Tag Archives: Tennessee River

Forrest Prepares for a New Raid

October 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry troopers attacked Federal forces on the Tennessee River and prepared to launch a new raid on Federal supply transports in Tennessee.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Last month, Forrest and his men had tried disrupting Federal supply lines along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. This was part of the Confederate effort to starve Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals into abandoning Georgia. However, a lack of ammunition and supplies forced Forrest to cut his raid short.

Forrest’s troopers reunited to attack the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad near Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates then turned back south, wrecking track, destroying bridges, and capturing numerous blockhouses built to stop them along the way. They drove a Federal force out of Columbia and then continued southwest to Lawrenceburg. On the 5th, they returned to their starting point at Florence, Alabama, before finally stopping at Corinth, Mississippi.

In 13 days, Forrest’s command had inflicted about 3,360 casualties (including 2,360 captured), destroyed miles of railroad track and many blockhouses and bridges, and captured 800 horses, seven guns, some 2,000 small arms, and 50 wagons filled with much-needed supplies. The damage done to the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad would require six weeks to repair. The troopers sustained just 340 casualties (47 killed and 293 wounded).

However, Forrest did not accomplish his main goal, which was to force Sherman out of Georgia. Consequently, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, ordered Forrest to lead 3,500 men on another raid. The new target would be Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River. This marked the terminus of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, which Sherman’s Federals used extensively for supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals sent an expedition up the Tennessee River to confront Forrest’s troopers. As Federal troops debarked their transports east of Corinth at Eastport, Forrest’s men used shore batteries to attack the squadron. The Confederates disabled the transports Aurora and Kenton, sending them drifting downriver. The gunboat Undine went after the disabled transports, while the gunboat Key West covered the troops as they crowded aboard the remaining transport, the City of Peking.

Forrest’s new raid began on the 19th, when his command left Corinth and headed northwest toward Jackson, Tennessee. Nine days later, the Confederates turned northeast, crossed the Big Sandy River, and arrived at Paris Landing on the Tennessee, about 30 miles north of Johnsonville near the Kentucky state line. The troopers quickly began obstructing the river to stop Federal traffic around Forts Heiman and Henry.

After setting up artillery on either end of a five-mile length of riverbank, the Confederates captured the transport Mazeppa, which carried a load of 9,000 pairs of shoes. The Confederates then attacked the gunboat Undine and the transports Venus and Cheeseman. They captured all these vessels as well, giving Forrest a makeshift “navy” with which to attack Johnsonville in early November.



Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465, 470, 473, 477, 481-82; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12573-619, 12982-3002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504, 506, 508, 511, 515-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 577-78, 582, 585-86, 590-91

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.

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.



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