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I was hoping to discuss this topic when I joined you at Fort Donelson for the 2016 Fall Hike. But since my travel plans fell through, I've decided to introduce the topic, now...

I'm sure most of you have given some thought to this all ready: the many similarities of the Battle of Shiloh to the Engagement at Fort Donelson. In many respects, Shiloh presents as Fort Donelson-in-reverse, with the Federals at Shiloh acting as defenders, and Rebels acting as attackers. Obviously, the biggest difference involves the outcome: the Defenders lost Fort Donelson; but the Defenders won at Pittsburg Landing.

Here are some of the similarities between the two actions:

  • Location:  both "bastions" were situated on the west bank of a major river, with that river in flood;
  • High ground:  both engagements involved Defenders fighting a fort/stronghold, perched on high ground;
  • Detachments:  Lew Wallace was away from the main area of operation, at Crump's Landing; Floyd was initially at Clarksville;
  • The real objective was "someplace else"  ...for US Grant, the Battle of Shiloh was supposed to take place at Corinth Mississippi; the Engagement at Fort Donelson was necessary because the primary Federal objective (Fort Columbus) was too strong;
  • River defenses:  defenders at both bastions had significant river-based defenses. At Pittsburg Landing, Grant had Navy gunboats at his disposal; and he had access to paddle steamers to act as troop transports and ammunition resupply. At Fort Donelson, the Defenders had access to paddle steamers to act as troop transports and ammunition resupply; large calibre guns faced the river and a floating abattis was in place one mile upstream downstream; and sunken hulks were in place at Lineville, all designed to frustrate Union gunboats.
  • Timing was critical.  During the Battle of Shiloh, US Grant had to hold on until Buell arrived; at Fort Donelson, Floyd believed he had to hold on until Albert Sidney Johnston completed his evacuation from Bowling Green and reached Nashville;
  • Opportunity to escape:  at Pittsburg Landing, Grant had access to pontoons to construct a bridge (which he was aware of, but ignored); Floyd had the opportunity to escape the trap that Fort Donelson became, but flubbed the execution;
  • Both actions required multiple days (Fort Donelson 11-16 February; and Shiloh 4-8 April 1862)
  • Misuse of cavalry.  Because US Grant was ordered "Do not bring on a general Engagement," he restricted the extent of his cavalry patrols (almost resulting in fatal consequences); Floyd Pillow made use of his cavalry for reconnaissance, but did not use it offensively (against Federal troops marching across from Fort Henry) with fatal consequences [Pillow sent Nathan Bedford Forrest away on reconnaissance on the morning of February 12th with the added direction "Do not bring on a general engagement" [See OR vol. 7 page 328 Buckner's report];
  • Controversy:  Fort Donelson had four different Confederate commanders over the course of ten days; Pittsburg Landing had five different Federal commanders... on one day... until US Grant arrived from Savannah after 8:30am on April 6th and assumed overall control;
  • Controversy too:  Lew Wallace and Don Carlos Buell were late arriving at the Battle of Shiloh; Floyd and Pillow left Buckner holding the bag in the final hours at Fort Donelson;
  • POWs    Significant numbers of Confederate prisoners were taken at Fort Donelson and mostly sent north to Camp Douglas at Chicago and Camp Morton at Indianapolis; significant numbers of Federal prisoners were taken during the Battle of Shiloh and mostly sent to Tuscaloosa, Selma, Cahaba, Montgomery Cotton Shed and Macon's Camp Oglethorpe.

Just to ponder...

Ozzy

 

References on request

 

 

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Thought-provoking topic as usual, Ozzy. 

I'll dive head-first into the cement pond on one issue for now, about the uncertainty facing the Confederates after Fort Henry fell. They really couldn't be sure what the Union's next move might be, as Grant was now squarely in the middle of their defensive line between Columbus and Bowling Green. He could turn west and attack Columbus, or turn east against Fort Donelson, alone or in concert with Buell moving against Johnston at Bowling Green. Or he and Foote could even use the Tennessee to land his army south of the Rebel defenses, and present them with a threat from behind and in front at the same time. 

We can see now of course that it was going to be Fort Donelson, and Grant never had any doubt about what his next move was going to be, writing Halleck that he would capture Donelson on February 8th. Kind of optimistic about that. :) But he knew what he was going to do next. The Confederates on the other hand, simply had to guess, and they were in a bad spot about it. They never really settled on a good plan even after they realized he was moving on Fort Donelson. 

But I've always felt that Fort Henry was the real OMG moment for Johnston in Kentucky. Or rather, Bruce Catton drew me to that conclusion with a statement he made about the two forts in one of his books, although I can't remember which one at the moment. But he basically said that the loss of Fort Henry was an even bigger disaster for the South than was the loss of Fort Donelson, since it opened the way for the Union to outflank the Confederate defenses even without capturing Donelson. (Not an exact quote. That's the essence of how I remember it though.) I think he made an excellent point. They had nothing south Fort Henry, meaning that losing that one single fort effectively lost them the entire Tennessee River all the way to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and rendered their entire Kentucky line useless. 

Anymore I look on Fort Henry as a strategic disaster for the South, and Fort Donelson as a disaster from a manpower perspective. They could ill-afford losing something like 25% of their defensive force in Kentucky and Tennessee. So it was a pretty brutal one-two punch they had to deal with. 

Another similarity between Donelson and Shiloh - both had a Lick Creek. You think maybe that's why Forrest got so mad about being left to guard Lick Creek at Shiloh? Gave him bad memories? :)

Perry

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Perry

You are correct: Fort Henry was indeed an OMG moment... that stretched into days of OMG and YGTB*M ... The Fort Henry operation involved Federal feints (in time-of-execution and target of the operation); Confederate super-weapons (torpedoes) that failed to function; and an ambitious raid by Navy Lieutenant Phelps and his timberclads up the Tennessee River, which instilled "shock and awe" among the populace -- captured an almost complete Confederate gunboat -- eliminated the ready supply of Confederate torpedoes (aboard Samuel Orr, potentially available for use downstream of Fort Donelson) -- and perhaps most importantly, destroyed "that railroad bridge" ...cutting the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville RR line, and severing connection between Fort Columbus and Bowling Green, and points in between.

IRT which target was next after the fall of Fort Henry, US Grant sent a telegram within hours of that success to Halleck at St. Louis advising that he would move next against Fort Donelson: and there is strong belief that the Federal telegraph line was compromised (disloyal telegraph operator at Cairo.) So the Confederate leadership should have known... But, even if they did not know for certain, once the MC&L RR bridge was destroyed, there was no longer a means of quickly moving Confederate troops from Fort Columbus to Clarksville, meaning that Fort Columbus and Fort Donelson/Clarksville had become "stand-alone entities" reliant on men and materiel at hand. Which, in my opinion, means that Gideon Pillow (the then-commander at Fort Donelson) should have relied on his reconnaissance reports to launch a cavalry attack against the Federal troops marching towards him from Fort Henry, and then supported the cavalry with infantry and artillery. Even if this brought on a general engagement five miles from Fort Donelson, it would have provided opportunity to fight the fort the way it should have been fought by Confederate defenders. When General Floyd assumed command of Fort Donelson on February 13th it was too late; the opportunity had passed.

IRT Lick Creek-times-two, there was another similarity: they were both flooded, providing substantial defensive barriers... or frustrating escape, depending on your point of view.

Cheers

Ozzy

 

N.B.  Just ran across this letter dated February 6th 1862 to General Albert Sidney Johnston from the "loyal stake-holders of the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville Railroad" pledging their undying support... on the very day their essential bridge over the Tennessee River was compromised by Lieutenant Phelps:

http://www.csa-railroads.com/Essays/Orignial Docs/NA/NA,_MC_and_L_2-6-62.htm  [from csa-railroads]

 

 

 

Edited by Ozzy
Bonus information...
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And as for Nathan Bedford Forrest... he was not a happy camper on the evening of February 15th 1862. And he "witnessed with dismay" the incompetence exhibited by certain "leaders" at Shiloh on the evening of April 6th (when he was unable to pass along valuable intelligence; thwarted on two occasions.)

The attached reference provides interesting information IRT the use of Rebel cavalry at Fort Donelson (page 43):

http://archive.org/stream/lifegenforrest00wyetrich#page/42/mode/2up  The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest at archive.org

 

Ozzy

 

N.B.  Just ran across another interesting revelation or two, in OR vol. 7 (Fort Donelson) page 329:

  • Buckner was temporary Commander of Fort Donelson on February 12th in Pillow's absence, so the progression of Confederate commanders at that fort was Tilghman -- Pillow -- Buckner -- Pillow -- Floyd -- Buckner
  • The above flow of commanders is important, because prior to departing (and leaving Buckner as temporary commander on February 12th) Pillow sent away Nathan Bedford Forrest on a reconnaissance with instructions: "Do not bring on a general engagement."  [YGTB*M -- Ozzy]

http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/pageviewer-idx?c=moawar;cc=moawar;idno=waro0007;node=waro0007%3A2;view=image;seq=345;size=100;page=root  [Buckner's report from Fort Donelson]

 

 

Edited by Ozzy
Bonus information from OR
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Just a few more similarities to throw out there...

  • U.S. Grant was late getting to the Battlefield at Shiloh on April 6th; and he was late getting to the Field on February 15th to combat the Confederate Breakout at Fort Donelson;
  • Lew Wallace was "controversial" at both battles;
  • John McClernand claimed the lion's share of credit for both battles in his written reports;
  • U.S. Grant fell out of favour with senior Army leaders after Fort Donelson... and after Shiloh;
  • Jacob Lauman performed aggressively, and to Federal advantage, at both battles;
  • WHL Wallace was crucial to halting the Confederate juggernaut of success at both battles;
  • John Cavender appears to have play a key, under-reported role [artillery] at both battles;
  • Navy gunboats Tyler and Lexington had support roles at both battles.

Ozzy

 

N.B.  My favourite similarity:  "Do nothing to bring on a General Engagement."  [Recipe for disaster?]

 

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Here's another one:  Mary Ann Bickerdyke. The Battle of Fort Donelson was where she first gained notice, and her exploits written about in national newspapers. Appointed as Matron of Cairo General Hospital in 1861 (at the "request" of General U.S. Grant) Mary became affiliated with the Sanitary Commission, and took responsibility for the supplies that commission sent to Cairo. So when the Sanitary Commission engaged the City Of Memphis as a Hospital Ship for the joint Army-Navy operation taking shape south of Cairo in February 1862, Mother Bickerdyke found a way to become part of the City of Memphis medical staff. The Hospital Ship arrived at the Landing on the Cumberland River used by Foote's gunboats on the morning of February 15th (and may have tended wounded sailors from the gunboat action of the previous day.) Meanwhile, February 15th was "the day of the Confederate Breakout attempt" and over 3000 men on both sides were counted as killed, wounded or missing by the end of that day's fighting. Initially taken to "field hospitals" (empty barns and sheds with little or no medical facilities, that served more as "waiting rooms" for transport to the Hospital Ship) the wounded suffered... not from intentional neglect; but from the lessons of the last war having to be relearned.

The next day, Fort Donelson was surrendered; and the collection of wounded men from the field was conducted in earnest. By 10pm it was determined that "all of the wounded" had been retrieved, and the City of Memphis would get underway for Cairo at daybreak. The search parties stopped searching. But Mary Bickerdyke felt uneasy: she would not be satisfied until she had convinced herself that all the wounded men had been recovered. She took one of the steamer's lanterns and commenced her nighttime investigation... But she was spotted: a wounded officer happened to sit up in one of the field hospitals, and noticed the lantern light drifting across the otherwise black battlefield; and he assumed it was "some ghoul, come to rob the dead." He sent away an orderly to "bring that man here, immediately."

The orderly returned, long after midnight, in company with Mrs. Bickerdyke: she thanked Colonel Logan "for providing an assistant to help complete her search" and then noticed that the officer was wounded, and his injury "shabbily dressed." Mother Mary dressed the wound properly, and then departed for the City of Memphis. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship between John Logan and Mary Bickerdyke; and the story of the Woman Nurse searching the battlefield with a lantern found its way into the newspapers.

Prior to the Battle of Shiloh, Mary Bickerdyke made her way to Savannah and helped organize nursing services there: primarily acquiring huge stocks of bedding and bandages. Ten days after Shiloh, Mary was still there, tending to the wounded (billeted in 16 temporary hospitals set up in Savannah and Hamburg, not to mention the countless Hospital Ships.)  

Ozzy

 

Reference:  http://archive.org/stream/cycloneincalico001060mbp#page/n117/mode/2up  Cyclone in Calico: the story of Mary Bickerdyke by Nina Brown Baker and available at archive.org (Pages 63, 74-85 and 90-117.)

 

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