Henry would end at Corinth, with the Climax coming at Shiloh.

Today also marks the beginning of the Shiloh/Corinth Campaign. Over the course of the next two months in 1862, a nearly countless number of lives were altered forever. For some of those people, their lives could now be measured in weeks, and even days. By the end of this two-month period, the war, and in many ways the country itself, would never again be the same.

http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/fortdonelson/fort-donelson-history-articles/donelsonjobe.html

Perry

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Hello Perry,

I have long viewed the events that occurred along the Tennessee and the Cumberland Rivers as being connected into the River Campaign of 1862. This view is shared by others as well. This has allowed a greater understanding of the importance this campaign had for the Civil War. The events were Forts Heiman, Henry and Donelson, the capture of Clarksville and Nashville and the advance of the union navy up the Tennessee River starting with the destruction of the railroad bridge across the river below Fort Henry, next was the capture of the ironclad Eastport and the then the brief campaign against the railroad near Iuka and Eastport. Following this was the Battle of Shiloh and then on to Corinth. All of these moves were union victories and resulted in a deep penetration into the Confederacy. In the long run, it is doubtful that the rebels recovered from these losses. Fort Henry started this campaign and encouraged the union forces. They became very aggressive after Fort Henry. The reverse for the confederates. Yes, a lot of lives were lost but, I feel, many were saved in the long run.

Ron

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Ron, you're a big-time student of this era of the war, so let me ask you something. What do you think the Confederates could have done differently along the twin rivers that might have improved their chances? Or if you'd prefer, what might they have done differently following Fort Henry's surrender?

We're making today Pick Your Question Monday.

Perry

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Perry,

For my Pick-Your-Answer Tuesdays, I believe that Forts Henry, Heiman and Donelson were doomed by the combination of poor location, poor geography, very poor leadership by theater commander and the local commanders and a waste of resources. Fort Henry and Heiman were lost before the union navy arrived (so to speak) and could not or would not last long. If they were evacuated, Fort Donelson would be lost as well, as happened. These forts and the area should be defended by a field army from below ready to attack the union forces but not defending the forts directly. A field army must not be tied to the forts and not be trapped inside them. The worse that should have happened was for the field army to assist the withdrawal of the garrison. The evacuation of Bowling Green KY was correct as that position was now untenable by Grant's move down the Cumberland River which would put him (Grant) in the rear of Hardee's troops at Bowling Green. The concentration point for the forces with Gen A S Johnston was to be below the Cumberland River and Nashville. Hardee's men from Bowling Green, The forces from Fort Donelson (minus Floyd and Pillow), the men at Clarksville, the retreating division commanded by Crittenden from Mill Springs would concentrate and reorganize while the army was filled with new recruits and formed units. This concentration could have a field army of an estimated 40,000 men and be based on Columbia TN with an advance force at Murfreesboro. An active theater in the triangle below Nashville would protect central Tennessee, E Kirby Smith was already reforming and recruiting his forces to defend east Tennessee. The remaining problem was to defend the Mississippi River and the Tennessee River. A subordinate field force could be stationed at or near Maysville TN to help defend the Tennessee River and the area between the river and Columbia TN. Generals Polk and Bragg could be assigned the task to defend west of the Tennessee River to the Mississippi River. Maybe General Bragg defend the Tennessee River side and General Polk defend the Mississippi River side. Forget defending the Cumberland River as it is lost. This arrangement may delay the federals for awhile with the help of General Halleck. A weak spot in this plan is the land area between Nashville and Johnsville, centered on Maysville TN, below Dover TN.. No confederate forces assigned to this area yet.

This plan would have resulted in A S Johnston in command east of the Tennessee River defending middle Tennessee and Gen Beauregard in command in western Tennessee between the Mississippi and the Tennessee Rivers. General E Kirby Smith would command in East Tennessee. How this would work is anybody';s guess. I believe these forces would be pushed back by the advancing federals and result in a concentration like that at Corinth but much later than actually happened. It would be a whole different set of WHAT IFs. Another weak point was Polk defending the Mississippi River. He already proved he was not capable to do this. His replacement would be ???????????????

Now here it is for anybody to post their choice to replace Polk.. Your choice ????????? Remember, Floyd and Pillow are disqualified. (Since I wrote this sumnation, I get to put the bonkers on some possible choices) .

First three staff assignments for Johnston's army, Chief of Cavalry Brigadier General Nathan B Forrest (notice promotion to BG,) Chief of Artillery Colonel Milton Haynes of Tennessee (notice promotion to Colonel). Chief of Army Chaplins, Bishop Major Gen Leonidas Polk

Have at it.

Ron

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Ha, good stuff Ron, good stuff. What was it Grant said about Pillow after Fort Donelson fell? Something about how if he had captured Pillow, he would have let him go, because he did the North more good in command of southern troops. Something like that. Pillow and Floyd were basically the reasons Grant later gave for his aggressive approach on the fort, despite being initially outnumbered.

You bring up a good point about one of the problems with the two forts. That being that there was quite simply nothing behind them. Break through on either of those points, and you're behind the entire Confederate defensive line in the Western Theater. And there doesn't appear to have been any kind of contingency plans in place, in the event of a breakthrough somewhere. Now again, some of that probably isn't really fair on my part, because Johnston did have an incredibly far-flung department to command, and he didn't really have a lot in the way of resources. Still, there just doesn't seem to have been much in the way of planning that took place, and no one seemed concerned enough to check on how things were progressing at the two river forts.

You are of course right about Fort Henry. I think that excerpt that Jim posted yesterday said something about how if the Union navy had waited a few days, the river would have taken care of the fort for them, without any fight at all. That might be true as the fort's placement was just incredibly bad. It seems to have been made more with its proximity to Fort Donelson in mind than anything else. I know it was done in large part from political necessities. But, I've often wondered why, once they occupied Kentucky elsewhere, they didn't start construction on fortifications across the state line. They could have still left Henry and perhaps Heiman in place as well, but in more of a supporting role, or back-up plan of sorts. As it turned out, they had the time.

Fort Heiman was better situated than Henry of course, and could have caused the Union forces some trouble, but its completion never seemed to be of any great concern to anyone with the ability and authority to get it done. Which is pretty much the story along the two rivers in a nutshell, from the Confederate side.

I think once the Union navy got control of the Tennessee, it forced the Confederates hand. They had to either counter-attack and re-gain control of the river forts, or fall back south of the Tennessee and re-group. Johnston, unfortunately for his cause and himself, seems to have tried to do both instead of one or the other, and it ended up costing him the equivalent of a very large corps at Shiloh.

Perry

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Since we are talking about the whole Shiloh/Corinth Campaign wasn't the reason anyone was headed for Corinth because it was a major railroad center where tracks converged from a number of points and headed to all points of the compass? I find it interesting the strategic importance of railroads and what efforts were made to keep them intact or destroy them whichever the case may be. Part of the historic B & O Railroad line runs less than a quarter mile from my house. At one time there was a store right next to the tracks (the building is still there). I was told by a neighbor you could catch the train at the store. The B & O was strategically important because it was a link between the eastern and western theaters. From what my neighbor said troops camped in this area during the war - they found artifacts on her property.

Something else of interest is the amount of manufacturing of war materials and implements that occurred in Georgia - while I know this had little to do with Shiloh it certainly was on Sherman's mind when he headed to Atlanta in 64.

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Concerning Fort Henry and its bad location as mentioned above. The presence of Fort Heiman on the Tennessee River in 1862 is little known today, and the reason for its location opposite Fort Henry is not fully understood. Fort Heiman was intended to be a better and stronger fort and to be the important fortification to defend the Tennessee River against the union navy. It was located on a high bluff and the combination of the two forts on opposite sides of the river would have greatly improved the situation for the confederates. Construction on this fort actually had begun when the union navy arrived but the fort had no large guns in place. It did have a three gun field battery on hand, that of Captain Walter O. Crain. When Fort Henry fell, the confederate position at Fort Heiman immediately collapsed and was abandoned. The few confederates at the fort fled down the west bank country of the Tennessee River. Capt. Crain's battery lost their three guns and most of their equipment during the retreat all of the way to Corinth MS. This battery commander got his men to Corinth as a unit but promptly lost his battery command as the battery was disbanded. He then took up a rifle and fought as a ordinary riflemen during the Battle of Shiloh, suffering a severe wound.

As to Fort Heiman, some trenches are still there on the Kentucky side of the river. If you want to visit the site, hurry as developers are building homes there. You can do a google search on Fort Heiman and several hits will come up. If you ask "Why was Fort Henry built on the east bank of the Tennessee River, and not on the west side of the river which was a better location"? The answer probably is because the east bank was and is in the state of Tennessee while the west bank was and is in the state of Kentucky. Governor Harris of Tennessee was very active in military events during this stage of the war while Kentucky had only a rump confederate government in name only led by Governor George W Johnson. Harris wanted to defend Tennessee and not build forts in Kentucky. Both Harris and Johnson served at the Battle of Shiloh. Governor Johnson died of wounds received while serving in a Kentucky regiment as a infantryman.

Ron

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If I remember correctly, about 160 acres of the Fort Heiman site has been saved, and in fact, has been added to Fort Donelson Battlefield Park. Another reason for the location of Fort Henry was the idea of 'interior lines' between Henry and Donelson. Infantry could be moved quickly between the two forts as needed.

Grandpa

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Hello Granpa,

Yes, you are correct. Fort Heiman has been saved and, as you say, is part of the Fort Donelson Military Park. To give a idea of the size of this fort and its land, 160 acres is exactly one quarter (1/4) of a square mile. My subdivision here is that size and for a military park, its not big. The importance of this site is based on what could-have-been if it did not fall so arly in the civil war and during the battles for Forts Henry and Donelson. Also, if the confederates had armed fort Heiman with the 32 pounders they had available from the batch from Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia. A Fort Heiman site on the internet mentioned that most of the owners of the plotted subdivision lots they purchased sold them to the federal park service except one, the holdout. When told of the plans of the Park Service to establish a Civil War park at Fort Heiman, they sold them willingly.

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I think Fort Heiman's construction wasn't started until sometime in the fall of 1861 wasn't it, after Pillow effectively ended Kentucky's neutrality? It's too bad for them that they did not push its construction. As Ron says, it was a better location than Fort Henry. At the least, it could have made things more difficult for the Union forces had it been finished and ready to go.

I'm glad they've been able to save the site, and have incorporated it into the Fort Donelson park. Here's a couple of sites with some good information on Fort Heiman, including some maps and a few photos....

CivilWarAlbum.com's site on Fort Donelson, Fort Henry, and Fort Heiman....

http://www.civilwara...elson/index.htm

A site from Trails-R-Us about the efforts to save Fort Heiman....

http://www.trailsrus.com/fortheiman/

Be sure to check out their maps, showing the historical locations of Fort Henry and Fort Heiman and the 1862 Tennessee River channel on a modern-day map of the area....

http://www.trailsrus...eiman/map1.html

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Greetings all

 

I ran across this intriguing discussion from 2012 a while back, (involving Perry, Ron, Grandpa, Jim and Idaho Native), concerning Forts Henry, Heiman and Donelson -- which is timely, considering we're in February once again -- and 153 years ago, Generals Beauregard and A.S. Johnston were moving south, trying to come up with a plan...

 

Anyway, I invite you to review this three-year-old discussion, and then consider this: if Fort Henry (and Heiman) were doomed to be lost, due to poor generalship and environmental factors, how could the Confederates have better-conducted the defense of Fort Donelson?

 

[To me, the actual chain of events at Fort Donelson -- three, maybe four... maybe five different leaders, all playing 'hot potato' -- resulting in over 12,000 Rebel captives, is one of the most stupendously incompetent moments of the war.]

 

Cheers

 

Ozzy

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As events proved, Fort Donelson was doomed as well.  The command structure doomed fort Donelson this structure began with General Albert S Johnston.  He failed to make the strategic decisions necessary.  Decisions such as what single officer was to command at Fort Donelson, how to reinforce the fort by sending more troops into the fort or creating a mobile field force.  This mobile force had to have a troop force suitable to its assigned goal of relieving the fort.  The garrison and other troops, part of the field force must not be trapped in the fort and captured.  Actually, I like the idea of a field force that gathered the various elements of troops, Hardee from Bowling Green, garrison troops from Nashville, Crittenden men from Mill Springs, Pull most troops out of the river forts, troops from west of the Tennessee river.  This concentration of troops could be as high as 50,000 men commanded by Gen Johnston.  One man to command this field army and not a rotating command structure.  The area of this grouping would be on the south bank of the Cumberland river, East bank of the Tennessee river.  From here, they could support Nashville and Clarksville and central Tennessee River.  The chief remaining problems are the several bad generals still near, such as Pillow, Polk, and several others.  The most important unsolved strategic problem for the confederates is the security of the Tennessee River.  Possibly, a second smaller group of confederate troops, commanded by Braxton Bragg, stationed on the west bank of the Tennessee River could conduct mobile operations against a union move up the Tennessee River.  A final point is, remember, a third group of rebels were still holding at Island #10 on the Mississippi River.

 

Ron

Grand Strategist.    (or maybe another Beauregard in strategy)    

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Ron

 

I like your idea of 'overwhelming force,' with Albert Sidney Johnston in personal command... One way of guaranteeing that the campaign is conducted the way you want it to be; and no dispute about WHO is in command.

 

As i review the situation at Fort Donelson, it appears that there were two threats: land assault, and gunboat attack. Both had to be addressed, but it does not require fifteen thousand men to fight gunboats (as illustrated at Fort Henry.) It requires enough cannoneers to operate the guns, then triple that number for contingencies and casualties: perhaps 600-1000 men. Everyone else should have been outside, prepared to meet a land attack. With a commander authorized to take aggressive action; falling back to the safety of the fort, when necessary. But, when opportunity presented for further attack, conduct further attacks.

 

The command of the fort required two leaders, one in command of the water defenses, but subservient to the overall commander (who would oversee action against besieging Federal ground troops.)

 

Fort Donelson had two commanders: Lieutenant Joseph Dixon, engineer officer, was in command of the water-facing big guns. He successfully trained light-artillery gunners to operate those weapons. When Dixon was killed, responsibility fell to Captain R.R. Ross and Captain Culbertson, both of whom performed admirably in defeating Foote's gunboat attack.

 

The overall commander of Fort Donelson was BGen Lloyd Tilghman. Unfortunately, Tilghman was also in command of Fort Henry: a fort he fought to the best of his abilities (satisfied with the performance of his gun crews; disappointed by the lack of effect from his torpedoes). And Tilghman successfully evacuated the majority of his personnel (including the very valuable engineer, Major Jeremy Gilmer). Tilghman, although a habitual complainer, possessed all of the skills required at Fort Donelson... Unfortunately, Tilghman was himself captured, and not available for duty during the Battle of Fort Donelson. The officer who assumed command in Tilghman's absence was Bushrod Johnson: that officer should have been elevated to higher rank, and designated Commander of Fort Donelson... or if Albert Sidney Johnston thought him unworthy of command, he should have been replaced, straight away... by ONE man.

 

With Tilghman unavailable, if I could select from all the possible generals to command Fort Donelson, my choice would be Braxton Bragg. For these reasons:

  • decisive
  • experienced (including operations at Pensacola, in charge of fortifications)
  • bold (as demonstrated by ordering the night attack at Santa Rosa Island)

In addition, Bragg had several thousand trained, well-disciplined troops under his command; and several competent brigade commanders. If Bragg could have been put in charge of Fort Donelson, arriving with 3000 troops from the Gulf on February 7th, I believe the outcome would have been much more satisfying for the Confederacy.

 

 

Ozzy

 

 

 

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I have one, and only one , reservation about this above post.

 

"Both had to be addressed, but it does not require 15,000 men to fight gunboats"

 

Yes...

 

"..perhaps 600-1,000 men. Everyone else should have been outside, prepared to meet the land attack."

 

This decision, I know, sounds as if it's the 'usual incompetance' of the Confederate Commanders at Donelson/Henry/Heiman. But ask yourself this. Maybe, given the weather conditions, (I do beleive there were feet in depth of snow, with sleet and driving rain for the period of their occupation. )

 

Please correct if wrong.

 

With the commanders staring down the barrel of what was, for them, a powerful Union assault, their estimations as to the time of this assault commencing might not have been as we see them. Hindsight and all that. They might have believed the weather would intervene to buy 

 

Sticking 14,000 men, outside a fort, in driving sleet, with uniforms already in poor condition from the winter elements, sounds like a bad move for a garrison already staring down the barrel of a Union assault. Sitting your people inside a comparitively warm Fort is IMOH, a good move.

 

Feel free to pick this apart. I'm just a beginner here, and will defer to the experts at all times :)

 

Pillow, additionally, was quite well aware of who he was facing, and what the circumstances might be (hightailing it).  He might have faced a serious protest from positioning troops in the snow, wet, and with powder stores not so dry. For a political appointee like him, (he had to petition Davis after his resignation), protests from troops over bad placement, treatment or handling in fowl weather meant something to him, as they did to all politicals, even ones like Pillow with real Mexican/American experience.

 

The Fort probably seemed like the best option at the time. I know Donelson wasn't the best example of southern engineering, (in fact, was the construction of this fort even supervised by an engineer at all? Seems not from it's placement and other factors.)

 

Grant, too had environmental hassles at Donelson. His memoirs tell of this, speaking of the great suffering and privations his troops went through for the entire campaign. Luckily, the "shoddy" uniforms might have provided an avenue for excusing accusations of incompetance. These, and other internal complaint hassles would dog him at Shiloh.

 

And after. Only Lincoln saved him...."I can't spare this man. He fights."

 

You are now free to make me look amatuerish :ph34r:

 

I believe the 'shoddy' was actually compressed cardboard. Falling apart in the rain and snow.....terrible what greed can do.

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Drusus Nero

 

The more one investigates Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the more is discovered: their importance to Albert Sidney Johnston's Defensive Line; the access,via strategic rivers, into the Confederate heartland, 'prevented' by these forts; the attempted application of 'super weapons' (Confederate torpedoes and gunboat Eastport); the attempted 'barrier to navigation' about ten miles downstream from Fort Donelson; the effects of a once-in-ten years flood, that over-topped that Cumberland River barrier, neutralized the Tennessee River torpedoes, (and very nearly, inundated Fort Henry).

 

As for your statements in regards to Fort Donelson...

 

-  the snow of 13/14 February     Most references I have encountered claim that 'about two inches of snow' fell overnight (although Wikipedia claims the amount was three inches (8 cm)). The flurries that fell overnight 14/15 February added no significant accumulation. 

 

-  effect of the snow     Attackers and defenders suffered from the cold and snow: many defenders had 'log tents' to resort to (although Confederate defenders in the 'outer works' were stuck in the outer works. Attacking Union soldiers had no tents; many  had no overcoats; easy access to campfires was prohibited. After the fall of Fort Donelson, many Federal soldiers took ill, and the high rate of illness shows up in statistics for the Battle of Shiloh, just a few weeks later. (It is disputed whether prolonged exposure to the elements; consumption of improperly cured pork; a combination of the two, or something else, was the cause of elevated sickness rates.)

 

-  Fighting a fort, as defender     For me, there are two primary methods: use the fort as a 'stronghold;' or use the fort as a 'base of operations.'

For examples of 'using a fortified position as a stronghold,' I offer the Texan stand at the Alamo; Adam Slemmer's January 1861 stand at Fort Pickens; and the Confederate stand at Fort Donelson.

For examples of 'using a fortified position as a base,' I suggest a review of the 1861 Battle of Santa Rosa Island. In particular, the deployment of significant numbers of Union troops outside the fort (Fort Pickens). The Commander of Union Forces, Colonel Harvey Brown, deployed some of his exterior force up to one mile away. Once engaged, additional forces were sallied from Fort Pickens, and reinforced the Union troops under attack: six hundred Union defenders drove away 1200 Confederate attackers.

 

For Fort Donelson, in particular, it always seemed puzzling that the Confederate troops just sat there, dug into their trenches. Especially once it was known that Fort Henry had fallen. Granted, there was uncertainty which way the Federal force under Grant would go, next: towards Fort Columbus, or towards Fort Donelson. But, one would think that cavalry troops could be used to report enemy troop movements, and with only two roads leading from Fort Henry, send out forces to engage, harass, fall back; engage and fall back... delay the approach of the enemy for as long as possible... then occupy the outer works... then occupy the fort. Once the goal (Albert Sidney Johnston safely evacuated from Bowling Green) is accomplished, evacuate your own force to Clarksville, via more fighting withdrawals. (This is the reason I believe Braxton Bragg would have made a good showing at Fort Donelson: he'd seen the Federal defense at Fort Pickens, and was more aware of appropriate tactics IRT forts.)

 

Regards

 

Ozzy

 

 

 

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Let's see...

 

My daughter wanted me to visit Canberra with her; and my wife wanted to visit Norway.

 

And along the way, I ran across an interesting book. (See review, below...)                        post-550-0-93590400-1443431075_thumb.jpg               

 

Cheers

 

Ozzy

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The reason many of the Yanks had no overcoats was that they threw them away on the march from Ft. Henry due to the warm weather. These raw recruits were still trying to figure this whole game out!

 

Jim

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