17th Illinois letter regarding Fort Donelson

Fort Donelson, Tenn.
Feb. 22nd 1862
Cousin Gifford,
When I wrote to you last I was in good quarters at Cape Girardeau, Mo. & I thought that we would probably stay there all winter, but two weeks ago today we left for Fort Henry in Tenn. at which place we arrived at on Sunday night after its surrender to Com. Foot.  We remained there one day when we was ordered to move forward on to Fort Donelson some fifteen miles further on the Cumberland River.  On Tuesday night Feb. 11th we left Fort Henry & march only four miles when we encamped for the night.  Wednesday morning 12th at day light we resumed our line of march on to Fort Donelson.
When we had arrived within about four miles of the fort our advance guard had a little skirmish with the enemy and drove them back into their fort.  We then surrounded them on all sides but the river side.  When the gun boats arrived & gaveled that point we layed on our arms all night so as to be ready at any moment.  Thursday 13th we commenced firing on them this morning without cannon with some little effect.  At one o’clock in the afternoon our regiment and the forty ninth, under the brave Col. Morrison made a charge on the enemy breastwork.  He was in front of the line cheering us on when his horse was shot & he fell slight wounded & was carried off of the field.  The firing was most terrific for about one hour on both sides.  We advanced within 25 yards of their breastworks when they throwed whole bags of shot at once at us out of their cannon besides any amount of round shot, grape, canisters & shell.
So finely we had to retire with considerable loss.  We lost out of our regiment some ten killed & about sixty wounded.  I do not know how many the 49th lost but probably about the same.  We probably would of lost more if we had not layed down so that their shots went over our heads one could not see fifteen feet ahead of him for the dense smoke.  The enemy lost a great many as well as we did.  Friday 14th – It rained & snowed all last night so that we had to lean up again a tree to sleep.  Our company was out skirmishing the most of the night.  The enemy pickets was firing all night.  We layed on the ground all day supporting Taylors batteries.  If you want to learn to dodge corn etc. try to dodge them cannon balls & shell.  When a ball or shell would come over you would see every man fall on his face trying to dodge them, but we could not always do it for every now & then a shell would come & knock a man’s head off right side of you.
Saturday morning the 15th at day light we open again on them from our batteries with considerable effect while our mess was cooking a little coffee that morning the first for some time for we was very hungry.  We had nothing to eat for two or three days but two hard crackers a day.  We had just turned it out into our cups & was going to drink it when a shell from one of the enemies guns struck in the top of a large tree that we was standing under& burst throwing sticks & stuff all over us & spilling our coffee.  We was then ordered to fall in immediately & go & support Taylors batteries of light artillery & then come the heavy fighting on our right which lasted nearly all day.  Dud Holmes (Co. F, 8th IL.) was shot through heart the first volley before he had time to discharge his gun he died instantly.  The enemy out flanked us so that we had to fall back about a mile.  We then received reinforcements & moved forward on to them again & drove them into their entrenchments & further to for Col. Cook made a charge on their work & drove them back at the point of the bayonet.  By that time it was night & we had to quit until morning.  We layed on our arms all night so as to be ready in the morning.  Sunday the 16th we was about to open on them again when they hoisted a white flag & surrendered to Genl. Grant about day light.  If there was not a few cheers given then there never was.  We captured some fifteen thousand prisoners all their arms, camp equipage, horses, cannon & etc. We marched into the fort with our band playing Yankee Doodle and Dixey.
The fort was considered one of the strongest positions in the south.  We probably had some forty or fifty thousand troops engaged that of the enemy about thirty thousand.  Our loss is very heavy but I think that the enemy lost more than we did.  I suppose that you have read the particulars of it in the papers before you can get this.  Give my respects to Aunt & all the rest of the family.  What is thereason that you do not write oftener that you do.  You certainly have better convenience that I have.  Give my respects to your female friends.
I remain yours & etc.
Alex W. Hack U.S.A.
Note:
Hack was a member of the 17th Illinois Infantry and from Peoria. ILL
He enlisted on 5/25/61
As of 4/27/10 this letter was for sale here.

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