tv [untitled] May 2, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm EDT
all of you. next on american history tv, kendall gott talks about the civil war battle of ft. d donelson. he's a professor at the u.s. army combined armed center, and the author of "where the south lost the war." an analysis of the ft. henry, ft. donelson campaign. he gave this talk at the visitor's center in dover, tennessee. it's 50 minutes.
>> the push of today is not to give a blow by blow of the battle. i've been asked to give random thoughts if the 150 years that have passed since the battle. i'll focus my remarks on that. for more detailed analysis of that, my book, i would love for you to buy that, but there's some others out there, too. dr. kuhning wrote an excellent book on the battle itself and the short film that's involved here and the interpretation with the rangers, seek those out for the blow by blow. we'll have more of a macro level for this here. it is exciting to be here for the 150th anniversary. as historians we look back and we think 150 years is a long time but really it isn't. we're talking -- it may depend on how old you are. great grandfathers, maybe great great grandfathers. just a couple generations have passed here but the world has
changed a great deal in the last 150 years. it's exciting to be here but a little melancholy as well. a number of men died in this battle. it's almost a shame that this battle is not remembered as well as it should be, in my opinion. if you ask any high schooler out there in the country to name a civil war battle, what do you think's going to happen? gettysburg is probably the top one there. in my remarks i'm going to say some harassy, so to speak, personal opinion, but when you think of the importance of the battle at ft. donelson it's overshadowed unfortunately by shiloh unfortunately a few weeks later. vicksburg was a big one in the
western theater. bull run, prior to this battle, but you're getting into frederiksberg, et cetera. little ft. donelson in the western theater gets overshadowed by many other things. i think that is unfortunate. i think that's also changing, too. the work here at the park is helping to educate people and the interpretation of this battle is also improving. i'll get more detail of that. again, think of what is going on here in the winter of 1862. the union suffered a big defeat back in the east with the battle of bull run. first manassas. not much has really happened since that period up to the february of 1862. so, you have six, seven months with agitated public in the north. in particular, okay, guys, where are we going? let's march. on to richmond. president lincoln is exasperated
with the lack of activity. what's it take? it finally takes a brigadier general in illinois battling his superior saying, let's move. finally that word comes. and general grant, as the story goes, will come with combined force, or joint force army and navy, and will quickly take ft. henry. and that happened on february 6th. a week or so later he he'll get over here to ft. donelson across the 120 12 miles separating the tennessee and cumberland river and they seize ft. donelson and finally win. why was it forgotten? was it made to look too easy? guys that fought both sides would say, it wasn't an easy fight at all. ft. henry fell under a gun boat attack. if you check with the men of the "uss essex" who took a hit in
the boiler, and 80-some of the crew were scalded and died 37. that wasn't an easy fight. if you come over here to ft. donelson and ask if that was an easy fight, the guys who lived through the blizzard, the guys who had made the march over, the guys who have made the series of attacks, smith's attack, or the confederate breakout on the 15th if you ask them if that was an easy fight, no way. those guys gave their all for it. so, when i feel that ft. donelson is somehow forgotten, to me it's a travesty because these gentlemen and ladies supporting them also were kind of besmerching its memory. there's so much more importance that is often given to this battle. ft. donelson, ft. henry fell, so what? well, i'll answer that. ft. henry is on the tennessee river. the tennessee river is one of the major commercial traffic ways of the united states at that time. crops and other goods that were produced in the deep south were
shipped by steam boat up the missouri -- i'm sorry, down -- i'm thinking kansas again. take the man out of kansas -- you can't take kansas out of the guy. down to tennessee to points along and out through the mississippi, down to new orleans, out to market. same for the cumberland. in the civil war we talked a great deal about the railroads. well, the railroads were important and they gained more importance as the war went on. 1860, 1862, the main arteries of commerce were the rivers, particularly the tennessee and cumberland in this region. when ft. henry fell, there was no other confederate fortification between ft. henry down to the head of navigation. the union navy at that moment controlled the tennessee river with the commerce. the whole section of the -- on
either sides of the banks of the tennessee, commerce was now cut off. same for the cumberland. and even something more important on the other side of cumberland was the city of nashville. nashville was the capital of tennessee, still is, with the control of the cumberland gone, nashville fell. like that. not a shot was fired. so, the absolute significance militarily of the fall of ft. donelson was this, when ft. donelson, ft. henry fell, tennessee was gone for the confederates. iron works, crops, any cotton grown in this area was eliminated from the confederacy for basically the rest of the war. with middle tennessee gone, also fell columbus, the bigg gibraltr
of the west. most of tennessee would be removed. now, here's where i'm going to get in trouble by some historians but i'm going to make this bold assertion here. i cannot name a more decisive campaign in the entire world. none. maybe vicksburg. maybe appomadox but that was at the end. those two i just mentioned, what happened if those two? well, vicksburg, entire confederate army was captured, just like here. and the mississippi river was open. that's a pretty significant event. took them several months to do it, but it's significant. appomadox the confederate army was captured and attacked and that caused a chain reaction for the rest of the confederate army to fall. more harassy.
antietam, big battle, bloodiest battle in the american continent, certainly at that time. what did it accomplish? nothing. lee's army was able to retreated in tact. the army potomac broke off and they were reconstituted and they went to fight again. gettysburg, lee invades pennsylvania. he gets all the way up to -- causes some havoc, army potomac meet them in a three day pitch battle. very dramatic. i'm not trying to undercut the heroics and sacrifices these gentlemen made in these battles, but what did gettysburg prove? nothing. both sides broke contact, went to their respective sides to regroup, rearm and they fought again. here at ft. donelson, a confederate army is captured,
in tact, 16,000 guys. that's a big army at that time. all their equipment, all their artillery, ammunition, supplies. grant's army lived on those supplies for several weeks after capturing dover. where all the confederate supplies were. middle tennessee, lost. western tennessee, pretty much gone after that very quickly because the confederates couldn't hold it. they just withdrew without firing a shot. eastern tennessee wasn't nice to the confederate army either, so in one swoop all of tennessee is gone in essentially a two-week campaign. again, is there any other civil war battle that is so decisive, with such short loss and so dramatic if effect? i'll pose this as no. so, it does make me sad in a way that ft. donelson does not get the recognition that it does.
this is a critical event here. 150 years ago, happening right here at ft. donelson, ft. henry, and ft. hyman over that way. so, something else ft. donelson will do for the union side, you've heard earlier they read george grant's orders. general grant in 1864 was a brigadier general and charged with illinois. it's back water then, it's back water now too. but he's just a lonely guy, unknown. yeah, he was a captain in the mexican war. he faded from the army very quickly after that. this battle is going to put him on the glide path to success here. he has a lot of competition out there, but he has one thing
going for him. he almost loses a lot of battles, but he ends up winning them in the end. and he's going to do -- you know, belmont, learning -- this is back in december of '61. he almost loses his shirt physically at belmont. he learns his lessons there. comes here. he has more learning to do, but he's learning his trade. and he's learning it through success. the confederates on the 15th come this close to pushing him back to the river and defeating him. but he springs back. the subordinate commanders on the ground are also learning their trade. gentlemen such as at that time colonel logan will go on to high
rank. james mcpherson, general mclearnen will rise to a point and off he goes, lou wallace, ben hur fame, will start on a pretty good rise but have some troubles. but the generals and the colonels and regimental commanders are all learning their trade here but more importantly, the men are learning their trade. the union army that landed at ft. henry on the 5th of january, most of them were pretty novice guys. just learning the drill and how to fire and so forth. a number of these guys have fought missouri, and they have had some combat experience. not two years, but they have some. they've been under fire. at ft. donelson and ft. henry, they'll get more. six weeks after ft. donelson they have shilo. more experience. you are seeing the core, the
nugget, the army of the tennessee being born. the army of the tennessee is going to be one of the most successful armies in the union and in the civil war. those guys are going to march to ft. donelson to shilo, vicksburg, chattanooga, to atlanta to savannah up through the carolinas. these guys are going to be everywhere. and they're going to be leaving a trail of victories in their path. the army of the cumberland will be alongside them, but the army of the tennessee, if you -- rock hard, hitting, victorious type guys -- they had their setbacks, obviously, but this is where that army is going to be being born, right here at ft. donelson. and as i said before, the commanders as well. conversely on the southern side, the legacy here is going to be a little different. the guys that were sent here, ft. donelson to bolster their defense, ad-hoc, most came in
from bowling green at the time. and even the guys that were stationed here up until that time at ft. henry, ft. donelson and ft. hyman, they spent most of their time digging. a little bit of drill. they were novice troops but they did very well for what training they had. they did very well. they made up for that lack of training with just bullheaded tenacity. but when the prisoners are taken from ft. donelson after surrender, they'll be in the northern prison camps for six months before they're exchanged or paroled. the southern army out here, which will become the army of the -- the army of tennessee, army of tennessee, they're not going to -- that initial core of experience is gone.
the combat experience they had here at ft. donelson is locked away in a union prison camp for six months. so it's shilo because confederates lost 16,000 guys to their army, shilo was this close of a victory for the south. could you imagine if you threw 16,000 more confederates on that. what would have happened at the battle of shilo. they were denied. it could have gone the other way. another ft. donelson legacy. i'm going to badger this point. donelson campaign was so pivotal and it kind of breaks my heart that it's not as remembered as it should be. lessons for today. if you look at ft. donelson campaign, a lot of studies for command. command and control personalities. ft. donelson campaign makes it a fun campaign to study, looking at the personalities, on the union side, they had more of a traditional unified command.
you had general hallic, commander in charge of expedition. say what you will about hallic in st. louis but he was good about -- he might have overwhelmed the telegraph lines with notes to granted, telling him to do this and that. but grant always knew what hallic wanted him to do. it may not have been possible for what hallic wanted because it wasn't on the ground but he gave grant enough trust to do what was right and he let them know what was done. conversely on the other side, the confederates, it's kind of the exact opposite. you had albert sidney johnson in bowling green in charge of the whole western department. ft. henry fell, we have to reinforce ft. donelson, you take your brigade, you take your regiment and you take your division and go. oh, i have four brigadier generals at donelson? figure out. whoever is senior, just take command. and the communications between all those, of the four brigadier generals, johnson, lowest ranking one, he was kind of forgotten. many of you are wondering, four?
i didn't know there were four. he was forgotten. buckner, next junior guy, he didn't communicate directly as far as we know with albert sidney johnson in the west but the two others, giddy and john floyd, they were sending the -- their commander updates. if you can imagine the theater commander gets two updates from two generals up there going, what the heck? and they're both saying different things. before e-mail, but you could relate. if you have an e-mail from two guys and saying different thing, who do you believe? well, and general johnson's -- to his credit, he never firmly established a chain of command. never firmly established what he wanted done here and it led to chaos. particularly during the discussions of what to do on the 15th of february, the day before
the surrender, this all comes to a head at dover hotel, which is nicely still standing. and it becomes a disaster for the confederates. today it's fun to study this battle because of the personalities involved. personalities don't matter anymore today, do they? everybody's on the same team. yeah, right. yeah, okay. application of new technologies. another new thing about this campaign, which i don't understand, too, why it doesn't get more attention than it does. mission of railroad -- still a fairly new technology. i'm going to get some quizzical looks, i see already. railroads? yeah, there's no railroads at donelson or dover, ten. you need troops, you need a railroad. you get them on the rail, take bowling green, for example, take it by rail to clarksville just up the river, get on a steam boat, come down.
so railroads are in use. the same for supplies. grant is going to use the railroads for supply. they all come down by either boat or railroad to kayrow, illinois, where they're put on a steamboat and brought up here. railroads, pretty neat. telegraph was still fairly new in the united states, too. telegraph lines will be strung up all over the place. grant, for instance, is going to communicate by two major means with hallic, who's up in st. louis. give a note to a guy, he gets on a steam boat, goes up to st. louis, here you go, general. the other is a string of line down from illinois. and he's -- there's that guy with a little key, tapping out messages back and forth to st. louis. kind of neat. something else i think is really neat, they made a movie about ft. donelson it would take $1 million to build this prop, iron-clad gun boat. iron-clad, holy smoke.
it's not like the delta queen. big, fat, ugly, cannons pointing out and meant for business. the iron-clad technology isn't all that new. they were used as floating batteries and some steam powered. here in the united states, certainly in the 1860s, they were pretty cutting edge. technology had been there all along. iron plate, that's been around for a while. cannon, certainly. steam power for boats, that's great. these molded them all together. that technology. and the technology was such that you could take a gun boat and for the first time, take a gun boat and take on land forte fiction. ft. henry is a good example. ft. donelson is not a good example, because the same gun boats did the same thing at ft. donelson and got their butts kicked.
what's neat is that the technology is there. and with that technology you have general grant, an army general, he has to play with the navy, vice versa. the navy is part of the game now out here in inland waters. that's brand new also. you have flag officer foote, later admiral, was in charge of the union gun boat fleet. and grant and foote fortunately had a great partnership with this. they're in full agreement. again, the study of ft. donelson, we're losing it if we're not doing it. looking at the first real joint operation here for the civil war. now, there are certain things i should caveat that. there are other operations going on, eastern seaboard, that are army/navy, but this is a great one to study here.
novice armies coming together. ft. donelson is fun to study because people are making big mistakes. they're making some basic mistakes, how to handle and distribute ammunition to veteran armies later in the war will not have to deal with. you have that kind of thing going on. command and control, tactics, in big flux at this period of the war. why is ft. donelson forgotten? i mentioned before, there were bigger battles that have come up after this campaign, shiloh in particular, happened six weeks after this. i imagine six weeks from now you'll be down at the shilo battlefield park having a good time, too. shiloh certainly was a big one. it's understandable with the number of casualties and such. why even in their day, when you
look at the official records or if you look at the books that are written shortly after the war, ft. donelson is rarely mentioned. could it be that the north, although it was a great victory -- shiloh and so forth overshadowed, we can leave it at that. why would the south want to remember this battle? they don't want to remember vicksburg either, but that one is hard to brush aside. for the southerners, this was kind of an embarrassment. the loss of both rivers is so tremendous and traumatic. they never got it back. it was hard for them to really remember this kind of thing. the generals who fought here, commander generals on the southern side, two of them escaped, billow and floyd. they never received a command after this. general floyd didn't live much
longer after the battle, by the way. general billow tried to exonerate himself out of this, but his conduct was fairly questionable, so he never got a command. general buckner, who was the one who actually surrendered, he was in ft. warren, michigan -- ft. warren, massachusetts, for six months. so, he was kind of -- he was not allowed to communicate with anybody, so it was -- the action report was able to pass through, but by and large, he was out of reach. and bushrod johnson, who walked out of here on his own he was pretty quiet about the whole thing too. it was an embarrassment to the general officers, so maybe that's why, at least the south doesn't remember it quite as well. now, let's see. in concluding my actual informal remarks here, it will be a travesty to allow ft. donelson
to be not remembered as well as it should be. it is remembered with you all here. thank you for coming here. i do see nice changes coming about. for instance, there's a civil war series, short in nature and the kind of readers digest version of it of all the battle fields commissioned about a year or so ago. ft. donelson has the book on that. it has been remembered in the new historical series. the work on the part, i've been watching this park now for 40 years, coming here when i was first 11 as a boy scout. a lot of changes have been going on here in the last 40 years and a lot in the last 10 or 15. for those of you that remember, particularly the water battery, the cannons were there, but they were not mounted in the actual position they are today. a lot of archeological work has been done there.
they've done some great work in restoring most of the positions out there. a number of other areas in the park have been acquired. 15 acres was just signed over today. there's more in the works. and it's a nice balance between development, allowing dover to survive and thrive and grow, and then preserving critical parts of the battlefield. it is really nice to see that. the exhibits here, some i remember from 40 years ago. there's some that are very new. the story of jake donelson, the rooster that was the mascot of the company h 3rd tennessee the portrait was donated by the family for preservation and for here at ft. donelson national battlefield. there are a lot of remarkable things going on here at the park. i'm sure it will continue. i certainly hope it does.
but, again, ft. donelson 150 years ago, remarkable. 150 years ago. i'm not going to be around for the 200th, i assure you of that. i can guarantee. some of you will. i can see some of -- you guys will certainly, hope to see you then. but 150 years, yeah, it's a long time for all of us. we're here for a limited time. ft. donelson, it will be here after we're gone and hopefully a long time after that. that concludes my formal remarks. i'll open it up for any points of discussion you would like to make. we'll see if we address those. yes, sir. >> if hyman, henry and donelson had survived that initial -- and grant had been defeated, what impact do you think that would have had on the civil war?
>> okay. correct me if i'm wrong because i don't hear well. i'm going to repeat your question for you. if forts henry, donelson and hyman survive, what would have been the outlook -- what would have been the impact? right off the bat, grant would be unemployed. he'd be working back at his farmer's tannery. and my good colleague jim vaughn made a great point this morning. grant was -- as you may know, grant was relieved of command after donelson, some trumped up stuff. he was relieved when he was victorious. if he was not victorious, he would have been fired, too, certainly. the effect of it in the long term, what i would suspect is that they would have -- the union would have mounted another expedition, they might are done it differently, it might have been bloodier, but it would have happened. and that's part of -