The enemy from Columbia commanded the Cumbei-land River, and only
one boat was enabled to come up with supplies from Kashville. "With the
channel of communication closed, the position became untenable without
attack. Only corn could be obtained for the horses and mules, and this in
such small quantities that often cavalry companies were sent out on un-
shod horses which had eaten nothing for two days.
On the afternoon of the IStli of January a council of war was called.
The position of the enemy was unchanged ; Fishing Creek, a tributary of
the Cumberland, was swollen by recent rains ; the force of the enemy at
Somerset was cut off by this stream, and could not be expected to join
Thomas' column moving from Columbia, until the freshet had subsided.
It was unanimously agreed to attack Thomas, before the Somerset brigade
could unite with him.
The march began at midnight. The first column, commanded by Gen.
ZollicofFer, consisted of four regiments of infantry and four guns ; the
second, under Gen. Carroll, in support, of three regiments and two guns,
the reserve of one regiment and two battalions of cavalry. The Confed-
erates were ])Oorly supplied with artillery ; but happily the undulating and
wooded surface of the country presented but little opportunity for the use
of that arm.
As the morning of the 19th January broke, the firing of the enemy's
pickets made a brisk prelude to the contest, and by eight o'clock the battle
opened with great fury. Zollicofifer's brigade pushed ahead, and drove
the Federals some distance through the woods, and were endeavouring to
force their way to the summit of a hill which fully commanded the whole
field. He was a-scending the hill when the heaviest firing told where the
battle raged. He sent for reinforcements, and the brigade of Gen. Carroll
was ordered up. When, in another moment, it was announced that he
was killed, a sudden gloom pervaded the field and depressed tlie army.
He had fallen on the crest of the hill — the stronghold of the enemy, which
he had almost driven them from, and which once gained, the day was
ours. The enemy in front of him in the woods, after a few moments' ces-
sation of firing and some movements, was taken by him to be a regiment
THE BATTLE OF FISHENG CREEK. 201
of his own command, and lie rode up to give tliem a command, wlien ho
was shot down, pierced by several balls.*
The fall of this gallant leader, and a movement of the enemy to flank
the Confederates, completed their disorder. Gen. Crittenden attempted to
rally the troops by the most conspicuous displays of personal daring, in
which he seemed to court death, as he reined up his horse again and again
abreast of the enemy's fire, and •exhorted his men to stand their ground.
But the tide of retreat had set in, and all that conld be done was to steady
the men as they moved back to their entrenchments at Canij) Beech
Grove. The Confederates left upon the field about three hundred killed
and wounded, and lost about a hundred prisoners. But this was not the
measure of the disaster.
The enemy did not attempt an energetic pursuit. He followed the re-
treating Confederates as far as their entrenchments, in front of which he
halted for the night. The Confederates, unprovided with rations and the
necessary supplies to enable them to hold their entrenched position, and
fearing lest they should be cut off, retreated across the Cumberland lliver
during the night. The crossing was efi'ected by the aid of a small steamer,
which had made its way with supplies for the army from Nashville some
days previous. Time permitted, however, only the transportation of the
men ; and Gen. Crittenden effected his retreat after having lost all his
baggage, camp equipage, wagons, hoi'ses, and artillery.
The battle of Fishing Creek was not remarkable for lists of killed and
wounded ; but it was undoubtedly the most serious disaster that had yet
befallen the Confederate arms. It practically surrendered to the enemy
the whole of Eastern Kentucky. The right of the defensive line of the
Confederates was now broken, and the value of their position greatly im-
paired. On the other part of their line — that through Western Kentucky,
where the rivers and railroads passed which afforded an entrance into Ten-
nessee, and so to the heart of the Southern States— an inadequate force
under Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston was extended from Bowling Green
on the right to Columbus on the left, presenting to the enemy advantages
of attack which he could not fail to perceive.
* The dead body of Zollicoffer was brutally insulted by the enemy. The Cincinnati Commercial
contained the following sentiment expressed on behalf of what was styled in tlie usual Yankee
magniloquence and virtuous phrase " a conquering army, battling for the right : "
" The corpse lay by the side of the road along which we all passed, and all had a fair view of
what was once Zollicoffer. I saw the lifeless body as it lay in a fence-corner by the side of the
road, but Zollicoffer himself is now in hell. Hell is a fitting abode for all sucli arch-traitors. May
all the other chief conspirators in this rebellion soon share Zollicoffer's fate — shot dead tlirough the
instrumentality of an avenging God — their spirits sent straightway to hell, and their lifeless bodiea
lie in a fence-corner, their faces spattered with mud, and their garments divided up, and even the
hair of their head cut off and pulled out by an unsympathizing soldiery of a conquering army, bat-
tling for the right."
202 THE LOST CAUSE.
Never was there sucli a popular delusion in the Confederacy as that
with respect to the strength of Johnston's army. The Richmond news-
papers could not " see why Johnston did not muster his forces, advance
farther into Kentucky, capture Louisville, push across the Ohio, sack Cin-
cinnati, and carry the war into Africa." But at the time these pleasing
anticipations of an advance movement were indulged, Johnston actually
did not have more than twenty-five thousand men. The utter inadequacy
of his force, and the exposure of his flanks and rear, were well known to
the proper Confederate authorities. But the Richmond Government ap-
peared to hope for results without the legitimate means for acquiring
them ; to look for relief from vague and undefined sources ; and to await,
with dull expectation, what was next to happen. There is nothing more
remarkable in the history of the war than the false impressions of the peo-
ple of the South as to the extent of our forces at the principal strategic
point in Kentucky, and the long and apathetic toleration by the Govern-
ment in Richmond of a prospect that promised nothing but eventual
Shorly after the disaster at Fishing Creek, Gen. Beauregard had been
sent from the Potomac to Gen. Johnston's lines in Kentucky. At a con-
ference between the two generals, Beauregard expressed his surprise at
the smallness of Gen. Johnston's forces, and was impressed with the dan-
ger of his position. Buell was in front ; the right flank was threatened by
a large Federal force under Thomas ; while the Cumberland River off'ered
an opportunity to an attack in the rear, and held the key to Nashville.
A large force of Federals had been collected at Paducah, at the mouth
of the Tennessee River, with a view to oflensive operations on the water.
This river penetrated Teimessee and Alabama, and was navigable for
steamers for two or three hundred miles. There was nothing to resist the
enemy's advance up the stream but a weak and imperfectly constructed
fort. The Cumberland was a still more imj^ortant river, and the avenue
to Nashville ; but nothing stood in the way of the enemy save Fort Don-
elson, and from that point the Federal gunboats could reach Nashville in
six or eight hours, and strike a vital blow at the whole system of Confed-
erate defences north of the capital of Tennessee.
Gen. U. S. Grant commenced his ascent of the Tennessee River early
in February, 1862, with a mixed force of gunboats and infantry columns,
the latter making parallel movements along the banks. On the 1th of
February the expedition arrived at Fort Henry, on the east bank of the
river, and near the lines of Kentucky and Tennessee, The fort was obvi-
ously untenable, being so absurdly located, that it was enfiladed from three
or four points on the opposite shore, while other points on the eastern bank
of the river commanded it at easy cannon range. But there were more
than twenty-five hundred Confederate troops in the vicinity, under the
BATfLE OF FOET DOXELSON. 203
command of Gen. Tilglmian ; and to cover the retreat of these, it became
necessary to hold the fort to the last moment, and to sacrifice the small
garrison for the larger nnmber.
Gen. Grant ^vas moving np the east bank of the river from his landing
three miles below, with a force of twelve thousand men ; . whilst Gen.
Smith, with six thousand men, was moving up the west bank to take a
jjosition within four or five hundred yards, wdiich would enable him to
enfilade the entire works. The only chance for Gen. Tilghman was to
delay the enemy every moment possible, and retire his command, now
outside the main work, to Fort Donelson. To this end it was necessary to
fight the eleven guns of Fort Henry against an armament of fifty-four
guns, and an enemy nearly twenty thousand strong, as long as possible.
Gen. Tilghman nobly devoted himself to the fate of the garrison, in-
stead of joining the main body of troops retiring towards Fort Donelson,
the safety of whom depended upon a protracted defence of the fort. He
engaged the enemy for two hours and ten minutes ; disabled one of his
gunboats, and inflicted upon him a loss of seventy-three in killed and
wounded ; and surrendered only when the enemy was breaching the fort
directly in front of his guns. The brave Confederate commander and the
small garrison of forty were taken prisoners, after having sustained a loss
of about twenty killed and wounded.
The fall of Fort Henry was an unimportant event, of itself ; but it was
the signal for the direction of the most anxious attention to Fort Donelson
on the Cumberland.
BATTLE OF FOKT DONELSON.
Grant approached Fort Donelson, with immense columns of infantry,
and with his powerful fleet of gunboats under command of Commodore
Foote. Gen. Johnston had devoted the larger part of his army to the
defence of this important post. He had determined to fight for Nashville
at Donelson ; and he had given the best part of his army to do it, retain-
ing only to cover his front about eleven thousand efiective men. Gen.
Buckner had repaired to Fort Donelson with a command embracing most
of the troops who had composed the central army of Kentucky. On the
10th of Febniary, Gen. Pillow arrived with a body of Tennessee troops.
On the loth. Gen, Floyd arrived with his brigade of Virginians, and as
senior brigadier took command of the whole Confederate force assembled
The site of the fortification commanded a stretch of the river for more
than two miles. The armament of the batteries consisted of eight 32-
pounders, three 32-pound carronadcs, one 8-inch columbiad, and one 32-
204 THE LOST CAUSE.
pounder rifled gun. A line of entrencliments about two miles in extent
was occupied by the troops.
As the sun rose on the 13th of February, the cannonade from one o±
the enemy's gunboats announced the opening of the conflict, which was
destined to continue for several days and nights. At eleven o'clock the
enemy's infantry moved forward upon the entrenchments, along the whole
line. They were met by a scorching fire, and were repeatedly driven
back. The day closed with the disastrous repulse of the enemy from the
trenches at every point of assault. They withdrew their infantry, but
kept up an incessant fire of artillery and sharpshooters, by which the Con-
federates were harassed, and deprived of rest and refreshment.
It was expected that the next day the enemy would renew his attack
upoil the entrenchments. The morning passed without any indications of
such an onset. The smoke of a large number of gunboats and steamboats
on the river was observed a short distance below, and information at the
same time was received within the Confederate lines of the arrival of rein-
forcements to the enemy, who was already reported to be more than twen-
ty thousand strong.
At half-past two o'clock the Federal fleet drew near the fort. It con-
sisted of six boats, carrying forty-six guns. Five of these iron-plated bat-
teries approached in line of battle, en echelon. They kept up a constant
fire for about an hour and a half. Once the boats got within a few hun-
dred yards of the fort. When they reached the point of the nearest ap-
proach, the fire on both sides was tremendous. That of the Confederate
batteries was too destructive to be borne. Fifty-seven shots struck the
flag-ship, and more than a hundred in all, plunged u^^on the decks of the
assaulting fleet. Every boat was disabled, except one, which kept beyond
the range of fire. With great difliculty, the shattered iron-clads were
withdrawn from the storm of shot hailed from the fort. Fifty-four men
were killed and wounded on the boats, while in the batteries not one man
was killed or seriously hurt, and no injury was done to the works.
The incidents of two days had been altogether in favour of the Confed-
erates. Their casualties were small ; but their sufierings had been extreme.
The conflict had commenced on one of the coldest days of winter ; the
thermometer was twenty degrees below the freezing point ; and while the
troops watched on their arms in the trenches, it sleeted and snowed.
.Many of the men had their feet and hands frozen. Their clothes were
stiff from frozen water. In the engagement in the trenches, many of the
wounded who could neither walk nor crawl had been left in the narrow
space between the two armies ; and as no flag of truce was allowed, under
which they might have been brought off, they lay there in the pitiless
weather, calling in vain for help. Many thus died who otherwise might
have been saved, and those of the wounded who were recovered alive, not
BATTLE OF FOET DONELSON. 205
until the last act of tlie battle's tragedy had been closed, were blue with
cold, and covered with frost and snow.
Reinforcements were now continually reaching the enemy. Transports
were arriving nearly every hour, from which dark streams of men could
be seen pouring along the roads, and completing the investment of the
lines around the fort. Indeed, it might have been evident from the first,
that the whole available force of the Federals on the western waters could
and would be concentrated at Fort Donelson, if it was deemed necessary
to reduce it. It was fair to infer that while the enemy kept up a constant
menace of attack, his object was merely to gain time to pass a colunm
above the works, both on the right and left banks, and thus to cut the
Confederate communications and prevent the possibility of egress.
On the night of the 14:th, Gen. Floyd called a council of the officers of
divisions and brigades. It was unAnimously determined that but one
course was left by which a rational hope could be entertained of saving
the garrison, and that was to dislodge the enemy from his position on our
left, and thus to pass the troops into the open country lying southward,
The plan of attack was that Gen. Pillow, aided by Brigadier-General
Bushrod K. Johnson, with three brigades, should advance to the assault of
the enemy on the right, while Gen. Buckner, with his force, chiefly of
Kentucky and Tennessee troops, should advance upon the left and centre
of the enemy along the Wynn's Ferry road, which led from the river and
village of Dover, and was the only practicable route to ISTashville. When
Gen. Pillow moved out of his position next morning, he found the enemy
prepared to receive him in advance of his encampment. For nearly two
hours the battle raged fiercely on this part of the line, with very little
change in the position of the adverse forces.
As the morning advanced, a brigade of Mississippians and Tennesseans
was thrown forward, and advanced up a hollow, firing temble volleys into
the enemy's right flank. This heroic band of troops, less than fifteen hun
dred in number, marched up the hill, loading and firing as they moved,
gaining inch by inch, on an enemy at least four times their number. For
one long hour this point was hotly contested by the enemy. At last,
unable to bear the hot assault, the Federals gave way, and fell back slowly
to the left, retiring towards the Wynn's Ferry road.
Gen. Buckner's advance on the centre and left of the enemy was re-
tarded by various causes, and it was nearly nine o'clock before this part of
the Confederate forces became fairly engaged with the enemy. A portion
of his artillery opened upon the flank and left rear of the enemy's infantry,
who were being pressed back by Gen. Pillow's division.
As the enemy's line of retreat was along the Wynn's Ferry road. Gen.
Buckner now organized an attack further to his right, up a deep valley, in
206 THE LOST CAUSE.
rear of the position occupied by the enemy's batteries. The advance of his
infantry column was covered by artillery. The movement, combined with
the brisk fire of three batteries, induced a rapid retreat of the enemy, who
abandoned a section of his artillery. At the same time that Buckner's in-
fantry was thus penetrating the line of the enemy's retreat, Forrest, with a
portion of his cavalry, charged upon their right, while Pillow's division
was pressing their extreme right about half a mile further to the left.
It now appeared that the crisis of the battle was past. Victory, or such
success as they had sought, seemed to be within the grasp of the Confed-
erates. The Wynn's Ferry road was now not only open, but cleared of
the enemy entirely on one side, and for a mile and a half on the other.
Of this posture of affairs. Gen. Buckner, in his oflScial report, writes : " I
awaited the arrival of my artillery and reserves, either to continue the
pursuit of the enemy, or to defend the position I now held, in order that
the army might pass out on the road, which was now completely covered
by the position occupied by my division. But Gen. Pillow had prevented
my artillery from leaving the entrenchments, and also sent me reiterated
orders to return to mv entrenchments on the extreme ri^ht. I was in the
act of returning to the lines, when I met Gen. Floyd, who seemed sur-
prised at the order. At his request to know my opinion of the movement,
I replied that nothing had occurred to change my views of the necessity
of the evacuation of the post, that the road was open, that the first part of
our purpose was fully accomplished, and I thought we should at once
avail ourselves of the existing opportunity to regain our communications.
These seemed to be his own views ; for he directed me to halt my troops
and i-emain in position until he should have conversed with Gen. Pillow,
who was now within the entrenchments. After that consultation, he sent
me an order to retire within the lines, and to repair as rapidly as possible
to my former position on the extreme right, which was in danger of
It was long a source of keen regret among those few people in the
Confederacy who knew the real history of the Fort Donelson battle, that
their army did not attempt a retreat at the precise period of opportunity.
But a few moments of that superabundant caution, which hesitates to seize
the crisis, and insists upon reconnoitring an advantage, are often fatal
upon a field of battle. It was thought by those supcriour to Gen. Buck-
ner in command, that it would be hazardous to attempt a retreat while the
enemy, though defeated, was near at hand with fresh troops.
The hesitation was fatal. The effect of the violent attack of the Con-
federates on the enemy's right, followed up by Gen. Buckner's advance on
his centre, had been to roll over his immense masses towards the right of
the Confederate works, immediately in front of their river batteries. The
advantage was instantly appreciated. The enemy drove back the Confed-
BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON. 207
erates, advanced on the trenches on the extreme right of Gen. Buckner'g
command, getting possession, alter a stubborn conflict of two hours, of the
most important and commanding position of the battle-field, being in
the rear of our river batteries, and, advancing with fresh forces towards
our left, drove back our troops from the ground that had been won in the
severe and terrible conflict of the early part of the day.
After nine hours of combat, the enemy held the field ; he had changed
the fortune of the day by a quick and opportune movement ; and he now
held the Confederates in circumstances of desperation. Of the results of
the day. Gen. Floyd reported : " We had fought the battle to open our
way for our army, and to relieve us from an investment which would
necessarily reduce us and the position we occupied by famine. We had
accomplished our object, but it occupied the w^liole day, and before we
could prepare to leave, after taking in the wonnded and the dead, the
enemy had thrown around us again, in the night, an immense force of
fresh troops, and reoccupied his original position in the line of investment,
thus again cutting off our retreat. We had only about 13,000 troops, all
told. Of these we had lost a large proportion in the three battles. The
command had been in the trenches night and day for five days, exposed
to snow, sleet, mud, and ice and water, without shelter, without adequate
covering, and without sleep."
The field of battle was thickly strewn with dead and wonnded. The
loss of the Confederates was estimated at fifteen hundred. That of the
enemy Gen. Floyd conjectures, in his official report, to have been at least
Ghastly spectacles were abundant, as the eye ranged over this scene of
mortal strife ; for the ground was in many places red with frozen blood,
and the snow which lay under the pine thickets was marked with crimson
streams. There were two miles of dead strewn thickly, mingled with fire-
arms, artillery, dead horses, and the paraphernalia of the battle-field.
Many of the bodies were fearfully mangled, and the ponderous artillery
wheels had crushed limbs and skulls. The dead were promiscuously min-
gled, sometimes grappling in the fierce death-throe, sometimes facing each
other as they gave and received the fatal shot and thrust, sometimes hud-
dled in grotesque shapes, and again heaped in piles which lay six or seven
" I could imagine," says an eye-witness of the field of carnage, " noth-
ing more terrible than the silent indications of agony that marked the fea«
turcs of the pale coi-pses which lay at every step. Though dead and rigid
in every muscle, they still writhed, and seemed to turn 1o catch the pass-
ing breeze for a cooling breath. Staring eyes, gaping mouths, clenched
hands, and strangely contracted limbs, seemingly drawn into the smallest
compass, as if by a mighty efibrt to rend asunder some irresistible bond
208 THE LOST CAUSE.
whicli held them down to the torture of which they died. One sat against
a tree, and, with mouth and eyes wide open, looked up into the sky, as if
to catch a glance at its fleeting spirit. Another clutched the branch of an
overhanging tree, and hung half-suspended, as if in the death-pang he had
raised himself partly from the ground ; the other had grasped his faithful
musket, and the compression of his mouth told of the determination which
would have been fatal to a foe, had life ebbed a minute later. A third
clung with both hands to a bayonet which was buried in the ground.
Great numbers lay in heaps, just as the fire of the artillery mowed them
down, mangling their forms into an almost undistinguishable mass."
Late in the night of the 15th of February, another conference of gen-
eral officers was called. It was, indeed, a memorable one. Gen. Pillow
appears to have favoured a proposition for a desperate onset upon the
right of the enemy's forces, with the prospect of thus extricating a consid-
erable proportion of the command. Gen. Buckner remarked, that it would
cost the command three-fourths its present numbers to cut its way out, and
it was wrong to sacrifice three-fourths to save one-fourth ; that no oflicer
had a right to cause such a sacrifice. Tlie alternative of the proposition
was a surrender of the position and command. Gen. Floyd declared that
he would not surrender himself a prisoner, and proposed to escape with