Imágenes de páginas

rendering her steering impossible, so that she also floated down the river. The other two armored vessels were also terribly struck, and a rifled cannon on the Carondelet burst, so that these two could no longer, by themselves, sustain the action; and after fighting for more than an hour, the little fleet was forced to withdraw. The immediate object of the attack of the gun-boats, viz., to silence the formidable river batteries, and to obtain a good position to bombard the upper works in co-operation with the assault of the land forces, which was all, in fact, that the flotilla had the power of doing, since there was a whole army within the fortifications to be dislodged and conquered, and the boats could not walk upon land—this object of the attack was on the point of being successfully attained, when the unforeseen casualties that have been related occurred. It was indeed a hard disappointment after such persistent fighting. Foote, it is said, wept like a child when the order to withdraw was given.

The St. Louis was struck fifty-nine times; the Louisville thirty-six times; thc Carondelet twenty-six; the Pittsburg twenty; and the four vessels receiving no less than one hun dred and forty-one wounds. The attack was repulsed, but it was through the imperfection of the boats themselves in not having sufficient protection to their machinery, wheels, and steering apparatus; but the demoralizing influence of their fierce bombardment upon the fort could not have been small, and must have helped toward the great but hard-won success of the next day. At all events, the gun-boats did what they could, and, until rendered entirely helpless for action, drifting like logs in the rapid current, they were fought with a determined energy that looked, even to the last moment, only to victory.

The fleet, gathering itself together, and rendering mutual help to its disabled members, proceeded to Cairo to repair damages, intending to return immediately with a stronger

Surrender of Fort Donelson.


naval force to continue the siege. General Grant decided to await their return, and also the coming of reinforcements to his army; but events took place of sudden and rapid evolution, compelling him to change his plans, and bringing on the general battle of the next day. Early on the morning of the 15th, two grand sorties by the enemy, the one led by Generals Pillow and Johnson, and the other by Buckner, effected a complete surprise of the National forces, caused most sanguinary fighting, and seriously menaced the whole of Grant's right wing. It was only the prompt valor of Generals Wallace and McClernand (in the absence of Grant, who was in consultation with Foote), backed by the dogged bravery of the Western troops, that prevented a total rout. When the whole battle hung in the balance, wavering and uncertain, Grant himself came up, and by a bold inspiration that snatched victory from defeat, he ordered McClernand to retake the hill he had lost, and Smith to make a simultaneous attack on the Confederate right.* By desperate fighting, intrenchment after intrenchment was carried, and that night Grant knew that the ultimate triumph was his. Then took place those extraordinary and hurried councils in the camp of the enemy which resulted in the escape of Floyd and Pillow, and the unconditional surrender the next morning by Buckner of the stronghold with its army of fifteen thousand-or what remained of its army of twenty-five thousand who did not run away—and its immense amount of military stores.

As our business has been to give an account mainly of those operations in which Foote and the naval forces under his command were engaged, we have not entered into a detailed history of the assault and taking of Fort Donelson. It is, however, but just and right to give the flag-officer's own report of his share in that siege:

* Lossing's “Civil War in America,” vol. ii., p. 217.

“FLAG-SHIP “St. Louis,' Near Fort DONELSON,

CUMBERLAND RIVER, February 15, 1862. “SIR, I have the honor to report to the Department that, at the urgent request of General Halleck and General Grant, who regarded the movement as a military necessity, although not, in my opinion, properly prepared, I made an attack on Fort Donelson yesterday, the 14th instant, at three o'clock P.M., with four iron-clad and two wooden gun-boatsthe St. Louis, Carondelet, Louisville, and Pittsburg, and the Taylor and Conestoga. After a severe fight of an hour and a half, being in the latter part of the action less than four hundred yards from the fort, the wheel of this vessel, by a shot through her pilot-house, was carried away; the tiller-ropes of the Louisville were also disabled by a shot, which rendered the two boats wholly unmanageable, and they drifted down the river, the relieving tackles not being able to steer or control them in the rapid current. The two remaining boats, the Pittsburg and Carondelet, were also greatly damaged between wind and water, and soon followed us, as the enemy rapidly renewed the fire as we drifted helplessly down the river. This vessel, the St. Louis, alone received fifty-nine shots, four of them between wind and water; one in the pilot-house, mortally wounding the pilot; and others, requiring some time to put her in repair. There were fifty-four killed and wounded in the attack, which, notwithstanding our disadvantages, we have every reason to suppose would, in fifteen minutes more, could the action have been continued, have resulted in the capture of the two forts bearing upon us. The enemy's fire had materially slackened, and he was running from his batteries, when the two gun-boats helplessly drifted down the river from disabled steering apparatus, as the relieving tackles could not control the helm in the strong current; and the fleeing enemy, returning to their guns, again boldly opened fire upon us from the river batteries, which we had silenced.

“The enemy must have brought over twenty guns to bear upon our boats from the water-batteries and the main fort on the side of the hill, while we could only return the fire with twelve bow guns from the four boats. One rifle-gun aboard the Carondelet burst during the action.

“The officers and men in this hotly contested but unequal fight behaved with the greatest gallantry and determination, all deploring the accident which rendered two gun-boats suddenly helpless in the narrow river and swift current.

“On consultation with General Grant and my own officers, as my serv

[blocks in formation]

ices, until we can repair damages by bringing up a competent force from Cairo to attack the fort, are much less required here than they are at Cairo, I shall proceed to that point with two of the disabled boats, leaving the two others here to protect the transports, and with all dispatch prepare the mortar-boats and the Benton, with other boats, to make an effectual attack upon Fort Donelson.

"I have sent the Taylor to the Tennessee River to render impassable the bridge, so as to prevent the rebels at Columbus reinforcing their army at Fort Donelson. I am informed that the rebel batteries were served with the best gunners from Columbus. I transmit herewith a list of casualties. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

“ A. H. FOOTE, "Flag-Officer, commanding U.S. N. Forces, Western Waters. "The Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C."

A second dispatch announces the capture of the fort by General Grant:

“Cairo, February 17, 1862. “ TO THE HON. GIDEON WELLES :

“The Carondelet has just arrived from Donelson, and brings information of the capture of the fort by the land forces yesterday morning, with fifteen thousand prisoners, including Buckner and Johnson. Loss heavy on both sides. Floyd escaped with five thousand men during the night. I go up as soon as possible with the gun-boats. Will proceed to Clarksville. Eight mortar-boats are on the way, with which I hope to attack Clarksville. My wound is painful, but not dangerous.

“The army behaved gloriously. I shall be able to take but two ironclad gun-boats with me, as the others are disabled. The trophies are immense. The particulars will soon be given.

"A. H. Foote, Flag-Officer." The commodore's wound was not considered severe at the time, although it was painful, and he made light of it, not suffering it to interfere with his active duties. But as it was the immediate cause of his being compelled some months later to throw up his command at the West, and as it is probable, combined with the great burdens laid on him, that it was a remote cause of

aggravating his last fatal disease, therefore, by reason of this and other valuable lives that were forfeited, a mourn

ful interest is attached to the siege of Fort Donelson, the then greatest victory of the war. Commodore Foote was, in fact, twice wounded, both times apparently slightly — though it proved not to be so in the end-in this battle. He had stepped into the pilot-house to see that the boat was kept in position. A solid shot, hurled at a distance of less than four hundred yards, struck the pilot-house at an angle of forty-five degrees-which gives some idea of the fort's elevation and the immense disadvantage at which the gun-boats foughtpenetrated the wood, thirteen inches in thickness, and the iron, an inch and a quarter thick, and filled the pilot-house with broken fragments of iron and missiles of destruction. The pilot was instantly killed, and the commodore was struck by a fragment on the foot. At that moment a second shot, fired by the wooden gun-boat Taylor, that lay behind, came across the tiller-ropes, disabling the “relieving tackle” at the helm; and it was this shot that rendered the boat unmanageable. One account says that the commodore was taken up senseless, his leg bruised almost to a jelly from his ankle to his hip; but as the versions of this whole affair vary considerably in their details, we give his own brief letter to his wife in which he speaks of the circumstance:

“CAIRO, TELEGRAPH OFFICE, February 16, 1862. “MY DEAR WIFE,-1 telegraphed you from Paducah last night that Fort Donelson was not taken, but that I was slightly wounded, once at a gun and once in the pilot-house. It was by a piece of spent shot once, and a splinter once, but only slightly, on my left arm and left foot, which puts me on crutches for a few days; but I will be running about in less time than a week. I will not go so near again, although at Fort Henry I produced an effect by it. We ought to have been victorious at Donelson, as we fought harder than at Henry. I went into it against my judgment by order of Halleck. We had fifty-four killed and wounded, and fifty-nine shot in one vessel--a thing never before heard of in a naval fight. I have sent up four mortars, and hope to go again myself to-night; but we will lay off at a long distance. I shall not go near until

« AnteriorContinuar »