American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Taking of Donelson

Let us take a run over into Kentucky and Tennessee, and see what is going on there.

Columbus, at the western end of the Confederate lines, and Bowling Green at the eastern end, together with two strong forts, Donelson and Henry, made for the Confederates a centre that seemed almost too strong to be taken. The Confederates delighted to speak of this as their "Gibraltar," that is their stronghold.

But Grant, you all know who Grant was—was not to be frightened even by this. "It looked risky," he used to say; "but if we can get hold of these forts and these cities and break up this Confederate stronghold, think what a gain it will be!"

[Illustration] from American History Stories - IV by Mara L. Pratt


When Grant had his plans all arranged, he gave them to his chief, and waited eagerly for permission to go on. After a long delay, permission came.

Fort Henry, being the weakest point, was to be attacked first.

"You, Commodore Foote, will take your men down the Tennessee River in gun-boats, and will pepper the fort from that point. When Fort Henry is settled, then comes Donelson."

Foote did pepper Fort Henry well; and in just one hour and five minutes the fort surrendered.

Six days later, Grant turned toward Fort Donelson. Spreading his forces out in a sort of half circle, he thus approached the fort. Grant made up his mind that the way to get hold of this fort would be to lay siege to it, rather than to try to bring about a battle.

But the Confederate officers knew only too well that they could not hold out against a siege, and so thought it best to give battle at once. The very next morning they came out and fell upon the right wing of Grant's army. Grant himself was down the river when the attack began; up he galloped to the scene of battle in a "double quick" run you may be sure.

"They have come out prepared to fight for several days, General," said one of the soldiers.

"Why do you think so?" asked Grant.

"Because they have their haversacks filled with rations," was the reply.

"Get me one of those haversacks," said Grant quickly.

One was brought. Grant examined it carefully, and saw that it was rationed for three days.

"This means retreat, retreat, boys," cried Grant. "Soldiers don't fill their haversacks like this unless they are planning to run away. Now then, one more sharp attack, and we'll finish the fight!"

The men, cheered by Grant's hopefulness, fell upon the enemy hot and heavy. With one grand push, the whole line made the attack. The fight grew hotter and hotter. Over the snow-covered ground everywhere ran streams of blood. Everywhere lay the dead and wounded. Darkness came on at last, thank God, and this awful slaughter was at an end.

The enemy were driven within their own lines. "One more hour of fighting," said Grant, "and the fort will be ours." Inside the fort two of the generals were packing up to get away before daylight. When morning dawned, General Buckner sent out to ask Grant on what terms he would be willing to accept their surrender.

"Unconditional surrender," said Grant, "are my only terms." By that he meant that they should surrender wholly, give up themselves and all they had, or he would fight them again and make them surrender.

General Buckner had little to say. He knew only too well that there was nothing to be done but surrender.

Grant's army marched in and took the fort.

On the same day the commander at Bowling Green saw fit to get his forces out of the way; and a few days later the commander at Columbus did the same. They knew very well that with both forts lost, the cities, too, would have to go. Even in the capital of the State, the governor packed his valuable papers and ran as if from a fire.

The great Confederate stronghold had fallen into the hands of Union troops. Great was the rejoicing in the Northern States. "Unconditional surrender!" came to be the "by-word" in every city and town; and Grant came to be called "Unconditional Surrender Grant."

This must be what his initials "U. S." mean, the people said in their joy. And to this day, no soldier hears of U. S. Grant without thinking of "Unconditional Surrender."