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Ed Bearss on The Ironclads at Fort Donelson

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Thanks for making these three works by Mr. Ed Bearss available: well worth the thirty minutes required to read them. Included are descriptions of the barriers to navigation downstream from Fort Donelson; identification of the problems faced by the Confederates in mounting their guns at the fort; and the incident involving Commander Dove (acting for the U.S. Navy) in attempting to take the surrender of Fort Donelson... thwarted by the unexpected presence of BGen Lew Wallace at the Dover Hotel.

Although the difficulty securing enough men to man the gunboats is discussed, two aspects of the Halleck/Foote relationship, and their impact on timing of the operation against Fort Donelson, are surprising by their absence:

  • the relative seniority of Halleck and Foote;
  • the non-use of mortars.

As we are aware, Captain Andrew Foote was promoted to Flag-Officer in order to negotiate on equal footing with his Army counterparts. Unfortunately, Flag-Officer equated to Brigadier General (meaning US Grant was an equal, but Major General Halleck was senior.)  This played itself out when Foote pleaded with Halleck to delay the Fort Donelson operation -- just a few days -- in order to allow the delivery of the promised mortar boats. But Halleck over-ruled Foote, and ordered the Navy to proceed with the force on hand... with significant adverse consequences for the Navy. Conditions for mortar use were ideal: sheltered firing position, about two miles downstream from the fort; large, concentrated force of men and guns at Fort Donelson, providing a target -- as if by design -- for effective attack by 13-inch mortars. The mortars arrived at Cairo on the 16th, and six were on hand at Union-occupied Dover on the 19th of February. (The first use of Foote's mortars in combat would occur in March against the defenses upstream of Island No.10).



References:  Papers of US Grant volume 4 page 246:  the mortars arrive at Dover for Flag-Officer Foote

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002073452741;view=1up;seq=283   Letter from F/O Foote of March 9, 1862 IRT mortars and Halleck


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