Thursday, February 16, 2012

Battle of Fort Donelson - Surrender

Today Confederates were in a bad position in Fort Donelson. The day before they had launched an attack that was temporarily successful, giving them an opportunity to escape, but at the critical moment they fell back to their former positions. General Buckner summarized their position in this way:
I regarded the position of the army as desperate, and that an attempt to extricate it by another battle, in the suffering and exhausted condition of the troops, was almost hopeless. The troops had been worn down with watching, with labor, with fighting. Many of them were frosted by the intensity of the cold; all of them were suffering and exhausted by their incessant labors. There had been no regular issue of rations for a number of days and scarcely any means of cooking. Their ammunition was nearly expended. We were completely invested by a force fully four times the strength of our own. In their exhausted condition they could not have made a march. An attempt to make a sortie would have been resisted by a superior force of fresh troops, and that attempt would have been the signal for the fall of the water batteries and the presence of the enemy’s gunboats sweeping with the fire at close range the positions of our troops, who would thus have been assailed on their front, rear, and right flank at the same instant. The result would have been a virtual massacre of the troops, more disheartening in its effects than a surrender.
In a council of war it was agreed to surrender the next morning. Floyd turned over the command to Pillow. He believed he would be punished by the North for his conduct while Secretary of War, and wanted to try to make his escape. Pillow feared being captured as well, so he turned over the command to Buckner. Buckner saw it as his duty to share the fate of his troops, so he accepted the command, and next morning opened negotiations to surrender.
The Hotel where the negotiations took place
Pillow escaped in a small boat during the night, and Floyd departed with two regiments the next morning on the only available boat. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, the cavalry commander, was very angry. He said he could not and would not surrender, and said, “I did not come here to surrender my command.” He was given permission to attempt to cut his way out. He was successful, Grant having not entirely occupied his former position. He wrote in his report,
I moved out by the road we had gone out the morning before. When about a mile out crossed a deep slough from the river, saddle-skirt deep, and filed into the road to Cumberland Iron Works. ... Over 500 cavalry ... passed, a company of artillery horses ... followed, and a number of men from different regiments, passing over hard-frozen ground. More than two hours had been occupied in passing. Not a gun had been fired at us. Not an enemy had been seen or heard. The enemy could not have reinvested their former position without traveling a considerable distance and camped upon the dead and dying, as there had been great slaughter upon that portion of the field, and I am clearly of the opinion that two-thirds of our army could have marched out without loss, and that, had we continued the fight the next day, we should have gained a glorious victory, as our troops were in fine spirits, believing we had whipped them, and the roads through which we came were open as late as 8 o’clock Sunday morning, as many of my men, who came out afterwards, report.
Forrest escaping Donelson
When Grant received Buckner's request for terms of surrender, Smith said, "I'll make no terms with Rebels with arms in their hands—my terms are unconditional and immediate surrender." Grant agreed, calling for "unconditional and immediate surrender." Buckner protested, but accepted none the less. Between 12,000 and 15,000 troops were captured with their supplies, along with almost 50 cannon.

Surrendered troops in Donelson
This had been a bloody battle for both sides. The North suffered 507 killed, 1,976 wounded and 208 missing, the South 327 killed and 1,127 wounded. This, along with the Battle of Fort Henry, was the first real victory the North had gained. Church bells were rung throughout the North, and Grant became a hero. He had captured more enemy troops than all previous American generals combined, and he was nicknamed "Unconditional Surrender" Grant because of his initials, U.S. The battle also opened the way for the invasion of the South, and took away thousands of troops that the Confederacy desperately needed to fight this invasion. This battle was lost primarily because of the incompetence and cowardice of the commanding generals, two of which fled to avoid sharing the fate of their men, life as a prisoner of war.


Post a Comment