Monday, February 6, 2012

Battle of Fort Henry

Ironclads Attacking the Fort
One Hundred and Fifty years ago today Grant attacked the Confederate held Fort Henry. His 15,000 men and seven ships were much more powerful than the weak Confederate garrison in its badly positioned fort. Fort Henry was mostly flooded, with only nine guns remaining above water. Tilghman, the Confederate commander, realized there was no hope of holding the fort, so he pulled out all but a skeleton garrison.
USS Essex
The assault began on February 6th with Flag Officer Foote's seven gun boats sailing into position to attack the fort. The four new ironclads were positioned in front, followed by three wooden ships. This was the first engagement for the ironclads. Fort Henry's guns were at such low elevation that they were not able to effect any serious damage on the gunboats. Their balls hit the strongest parts of the iron plating. However one 32 pound shell did penetrate the Essex. It hit a boiler, which in steam-powered vessels contained hot steam to propel the ship. The boiler was the most vulnerable part of the ironclads because if it was hit it would not only limit its movement, but also would send scalding steam through the ship. That is exactly what happened on the Essex. It suffered thirty-two casualties, including its commander. Although this was a success for the Confederates, they were discouraged by the explosion of one of their cannons, which killed tree men. Another gun was hit by fire from the gunboats and its crew disabled. A third was rendered useless by its crew because while attempting to load it quickly, the priming wire was broken off.

After 75 minutes realizing the defence was hopeless, Tilghman surrendered the fort. Only two of the fort's cannon were in use, and General Tilghman had been manning one himself to attempt to encourage his men. The water was so high inside the fort that a small boat from the fleet sailed directly in through the salley port to accept the surrender. The Confederates suffered around 15 killed and 20 wounded, with almost 100 surrendering.


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