Battle of Fort Donelson

Ulysses S Grant, Seventeenth President of the United States
Ulysses S Grant, Seventeenth President of the United States. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13018 DLC

Dates of the Battle of Fort Donelson:

February 13-16, 1862

Location:

Stewart County, Tennessee.

Key Individuals Involved in the Battle of Fort Donelson:

Union: Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant
Confederate: Brigadier General Simon P. Buckner

Outcome:

Victory for the Union forces. 17,398 casualties. Of those, 15,067 were Confederate soldiers.

Overview of the Battle :

The Battle of Fort Henry was fought on February 6,1862.

This was the first significant victory for Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant. With the fall of Fort Henry, the Confederate Army sent thousands of reinforcements ten miles away at Fort Donelson. This was a heavily reinforced fort located on the Cumberland River. Grant realized the importance of gaining this larger fort. The goal of the Union troops was to make a path to the center of the Confederacy along the Tennessee River. With this in mind, Grant quickly moved his troops to Fort Donelson to block entry and exit from the fort.

Over three days, Grant set up a perimeter that included warships that attack the fort from the East. On February 15th, the Confederate forces began an all-out attack on the Union right flank and center. This was started in large part because there was a fear that the Confederate troops would starve if they did not escape from the surrounded fort. This attack led by Brigadier General John Floyd had actually punched through the Union line and had an escape route to safety.

However, some confusion occurred with the Confederate leadership and the troops were called back into the fort. Some say that Confederate General Gideon Pillow made the fatal mistake of not allowing his men to escape. 

Grant took this opportunity to reinforce the lines around the fort. A small number of forces were able to retreat but the majority of the men were in the force.

General Simon Buckner asked General Grant for terms once he saw that there was no way to end the blockade. Grant's answer was, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” In the end, Buckner surrendered his 12,000 men unconditionally. 

Significance of the Battle of Fort Donelson:

The Battle of Fort Donelson was a major victory for the North. This was a heavily fortified fort located on the Tennessee River in the heart of the confederacy. This combined with the previous fall of Fort Henry meant that the Confederacy had lost all access to Kentucky. Instead, it would stay with the Union. In addition, the state of Tennessee was now open to continued advances by the Union along both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

Another outcome of the battle was its significance for General Grant. After this and his previous victory, Abraham Lincoln promoted him to the rank of Major General. In addition, it was here that Grant earned his nickname “Unconditional Surrender."