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Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland

by Benjamin Franklin Cooling

Hardcover in Good Condition. Book is near-new; dust jacket shows wrinkling at the bottom of front cover. 


About from the Publisher:


Forts Henry and Donelson:  The Key to the Confederate Heartland. By Benjamin Franklin Cooling. Knoxville:  University of Tennessee Press, 1987, xi-279. 


            Historians usually cite Forts Henry and Donelson as victories for the Northern cause, but scholars fail to show the significance of these gains.  Benjamin Cooling’s work Forts Henry and Donelson seeks to demonstrate that these campaigns, in the western theater, were indeed important for the sake of Northern morale and for molding Ulysses S. Grant into a capable general.  After the fall of both forts, Northern forces occupied Tennessee (xi-279).


            Forts Henry and Donelson, situated on the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River respectively and located in the state of Tennessee, were built by Confederate forces to strengthen the Southern defenses and to prevent the Union from discovering potential Southern military weaknesses.  According to Cooling, “Forts Henry and Donelson were constructed to guard the[se] water passages but ironically became roadblocks….” (xii).  Before the forts were built, Jefferson Davis, his cabinet, and his generals perceived the “twin rivers” as places for potential military invasions (12).  As the forts were built, the Union sent men to survey the areas.  Northerners reported back to their superiors that the Confederates built these forts complete with heavy weaponry (50). 


            The North soon realized that both fortifications lacked adequate men and arms.  General Ulysses S. Grant was confident that both forts could be captured by Union forces.  With permission from Generals Henry W. Halleck and George B. McClellan and with the help of Flag Officer Andrew Foote, Grant prepared to take Fort Henry for the Union.  On February 6, 1862, Foote’s gunboats fired at Fort Henry.  Foote’s flotilla severely damaged the fortification.  Although the Confederates continued to fire back at the Union gunboats, Foote had the upper hand.  Foote and his fleet secured the fort without requiring the assistance of Grant’s infantry.  Foote accepted the “unconditional” surrender of the Confederate fort (108).  Cooling notes that Grant rejoiced in the Union’s victory but was also shaken by it.  Since Foote received recognition for the fort’s capture, Grant believed that he personally would never receive praise for his efforts.  According to Cooling, Grant wrote General Halleck and said, ‘I shall take and destroy Fort Donaldson [sic] … and return to Fort Henry’ (111, noted in Simon Grant Papers, 155-60, 163).  In planning to capture Fort Donelson, Grant was determined that he and his men would obtain credit for the fall of this fort (101-21).


            Grant, Foote, and their men journeyed to Fort Donelson.  From February 14th through the 16th, a three-day campaign ensued for the capture of the fort.  On the first day, Union forces bombarded the stronghold with “ten rounds” and were gladdened that they forced the Confederates “behind the[ir] breastworks” (145).  On the following day, Southerners successfully held off the Union’s gunboats.  Grant and Foote were disappointed, since both believed that the North would emerge victorious (153).  Cooling notes the sentiments of Confederate Lieutenant Bedford, ‘[Foote] flushed with his victory at Fort Henry, his successes there paved the way for defeat [at least on February 15th] at Donelson’ (159, Bedford).  Finally on February 16th, the Southerners felt they lacked men and sufficient ammunitions to fight off the Northerners.  The Confederates, through General Simon Buckner, surrendered to Grant.  Although Buckner and Grant were both formerly in the Union army and even though Buckner once loaned money to Grant, Grant refused to cut deals with the South, and he only

offered “unconditional” surrender (209).  Cooling cites a note from Grant to Buckner.  Grant stated, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted” (209, Grant Papers). 


            Cooling demonstrates that the Confederate defeats at Forts Henry and Donelson led to Union occupation of this area in Tennessee.  Eventually, Nashville, Tennessee’s state capitol, also fell into the Union’s hands, once the capitol was vacated.  Cooling first presents Grant as an incapable general, who prefers to drink instead of drilling his troops.  With the campaigns at Forts Henry and Donelson, Cooling shows how Grant evolved and became a skilled leader.  With his win at Donelson, Grant received fame, and he became a trusted Union commander



Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland

SKU: 2-455
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