Battle of Fort Donelson (February 11th-16th, 1862)

Control of the rivers was important to both armies during the Civil War. Rivers and railroads served as primary ways to move men and supplies. Forts with powerful artillery (cannons) were built to protect the waterways and soldiers were stationed there as they could fight and move up and down the rivers.

After capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River on February 6, 1862, Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant advanced his men cross-country to take Fort Donelson. He also sent 4 iron clad ships and 3 timberclad gunboats to attack Fort Donelson from the Cumberland River. Heavy artillery that was well positioned along the river stopped the Union's river advance. The first day was primarily Grant's men getting into position. The Southern Cavalry under Colonel Nathan Bedford Forest harassed the Union while the Confederate soldiers dug more trenches outside the Fort's already strong defenses. Day two saw a steady exchange of fire between the troops, but little headway made by the Union, but the Confederate Generals realized that the forces trapped inside Fort Donelson were vital to the protection of Nashville and they must breakout, rather than stay trapped. A blizzard struck on the second night catching the Union soldiers with little war clothing or protection from the cold. On the third day, Union gunboats began their attack, but heavy artillery in the Fort pounded the Union boats disabling two and damaging the others. On the 4th day, Confederate Brigadier-General Gideon J. Pillow lead an attack designed the push the Union troops back and create a path of escape on the Union right. While the Confederate attack achieved success in the early part of the battle, command problems led to Pillow's men regrouping and returning to their original positions.

The night of February 15 to the morning of the 16th was marked with another snowstorm. Many of the wounded froze to death. While General's Pillow and Floyd felt they had achieved a victory, General Buckner informed them that the men could not defend Fort Donelson much longer. General Floyd and General Pillow left via the river while General Buckner sent a letter to General Grant asking for terms of surrender. Grant demanded full and unconditional surrender and earned the nickname, "Unconditional Surrender Grant." At Dover House in Dover Tennessee, just miles from Fort Donelson, Buckner surrendered with more than 12,000 Confederate soldiers becoming prisoners.