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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!

Daily Highlights/Updates – February 13, 2012

Daily Highlights/Updates – February 10, 2012

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)

150 Years Ago: Wednesday, February 12, 1862

C.S.A. Major General Thomas J. Jackson provides an update to General Joseph E. Johnston, who is in charge of operations in Northern Virginia. Jackson informs Johnston that since the Confederates pulled out of Romney, Virginia (TCWP note: Present-day Romney is located in West Virginia), Union troops have since returned to retake possession. The Union is also moving approximately 3,000 troops 26 miles south to Moorefield. But the most important news is regarding re-enlistments, as the Confederacy is in desperate need to not only recruit, but to retain who they have. Jackson has provided those who re-list with an incentive: an authorized furlough. So far the results are encouraging.

The Alton Military Prison has only been in operation for three days but it’s already facing overcrowding issues. Chas C. Smith, U.S. Captain of the 13th Infantry, sends a letter to U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank letting him know that he received yet another shipment of prisoners last night. They have rented buildings adjacent to the prison for storage and the quartermaster’s department, and the resident surgeon is looking for a suitable building for a hospital but has yet to find one. So far there has been no trouble with any of the prisoners, but soon there will not be room for the 13th Infantry to have quarters within the prison walls.

Under U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s instructions, most of the Union troops depart Fort Henry this morning and proceed about five miles utilizing Dover and Ridge Roads. Along the route troops are met by C.S.A. Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, who is utilizing his cavalry to screen their movements. When Forrest observes a change of direction made by McClernand’s division after an initial encounter, he makes a quick decision to move his cavalry to Indian Creek, where they will wait to intercept them.

Three of Forrest’s squadrons dismount and wait for the large Union force to arrive. Once they do, Forrest orders a charge. The Union cavalry are given orders to move out of the way before the charge, leaving the 8th Illinois to take on Forrest and his men. The infantry opens a terrific fire at short range against the charging Confederate cavalry. A Union Battery arrives shortly after the firing begins and assists in breaking up the attack. Forrest withdraws his men behind the shelter of the Fort for the evening.

The USS Carondelet is the first Union gunboat to arrive up the river. They promptly fire numerous shells into Fort Donelson to test the strength of its defenses. There are no casualties or damage from the act. They pull out of range and await their orders for tomorrow.

Grant finally arrives at nightfall, where he sets up headquarters at Widow Crisp’s house. This puts him near the left side of the front of the line and a mile from the Cumberland River.

Over 740 miles away in Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has spent most of his 53rd birthday at the bedside of 11-year-old son Willie. Willie has been very ill for over ten days now and is growing weaker and more shadow-like each day that passes. He is not allowed to see other children and is too ill to get out of bed, so the President and his wife Mary have been spending most of their time at Willie’s bedside. They comfort and sooth their child, read him stories and remind him that Tad and his favorite pony that he always insisted on riding every day are waiting for him to get better. The White House staff, including dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, also take turns keeping Willie company so he is never left alone. Willie is a favorite among the White House staff; he’s intelligent and vivacious, but has a kind and tender heart. To see him in this state is almost too much for them to bear, but all they can do is pray for him to get better.

150 Years Ago: Tuesday, February 11, 1862

Fort Lafayette (New York)
Source: Library of Congress

Former U.S. Brigadier General Charles P. Stone arrives at Fort Lafayette today. His journey from Washington City was a bit comical; when he switched trains in Philadelphia another ticket had to be purchased and there was confusion among those guarding him as to who should pay. To put an end to the disagreement Stone pays for his own ticket. Once he arrives to the prison he is immediately put into solitary confinement. He is allowed to hire a private attorney as he awaits to be given the charges against him; he still has no idea what he is being held for.

Back on February 6, U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant had anticipated that his men would take Fort Donelson by the 8th. It’s five days later and Grant’s ground troops and the naval squadron have not yet departed for Donelson. Due to weeks of heavy rains, rising flood waters have now completely submerged Fort Henry. This meant that troops had to spend time first carrying supplies away from the rising flood waters before they could prepare for their next move. Now the ground troops face horrible road conditions on the twelve mile march to Donelson and Union Commander Andrew Foote’s naval squadron is not yet back from repairs in Cairo, Illinois that were needed after the Fort Henry attack.

Grant understands that the longer he waits to attack, the more time the Confederates will have to provide reinforcements to Donelson. This morning he holds a council of war; all generals except for Brigadier General John McClernand (who has some reservations) support his plans for his attack on Donelson. From the Headquarters District in Cairo, U.S. Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain John A. Rawlins writes and delivers orders from Grant to the commanders involved that they will start for Donelson tomorrow, along with preliminary instructions as to the routes and order of the Divisions.

From Clarksville, Tennessee, C.S.A. Brigadier General Simon Buckner sends a brief, private dispatch:

“Fort Donelson is safe, and can not be taken.”

150 Years Ago: Monday, February 10, 1862

The mood at Fort Donelson, Tennessee is a somber one. Days ago they had to abandon Fort Henry, and everyone knows an attack on Donelson is eminent. Those who managed to evacuate Fort Henry before the attack have arrived, and additional reinforcements recommended by General P.G.T. Beauregard are on the way from nearby Clarksville. Holding Donelson is crucial; if the Union takes it, it will give them control of the center of the State and split the Confederate forces in two. Among the 16,000 Confederate infantry are men from Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia.

Joseph Henry, one of the leading scientists in the U.S., has been trying to convince Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that there is a need for a scientific consulting body. Many citizens are attempting to contribute to the war effort by submitting inventions and related proposals to the government. In order to expedite the evaluation of these approvals, Henry proposed a formation of an advisory agency for the testing of new weapons. Welles has finally agreed and starts to form an organization to review inventions and technical developments.

Though everyone is affected by the war in some way, that doesn’t mean that the fun stops completely. Many people come out for the Skating Carnival in Brooklyn, New York to take advantage of the frozen east river; those that don’t skate, watch…but everyone appears to have a good time. To take advantage of a normal activity that was enjoyed before this long war started is a great privilege.

Ice Skating Carnival in Brooklyn
Source: Harper’s Weekly (2/22/1862 edition)

150 Years Ago: Sunday, February 9, 1862

It’s 2am in Washington City and U.S. Provost Marshal Major George Sykes and 18 members of the U.S. Third Infantry arrive at The Willard hotel to arrest U.S. Brigadier General Charles P. Stone. Sykes has no charges to present and isn’t exactly sure what the reason is; but he does know that Sykes is to be taken by train to Fort Lafayette, an island coastal fortification off of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. “Why, Fort Lafayette is where they send secessionists! I have been as true a soldier to the Government as any in service,” replies Stone when he is told the news. He had been relieved from command by Major General George B. McClellan days earlier and was unaware that any other action was going to be taken. After being calmed by his wife Fanny and at the suggestion of Sykes, Stone changes into civilian clothes for the journey. He is kept in a nearby building until morning and then boards a train for the two day journey.

Death of Colonel Baker, October 21, 1861
Source: Library of Congress

Unknown to Stone, the unofficial charges against him are serious and involve the his conduct in the battle of Ball’s Bluff back in October 1861. It was during this battle that U.S. Senator and Colonel Edward D. Baker was killed; this not only enraged Congress, but also President Abraham Lincoln. Baker had been a close family friend, so close that the Lincoln’s had named their second born after him (though little Eddie Lincoln died in 1850 when he was four years old).

Due to the combination of losing one of their own, the defeat in battle and the death of over 1,000 Union soldiers (against the Confederate’s 160 dead), Congress formed the first Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. This led to questioning key military personnel involved in the battle, and with McClellan being untouchable the focus turned to who was second in command for this particular engagement: Charles P. Stone. Congress eventually comes to the conclusion that Stone should be charged with the following:

  • Misbehavior at the battle of Ball’s Bluff
  • Holding correspondence with the enemy before and since the battle of Ball’s Bluff, and receiving visits from rebel officers in his camp
  • Treacherously allowing the enemy to build a fort or strong work since the battle of Ball’s Bluff, under his guns without molestation
  • A treacherous design to expose his force to capture and destruction by the enemy, under pretense of orders for a movement from Commanding General which had not been given.

But this West Point graduate and former brevet First Lieutenant who was praised for his “gallant and meritorious conduct” during the Mexican War has no clue about any of this. Based on the Articles of War, the U.S. government has eight days to notify Stone of the charges.

In Alton, Illinois, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Sidney Burbank and companies from the U.S. 13th Infantry Division arrive to the newly renovated military prison. Major General Henry Halleck has already furnished some general orders on how the prison is to be managed:

“You will arrange so that the officers may be confined apart from the men. The medical officer of your command will have the general charge of the sick, aided by the surgeons, prisoners of war. The sick prisoners of war will be in all respects treated as our own sick soldiers. The two officers next in rank to yourself and the surgeon of your command will be constituted a board, to examine and decide what articles of clothing are necessary for the health and proper cleanliness of the prisoners where not furnished by their own Government or friends, and you will make the necessary requisitions on the quartermaster’s department at Saint Louis for such articles as may be needed. The prisoners will be required to sign a receipt for any articles of clothing issued to them, the same as in the case of our enlisted men, the issue in all cases to be witnessed by a commissioned officer.”

Also arriving today are the prisoners of war from McDowell’s College in Missouri. They not only include Confederate soldiers, but southern sympathizers, saboteurs, spies and guerrilla fighters. They are also not only men; several women are also among them. They land via steamer and are ordered to march from the river landing to the prison. Along their path are a group of local residents, many who spit and shout at them as they pass by.

As the Confederates continue to prepare for an attack at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, General Albert Sidney Johnston makes a change in command. Though his first preference is General P.G.T. Beauregard, he instead places Brigadier General Gideon Pillow in command of the fort. Pillow replaces Simon Buckner and Bushrod J. Johnson.

Up the river in Fort Henry, Tennessee, U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Field Order No. 5 stating that there is to be no pilfering or marauding. Every offense will be tracked to a responsible party, so even the military leaders may be held responsible if they can’t identify the guilty party or if they don’t provide prompt punishment. He writes:

“In an enemy’s country, where so much more could be done by a manly and humane policy to advance the cause which we all have so deeply at heart, it is astonishing that men can be found so wanton as to destroy, pillage, and burn indiscriminately, without inquiry.”

Grant also writes a letter to his sister Mary, who currently lives in Covington, Kentucky:

Dear Sister,

I take my pen in hand “away down in Dixie” to let you know that I am still alive and well. What the next few days may bring forth, however, I can’t tell you. I intend to keep the ball moving as lively as possible, and have only been detained here from the fact that the Tennessee is very high and has been rising ever since we have been here, overflowing the back land and making it necessary to bridge it before we could move.—Before receiving this you will hear by telegraph of Fort Donelson being attacked.—Yesterday I went up the Tennessee River twenty odd miles, and to-day crossed over near the Cumberland River at Fort Donelson.—Our men had a little engagement with the enemy’s pickets, killing five of them, wounding a number, and, expressively speaking, “gobbling up” some twenty-four more.

If I had your last letter at hand I would answer it. But I have not and therefore write you a very hasty and random letter, simply to let you know that I believe you still remember me. Whilst writing I am carrying on a conversation with my Staff and others.

Julia will be with you in a few days and possibly I may accompany her. This is barely possible, depending upon having full possession of the line from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson, and upon being able to quit for a few days without retarding any contemplated movement. This would not leave me free more than one day however.

You have no conception of the amount of labor I have to perform. An army of men all helpless, looking to the commanding officer for every supply. Your plain brother, however, has as yet no reason to feel himself unequal to the task, and fully believes that he will carry on a successful campaign against our rebel enemy. I do not speak boastfully but utter a presentiment. The scare and fright of the rebels up here is beyond conception. Twenty three miles above here some were drowned in their haste to retreat, thinking us such vandals that neither life nor property would be respected. G.J. Pillow commands at Fort Donelson. I hope to give him a tug before you receive this.

U.S.G.

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