Tag Archives: Fort Henry

From Aden Cavins, 59th Indiana Volunteers

Letter from Captain Aden Cavins, Company E, 59th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, to his wife.

Steamer Nebraska

Tennessee River

April 21, 1862

Indiana State Flag | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

I wrote you yesterday while landed at Fort Massac below Paducah (Kentucky). We are now steaming up the river rapidly. At daylight this morning we passed Fort Henry, which you will remember is twelve miles from Fort Donaldson. We will arrive at Pittsburg Landing about ten o’clock tonight and will not embark until morning. The Tennessee river is a beautiful stream, but there is not much improvement on its banks. The country is partly low, and part beautiful, rolling hills. The whole country is suggestive of poetry and fiction.

I had nothing to write you but not being otherwise engaged I write because it is pleasant to do so to you and because it will also afford you pleasure. You must not be so uneasy about me, for it would be a bloody fight indeed for one-tenth of my men to be killed and one-fifth wounded, so that though none are safe in battle, yet the chances are more in favor than against one. You will find consolation in the reflection that none die before their time comes and that there is a Providence that shapes and controls the destiny of the living and the dead.

When in company with some persons of education, you have heard us speak of the Differentials, or vanishing quantities employed in the higher mathematics. These are quantities infinitely small, but still are quantities. Human life seems to me when compared to the infinite future much like one of these Differentials. It is small, very small. It is a short dream filled up with episodes of light and shade, happiness and sadness.

You remember the beautiful tradition of some of the old Jewish Rabbis. It was that little angels were born every morning of the beautiful streams that go running over the flowers of Paradise, their life was sweet music for one day, then they died and subsided in the waters among the flowers that gave them birth. Forgetfulness soon came over their sweet roseate and musical life, and they are remembered no more forever. Such is that part of our existence called human life. We are born, live but a day, are placed in the temple of “silence and reconciliation” where lie buried the strife and fierce contentions of life. Soon the veil of oblivion is spread over all and there remains no heart beat to commemorate the departed.

I seldom indulge in fancies but merely have deviated from my usual habit on account of the poverty of news, and only do it in this case in view of the freedom I claim in writing to you in any way that judgment or humor may dictate. You are aware that at times a storm of fancies sweep across my mind. I have suppressed them through life, but they will loom up occasionally through the matter-of-fact surface that I have cultivated.

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

The Fort Henry Campaign

January 29, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck received intelligence that convinced him to allow Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote to move against Fort Henry, Tennessee.

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

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

Fort Henry stood on the Tennessee River, across from the uncompleted Fort Heiman near the Tennessee-Kentucky border. Halleck, commanding Federals west of the Cumberland River, had considered seizing this fort to break General Albert Sidney Johnston’s tenuous Confederate line across Kentucky from behind. Taking Fort Henry would also facilitate a drive on Nashville.

Grant, commanding Federals at Cairo, Illinois, and Paducah, Kentucky, within Halleck’s department, telegraphed his superior on the 28th: “With permission, I will take Fort Henry on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there.”

This was not the first time that Grant had asked to take this fort. Previously Brigadier General Charles F. Smith, one of Grant’s subordinates, had reconnoitered the fort aboard the U.S.S. Lexington and reported that it could be taken with two gunboats. Grant went to Halleck’s headquarters at St. Louis to explain this to him. Halleck, wary of Grant’s past reputation for drunkenness, did not want to give him such an important assignment and rejected his plan.

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

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

Grant then consulted with Foote, who deemed the plan solid and explained to Halleck that Fort Henry could “be carried with four iron-clad gunboats and troops to permanently occupy.” Halleck stated that he would not authorize a movement without investigating the condition of the roads. Foote countered that the movement needed to happen now, before the water levels on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers receded. Foote and Grant awaited Halleck’s reply.

The next day, General-in-Chief George B. McClellan notified Halleck that a Confederate deserter claimed that General P.G.T. Beauregard was about to leave northern Virginia for Kentucky with 15 regiments to reinforce A.S. Johnston’s Western Theater department. Halleck also received a message from Grant repeating the reasons why Fort Henry should be taken immediately. This convinced Halleck to approve the proposed operation.

Halleck telegraphed Grant on the 30th: “Make your preparations to take and hold Fort Henry. I will send you written instructions by mail.” Halleck then wrote thorough directives in which Grant would leave behind a force to threaten the Confederates at Columbus, Kentucky, while sending the rest of his men up the Tennessee River (the impassable roads made marching untenable). Halleck declared, “Fort Henry must be taken and held at all hazards.”

Grant was to divide his force into divisions and brigades, avoiding “political influences” while doing so. Halleck wrote, “Don’t let any political applications about brigades and divisions trouble you a particle. All such applications and arrangements are sheer nonsense and will not be regarded.”

Halleck informed both McClellan and Major General Don Carlos Buell, commanding the Federal Department of the Ohio, of the movement against Fort Henry. Since Grant would be operating near Buell’s department, Buell requested details about the plan, including the strength of the force and the launch date. Halleck provided the information as Grant quickly organized his men and put them into motion.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 118-19; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 182-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 102-03; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 147; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 165; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 60-61