“How does it look now?“, reads U.S. Commanding General Joseph Hooker. The telegram in his hands is from President Abraham Lincoln, who, like every Spring since the war started, is highly anxious and high strung now that Winter is behind them. With the warmer weather, the Army of the Potomac should be on the move. But at the beginning of each Spring they must deal with rising rivers from the melting snow and consistent rains, which often hinder their movements. The last major move the Union army made in the Eastern theater of war was at Fredericksburg last December, under U.S. Major General Ambrose Burnside. It had resulted in a major loss that has challenged the will of the people in the North to continue the war and has diminished the power of the United States on an international level. With Hooker now in charge, Lincoln has been sending communications that he no longer wants constant maneuvering of positions. He wants a battle and he wants it won. The Union needs a major victory.
It just so happens that Hooker has just begun moving his troops today, in what he considers a major plan to surprise C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee and the majority of his troops in the Fredericksburg area. Hooker is hoping to swing around Lee and cut off their supply lines from Richmond, and to turn the Confederate left flank. Hooker isn’t looking for a repeat battle at Fredericksburg; he was against the move back in December as he saw Lee’s troops on the high ground behind the stone wall protecting them. He has his own plans for success.
After days of waiting for the water levels to lower, Hooker’s Fifth, Eleventh and Twelfth Corps cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers above Fredericksburg. Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman begins a long distance raid against Lee’s supply lines that Hooker is hoping will be successful and also preoccupy some of Lee’s troops.
The man who had once been a friend of U.S. Major General Ulysses S. Grant and had met with him on surrender terms back in February 1862 at Fort Donelson, Tennessee is promoted today by C.S.A. President Jefferson Davis. Major General Simon Buckner, who has spent the last six months in command of the District of the Gulf and has been in charge of the defenses in Mobile, Alabama, has been assigned command of the Department of East Tennessee. He will make arrangements to make the move to Knoxville, where he will work closely under C.S.A. General Braxton Bragg, who he has worked with before and dislikes as a General. In fact, Buckner had been one of many to publicly denounce Bragg’s performance during his Fall campaign in Kentucky last year, which resulted in Bragg’s army abandoning any future invasion of Kentucky even after a successful fight in Perryville in October.
Two days ago Grant had given specific orders for his men to be ready to take Grand Gulf, Mississippi fortifications in a strategic move to take the final target of Vicksburg. Yesterday Grant had arrived at U.S. Major General John McClernand’s camp only to find it highly disorganized and not at all working on his orders to prepare for the move today. McClernand had steamers and transports that were still scattered freely along the river and bayous, unable to support the move as planned. The two divisions that were to board the steamers were stuck on land. Instead of following Grant’s orders of preparation, McClernand staged a review of a single brigade for his visiting friend, Illinois Governor Richard Yates. McClernand’s men listen to a long and splendid motivational speech from Yates, followed by one from McClernand. At the end, McClernand has his artillery fire a salute to the Governor using ammunition that was to be saved to fight the enemy per Grant’s orders, as they were in very low supply. McClernand couldn’t have made a more obvious statement to Grant that he did not only disagree with his plan, but disrespected him as a leader. This was not new to Grant, who has been struggling with McClernand for months, with McClernand feeling that he should be the one in charge of the Vicksburg campaign. Though Yates has strong political power, Lincoln has the final say and he believes in Grant’s abilities.
Grant again sends specific, written orders to McClernand as to what he wants done today: McClernand’s troops are to board and await orders to move via steamers to a point opposite Grand Gulf. The Navy will reduce whatever batteries the Confederates have in place, and then McClernand’s men will be ferried to the Mississippi shore, where they are to unload from the steamers and storm up the bluffs, capturing the Confederate fortifications. Men are to take only three days supply of rations; Grant wants everyone traveling light and with only the bare necessities. He needs his men to be able to move quickly.
Instead of following Grant’s orders, McClernand again has other ideas. Instead of taking the troops via water, he wants to take an open road to the same point opposite Grand Gulf, which leads to a little village called Hard Times. Grant allows a reconnaissance party to see if roads are passable, and instead they find Confederate cavalry. As McClernand still does not have enough transports to board his men, Grant seizes the opportunity and orders the last two of McClernand’s divisions to drive the Confederates out and take the village of Hard Times. There will be no move today against Grand Gulf but at least the Union army can accomplish something.
Wanting to create a diversion, Grant turns his attention to his most trusted fellow officer, U.S. Major William T. Sherman, who is the furthest north and closest to Vicksburg. He sends a note to Sherman:
“If you think it advisable, you may make a reconnaissance of Haynes’ Bluff, taking as much force and as many steamers as you like. The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good so far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loath to order it, because it would be so hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended, and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration. Publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force is to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”
The orders Sherman receive give him a lot of leeway and decision making power. But Grant trusts him fully. Sherman immediately swings into action. To cover the road from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, he detaches a division under Major General Frederick Steele. Sherman reveals to Steele that “General Grant directs me to control matters at this end.” Sherman knows he has Grant’s trust and that fuels him; it gives him confidence in his own abilities, which is something he lacked at the beginning of the war.
The move Grant wanted to make today against Grand Gulf will have to wait until tomorrow. He only hopes that this delay has not given the Confederates time to repulse their attack. But in typical Grant fashion, he has still made moves and tried to take advantage of the delay as best he can. He understands that public and political perception is very important right now.
C.S.A. Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sends another battle report to General Robert E. Lee, this time regarding the second Battle of Manassas (known as Bull Run in North) from last August. He once again praises the support of C.S.A. Major General and cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart for his action on the field. His fondness for Stuart is very obvious; it’s a huge compliment coming from someone who does not often give such high praise so freely. Jackson closes with the following:
For these great and signal victories our sincere and humble thanks are due unto Almighty God. We should in all things acknowledge the hand of Him who reigns in heaven and rules among the armies of men. In view of the arduous labors and great privations the troops were called to endure and the isolated and perilous position which the command occupied while engaged with greatly-superior numbers of the enemy we can but express the grateful conviction of our mind that God was with us and gave to us the victory, and unto His holy name be the praise.
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.
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.
Is the boy who can carry himself straight any how. Thats So.
(Letter transcribed as written)
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.
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:
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:
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.