By 8 a.m., Ulysses S. Grant’s troops have begun marching towards Fort Donelson, 12 miles away. Rain and mud delayed their departure by two days, but now the roads are firm enough for thousands of men and hundreds of horses—and Grant dares delay no longer.
One reason is that Grant wants to attack before Confederates have brought in too many reinforcements. But another is that Grant’s superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, is a nervous Nelly who at any moment could order a halt to Grant’s advance. Halleck has been feeding reinforcements to Grant without an explicit yay or nay about Donelson, but he has also indicated he’d prefer Grant remain at Fort Henry. It looks like a CYA maneuver by Halleck: if Grant takes Donelson, Halleck can share in the glory of the attack; if Grant fails, Halleck can point to his advisories against it.
So, lacking clear orders one way or the other, Grant puts his head down and pushes ahead.
After traveling about five miles, Grant’s troops are slowed by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Next comes plunging artillery fire. By nightfall, however, McClernand’s and Smith’s forces are camped on a high ridge facing Fort Donelson’s outer works.
The roads they had left behind, however, are littered (according to a Union major) with the “coats, pants, canteens, cartridge boxes, bayonet scabbards, knapsacks…all sorts of things that are found in the army." Grant’s inexperienced soldiers are discarding things they will need later. Feeling cocky after Fort Henry’s easy victory, these soldiers will soon encounter two challenges: an unexpected winter storm and a stout defense by Donelson’s defenders.
ELSEWHERE IN THE CIVIL WAR: Robert Caldwell writes a hurried letter to his parents in Elmore. Mitchel’s Division has received its marching orders: advance on the Confederate base at Bowling Green, Kentucky. Swallowing hard, he writes, “I am determined by the help of God to do my duty to my country [even] if I perish in the attempt.”
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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