Tag Archives: Andrew H. Foote

The Battle of Plum Run Bend

May 10, 1862 – Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Mississippi River to keep the Federals from continuing downstream and capturing Fort Pillow and Memphis.

As Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s Federal naval squadron moved up the Mississippi from New Orleans, Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s Federal Western Flotilla moved downriver from Island No. 10 toward Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The ultimate destination for both Farragut and Foote was the vital river and railroad city of Memphis.

After the fall of Island No. 10, Foote’s ships continued about 50 miles downriver and docked north of Fort Pillow. The fort stretched five miles and was defended by 40 heavy guns. Foote had been deprived of army support when Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was called to aid in the drive on Corinth, Mississippi. So all Foote could do was keep his ships out of the Confederates’ gun range and bombard them with siege artillery.

In addition to the Confederate garrison at Fort Pillow, opposing the Federal squadron was the Confederate River Defense Fleet, which consisted of eight vessels commanded by Captain James E. Montgomery and manned by army troops under Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson of the Missouri militia. The ships were steamboats loaded with timber and cotton bales for protection. Known as “cotton-clads,” the ships had been brought up from New Orleans to contest the Federals’ southward drive. They only had one or two guns each, but they were fitted with iron prows to stab holes into enemy ships. And they were faster than the Federal ironclads.

On May 8, three Confederate rams from the fleet moved up the Mississippi from Fort Pillow to scout the Federal vessels. The larger Federal gunboats drove the Confederates off. The next day, Montgomery held a council of war at Memphis, where he and his officers agreed to move upriver that night and attack the Federal fleet the following day. The Confederates hoped that a surprise attack might destroy the Federals before they could join forces with Farragut.

While the Confederates planned their attack, Foote stepped down as commander of the Federal Western Flotilla. His health had deteriorated ever since being wounded at Fort Donelson in February. He selected Captain Charles H. Davis to replace him in command of the seven ironclads (the U.S.S. Mound City, Carondelet, Benton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cairo, and St. Louis), one timber-clad, 16 mortar boats, and two infantry regiments.

Montgomery steamed directly toward Davis’s fleet at Plum Point Bend, north of Fort Pillow, on May 10. The Federals sighted the black smoke from the lead vessel, the C.S.S. General Bragg, off Craigshead Point, two miles above Fort Pillow. Montgomery sought to destroy the Federal Mortar Boat No. 16 and her escort, the Cincinnati, as they shelled the fort unsupported. The Confederates’ speed advantage helped them in the tight bend in the river.

The Cincinnati got up steam and approached the middle of the river. The crewmen fired their three bow guns but were rammed by the General Bragg before they could reload. The impact opened a large hole in her starboard quarter. The C.S.S. General Price then rammed the Cincinnati’s port side, disabling her rudder.

The fight on the Mississippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The fight on the Mississippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The six remaining Federal ironclads came up to join the fight, knocking the General Bragg out of action as the C.S.S. General Sumter rammed the Cincinnati a third time. The Cincinnati managed to severely damage multiple Confederate ships with broadsides before finally sinking in 11 feet of water.

Meanwhile, the General Price sustained non-lethal damage as she disabled Federal Mortar Boat No. 16. The other Federal mortar boats fired exploding shells that rained iron down on the enemy ships. Montgomery’s fleet continued upriver to engage the remaining Federal ironclads coming down to meet them.

The General Sumter rammed the U.S.S. Mound City, which was then rammed a second time by the C.S.S. General Van Dorn. The Federals aboard the Mound City grounded her on a sandbar to avoid sinking. The ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet used rifled cannon fire to badly damage the General Sumter, General Lovell, and General Van Dorn.

The Confederates had inflicted severe damage on the enemy flotilla after 30 minutes of fighting. But when the Federal ships pulled back into shallower water, Montgomery’s deeper draft vessels could not pursue. He ordered a return to Memphis, with Confederate artillery and sharpshooters continuing to fire at the Federals from a distance.

Montgomery had been victorious, having sunk two Federal ironclads. But the rest of Davis’s fleet remained intact, while four of Montgomery’s eight ships had been disabled. This, combined with the Confederate withdrawal, enabled Davis to claim victory as well. Davis boasted that he had driven the Confederates off after inflicting heavy damage, but the Confederates did not sustain as much damage as Davis had hoped.

Federals raised the Mound City the next day, and the Cincinnati two months later. Both vessels returned to service. However, this engagement proved that the Confederate defenses at Fort Pillow as well as Montgomery’s fleet were too strong for Davis to attack with what he had.

This marked one of the few “fleet battles” of the war. It temporarily halted Federal plans to join the squadrons of Davis and Farragut at Memphis. Montgomery informed General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, Mississippi, that Davis’s fleet “will never penetrate farther down the Mississippi” at their current strength. Davis, aware of this as well, called on the Federal Navy Department to reinforce his flotilla with the speedy Ellet-class rams.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (10 May 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 612; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 380-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149-51; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587-88; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209-10; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 416-17; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 83-85; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 303

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The Fall of Island No. 10

April 8, 1862 – Federal army and navy forces captured a key stronghold on the Mississippi River.

Major General John Pope, whose Army of the Mississippi surrounded the Confederates at Island No. 10 on three sides, wanted to cross the Mississippi River to the Tennessee shore and capture the island from the rear, or its fourth side. To do this, Pope needed support from Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet.

The ironclads U.S.S. Carondelet and Pittsburgh had already run past the island’s batteries to join the Federals at New Madrid, with the Pittsburgh bringing artillery and providing transportation for the Federal troops below the island. Pope was now ready to carry out his plan.

On the morning of April 7, both the Pittsburgh and the Carondelet exchanged fire with Confederate gunners at Watson’s Landing, below New Madrid, which protected the Confederates’ escape route from Island No. 10. This was where Pope wanted to land his army. After about an hour, the Confederates fled into the woods or fell back to Tiptonville on the Tennessee side of the river.

The Engagement at Island No. 10 | Image Credit: ThisGameOfGames.com

The Engagement at Island No. 10 | Image Credit: ThisGameOfGames.com

Pope loaded four steamers with about 3,000 troops, crossed the Mississippi, and landed on the island’s eastern shore around noon. Foote’s gunboats protected the landing, with the Federals cutting communications to the mainland and blocking the only escape route.

Brigadier General William W. Mackall, commanding Confederate forces in the area, was now surrounded on all sides. He surrendered to Foote that night. Many of the Confederates who escaped before the Federals landed tried fleeing to Tiptonville, which was already occupied by a Federal detachment. The Federals blocked the narrow path between the Mississippi and Reelfoot Lake, forcing these Confederates to surrender as well.

The Federal roundup continued into the 8th, as Federals seized stragglers around Tiptonville and secured the so-called impenetrable island. Nearly 6,000 Confederates, including three generals and seven colonels, were taken prisoner. About 7,000 small arms and huge amounts of ammunition and supplies were also seized.

The Federals lost 28 men (seven killed, 14 wounded, and seven missing), most of whom were naval personnel. Federal gunboat crews took 109 cannon abandoned on the Tennessee side of the river, as well as four steamers. One Confederate transport, the Red Rover, was taken to Cairo and converted into the navy’s first hospital ship.

Mackall surrendered Island No. 10 in a formal ceremony at Tiptonville on the 8th. Southerners were dismayed to learn that such a key position had been given up so easily. The loss of so many men and supplies demoralized the Confederacy, more so than any other battlefield loss up to that time.

The Federal capture of Island No. 10 was another in a series of Federal victories on the western rivers. In fact, Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Department of the Mississippi, considered this victory more important than Ulysses S. Grant’s capture of Forts Henry and Donelson in February. As such, Pope became a new northern hero.

Federal Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles declared that “the triumph was not the less appreciated, because it was protracted, and finally bloodless.” Foote later received a vote of thanks from Congress for his role in the operation, but he received no praise from Pope. In his official report, Pope lauded the “prompt, gallant, and cheerful” Commander Henry Walke of the U.S.S. Carondelet. Foote, who had resisted running his ships past the Confederate batteries, was not mentioned.

Nevertheless, Pope planned to continue his joint expedition with Foote to capture Memphis, a key city connected to the rest of the South by railroad. With Island No. 10 in Federal hands, the only obstacle in front of Memphis was Fort Pillow, 40 miles downriver. However, Pope’s month-long campaign on the Mississippi ended when Halleck summoned him and his army to join in the grand advance on Corinth.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 78; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (7 Apr 1862); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 156, 158; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 134-35; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 3252; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587-88; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 195-96; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 415; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155, 166-69; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 298, 300; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 124

Preparing to Attack Island No. 10

April 4, 1862 – Major General John Pope prepared his Federal Army of the Mississippi to capture strategic Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River with naval support.

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Capturing Island No. 10 had been Pope’s prime objective when he formed his army the previous month, as Confederate defenders there blocked Federal shipping on the Mississippi. Pope had seized nearby New Madrid, Missouri, which positioned his Federals within striking distance of the island. He then surrounded the stronghold on three sides and opened an artillery bombardment.

Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard reported to the War Department that the Federals had fired 3,000 rounds over the past two weeks in the largest cannonade of the war thus far. Beauregard also noted that the Confederate batteries remained relatively undamaged. To capture the island, Pope needed the Federal navy.

Pope wanted Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat fleet to run past the Confederates and close the fourth side, which the Confederates used to get supplies from Tennessee. Federal troops and contrabands had struggled to dig a 12-mile canal for the fleet to use in bypassing the island. However, Foote resisted using the canal because he feared that the Confederate batteries would destroy his vessels.

To soften the batteries, Colonel George W. Roberts of the 42nd Indiana led a 50-man raiding party to neutralize as many guns as possible. The men used muffled oars to row barges to Battery No. 1, one of five Confederate outposts guarding Island No. 10 on the Tennessee shore. Battery No. 1 consisted of six cannon about two miles upriver from the island.

It was a stormy night, and lightning revealed the Federals’ presence. The Confederate pickets fired at them and then ran back into their fortifications. Before the rest of the Confederates could mobilize, the Federals landed, spiked the guns, and escaped without loss. The operation took less than 30 minutes. The storm later produced a tornado that swept through New Madrid and killed soldiers on both sides.

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Disabling Confederate guns | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Over the next few days, Federals prepared Commander Henry Walke’s ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet to run the remaining batteries. They fitted the ship with cordwood around the boilers and an anchor chain for armor. The Carondelet entered the canal at full steam around 10 p.m. on April 4, covered by darkness and a heavy thunderstorm.

The Confederates saw flames shooting from the Carondelet’s smokestacks, and lightning revealed her exact location. They opened fire and hit the ship once in the coal barge and once in a hay bale. Most shots missed because the guns could not be depressed low enough to fire down the steep banks.

The Carondelet successfully passed both Island No. 10 and a floating Confederate battery, arriving at New Madrid amid the cheers of Federal troops awaiting her arrival. The ship’s passage posed an immediate threat to the island’s defenders because she could transport troops to the Tennessee side of the river below them and attack the island from the rear.

Two days later, the Carondelet began clearing the Tennessee shore of Confederate batteries by destroying two cannon opposite Point Pleasant. She then moved further downriver to Tiptonville, Tennessee, where Federal troops landed and spiked a battery. Brigadier General William W. Mackall, who had replaced Brigadier General John P. McCown as commander of Confederate forces in the area, transferred his infantry and one battery from Island No. 10 to the Tennessee shore to protect against a Federal landing.

Pope made plans to attack the Confederates at Tiptonville, but he needed more naval support. Foote initially refused Pope’s request to run another ironclad past Island No. 10. Foote wrote, “There is so much hazard in running the blockade, and the rebels being so much on the alert, I consider it injudicious to hazard another boat.”

But Foote finally relented, and late on April 6, during a heavy thunderstorm, the U.S.S. Pittsburgh successfully ran past the batteries without damage. Pope was now ready to carry out his grand strategy to capture Island No. 10 and its adjoining defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (1 Apr 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 796; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 147, 150, 154; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 130-31, 134; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 527; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 193; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 415; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition), p. 81; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 163-64, 166; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 299; Sword, Wiley, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 386

Prelude to Battle in Tennessee

March 25, 1862 – Federals advanced deep into western Tennessee this month as Confederates gathered in northern Mississippi to counterattack.

By this month, the Confederate defensive line across Kentucky had been shattered by the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson, along with Nashville. Confederates on the eastern part of the line, primarily at Bowling Green, Kentucky, fell back to Murfreesboro in middle Tennessee. Those at Columbus, Kentucky, to the west withdrew to New Madrid and Island No. 10 on the Mississippi, along with other points in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General P.G.T. Beauregard commanded the Confederate Army of the Mississippi in the western sector. When Federal forces captured New Madrid, Beauregard began concentrating his remaining forces at Corinth, Mississippi, where the Mobile & Ohio and Memphis & Charleston railroads intersected. At Beauregard’s request, General Braxton Bragg led 10,000 Confederates from Pensacola and Mobile to join the force gathering at Corinth. Also joining was 5,000 men under General Daniel Ruggles from New Orleans, leaving that important city nearly defenseless.

As Beauregard tried collecting manpower, he faced three armies advancing on three sides: Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi in Missouri (left), Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee in western Tennessee (front), and Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio at Nashville (right).

Grant’s advance was preceded by two Federal timber-clad gunboats, U.S.S. Lexington and Tyler, reconnoitering up the Tennessee River all the way to the Tennessee-Mississippi line. The vessels exchanged fire with Confederate batteries at Pittsburg Landing, and then sailors (with sharpshooter support) came ashore to drive the Confederates off. Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote, commanding the Federal squadron, praised the commanders for securing the area and then added:

“But I must give a general order that no commander will land men to make an attack on shore. Our gunboats are to be used as forts, and as they have no more men than necessary to man the guns, and as the Army must do the shore work, and as the enemy want nothing better than to entice our men on shore and overpower them with superior numbers, the commanders must not operate on shore, but confine themselves to their vessels.”

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Federals also captured the C.S.S. Eastport, a gunboat under construction that was larger and faster than any in Foote’s squadron. Foote wrote:

“I have applied to the Secretary of the Navy to have the rebel gunboat, Eastport, lately captured in the Tennessee River, fitted up as a gunboat… She can be fitted out for about $20,000, and in three weeks. We want such a fast and powerful boat. Do telegraph about her, as we now have carpenters and cargo ahead on her and she is just what we want. I should run about in her and save time and do good service. Our other ironclad boats are too slow. The Eastport was a steamer on the river, and she, being a good boat, would please the West. No reply yet from the Secretary and time is precious.”

Advance elements of Grant’s army, temporarily commanded by General Charles F. Smith, reached Savannah, Tennessee, on March 5. The rest of what became known as the Army of the Tennessee arrived nine days later, ferried by 80 transports and a gunboat escort. Smith directed recently arrived Brigadier General William T. Sherman to continue up the Tennessee to reconnoiter the area of Eastport, Mississippi.

Along the way, Sherman secured Pittsburg Landing as a staging area for an advance on Corinth and received permission from Smith to land his division there. The rest of the army soon followed. Sherman’s Federals reconnoitered from Pittsburg Landing to Monterey, Tennessee, about halfway to Corinth.

During this time, Major General Henry W. Halleck was promoted to command not only the forces under Pope and Grant, but Buell as well. Halleck ordered Buell to move from Nashville to Savannah and join forces with the Federal troops assembling there. Buell opted to advance overland rather than by water to protect the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and cover the Federal forces sent to occupy northern Alabama.

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

General A.S. Johnston | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Meanwhile, General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding Confederate Department No. 2 (the Western Theater), was stationed with the former Army of Central Kentucky at Murfreesboro. At Beauregard’s urging, Johnston began moving west to join forces with those gathering at Corinth.

Passing through Columbia just before Buell’s Federals arrived, Johnston’s Confederates burned the bridges spanning the Duck River. Rather than build temporary pontoon bridges to hurry his men across, Buell directed engineers to build new permanent ones. Buell notified Halleck on the 18th that the work would take three or four days. At that time, Buell’s army was about 85 miles away from the Federals at Savannah and Pittsburg Landing.

The delay gave Johnston more time to consolidate. To bolster his manpower, he peremptorily ordered Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West in Arkansas, to move east by “the best and most expeditious route” to Corinth.

Van Dorn, who had recently lost the Battle of Pea Ridge, had been moving north when he received this directive. Beauregard tried sending transports from New Orleans to take Van Dorn’s men east, but Louisiana Governor Thomas Moore would not release the boats for army use due to a political dispute he was having with President Jefferson Davis.

Johnston entered Corinth with his rear guard on the 24th, where he assimilated the Army of Central Kentucky into the new Army of Mississippi (referred to by Beauregard as the Army of the Mississippi). Johnston was overall commander, with Beauregard second-in-command. Beauregard declined Johnston’s offer to head the army while Johnston maintained administrative command. President Davis wrote his close friend Johnston:

“My confidence in you has never wavered, and I hope the public will soon give me credit for judgment, rather than continue to arraign me for obstinacy… You have done wonderfully well… If you can meet the division of the enemy moving from the Tennessee before it can make a junction with that advancing from Nashville, the future will be brighter…”

When Grant resumed command over Smith, he set up headquarters at a Savannah mansion. His army consisted of two divisions on the east bank of the Tennessee at Savannah, two division nine miles upriver (or south) on the west bank at Pittsburg Landing, and one on the west bank at Crump’s Landing, between Savannah and Pittsburg. His army totaled 27,000 men, with reinforcements arriving from St. Louis that Grant formed into another division.

Grant knew about the Confederates gathering at Corinth, but Sherman reported that they could number no more than 20,000. Grant sent two messengers to try finding Buell, whose 37,000 men were expected to join him at some point, though there seemed to be no hurry. Buell’s insistence on building proper bridges delayed him over two weeks. Added to the problem was the Duck River being swollen due to rain and melting snow.

When Buell finally relented and allowed his army to cross on pontoon bridges, the Duck had receded enough to allow a crossing without any bridges at all. Buell’s lead division under Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson crossed first and headed for Savannah on the 28th. The rest of Buell’s army followed the next day.

By that time, Johnston had reorganized the new Army of Mississippi. The 1st Grand Division under Leonidas Polk was re-designated the I Corps. The new army also included the II Corps under Braxton Bragg, the III Corps under William J. Hardee (really just three brigades), and the Reserve Corps under George B. Crittenden.

Bragg served double-duty as corps commander and army chief of staff. Crittenden, already under fire for his embarrassing defeat at Mill Springs, was soon relieved for alleged drunkenness on duty. Despite Crittenden’s shortcomings, his removal deprived the army of an experienced military leader. He was replaced by former U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge.

Most of Johnston’s officers and men had never experienced combat before, and many were equipped with obsolete or non-functioning weapons. Nevertheless, the 40,000 Confederates assembling at Corinth were being organized to destroy Grant’s army concentrating around Pittsburg Landing, about 22 miles north, before Buell’s army crossing the Duck River could come to its aid.

Grant remained stationary and awaited Buell’s arrival. Unconcerned about the Confederates, he did not order the men to build any defensive works.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 71-72; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12851, 12910, 12927, 12947; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 135, 137, 143-44, 147; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 292, 320; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 116-17, 124, 127, 129; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 168-71; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 123; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 171, 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 177-79, 185-86, 189-90; Rutherford, Phillip R., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 168, 169; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 684-85

The Fort Donelson Campaign

February 7, 1862 – Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant began planning to follow the victory at Fort Henry by capturing a much stronger Confederate fort.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

When Federal naval personnel took Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, a New York Tribune correspondent wrapped up his coverage and stopped at Grant’s headquarters to bid farewell before returning east. Grant said, “You had better wait a day or two… I am going over to capture Fort Donelson tomorrow.”

Grant, his staff, and a cavalry escort reconnoitered Fort Donelson on the 7th. The fort was 12 miles east of Henry on the Cumberland River, near the town of Dover and the Kentucky border. The Confederate garrison at Donelson was much larger than that at Henry, with about 15,000 troops and more heavy artillery. The fort was larger than Henry, with an outer defensive perimeter of 100 acres, and two lines of entrenchments. It was also positioned atop a bluff, where 13 guns commanded the naval approaches, and surrounded by hills, making land assaults difficult.

Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson arrived at Donelson and replaced Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman in command. Three days later, Brigadier General Gideon Pillow arrived from Clarksville to take over for Johnson. Pillow announced that he had faith in “the courage and fidelity of the brave officers and men under his command.” He urged them to “drive back the ruthless invaders from our soil and again raise the Confederate flag over Fort Henry… Our battle cry, ‘Liberty or death.’” Despite this rhetoric and Donelson’s strength, Grant, who had known Pillow before the war, did not expect him to put up much of a fight.

Grant may have been ready to advance on Fort Donelson, but Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s gunboat flotilla was not. Foote had sent his damaged vessels back to Cairo, Illinois, for quick repairs before they could return to action. The ground forces began moving out of Fort Henry on the 11th, the same day that Foote began his advance to the Cumberland. He notified Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles:

“I leave Cairo again to-night with the Louisville, Pittsburg, and St. Louis for the Cumberland River to cooperate with the army in the attack on Ft. Donelson… I shall do all in my power to render the gunboats effective in the fight, although they are not properly manned… If we could wait ten days, and I had men, I would go with eight mortar boats and six armored boats and conquer.”

Grant’s superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, instructed Grant to fortify Fort Henry for occupation troops, especially on the land side. However, Grant received this dispatch, as well as many others, too late to stop him from moving against Fort Donelson. The communication gap between Halleck and Grant would play a significant role in future operations.

Meanwhile, Confederate Generals John B. Floyd and Simon B. Buckner at Clarksville began sending Confederates from that town to bolster the Fort Donelson defenses. However, Floyd and Buckner agreed to only send a minimum number of troops so they could focus their true strength at Cumberland City, 15 miles upriver from the fort. This would protect the line to Nashville and enable the Confederates to harass the Federal lines between Forts Henry and Donelson.

Buckner met with Pillow at Donelson to explain this strategy. However, Pillow refused to go along with it because it sounded too much like how Fort Henry was lost. Buckner later recounted that Pillow and Floyd believed that a Federal 12-mile march from Henry to Donelson was “impracticable.” While the Confederate generals debated, Grant’s troops were heading toward them.

Grant now had three divisions, one more than he had at Henry. His two divisions under Brigadier Generals Charles F. Smith and John A. McClernand, totaling about 15,000 men, moved out on the 11th. McClernand’s Federals marched along both the Telegraph and Ridge roads leading to Fort Donelson. Smith’s division moved along the Telegraph road. The third division, under Brigadier General Lew Wallace (future author of Ben-Hur), stayed behind to garrison Fort Henry.

By the night of February 12, Grant’s men had completed the “impracticable” march, no doubt aided by unusually warm weather. The Federals, stalled for several hours by Confederate cavalry under Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, finally drove the troopers off and formed a semicircle among the hills around Fort Donelson and Dover. Grant established headquarters in the kitchen of a farmhouse and awaited gunboat support from the Cumberland.

Meanwhile, Pillow had left Donelson to discuss strategy with Floyd at Clarksville. Before he could get there, Pillow heard the sound of cannon at the fort and hurried back. The Federals’ arrival meant that Buckner’s plan to fortify Cumberland City would have to be abandoned in favor of making a stand at Donelson. This was just what Pillow had wanted in the first place. Pillow telegraphed both Floyd and General Albert Sidney Johnston, commanding the Western Theater:

“We shall have a battle in the morning, I think certainly, and an attack by gun-boats. The enemy are all around my position and within distance to close in with me in ten minutes’ march. One gun-boat came today and fired fifteen or twenty shells and retired. We gave no reply. I have sent up to Cumberland City for Baldwin’s two regiments. Feel sanguine of victory, though I am not fully ready. I have done all that it was possible to do, and think I will drive back the enemy.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 125, 127; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 194-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 106-09; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 150-52, 166-67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 167-70; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 81; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 246

The Fall of Fort Henry

February 6, 1862 – Federals captured a key point on the Tennessee River that opened a path to invade Tennessee.

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

On the 5th, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s 17,000 Federal troops began landing at Camp Halleck, about three miles north (or downstream) from Fort Henry on the Tennessee River. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, commanding just 3,400 Confederates inside the fort, wired his superior, General Albert Sidney Johnston: “If you can reinforce strongly and quickly we have a glorious chance to overwhelm the enemy.” However, no reinforcements would be coming, and the Federal force was much stronger than Tilghman had anticipated.

At a council of war that evening, Tilghman announced to his officers that Fort Henry could not be held. As such, part of the garrison would stay in the fort to stall the Federal advance while the bulk of Tilghman’s force would escape to Fort Donelson, a stronger work 12 miles east on the Cumberland River.

Grant resolved to attack Fort Henry at 11 a.m. on the 6th, even though his entire force had not yet landed. Grant wanted to hurry the action because he had received a report (later proved wrong) that the Confederates were rushing to reinforce the fort.

Meanwhile Grant’s superior, Major General Henry W. Halleck, asked Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell to send some Federals from the Department of the Ohio against Bowling Green, Kentucky. This would create a diversion to ensure that Fort Henry would not be reinforced. However, Buell responded that it would take over a week to conduct such an operation. Ultimately, Buell’s help would not be needed, as Tilghman’s call for Confederates from both Bowling Green and Columbus went unanswered.

The Federal movement began that evening, as a brigade from Brigadier General Charles F. Smith’s division captured Fort Heiman, across the Tennessee from Fort Henry. The Confederates had abandoned this fort, which was never completed, and crossed the river to Henry. Meanwhile, Brigadier General John A. McClernand’s division was to march up the east side of the Tennessee, but heavy rain had turned the roads to mud. This not only hampered the Federal march, but it also partly flooded Fort Henry, thus demoralizing the Confederate defenders.

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The next morning, Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s Federal gunboat fleet advanced with the four ironclads leading and the three timber-clads behind. Foote’s flagship Cincinnati, along with the Carondelet, Essex, and St. Louis, began firing on Fort Henry from within 600 yards around 11 a.m. Meanwhile, the Federal troops struggled in the mud to take up positions along the Confederate escape routes.

Tilghman directed Battery B of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery to maintain an “honorable” defense using just 11 obsolete guns, while he led most of his men to Fort Donelson. Tilghman asked his artillerists to delay the Federals for an hour, but they did much better than that, holding off the fleet for several hours while scoring 59 hits. The Cincinnati sustained 32 hits that disabled two guns and damaged her stacks and after-cabin. A Confederate round exploded a boiler on the Essex, scalding 28 men (some to death) and putting her out of action.

Despite some Confederate success, the Federal firepower slowly took its toll. The gunboats finally found their range and began disabling the enemy cannon. When Tilghman returned from Fort Donelson, he saw that ammunition was running low and the Federal fleet was now within 300 yards. He manned one of the artillery crews himself, but just before 2 p.m., he conceded defeat and ordered the white flag raised. Tilghman said that “it is vain to fight longer; our gunners are disabled; our guns dismounted; we can’t hold out five minutes longer.”

The Federals on the gunboats cheered when they saw the Confederate flag replaced by a white flag. The Cincinnati lowered a launch, on which Federal naval officers rowed into Fort Henry’s flooded sally port and onto the parade grounds. They ferried Tilghman back to the flagship, where he and Foote agreed on an unconditional surrender of the fort’s remaining defenders.

Tilghman sustained 21 casualties (five killed, 11 wounded, and five missing), and surrendered 94 (12 officers, 66 men, and 16 patients). Foote’s naval crews lost 47 (11 killed, 31 wounded, and five missing). Grant’s troops arrived around 3 p.m., too late to play any role in the fort’s surrender. They also could not block the escape routes as hoped, with only a pursuing Federal cavalry detachment capturing some stragglers and cannon.

Meanwhile, the Federal timber-clads continued up the Tennessee as far as Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They destroyed a bridge linking the Confederates between Bowling Green and Columbus, and placed themselves directly between A.S. Johnston’s two main armies. This, along with the fall of Fort Henry, permanently broke Johnston’s fragile Confederate line across Kentucky. He noted:

“The capture of that Fort by the enemy gives them the control of the navigation of the Tennessee River, and their gunboats are now ascending the river to Florence (Alabama)… Should Ft. Donelson be taken it will open the route to the enemy to Nashville, giving them the means of breaking the bridges and destroying the ferryboats on the river as far as navigable.”

This was the first significant Federal victory on the western rivers, and it boosted the morale of northerners starving for any kind of victory. Capturing Fort Henry and opening the Tennessee gave the Federals options to attack Columbus from the rear, capture Fort Donelson and open the path to Nashville, or attack Bowling Green in concert with Buell’s Army of the Ohio.

The same day that Fort Henry fell, Grant had already decided his next move. He wired Halleck at St. Louis: “Fort Henry is ours… the gunboats silenced the batteries before the investment was completed. I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th and return to Fort Henry.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 68-70; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12526; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 272-73, 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 121-22; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 188-91; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 105-07; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 417; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 148-49; Harrison, Lowell H., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 274; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 756; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 107-08; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 166-67; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 396-97; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 74-76; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 64-67; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 244; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 95

Federals Target Fort Henry

February 1, 1862 – The Federal invasion of Tennessee began with a joint army-navy operation against Fort Henry on the Tennessee River.

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s Federal gunboat flotilla had been observing Confederates building Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers respectively since the previous fall. Foote became convinced that his vessels could, with army help, subdue these forts and threaten the rear of General Albert Sidney Johnston’s Confederate defensive line across Kentucky.

In late January, both Foote and Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant requested permission to launch a joint operation against Fort Henry from Major General Henry W. Halleck, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri. Halleck had considered a move against Fort Henry as a first step to a drive on Nashville, but he was reluctant to put Grant in charge of army operations due to his past reputation for drunkenness. Halleck finally went along with it on Foote’s recommendation.

Grant assembled about 17,000 troops for the mission, but he soon learned that winter rains had made the roads unusable for marching. Therefore, Grant planned to use river transports to move his men, horses, supplies, and equipment. The transports would be escorted by Foote’s gunboat flotilla of three wooden (timber-clad) vessels (U.S.S. Conestoga, Lexington, and Tyler), and four ironclads (U.S.S. Carondelet, Cincinnati, Essex, and St. Louis).

The Conestoga had previously steamed up the Tennessee to remove obstructions and explosive mines known as “torpedoes” that Confederates had placed in the river. Foote telegraphed Halleck on the 1st: “I leave early to-morrow with four armored gunboats on an expedition cooperating with the Army. Senior officer will telegraph you during my absence…”

Grant initially instructed his division commanders, Brigadier Generals Charles F. Smith and John A. McClernand, to leave a skeleton force and most of their supplies back at their camps at Paducah, Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois, respectively. This was partly due to rumors that Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard was leading 15 regiments westward from Virginia. However, Halleck instructed Grant, “Make your force as large as possible. I will send more regiments from here (St. Louis) in a few days.”

The expedition began on the 2nd, as Federal troops began boarding the transports at Cairo. Since they could not accommodate all Grant’s soldiers at once, McClernand’s men went first and then the vessels came back to Paducah and collected Smith’s division. Meanwhile, Foote sent his three timber-clads up the Tennessee to clear the way and issued instructions to the gunboat crews:

“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…”

In St. Louis, Halleck exchanged messages with General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio. Halleck and Buell had found it difficult to coordinate their efforts, but when Buell learned that one of Halleck’s armies was targeting Fort Henry, which was technically within Buell’s department, he quickly offered assistance.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Halleck responded that “co-operation at present not essential” because it was “only proposed to take and occupy Fort Henry and Dover (Fort Donelson), and, if possible, cut the railroad from Columbus to Bowling Green.” Halleck continued:

“If we take Fort Henry and concentrate all available forces there, (Confederate) troops must be withdrawn either from Bowling Green (under Buell’s department) or Columbus (under Halleck’s) to protect the railroads. If the former, you can advance, if the latter, we can take New Madrid (in Missouri) and cut off the (Mississippi) river communication with Columbus.”

Grant reported to Halleck on the 3rd: “Will be off up the Tennessee at 6 o’clock. Command, twenty-three regiments in all.” McClernand’s Federals reached the Tennessee aboard nine transports, escorted by the U.S.S. Essex and St. Louis. Among those participating in the expedition, only Grant and Foote knew that capturing Fort Henry was the mission. The Federals were to disembark several miles below the fort, beyond Confederate artillery range. They would then march overland and, with gunboat assistance, attack and capture the fort.

Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman commanded Fort Henry. The fort stood across the Tennessee from Fort Heiman, named for Colonel Adolphus Heiman, Tilghman’s second-in-command. Fort Heiman stood on higher, more defensible ground, but its works were incomplete. Thus most of the Confederate garrison was stationed at Henry. Tilghman had about 3,400 Confederates in Henry, most of whom were armed only with shotguns or obsolete flintlock muskets. The fort had just 12 cannon.

Tilghman observed the advancing Federal gunboats and telegraphed A.S. Johnston that if he received reinforcements immediately, he had “a glorious chance to overwhelm the enemy.” But no reinforcements were on the way, and the river began rising into the fort’s lower tier due to the heavy rains. Tilghman left Colonel Heiman in charge and went to inspect defenses at Fort Donelson, 12 miles east on the Cumberland River.

McClernand’s Federals reached their debarkation point at 4:30 a.m. on the 4th. They landed about eight miles north of (or downriver from) Fort Henry, just south of the Kentucky-Tennessee line on the east bank of the Tennessee River. Considering the terrible roads, Grant considered this too far for an overland advance and tried to find a closer landing.

Grant personally reconnoitered Fort Henry from Foote’s flagship Cincinnati, flanked by two other gunboats. The Federals sought to test the enemy artillery range, and the Confederates obliged by opening fire. Nearly every shot missed except one that struck the cabin of the U.S.S. Essex. The vessels pulled back, Grant having learned what he needed. Federals also retrieved some of the torpedoes moored in the river and examined them.

Returning to his men, Grant directed the transports to take them further upriver to about three miles within Fort Henry. McClernand called this debarkation point Camp Halleck. C.F. Smith’s troops soon came up to join McClernand’s. Grant and Foote developed a plan of attack by which the gunboats would bombard the fort while the troops attacked from the rear to prevent escape. However, the operation was delayed by heavy rain and deep mud.

Meanwhile, with Tilghman still at Fort Donelson, Colonel Heiman received word that a large Federal force had landed five miles away. He called on General Leonidas Polk, commanding all Confederates in the region, for reinforcements but soon realized that they would probably not arrive in time. Heiman began pulling all available nearby troops to take up the defense of Fort Henry.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 12518-26; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 280-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 119-21; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 183-85, 187-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 104-05; Goodwin, Doris Kearns, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 417; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 147-48; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 165-66; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 74; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61-62; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 243