Ormsby M. Mitchel

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150 Years Ago: Friday, February 14, 1862

At Fort Donelson, Tennessee, the soldiers on both sides wake up to three inches of snow. The temperature is below freezing, and the men find their guns and wagons frozen to the ground. It’s vastly different conditions from just a few days before, when they were dealing with endless rain and flooding.

Though the Confederate soldiers are ready as ever to put up a fight to save the fort, Confederate military leaders have known from the beginning that there would likely be no other outcome but to lose Donelson and retreat to Nashville or Memphis. But they could not just hand over Donelson and surrender to the rebel Union forces like they did at Fort Henry. This morning C.S.A. Brigadier General Gideon Pillow readies his soldiers to attempt a breakout, but he postpones the attempt when one of his aides is killed by a sniper. From that attack Pillow incorrectly concludes that their movements have been detected and delays any attempts to escape for today.

Though U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s ground forces have already put the squeeze around Donelson, the final piece of the puzzle arrives in the early afternoon hours: U.S. Commodore Andrew Foote’s flotilla of six ironclads and an additional 10,000 reinforcements brought via transport ships. The additional troops are immediately used to reinforce Brigadier General John A. McClernand’s right flank. The ironclads are met with fierce fire from the fort; the enemy lands more than 150 shots and kill a number of Union soldiers. But at the end of the day the Union still maintains the advantage on water and land.

In St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. Brigadier General William Tecumseh Sherman is put in command of the District of Cairo, Department of the Missouri. He is given orders to transfer immediately to Paducah, Kentucky and take command of that post. Once Sherman arrives he is to immediately assist in expediting operations up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Major General Henry Halleck is not completely behind what Grant is trying to accomplish, but in Washington City Major General George B. McClellan supports the move to take Donelson. Because of McClellan, it pushes Halleck to support Grant in ways he doesn’t entirely agree with, such as providing reinforcements or using Sherman to assist in operations. Also resisting support of Grant is Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell, who has been operating in Union-friendly eastern Tennessee. Though there have been many requests for reinforcements from Buell, he does not agree with the strategy and refuses to provide assistance.

Residents in Bowling Green, Kentucky must deal with a change in control over their city; Union troops commanded by Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel arrive to occupy the city that was evacuated yesterday by the Confederates.

Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston sends correspondence to Secretary of War Judah Benjamin, confirming that he’s received orders to move four regiments to Knoxville, Tennessee. He also notifies Benjamin that he’s concerned over their ability to reenforce the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, as the recent furlough system that is being utilized to get men to re-enlist has reduced their force by almost a third.

By order of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton issues Executive Order No. 1, in which general amnesty and pardons will be given for all political prisoners who consent to a loyalty oath. It also gives Stanton the authority to refuse the amnesty/pardon for any individual deemed as a spy or potentially harmful to U.S. citizens.

From her plantation in North Carolina, Catherine Edmondston writes an entry in her diary at the close of Valentine’s Day:

The mail tonight brought Mr Edmondston a Commission as Lieut Col of Cavalry in the service of the Confederate States! Ah! me, I ought to be happier than I am but the prospect of long and uncertain separation eclipses for the present the glory & honour of serving his country.  After all I am but an “Earthen vessel,” but Courage!  I will be a vessel made to honour!  Courage! I will be worthy of my blood, of my husband.  Yes, I am glad, glad that he can serve that land to which we owe so much, our home, our native-land.  The Cotton creeps slowly away.  I go out & count the bales & do numberless sums in addition & subtraction, calculating how long ere it be all gone!

Susan came down today & made a strong appeal to Kate Miller to go up with her.  The Misses Smith being gone, she feels lonely, but Kate was staunch & steadily refused to leave me.  Then came the resort to me, backed by a message from Father that he had sent the carriage and expected me, but I declined & to Sue’s chagrin wrote and gave my reasons, in which McCullamore fully sustained me.

Young Selden of Norfolk, nephew of my friend Mrs Henry Selden, had his head blown entirely off by a shell at Roanoke Island! What sorrow for his family!

How differently has this Valentine’s Day been passed from the last! Then I was peacefully planting fruit trees at Hascosea. Today, in the face of a stern reality am I packing up my household goods to remove them from the enemy. Ah, this water and these roads!

150 Years Ago: Thursday, February 13, 1862

Though U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant has ordered that no attacks are to be carried out against the Confederate defenses at Fort Donelson, there are a few small probing attacks that occur under the direction of Brigadier General John McClernand. These attacks result in no real gain and light casualties. Though everyone is eager to take the fort, they must wait for the repaired gunboats to arrive from Cairo, Illinois. Grant knows that a coordinated attack by water and land is necessary for a victory.

Though the weather has mostly been wet during the Fort Henry & Donelson campaign, tonight a snow storm arrives with strong winds that bring temperatures down to 10 degrees. Because they are close to enemy lines and active sharpshooters, the soldiers on both sides cannot light campfires for warmth or cooking. Many men are miserable, having arrived without coats or blankets.

At the end of the day, Confederate Brigadier General Simon Buckner sends a dispatch to his superiors on the state of Donelson:

“The day has almost passed. We still hold our own. We have repulsed the enemy, driven back his gunboats, and whipped him by land and water. He still lies around, and will probably attack us again tomorrow. Our loss is not very great. That of the enemy must be heavy. We had lively fighting and heavy cannonading all around our line all day. We repulsed the enemy everywhere, and are satisfied that we injured his gunboats materially, as he retired twice. Our lines were entrenched all around.”

Bowling Green, Kentucky is also preparing for a Union attack. The town is currently occupied by the Confederacy, but troops led by U.S. Brigadier General Ormsby M. Mitchel are determined to push the Confederates out. The Confederate government considers Kentucky to be a part of their alliance, but officially Kentucky has not seceded from the Union. Both the Union and Confederate Presidents – Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, respectively – were born in Kentucky and have an attachment to the State. Neither want to see it go to the enemy and both will dedicate forces to keep it within their power.

Frederick Douglass, 1856
Source: Library of Congress

At the Cooper Institute in New York City, former slave and current leader of the abolitionist movement Frederick Douglass gives a speech to a packed auditorium. The police presence is great, though it’s luckily not necessary. Douglass gives a great performance, flawlessly making important points combined with humor throughout. At one point, Douglass states:

“There is nothing in the behavior of the colored race in the United States in this crisis, that should prevent him from being proud of being a colored citizen of the United States. They have traitors of all other nations in Fort Lafayette as cold as (recently arrested Charles P.) Stone, but they have no black man charged with disloyalty during this war. Yet, black men were good enough to fight by the side of Washington and Jackson, and are not good enough to fight beside McClellan and Halleck.”

Douglass concludes his speech by making an elaborate argument in support of the capacity of the black race for self government. He states:

“If the slave can take care of his master and mistress, he can take care of himself.”

After spending the last few weeks repairing and rebuilding roads in Cumberland Ford in Kentucky, Private John F. McClelland with Company B, Ohio 16th Volunteer Infantry writes a letter to his wife Rachel, sent along with a Valentine for his two daughters in Millersburg, Ohio. His regiment was mustered in for three years of service on December 2, 1861.

Rachel – I send Lucy & Allie a Valentine. I want them to keep it till I get home.

I was standing in ranks when the Major came up to me & says he you have got quite a belly. I showed him how much I had fallen away. I tole him that I thought my wife would like me better when I went home. Major laughed and says he yes small belly and long absence will make her like you better. Well Rachel I suppose you think I am growing foolish. I write to you just as though I was talking to you. Nothing more at present.

J. McClelland

Is the boy who can carry himself straight any how. Thats So.

(Letter transcribed as written)

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