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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Castrioti

February 16th, 1862 - The Battle of Fort Donelson

Conflict: Civil War

Combatants: Confederates vs. Federals

Location: Tennessee

Outcome: Federal victory

Union advances in Kentucky forced Albert Johnson, the Confederate commander in the theater, to withdraw his forces to Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile, he ordered General John Floyd to reinforce Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River with 12,000 troops. Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Federal forces, led 25,000 soldiers from Kentucky to invest the fort.

Gunboats at Fort Donelson by an unknown artist

On February 12th of 1862, Federal gunboats fired on the fort from the river but accurate Confederate batteries forced the Union vessels to withdraw two days later. Meanwhile, on February 15th, the Confederate defenders struck out at Grant's advancing line in an attempt to force an escape route. Although these probes were successful, Floyd pulled the Confederate troops back. That night, Floyd and fellow general Gideon Pillow abandoned the fort by slipping across the river.

The attack on Fort Donelson by John Steeple Davis

On the morning of February 16th, Simon Buckner, the Confederate general left in charge of Fort Donelson, asked Grant for terms of surrender. Two thousand Southerners had been killed in the fighting while another 11,000 were taken prisoner. The Federals lost around 500 killed and another 2,100 wounded. The fall of Fort Donelson helped facilitate the Union drive into Confederate territory.

The Battle of Fort Donelson by Kurz and Allison

Points of Interest:

  • Ulysses S. Grant demanded that the fort's defenders surrender "unconditionally", thus earning the moniker "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.

  • John Floyd was relieved of his command after abandoning Fort Donelson, but given command of Virginia troops soon after. He died of ill health in 1863.

General John Floyd by an unknown photographer
Major General Ulysses S. Grant by E. and H.T. Anthony



Bowman, John S. (Ed.) (1983). The Civil War Almanac. New York: World Almanac.

Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, & Bongard, David L. (1992). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books (HarperCollins).

Dupuy, R. Ernest & Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). The Harper's Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: HarperCollins.

Eggenberger, David (1985). An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1,560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Long, E.B & Long, Barbara (1971). The Civil War Day by Day: An Almanac 1861-1865. New York: De Capo Press, Inc.

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