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FORT HENRY, TENNESSEE FEBRUARY 6th,1862

 

Fort Henry, Tenn., Feb. 6, 1862. US forces under Gen grant and Commodore Foote's Fleet of Gunboats. When Gen.Albert Sidney Johnston was placed in command of the Confederate Department of the West, in the fall of 1861, he established a line of defenses from Columbus, Ky., to the Cumberland mountains, with Bowling Green as the center. Two forts were built on this line- Fort Henry on the Tennessee river, near the Kentucky state line, and Fort Donelson, 12 miles east on the Cumberland. Fort Henry stood on the right bank of the river, in a slight bend, commanding a straight stretch of the river for several miles in either direction. It was on a slight elevation, but little above high water mark, and was commanded by higher hills on both sides of the river. Should these fall into the hands of the Federals it would be impossible for the fort to hold out, so a secondary fortification, called Fort Heiman, was commenced on the bluff opposite Fort Henry, but was not completed in time to be of any service when the attack came. Back of the fort was a second line of earthworks, in front of which the timber had been felled to form an abatis, and below the fort a line of rifle- pits extended from the river bank to the second line of works. The garrison consisted of about 3,200 men, under the command of Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, and the armament included 20 guns, mostly of heavy caliber.

During the months of Dec., 1861, and Jan., 1862, Gens. Grant and Sherman and Commodore Foote all urged the importance of taking these forts, thus breaking Johnston's line in the center and opening the two rivers to the passage of Union vessels, the Tennessee to Florence, Ala., and the Cumberland to Nashville but it was not until Feb. 1, that Grant received orders from Gen. Halleck, at St. Louis, to proceed against them. The next day Grant left Cairo with 17,000 men on transports, under the convoy of Foote with 7 gunboats, viz: the Cincinnati (flagship), Essex, Carondelet, St. Louis, Conestoga, Tyler and Lexington, the first four being ironclads. About 8 miles below the fort McClernand's division was landed for the purpose of making a reconnaissance to ascertain the range of the enemy's guns, after which the troops were reembarked on the transports and moved up the river about 5 miles to Bailey's ferry, where the whole force was landed on the 5th. That night Smith's division was sent to capture Fort Heiman, but found it evacuated. About 11 a.m. on the 6th, McClernand was ordered to move to the rear of the fort and secure the roads leading to Dover and Fort Donelson, in order to cut off the line of retreat, while Smith was to hold Fort Heiman. Owing to a storm the night before the roads were almost impassable, so that McClernand's progress was slow. Tilghman had anticipated a move of this character and early that morning had sent Col. Heiman with the infantry to Fort Donelson, while he remained with barely enough men to work the guns. At 12:30 the first shot was fired from the flagship at a distance of 1,700 yards. This was quickly followed by others from the Carondelet and Essex the vessels gradually ascending the stream until within less than 600 yards of the fort, the fire both from the fort and the gunboats increasing in rapidity and accuracy of range. A shot penetrated one of the boilers on the Essex, scalding 29 men, among whom was Capt. W. D. Porter, commander of the vessel. In the fort an 80pound shell disabled every man at one of the guns, a premature explosion of a 42-pounder killed 3 men and wounded several others while 4 of the guns were dismounted by shots from the fleet.

At 1:45 Tilghman ordered the Confederate flag to be lowered and Foote sent two of his officers to take possession of the fort and raise the Stars and Stripes. Tilghman then went on board the flagship and formally surrendered the fort with its equipment and about 70 men as prisoners of war. The Union casualties, including the men scalded on the Essex, was 44 in killed and wounded. The Confederate loss was reported as being 5 killed, 11 wounded and 5 missing. The Tennessee river was now open and it only remained to reduce Fort Donelson to open the Cumberland.

Source: The Union Army, vol. 5