150 Years Ago: Thursday, February 6, 1862

U.S. Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to take Fort Henry, Tennessee are to be a joint naval and land effort. Due to the heavy rains, Grant’s troops are dealing with deep mud and overflowing streams along their path and their presence is delayed. Union Commander Andrew Foote tells his fellow gunboat captains that “It must be victory or death.” Even though Grant’s soldiers have not arrived, the gunboats and the ironclad U.S.S. Essex open fire on the fort at the designated time of 12:30pm.

Battle of Fort Henry (By Currier & Ives)

Inside the fort, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman instructs his men to return fire. He had sent more than 3,000 of his troops towards Fort Donelson over the last 48 hours. Approximately 100 men remain to fight; the goal is not to hold the fort, but to buy as much time for the others to get as far away as possible from the enemy. With most of the fort and artillery under high river water, they do the best with what they have. They land hits on every one of the Yankee’s gunboats, though the damage is minimal. It’s not enough. By 1:30pm, Tilghman raises the white flag of surrender. He estimates his losses at 15 killed and 20 wounded.

Foote accepts the surrender and captures the Confederates as prisoners of war. The Union had fared very well with the exception of one deadly hit. A Confederate shell had slammed through the boiler of the Essex and exploded it, wounding and killing 48 men.

Grant and his men arrive at the fort with the naval victory complete. Troops quickly secure the fort. Grant sends the Essex and two gunboats back to Cairo, Illinois for repairs and to pick up reinforcements. Grant calculates that the ships can be back and ready for battle on the 8th against his next target: Fort Donelson. He can’t afford to wait, as he knows Confederate reinforcements are heading there. Donelson will not fall as easy as Fort Henry.

In Washington City, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln isn’t the only one with sick children. He receives a hastily written letter from his Secretary of State, William Seward:

I have just received word from Mrs. Seward that informs me that my only daughter and youngest child is very ill and requesting we to go to Philadelphia. I will let you know as soon as I can when I shall be able to return.

Corporal Elisha Hunt Rhodes and his fellow Union soldiers continue to go about their typical daily routine. Rhodes had been detached from the 2nd Rhode Island volunteers in November to work as one of four clerks in the headquarters of their Division currently commanded by General Erasmus D. Keyes. He is at his desk at the Pennsylvania Avenue and 19th Street headquarters by 9am, ready to receive the daily reports from his Division which consists of 13 infantry regiments, 1 cavalry regiment and 3 batteries. He spends six hours consolidating the reports and sends them over to General George B. McClellan’s headquarters by 3pm. He goes out to dinner with the other military personnel and heads back to headquarters where he shares a room with three other clerks. His living conditions are better than a typical soldier since he’s indoors, has his own bed and even has good bedding from when the building was a girls school. He takes out his diary and writes:

“Mud and rain and no prospects of a move. It is reported that the Senate expelled Senator Bright of Indiana for the crime of treason. All Copperheads (note: anti-war democrats) should be punished, for they are too cowardly to fight us in front, so they stop us in the rear. Orders have been issued that all passes must be approved by the Division Commander. This makes extra work for the clerks.”

Elisha has heard correctly; Democrat Jesse D. Bright was expelled yesterday for disloyalty to the Union after 16 years in the Senate. Last year an arms smuggler named Thomas Lincoln (no relation to President Abraham Lincoln) had been caught with a letter in his possession that was from Bright to Provisional Confederate President Jefferson Davis, dated March 1, 1861. It introduced Thomas to Davis and stated his purpose: “He visits your capital mainly to dispose of what he regards a great improvement in fire-arms.” Bright’s defense was that the letter was written before the official start of the Civil War and that he didn’t even remember specifically writing the letter. It was a weak attempt; when Bright wrote that letter there was a Confederate government in place and they were racing to gather as many arms as possible in preparation for an attack. Bright had never been quiet about being against the war and for Confederate independence; now deceased Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas had even been infuriated by his disloyalty. Bright was expelled by a vote of 32 to 14 and now this news quickly spread through town. He is the fourteenth Senator to ever be expelled from Congress, but he is currently (2/6/12) the last.

Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler arrives in Winchester, Virginia to meet with Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at the request of his friend Governor John Letcher. Jackson had sent a letter of resignation over a week ago due to a strong disagreement with Secretary of War Judah Benjamin on strategy and troop movements in the crucial Virginia Valley where he was stationed.

Boteler knows he is dealing with a strong willed individual with even stronger convictions. Over dinner and dessert, Boteler appeals to Jackson to reconsider. Jackson admits he is willing to rethink his resignation, but he wants to manage his own campaigns instead of some guy sitting at a desk hundreds of miles away.

He appeals to Jackson using his love of Virginia, though it comes out as accusing Jackson of abandoning them. Jackson is furious. He stands, exclaiming that he has sacrificed his family life for the horrors of war. He then composes himself and states that he will still serve the state of Virginia, “even if it be as a private in the ranks.” He then sighs. “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”

At the end of the evening Jackson writes a letter to the Governor authorizing him to withdraw the resignation. He can’t abandon the Southern cause, but he also makes it known that he still feels he was in the right:

“If the Secretary persists in the ruinous policy complained of, I feel that no officer can serve his country better than by making his strongest possible protest against it, which, in my opinion, is done by tendering his resignation, rather than be a willful instrument in prosecuting the war upon a ruinous principle.”

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2 thoughts on “150 Years Ago: Thursday, February 6, 1862

  1. something about defending their homes aiangst Northern invasion and way of life . However, they weren’t stupid. Their way of life their economy, their system of property, their control over their wives and kids under the law, their place within the social order did depend on slavery. I believe that Glen is right in that they saw their fight as an extension of the American Revolution, insofar as they believed that the Revolution had carried within it an elevation of the rights of white men (no matter how poor) over everyone else. They also believed in the right of states to move freely in and out of the Union. Finally, I’d say the same kinds of manliness pressures that affected Union soldiers (wanting to be seen as brave by their womenfolk, love of their comrades in arms) also kept them in the field, though a historian like Drew Faust argues that as women’s morale eroded, the women pressured men to reconceive where their duty really was. By the end of the war, desertion was a huge problem for the Confederacy, huge enough that the Confederate government seriously entertained using black soldiers.4) Good lord. This is too big a question. I think that we’re still unwilling to discuss or do anything about structural inequality not just racial inequality, but the poor integration of the rural south as a whole into the national economy (thinking here of Appalachia in general). I think that there’s a lot of painful regional stereotypes that feed hate and they aren’t very far under the surface, especially not in mainstream media representations of the South. As a nation, we’ve been unwilling to be honest about the very complex nature of the war’s causes, cast of characters, and consequences, as though it couldn’t be about a whole lot of things and involve a tremendous number of different stories simultaneously. And then there’s the stuff about trying to use the symbols of the past (like the battleflag) to make enduring statements about a region’s politics (which are necessarily statements about race, given the symbol the activists have chosen to use) it again is trying to divorce the issue of political capital/declarations of independence from racial privilege. But man what a huge question .Hope this helps.


    Posted by Safwannur | 06/12/2012, 4:42 pm
  2. (1) Many things led up to the war, but the south’s secsesion is the direct cause. Obviously, the war ended slavery but it also ended the concept of federalism.(2) Most of the union soldiers were fighting to preserve the union. They certainly were not fighting to free any slaves.(3) The confederate soldiers were fighting for their independence. They saw their fight as something similar to the American revolution.(4) There will always be an argument between the power of the federal government versus the power and rights of the individual states.


    Posted by Dairitha | 11/26/2013, 1:20 pm

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