- 07 Feb 2020 13:17
February 7, Friday
General Grant makes a personal reconnaissance of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland near Dover, Tennessee, and his force establishes itself near captured Fort Henry. However, the capture of Fort Henry, resounding victory though it is, has put the Federal army in a dangerously exposed position—Grant cannot expect to hold his prize long if he doesn’t take Fort Donelson. Back in St. Louis, Major General Halleck understands the threat. Even as he reinforces Grant for an advance, he sends him entrenching tools and tells him to improve his position to use as a base. But Grant will sidestep the order; Fort Henry is still flooded, and anyway, he is going to Donelson. But not right away, Halleck is sending 10,000 more men and Grant wants to wait for them to arrive. Even more important, Flag Officer Andrew Foote needs several days to go down the Tennessee River, pause at Cairo for repairs, and then take his fleet up the Cumberland to Fort Donelson.
Confederate General A.S. Johnston, realizing his Kentucky line has been wrecked, hurries troops into Donelson. General Gideon Pillow from Clarksville, Tennessee, and General John B. Floyd from Russellville, Kentucky, are ordered to Donelson. At Bowling Green, Kentucky, Johnston, Beauregard, and William Joseph Hardee meet to discuss the extremely serious situation. Johnson knows that his magnificent bluff, which has kept some Federal commanders in a state of nervous prostration for five months, has at last been called. In spite of the time he has bought the Confederacy has failed to muster the men and weapons to defend Tennessee. At this point, Johnston has about 45,000 troops in total. He is opposed by better-armed forces of at least twice that number, including Grant’s small advance army, Halleck’s men in Missouri, and Buell’s army in Kentucky. The last alone is larger than Johnston’s entire force. With the Federals in Fort Henry, Johnston’s position at Bowling Green and Polk’s fortified position at Columbus are separated and can be taken by Grant from the flank and rear. Johnston has decided his only recourse is to abandon Bowling Green, Columbus, and Fort Donelson and move south to positions below the Tennessee River in Alabama. Since he has been holding Bowling Green to defend Nashville, the withdrawal means abandoning that important center of commerce and industry. General Beauregard, sent to the West as Johnston’s second-in-command after quarreling with President Davis over the conduct of the War, is so dismayed to learn of their weak position that he’s ready to go back to Virginia. But Johnston talks him into staying and explains his retreat plan. Beauregard suggests massing the entire army at Fort Donelson, smashing Grant, then wheeling to deal with the huge Federal army in Kentucky. But Johnston fears that if the plan fails the Confederate cause in the West will be in a shambles. The retreat will go on as planned.
The populace North and South soon hear the news of the momentous, or tragic, breakthrough.
At Pamlico Sound behind Hatteras Inlet, North Carolina, the sun has come out and General Burnside’s ships make their way to Roanoke Island. In the front of the fleet, gunboats form their battle line to begin a bombardment of Fort Bartow, the southernmost of the strongpoints on the west side of the island. In the western channel seven of the eight tiny Confederate gunboats make a menacing show from behind a barrier of sunken pilings, though Flag Officer Lynch has decided not to attack—he will conserve what little strength he has by trying to lure the Federal ships into the obstructions in the channel, hopefully reducing their maneuverability and giving the “mosquito fleet” a chance to make itself felt. If the Federals actually get through the obstructions, Forts Blanchard and Huger on Roanoke’s west coast and the beached barge Fort Forrest on the mainland can catch them in a crossfire. At about 11:30 am, the Federal gunboats open fire on Fort Bartow, just south of the sunken pilings.
While the US Navy keeps the defenders busy, the US Army lands a small party of soldiers and a topographical engineer at Ashby’s Harbor, two miles south of Fort Bartow, to check if the “most valuable information as to the nature of the shore of the island” provided to General Burnside by a recently escaped slave is accurate. Though fired upon as they are leaving, the scouting party reports that conditions are favorable for a landing. At about 3 pm large longboats full of soldiers and pulled by steamers, twenty to a ship, approach the island until the ships veer off, the towlines are cut, and the oarsmen row swiftly to the beachhead. It is the first large amphibious landing of the War, and a signal success. In less than an hour 4,000 men have waded ashore, and by midnight 10,000 Union soldiers are on the beach at Ashby’s Harbor, making temporary camp in a chilling rain and preparing for the next day’s fighting.
During all this, Goldsborough’s gunboats continue to pound Fort Bartow. The “mosquito fleet” twice ventures out from behind the sunken pilings, trying to draw the enemy ships north toward the guns of Forts Huger, Blanchard, and Forrest, to no avail. The Federals refuse to take the bait, though they do respond with fire of their own. The CSS Forrest is hit and retires from the fight, and Commander Thomas Hunter is forced to ground the CSS Curlew lest she sink—on the mainland coast, right in front of Fort Forrest, blocking the aim of the fort’s guns.
Meanwhile, to the north, Federals reoccupy Romney, western Virginia, as Confederates pull back toward Winchester, Virginia.
There is a small expedition and skirmish at Flint Hill and Hunter’s Mill, Virginia.
Federal batteries shell Harper’s Ferry briefly.
In Mew Mexico Territory, Confederate Brigadier General Sibley leads his brigade out of Fort Thorn up the Rio Grande to attack Fort Craig. His mounted column now totals 2,515 effectives—many of those he led west across Texas have already been lost to disease—and include 15 artillery pieces. Accompanying the troops are a long supply train and a herd of beef cattle. Silbey has already sent one of Colonel Baylor’s companies of about 100 men, led by Captain Sherod Hunter, riding eastward to occupy Tucson and keep watch for Union troops that might threaten them from California. Lieutenant Colonel Canby is waiting at Fort Craig with 3,810 men. Only 900 of them are Regulars, an assortment of infantry companies along with some cavalry. The rest are New Mexico volunteers, including Kit Carson’s regiment, a company of New Mexican scouts, some state militia, and a company of Colorado volunteers who have rushed to New Mexico in response to Canby’s appeal for assistance. It’s a mixed bag of troops, some of doubtful reliability, but the fort provides a strong position on the west bank of the Rio Grande. (Kit Carson, the famous explorer and guide, had enlisted at the beginning of the war, and by the summer of 1861 was a newly-commissioned lieutenant colonel.)
In the White House in Washington Willie Lincoln, youngest son of the President, lies critically ill.
We are divorced, North from South, because we have hated each other so.
—Mary Chesnut, 1861
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.