Question of the Week: 2/20-2/26/17

Question-HeaderIn February 1862 – Forts Henry and Donelson fell to combined Union land and river attack forces, resulting in a major victory for the Union.

Which commander – Union or Confederate – is most interesting to you during the Henry/Donelson campaign? Why?

16 Responses to Question of the Week: 2/20-2/26/17

  1. I find Andrew Foote a very compelling character. To a great extent, he’s in uncharted waters here (pun intended). He’s building an inland water fleet of these new-fangled ironclad gunboats, he’s short of crew, he’s answering to the army; there are a lot of challenges there. He develops a good relationship with the army (Grant, etc.) and they make a formidable team. Personally, I don’t think the Navy could have made a better choice to command the Western Flotilla at this time.

  2. US Grant; this was his first major campaign as an army commander & as such the crucible of his generalship. He had risen from a regimental commander in spring ’61 to this point & after Donelson would continue the rise ultimately to Commanding General of all Federal armies. In the Henry Donelson campaign, he deals with joint operations, command of multi divisions, combined arms, & larger strategic issues in the Western Theater as his staff & command style evolves.

  3. Nathan Bedford Forrest……there was no way this mercurial southern cavalry leader was going to allow his troopers to be interned in a Union prison camp….he showed early on a determination and perhaps a bit of insubordination which evolved into a first rate combat leader as evidenced early on at Donelson!……

    1. Although Forrest’s escape from Fort Donelson is the most talked about part of his involvement in the battle I suggest his actions in delaying the U.S. advance from Fort Henry and his conduct on the second day of the fighting at Fort Donelson are equally measures of his ability as a commander. As the Confederate forces pushed back the U.S. right flank Forrest used his cavalry command like a roving linebacker, identifying weak points in the U.S. line and leading attacks on those points.

  4. From a positive standpoint, Lew Wallace. I’ve often wondered if his unilateral/unauthorized and highly successful decision at Donelson didn’t set the stage for Grant’s “blame game” at Shiloh. From a negative standpoint, Gideon Pillow. No explanation needed.

  5. I agree with the excellent comments previously made. To this fascinating crew I submit another: C. F. Smith. Regular Army to his core, admired by Halleck, Grant and Sherman; at Donelson he displays a fascinating mixture of personal bravery and rigid adherence to orders both inspiring and aggravating…would not move an inch to support the collapsing Federal right without Grant’s say-so, but with definite orders he leads his men through the Rebel fortifications in the great stroke of the day.

  6. How about the two commanding generals behind the front lines – Henry Halleck on the Union side and Albert Johnston on the Southern side?

    Both were super cautious and uncertain about what to do. Of the two, Halleck was luckier. He had Ulysses Grant as his on-the-scene commander. Of course, Halleck never appreciated Grant’s aggressiveness and soon became jealous of him.

  7. Foote & Grant, along with all the other comments above. I have always been drawn to the way Grant worked with the Navy in equal partnership. Someone ought to write more about this–and if someone already has, let me know titles.

  8. Meg:

    You’re right. Grant’s use of the navy would make a terrific book.

    Forts Henry and Donelson weren’t the first or last times Grant cooperated with the Navy. The first two were his occupation of Paducah, KY and his attack on Belmont, MO. Of course, Grant used the navy effectively at Vicksburg, also.

    Before being forced by Washington to attack Lee frontally in the Overland Campaign, Grant wanted to launch a massive raid against Lee’s logistics in North Carolina (something akin to Sherman’s March to the Sea and through the Carolinas.). This major campaign, if it had been approved by Washington, would have entailed extensive use of the navy in helping to capture Wilmington NC, which in turn would be used as a staging area for the raid. Grant believed the destruction of railroads, crops and other supplies in NC would have forced Lee to abandon Virginia and confront Grant on a field of his own choosing in NC.

      1. When you get it written, make sure due acknowledgement is given to two otherwise disparaged – in one case – or ignored – in the other – characters – “Burn” and Goldsborough. Grant and Foote get most of the credit for Army-Navy cooperation and McClellan gets plaudits for the amphibious concept but this team checked off both items in North Carolina early on.

  9. John–consider yourself on the writing team! If we are serious about this–and we ought to be–I retire from the classroom in June. Check with Chris M for an exchange of personal emails. Huzzah!

  10. Meg:

    Even though I was a newspaper reporter/editor for 42 years (retired 10 years ago), I don’t think I have a book in me. But a lengthy ECW is a definite possibility.

      1. Meg,

        I’m really behind on my reading and just to this, but wanted to let you know that this is a subject of great interest to me also. Not sure I will be able to focus on it anytime soon with another book on the table, but please stay in touch. Maybe I can contribute.

  11. Dwight–Bob has gotten in touch with me, and he is up for something–not sure what–plus he sent me a great beginning outline. Chris K. said I should get in touch with you, so glad to hear from you. Please, please contact Chris M. and he will forward your email to me. This is exciting so far. Every time Grant & the Navy come up, something inside my brain just lights up as well. I dunno–Looking forward to hearing from you.

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