The Battle of Fort Donelson (1862)

During early 1862, the Union Army began offensive operations against Confederate river strongholds in middle Tennessee. After successfully capturing Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Admiral Foote's gunboats moved back up the Tennessee, down the Ohio, and up the Cumberland River toward Fort Donelson. Meanwhile, Grant's force moved 12 miles overland from Fort Henry to Fort Donelson. Nearly surrounding the fortifications that guarded a large river battery and encompassed the town of Dover, Grant's men were close to trapping the Confederate garrison. Despite successfully stopping an attack on the battery by Foote's gunboat earlier in the day, the Confederate commanders decided that their position was untenable on the night of 14 February.

Confederate Generals John Floyd, Gideon Pillow, and Simon Buckner agreed to break out of the trap the next morning. Massing great strength on their left flank, the Confederate force sprung their trap the next morning. Attacking in force, supported by field artillery and enveloping cavalry, the Confederates opened an escape route to Nashville. Just as this occurred, however, General Pillow inexplicably ordered his Confederate soldiers back to their positions inside the works. While the senior Confederate leadership quarreled about their next course of action, Federal commander U.S. Grant arrived on the battlefield. He ordered an immediate counter attack to retake ground lost to Confederates in their assault that morning. Grant also reasoned that to have demonstrated such strength on their left that the Confederates must have significantly weakened their right. Grant ordered General C.F. Smith's division to immediately assault the Confederate right. The assaults that Grant ordered achieved their objective and the Confederates lost the initiative and were forced to surrender on 16 February, 1862.

During the battle of 15 February, the Confederates violated several principals of war. First, their attacks failed to continue the OFFENSIVE. Moreover, their attack and actions that followed did not have a clear OBJECTIVE. The Confederates also had a problem with UNITY OF COMMAND. By stopping the attack at its pinnacle to reconsider their options, the Confederate commanders gave the enemy an "unexpected advantage" and also violated the principle of SECURITY.

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