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A few thoughts...

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The operation against Fort Henry appears to have been delayed:  1) until Henry Halleck assured himself that a direct assault against Fort Columbus was impossible, and 2) Flag-Officer Foote convinced Halleck that the late-to-arrive 13-inch mortars (also necessary for the attack against Fort Columbus) would not be necessary against Fort Henry.

The Northern newspapers figured out by mid-January 1862 that an attack against Fort Henry was imminent. Some of those newspapers began publishing "recommendations" that the Federal attack against Fort Henry be initiated by specified dates; and when those dates passed, and nothing happened, those newspapers expressed dismay and outrage. One benefit of the false predictions: the Rebels who read those same newspapers were left uncertain where and when the attack would come.

Following the unexpectedly rapid success at Fort Henry, there was consternation among senior Federal leaders IRT why there were so few Confederate prisoners. US Grant indicated that John McClernand had been slow to encircle the Rebel position; McClernand informed President Lincoln (letter written Feb 8, 1862) that US Grant ordered the same start time -- 11am -- for the Army and the Navy, not realizing the gunboats would move faster than marching men.

There was a Council of War conducted by General Grant with his senior field officers at 2pm on Feb 10 aboard the steamer New Uncle Sam (some sources say morning of Feb 11). John McClernand embarrassed Grant by reading a lengthy recommendation of how the Fort Donelson operation should be conducted. [Pretty sure this was the first -- and last -- Council of War ever conducted by US Grant -- Ozzy.] 

The march from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson was not "unopposed" ...Nathan Bedford Forrest attempted a spontaneous delaying action that did not accomplish much. Interestingly, elements of McClernand's Division were crucial in disrupting NB Forrest's delay action; and McClernand's early start for Fort Donelson (contrary to Grant's orders, but possibly a consequence of the "accusations" following on from Fort Henry) resulted in successful deployment of Federal forces at Fort Donelson on February 12th. [Whenever US Grant made mention of this troop movement, he only emphasized "the stupidity of individual soldiers" in throwing away their coats during the march... leaving them unprotected from the cold spell and snow that arrived a day later.]

Flag-Officer Foote's assurance to Henry Halleck that his gunboats (without mortars) could take Fort Henry had unintended consequences: Halleck came to believe that the ironclad gunboats were superior to all earthen fortifications. So when Foote asked for a few day's delay of the operation against Fort Donelson (in order to allow the arrival of the 13-inch mortars, due "at any time") Halleck ordered Foote to go ahead, without the mortars. [Why this matters: armor plate on all ships is thickest on the sides (hull) and thinnest on the upper decks. At Fort Henry, the water's-edge guns could only strike the thick armor plates at the sides of Foote's gunboats; but at Fort Donelson, the upper battery of Confederate guns (perhaps eighty feet above the Cumberland River) released "plunging fire" that struck the thin armor of the gunboat decks, and sliced right through... cutting steering cables, and delivering many unnecessary casualties to the Navy. [The mortars arrived at Cairo on Feb 16th.]  



References:  Papers of US Grant volume 4, pages 124-184.

Life of Andrew Hull Foote by J.M. Hoppin (1874)  http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002073452741;view=1up;seq=11 

OR(Navy) volume 22


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