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Civil War Round Table of Arkansas

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Our 46th Year 

Meets Fourth Tuesday; January-November
Founded March 1964

Second Presbyterian Church

600 Pleasant Valley Drive

Little Rock 
Program at 7 p.m. 
Jan Sarna, President 

Rick Meadows, Editor / 
Dues $20 Per Year


Brian Brown

And the Battles of

Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

Brian Brown


About or Speaker 

Each year we are very fortunate to have Brian Brown, our Secretary/Treasurer, bring a talk on his most recent tour he has made with the Blue and Gray Education Society. A resident of Little Rock, Brian graduated in 1984 from Southwestern College in Memphis, now Rhodes College.  After graduating from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1988, Brian joined the Laser Law Firm, becoming a partner in 2000.  

Brian began attending meetings of the Civil War Roundtable of Arkansas as a young boy. He has served as President several times and makes annual talks to our group. Last year he discussed Port Hudson and in 2008 he brought a wonderful program on the Battle of Perryville. Tuesday, Brian will bring a power point program on the important battles that occurred at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862. 

Prelude to Battle 

Kentucky had been a neutral state with both the Federal and Confederate forces striving to maintain control of the land and its rivers. In September 1861 Leonidas Polk ordered Gideon Pillow to take the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River in western Kentucky at Columbus with the hope of prohibiting Federals the use of the Mississippi. Ulysses S. Grant seized Paducah, where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers merge. This would open the door to the heartland of the Confederacy.  

Ulysses S. Grant realized the strategic value of the Tennessee and nearby Cumberland Rivers. In his personal memoirs, Grant writes “With Fort Henry in our hands we had a navigable stream open to us up to Muscle Shoals, in Alabama.  The Memphis and Charleston Railroad strikes the Tennessee at Eastport, Mississippi, and follows close to the banks of the river up to the shoals.  This road, of vast importance to the enemy, would cease to be of use to them for through traffic the moment Fort Henry became ours. Fort Donelson was the gate to Nashville-a place of great military and political importance.” (PG 284-285) 

In only Brian’s witful style, we will learn how competent the Confederate engineers were in the construction of Fort Henry. Located in a floodplain of the Tennessee River, much of the redoubt was underwater with the arrival of the winter rains and the Federal ironclads. To view the fort today, one must be a certified scuba diver. Fort Henry now rests at the bottom of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area after the Tennessee River was damned in the 1930’s. 

We will also see the importance of control of the rivers and the new found support in naval ironclads. Coordinated Federal attacks between naval and army forces proved pivotal.  

Courtesy of the Fort Donelson 1995 Tour Guide

"No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted."
U.S. Grant




From Henry to Donelson

Bells rang jubilantly throughout the North at the news, but they were silent in Dixie. The cause: the fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862. It was the North's first major victory of the Civil War, opening the way into the very heart of the Confederacy. Just a month before, the Confederates has seemed invincible. A stalemate had existed since the Southern victories at First Manassas and Wilson's Creek in the summer of 1861. Attempts to break the Confederate defense line, which in the west extended from southwest Missouri and the Indian Territory to the Appalachian Mountains, had achieved little success. A reconnaissance in January convinced the Union command that the most vulnerable places in the Confederacy's western line were Forts Henry and Donelson, earthen works guarding the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.

A joint navy/army attack upon Fort Henry had been agreed to by Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote and an obscure brigadier general named Ulysses S. Grant. It was to take place in early February, using the Tennessee River for transport and supply. It would be the first test of Foote's ironclad gunboats.

On February 6, 1862, while Grant's men marched overland from their camp downstream, Foote's gunboats slowly approached Fort Henry and opened a hot fire that quickly convinced Lloyd Tilghman, the Confederate commander, that he could not hold out for long. (Tilghman would die in action at Champion Hill in 1863). The plan called for the gunboats to engage the fort until the army could surround it. The bombardment raged for more than an hour, with the ironclads taking heavy blows and suffering many casualties. But the fort was no match for the gunboats. To the army's chagrin, the ironclads pounded the fort into submission before the soldiers, plodding over muddy roads, could reach the vicinity. Less than a hundred of the Confederate garrison surrendered, including Tilghman; the rest, almost 2,500 men, escaped to Fort Donelson, Grant's next objective, a dozen miles away on the Cumberland.

At Donelson the Confederates had a far stronger position. Two river batteries, mounting some 12 heavy guns, effectively controlled the Cumberland. An outer defense line, built largely by reinforcements sent in after the fall of Fort Henry, stretched along high ground from Hickman Creek on the right to the little town of Dover. Within the fort Confederate infantry and artillerymen huddled in log cabins against the winter. Aside from a measles epidemic, they lived "quite comfortably," cooking their own meals, fighting snowball battles, working on the fortifications, drilling, and talking about home--until the grim reality of war descended upon them.

It took Grant longer than expected to start his men toward Donelson. Several days passed before Fort Henry was secure and his troops ready. He finally got underway on February 11, and as his soldiers stepped out briskly over the rolling terrain, the weather had turned unseasonable warm. Believing that the temperature was typical of the South in February, many of the soldiers cast aside their heavy winter gear--an act they would soon regret. By February 13 some 15,000 Union troops nearly encircled the outerworks of Fort Donelson. Sporadic clashes broke out that day without either side gaining ground. Nightfall brought bitter weather--lashing sleet and snow that caused great suffering.   

The Battle of Fort Donelson

The morning of February 14 dawned cold and quiet. Early in the afternoon the stillness was broken by a furious roar, and the earth began to shake. The Union gunboats were exchanging "iron valentines" with the 11 big guns in the Southern water batteries. During this one and one-half hour duel the Confederate guns in inflicted such extensive damage upon the gunboats that they were forced to retreat. The hills and hollows echoed with cheers from the Southern soldiers.

The Confederate generals--John Floyd, Gideon Pillow, Simon Buckner, and Bushrod Johnson--also rejoiced; but sober reflection revealed another danger. Grant was receiving reinforcements daily and had extended his right flank almost to Lick Creek to complete the encirclement of the Southerners. If the Confederates did not move quickly, they would be starved into submission. Accordingly, they massed their troops against the Union right, hoping to clear a route to Nashville and safety. The battle on February 15 raged all morning, the Union army grudgingly retreating step by step. Just as it seemed the way was clear, the Southern troops were ordered to return to their entrenchments--a result of confusion and indecision among the Confederate commanders. Grant immediately launched a vigorous counterattack, retaking most of the lost ground and gaining new positions as well. The way of escape was closed once more.

Floyd and Pillow turned over command of Fort Donelson to Buckner and slipped away to Nashville with about 2,000 men. Others followed cavalryman Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest across swollen Lick Creek. That morning, February 16, Buckner asked Grant for terms, Grand answered, "No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." Buckner surrendered.

With the capture of Fort Donelson and her sister fort, Henry, the North had won its first great victory and gained a new hero--"Unconditional Surrender" Grant. The South was forced to give up southern Kentucky and much of Middle and West Tennessee. The heartland of the Confederacy was open, and the Federals would press on until the "Union" became a fact once more.


3rd Arkansas Monument

Winchester, VA

 On June 6, 2011, the dedication of the Arkansas Monument is anticipated. Of the 13 states represented at Stonewall Cemetery and nearly 3,000 soldiers buried there, Arkansas is one of two sections without a state monument. The photo below is of the 20 members of the 3rd Arkansas buried at the Stonewall Cemetery. A fund raiser is planned for Saturday, October 2, 2010 at the Winchester-Frederick County Conservation Club in Winchester, VA. “A Day with Mosby” Symposium and Benefit Meal. Scheduled speakers are: Erick Buckland, Dave Goetz, Chuck Mauro, and Don Hakenson. Event is hosted by the Turner Ashby Chapter #184 UDC and Turner Ashby Camp 1567 SCV.

 For more information:

Call 540-664-7820

Thanks to Kent Shreeve from our Roundtable who supplied this information.  



20 Members of the 3rd Arkansas

Stonewall Cemetery within Hebron Cemetery, Winchester, VA

Civil War Bullets from Rick 

  • Watch for new web site for Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society in Jacksonville, AR. Re-enactment is September 10-12.
  • September 18, 2010. A special fund raising event - visit historic Moss Neck Plantation and tour of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. Guides are Col. Keith Gibson of VMI and NPS Historian Frank O’Reilly. For more information see Central Virginia Battlefields Trust at



 For updated information about events & programs relating to the Civil War Sesquicentennial, visit:


 Civil War Roundtable Speakers 2010 

Jan – Joellen Maack – Civil War Flags at the Old State House Museum

Feb – Dr. Michael Dougan  - Gen N. Bart Pearce

Mar –  William Stevens – CSS Pontchartrain

Apr –  Tom Ezell          @  the Ten Mile House – David O. Dodd

May – Mark Christ – Battle of Arkansas Post

June –  Evans Benton – Forrest’s West Tennessee Raid & The Battle of Parkers’ Crossroads

July –  Brain Brown– “Fort Henry and Fort Donelson”

Aug –  Dr. Bill Gurley  - “Confederate Grizzlies: Mosby M. Parsons and his Confederate Missouri Division”

Sept –  Greg Biggs – “How Johnny Got His Gun”

Oct – Dr. William Shea – Trans Mississippi Army

Nov – Drew Hodges – Confederate General Bushrod Johnson 

Thanks to Evans Benton for our program last month on The Battle of Parkers’ Crossroads in West Tennessee. Sounds like we need to make a bus tour of Kentucky and Tennessee.  

Hope to see you Tuesday night with Brian Brown with the Battles of Fort Henry and Donelson and more action in the western theater.