Fort Henry, February 6, 1862

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 6.14.20 PM.pngBy February 1862, Fort Henry, a Confederate earthen fort on the Tennessee River with outdated guns, was partially inundated and the river threatened to flood the rest. On February 4-5, Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant landed his divisions in two different locations, one on the east bank of the Tennessee River to prevent the garrison’s escape and the other to occupy the high ground on the Kentucky side which would insure the fort’s fall; Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote’s seven gunboats began bombarding the fort.  Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, commander of the fort’s garrison, realized that it was only a matter of time before Fort Henry fell. While leaving artillery in the fort to hold off the Union fleet, he escorted the rest of his force out of the area and sent them safely off on the route to Fort Donelson, 10 miles away. Tilghman then returned to the fort and, soon afterwards, surrendered to the fleet, which had engaged the fort and closed within 400 yards. Fort Henry’s fall opened the Tennessee River to Union gunboats and shipping as far as Muscle Shoals, Alabama. After the fall of Fort Donelson, ten days later, the two major water transportation routes in the Confederate west, bounded by the Appalachians and the Mississippi River, became Union highways for movement of troops and material. – CWSAC summary

Union victory

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For further reading

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When General Ulysses S. Grant targeted Forts Henry and Donelson, he penetrated the Confederacy at one of its most vulnerable points, setting in motion events that would elevate his own status, demoralize the Confederate leadership and citizenry, and, significantly, tear the western Confederacy asunder. More to the point, the two battles of early 1862 opened the Tennessee River campaign that would prove critical to the ultimate Union victory in the Mississippi Valley. In Grant Invades Tennessee, award-winning Civil War historian Timothy B. Smith gives readers a battlefield view of the fight for Forts Henry and Donelson, as well as a critical wide-angle perspective on their broader meaning in the conduct and outcome of the war. The first comprehensive tactical treatment of these decisive battles, this book completes the trilogy of the Tennessee River campaign that Smith began in Shiloh and Corinth 1862, marking a milestone in Civil War history.

Whether detailing command-level decisions or using eye-witness anecdotes to describe events on the ground, walking readers through maps or pulling back for an assessment of strategy, this finely written work is equally sure on matters of combat and context. Beginning with Grant’s decision to bypass the Confederates’ better-defended sites on the Mississippi, Smith takes readers step-by-step through the battles: the employment of a flotilla of riverine war ships along with infantry and land-based artillery in subduing Fort Henry; the lesser effectiveness of this strategy against Donelson’s much stronger defense, weaponry, and fighting forces; the surprise counteroffensive by the Confederates and the role of their commanders’ incompetence and cowardice in foiling its success. Though casualties at the two forts fell far short of bloodier Civil War battles to come, the importance of these Union victories transcend battlefield statistics. Grant Invades Tennessee allows us, for the first time, to clearly see how and why.

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