This Day in the Civil War

Saturday, Feb. 15 1862

One of the most stunning examples of Confederate defeat snatched from the jaws of victory occurred today at Ft. Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. The gunboats of Flag Officer Foote prevented the Rebel forces from taking to the river in large numbers to escape, so they did the only thing they could: they put up a fight fierce enough to break a hole in the Union line of attack. McClernand’s right flank was blown completely what did Gen. Pillow do? He pulled the victorious troops back into the fort and debated who should have the honor of surrendering the garrison. Gen. Floyd, the official commander, decided to decline, as did Gen. Pillow, so they took a handy rowboat and saved themselves to fight another day. The honor of surrender they left to Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner who, they reasoned, having been a prewar friend of Gen. U.S. Grant, would get the men better terms anyway. They were wrong.

Sunday, Feb. 15 1863

The last refugees from the USS Queen of the West were floating to rescue today after a most peculiar Valentine’s Day. The occasion on the Red River had started out well, with the capture of the Confederate vessel New Era No. 5. After that success they had gone on to attack Confederate shore batteries, in the process of which they had lamentably run aground, causing the steam pipes to break and requiring the ship to be abandoned. The crew escaped by floating away atop cotton bales. The captain claimed that the grounding was caused by a “disloyal pilot.” The crew reassembled aboard their fellow Union ship DeSoto, but the captain, Charles Ellet, decided that the captured Confederate ship was a better platform and made them all transfer again. Today, in a moment of relative calm, they met up with the Indianola and got everybody established on the right ship.

Monday, Feb. 15 1864

Gen. William T. Sherman’s men had had a long march down from Vicksburg, nearly 140 miles all told, and in the winter with bad conditions, including snipers, to boot. Yesterday they had arrived in Meridian, Mississippi, and discovered that Gen. Polk’s Confederates weren’t even going to make them fight for the place, but were withdrawing further south. They had been given a good night’s rest and as of this morning were feeling quite fine. Today they were given their orders: walk unimpeded into the town ahead and tear it into little nasty bits. They were to take shovels, rakes, and implements of destruction and tear up the railroads, the stations, the public buildings, the hotels, arsenals, depots, and anything whatsoever that looked like it might provide aid and comfort to the Confederacy or soldiers thereof. The men obeyed their orders. Orders to leave private homes unmolested were largely but not entirely obeyed.

Wednesday, Feb. 15 1865

It had been known for days that Gen. W. T. “Cump” Sherman’s troops were heading for Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. Today the only remaining barrier between the city and the conqueror was the Congaree River...but the river was not a loyal ally. The February winds and chill produced a thick fog off the river, and the result was that the Union forces were able to cross it almost unimpeded, because the artillery defenses couldn’t see what to shoot at. The weather had been very wet recently and the wagons and artillery bogged down repeatedly. Confederate ground forces fought fiercely where they could, but it amounted to mere skirmishing without air support.

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