Wednesday, February 27, 2008

ON THIS DAY: Monday, Feb. 24, 1862

Grant bulls ahead

Ordered by Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck not to move on Nashville, Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant waits impatiently at Fort Donelson, handling the routine duties required by a large encamped army.

Between chores Grant writes his wife, Julia, telling her that Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, the Confederacy’s western commander, has “fallen back about forty miles south from Nashville leaving the river clear to our troops.” Grant has already ordered some of Buell’s troops—without Buell’s knowledge—to move up the Cumberland on steamboats, preceded by a gunboat. If Grant himself can’t advance on Nashville, he will make sure somebody does…in this case, under the command of Brig. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson (pictured).

Until he dies a most unusual death later this year, Nelson will serve as one of the war’s most colorful characters. A huge man—300 pounds of muscle and bone—Nelson is notorious for enormous rages, which alternate with an overwhelming geniality. He had served in the navy during the Mexican War and began service in the Civil War commanding gunboats on the Ohio River. A native Kentuckian, Nelson rallied other Kentuckians to the Union side and in September 1861 was appointed a brigadier general in the army.

Nelson’s troop transports will arrive at Nashville just as the first elements of Buell’s Army of the Ohio begin appearing on the north bank of the river. Without even being there, Grant has reached Nashville first.

Grant’s letter belies his later, undeserved, nickname of “Butcher Grant.” He tells Julia, “”These terrible battles are very good things to read about for persons lose no friends but I am decidedly in favor of having as little of it as possible. The way to avoid it is to push forward as vigorously as possible.”

ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Skirmishes occur in Missouri. At the White House, a simple funeral service is conducted in the East room for little Willie Lincoln, who had died four days before of typhoid. A bright boy, mature for his age, Willie was 11.

IT’S COMING SOONER THAN YOU THINK: April 12, 2011—less than 3½ years from now!—will be the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War. In 1861, April 12 was the day Confederates opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.

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