The American Civil War 150th Anniversary – February 12-18, 1862

Here are some of the events of the Civil War that were happening 150 years ago today. Sources are numbered according to the list at the bottom of this post.

Also see the article about what happened in February 1862. There is also much day-by-day information in journals from people on both sides of the war at Daily Observations From The Civil War and some news stories of the day at Civil War Daily Gazette.

The "USS Cairo," restored and on display in Vicksburg, MS, 2006.

The "USS Cairo," in 2006, restored and on display in Vicksburg, MS. (Source: CapCase at )

Pook’s Turtles

In his Battle Cry of Freedom chapter on the river war in 1862, Macpherson notes the gun boats that General Grant and Flag Officer Foote used against forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862 “looked like no other vessel in existence.” They are still striking in appearance.

These ironclad gunboats were built by the War Department, rather than the Navy, since military theory through the fall of 1862 maintained that inland operations, even on water, were the province of the Army. Starting in 1861, James Eads built seven of these ships, including the USS Cairo, which is still on display in Vicksburg. It was sunk by a mine in the Yazoo River just north of Vicksburg in 1863; apparently the area was “the principal proving-grounds for black powder mines in the Confederacy, staffed by its leading experts in the craft” (see USS Cairo link above).

Now I understand better the story told to me by a 21st century motel clerk in Vicksburg about the local youth who floated a mine downriver during Grant’s siege and sank a gunboat. Actually, the CSA used electrically activated mines…indeed, the IEDs of the day!

The metal casing that protected them was designed by Samuel Pook, and as the craft reminded observers of turtles, these ironclads soon got the name of “Pook’s Turtles.” They were formidable, though their armor could be penetrated by artillery fire (as well as mines, though these weren’t a factor in 1862). General Grant’s advance from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson was delayed until this week in part because of the time needed to repair the gunboats after the fight for Fort Henry.

A long introduction, but here is this week’s timeline.

February 12

Battles: Western Kentucky/Tennessee: Fort Donelson. Grant’s 15,000 troops approach the fort after traveling overland from Fort Henry, many of them having thrown away their winter gear in the warm weather. (4)

Springfield, Missouri: CS General Price decides to withdraw from town and sends the 1st Missouri Cavalry out toward Union lines as cover. The cavalry runs into a picket line and fighting erupts. This causes US General Curtis to direct cannon fire on the Confederate cavalry and they retreat, probably becoming Price’s rear guard. (9, MOLLUS)

Other: Lincoln’s birthday. President Lincoln spends most of his 53rd birthday with son Willie, who is very sick with typhoid fever. (6)

February 13

Battles: Western Kentucky/Tennessee: Fort Donelson. CSA troops repulse Grant’s probing attacks. (4)

Springfield, Missouri: Union troops occupy the town and only then realize that CSA troops are gone. (9, MOLLUS)

Fort Donelson battery.

A Fort Donelson battery. (Source: S. Farnor/NPCA at )

February 14

Battles: Western Kentucky/Tennessee: Fort Donelson. Two “Pook’s turtles,” two wooden gunboats and 10,000 Yankee reinforcements arrive. Grant orders the fleet to shell Donelson while his infantry surrounds the fort to prevent the garrison’s escape. First Officer Foote brings his ironclads too close. They overshoot the fort and are easy targets for Donelson’s batteries.

By the time both ironclads are disabled and float downstream, leaving the battle, each has taken 40 or more damaging hits, sustaining a total of 54 casualties, while not a man or gun has been lost inside the fort. The Confederates, who had believed the “turtles” invincible, are elated. However, with the fort’s three land sides surrounded by better-armed infantry, and with Grant’s floating artillery still controlling the river, the defenders decide to try a breakout in the morning and escape to Nashville.

Meanwhile, the weather has changed, and Grant’s poorly prepared troops suffer greatly from the snow and cold winds. The storm also masks the preparations inside the fort. (4)

Seeking for the wounded after the battle.

Seeking for the wounded, by torch-light, after the battle. Illustration in "Harper's Weekly," March 8, 1862. (Source: Library of Congress)

February 15

Battles: Western Kentucky/Tennessee: Fort Donelson. The CSA forces break out of the fort at dawn. USA General John McClernand’s division on the right is driven back a mile after hours of heavy fighting. Word of the battle reaches Grant, who is downstream conferring with Flag Officer Foote, and he orders the gunboats to lob in a few shells for moral support as he rushes back to Fort Donelson. CSA General Pillow orders the end of the breakout attempt and the soldiers return to the relative safety of the fort, allowing Union commanders to reorganize and regain the ground they lost in the morning. The weather is still frigid, and some of the 3,000 wounded die from exposure overnight.

Meanwhile, the city of Bowling Green is evacuated as CSA General Sidney Johnston’s column is forced to retreat over the Cumberland River. General Beauregard leaves Bowling Green before this, waits in Nashville to hear the outcome of the Fort Donelson battle and what General Johnston will do with Nashville, and by the 16th is in Corinth, Mississippi.

Meanwhile, at the fort that night (link added), “[t]here then followed a truly bizarre conversation in which Buckner, ever the soldier, said that he would surrender the fort and share his men’s fate. Floyd then announced that he was passing overall command to Pillow, who summarily stated that he, in turn, was passing it on to Buckner. So, the professional soldier would be left to his fate while the two politicians headed for the hills and saved their own skins.

“Young [Col. Nathan Bedford] Forrest listened to all this in complete amazement, then barked that he had no intention of surrendering his men. He stormed out, collected his officers and told them they were going to escape or die trying. They all stood with him, then assembled the regiment and made a daring nighttime escape attempt via the narrow road the scouts had discovered earlier. The road was partially submerged under the freezing waters of the Cumberland in places, but Forrest’s men would make a successful escape.” (1, 4, 10 [quote is from 10])

February 16

Battles: Western Kentucky/Tennessee: Fort Donelson. Shortly after dawn, General Buckner contacts General Grant to discussion surrender terms. Grant replies, “No terms except an immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately on your works.” This “ungenerous and unchivalric” response annoys Buckner, who after all had loaned Grant the money to return home after that unfortunate man’s resignation from the army in disgrace back in 1854, but Buckner has no options, and he surrenders Fort Donelson and his 12,000-13,000 men. (4)

February 17

Military events: General Floyd arrives in Nashville. (8)

February 18

Politics: The first CSA Congress meets in Richmond. Until now, political decisions have been made by the secessionist conventions established in 1861. (8)


(1) timeline

(2)  Library of Congress timeline

(3)  Smithsonian Civil War Timeline

(4)  “Battle Cry of Freedom” by James McPherson

(5) University of North Carolina “Civil War Day by Day”

(6) The Lincoln Log timeline.

(7) The Burnside Expedition, by General Burnside.

(8) Blue and Gray Timeline.

(9) Civil War Daily Gazette timeline.

(10) “Thoughts, Essays & Musings on the Civil War”, Fort Henry/Fort Donelson page (excellent contemporary images here, too)

Categories: American Civil War

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