Saturday at Fort Donelson.
A correspondent of the St. Louis Democrat gives the following graphic account of the fight on Saturday, which we are tempted to publish in full:
Saturday, which was destined to witness the grand denouement of the tragedies which had a scene about Donelson, was cold, damp and cheerless. Our troops, however, had but little time to cogitate upon the weather, or any other subject ere they were called upon to attend to more serious matters. The enemy, during the night, had transferred several of their batteries to portions of their works within a few hundred feet of which our extreme right wing was resting. Upon the first coming of dawn, these batteries suddenly opened on the 9th, 18th, 29th, 30th and 31st regiments, comprising Oglesby's brigade, and who had the advance. Simultaneously with the opening of the batteries, a force of about 12,000 infantry and a regiment of cavalry, was hurled against the brigade with a vigor which, made against less steady and well-disciplined troops, must surely have resulted in their entire demolition.
Sudden and unexpected as was this sally on the part of the enemy, it did not find the gallant Illinoisans unprepared to meet them. The attack was made in columns of regiments which poured in upon the little band, from no less than three different directions. Every regiment of the brigade found itself opposed to three, and in many cases to no less than four different regiments. Undismayed, however, by the greatly superior force of the enemy, and unsupported by adequate artillery, the brigade not only held their own, but upon two occasions actually drove the rebels fairly into their entrenchments, but only to be pressed back again into their former position, until at last having expended every round of their ammunition they were obliged to retire and give way to the advancing regiments of Colonel W. H. L. Wallace's brigade of the 11th, 20th, 17th, 45th, 48th Illinois, and 49th Indiana regiments.
Here again was the battle continued with redoubled vigor, now one side, and now another giving way. Our troops fought with the coolness of veterans and the desperation of devils. I would not diminish the gallantry of our own troops by saying that the enemy did not fight bravely and well. They did both. An exact statement of the varying fortunes of the field for the three of four hours following the first attack, it is impossible at present to definitely present. Suffice it to say, our troops fought, and not only fought, and fought courageously, but fought coolly and scientifically. In the thickest of the fight, where officers had to remove the dead bodies of their men out of the way of the backward wheels, regiments coolly performed maneuvers which Scott in his tactics pronounces impossible to be made on the battlefield.
The battle, for the most part, was fought in a forest, with a thick undergrowth beneath, and regiments acted mostly on the principle of hitting a head wherever it could be found. Swarming on all sides of them, they were not at a loss to find them. One regiment was only driven from before them when another sprung up to take its place, and there is hardly a regiment of the force engaged but was opposed to triple its numbers. Thus went the tide of battle for five hours — now gaining a little, but upon the whole obliged to retire. Officers and men dropped upon all sides. Field officers were borne killed and wounded from the field, and their next in command coolly took their place and continued the fight. Lieut. Col. White, of the 31st, Lieut. Col. Smith, of the 48th, Lieut. Col. Irvin, of the 20th, and Major Post of the 8th Illinois, and scores of company officers were all killed, gallantly leading on their men.
Colonels Logan, Lawler and Ransom were wounded, but yet firm in their determination never to yield.
And still with unyielding courage the gallant Illinoisans and Indianians would not acknowledge themselves vanquished. When the last cartridge had been expended and orders were given to retire for other regiments to take their place, soldiers, grim with smoke and powder, would angrily inquire for what, and beg to be allowed to use the bayonet. But it was not in the powered of mortal men, occupying the position ours did, and exposed to such a raking artillery fire as the enemy subjected them to, to maintain their ground against the overwhelming force which the rebels continued to push against them.
Oglesby's, W. H. L. Wallace's, and McArthur's brigades were successively obliged to retire: a portion of Schwartz's and McAllister's batteries had been lost and gained, and lost again, and it was not until the advancing enemy had reached Cratt's brigade, and Taylor's and Willard's batteries could be brought into action, that we were able to stem the tide. Grape, cannister and shrapnell, and an uninterrupted musketry fire from the 1st Nebraska, 48th and 58th Ohio, proved too much for the so far victorious foe, and they at last were obliged to retire.
By this time it was noon. Gen. Grant had just returned from the landing, where he had a conference with Commodore Foote. That officer had informed the general that it was impossible for him to put the gunboats in a condition to made another attack for several days at least. Notwithstanding this, upon being informed of the severe repulse of our troops had met with in the morning, he saw that some immediate action on our part was necessary to retrieve the day.
He immediately gave order to his generals of divisions to prepare for an immediate and general attack along the entire lines. The regiments which had suffered most severely in the morning were withdrawn. Gen. Lew. Wallace was given a division composed of two regiments of his own brigade (the 8th Missouri and 11th Indiana,) and several other regiments whose loss in the action of the morning had been but slight, and was given the job of clearing the ground we had lost in the morning, while Gen. Smith, commanding the left, received orders to storm the works under which the division was lying.
Gen. Smith is, emphatically, a fighting man, and as may be imagined, the events of the morning had tended to decrease in no measure his pugnacity. When he received the long desired orders for an assault of the enemy's works, his eyes glistened with a fire which, could it have been seen by his maligners, would have left them in no doubt as to his private feelings in the present contest. All the arrangements were completed by three o'clock, and his column was put in motion soon after. The force under his command was as follows:
Col. Cook's Brigade — Seventh Illinois, Fiftieth do., Twelfth Iowa, Thirteenth Missouri, Fifty-second Indiana.
Col. Lauman's Brigade — Second Iowa, Seventh Iowa, Fourteenth Iowa, Twenty-fifth Indiana, Fifty-sixth Indiana.
Under cover of Capt. Stone's Missouri battery, this force began the assault. It was a formidable undertaking, which, under a less brave and skillful commander than Gen. Smith, might have proved a disastrous failure.
The hills at this point are among the most precipitous of all those upon which the enemy were posted. Selecting the Second and the Seventh Iowa, and the Fifty-second Indiana for the storming party, Gen. Smith deflected the main portion of his division to the right, and having succeeded in engaging the attention of the enemy at this point, himself headed the storming party and advanced upon the works from his extreme left. It was a most magnificent sight. Unappalled by the perfect storm of bullets which rained about him, the general, on horseback, and with his hat on the point of his sword, proceeded his troops, and inspired them with a furore there was no standing with.
Steadily, with unbroken line, the gallant Hawk-eyes and Indianians advanced. The enemy's grape and cannister came ploughing through their ranks, but not a shot was fired in return. Closing up the ranks as one after another of the brave fellows dropped to the earth, and animated by the fearless example of their undaunted leader, they pressed steadily on. The works gained, one tremendous volley was poured into the astonished enemy, and, with fixed bayonets, a charge was made into their ranks which there was no withstanding. They fled in confusion over the hills, and at last we had penetrated the rebel Sebastopol, and the misfortunes of the morning were retrieved. Capt. Stone's battery, which, in the meantime, had been doing tremendous execution in the rebel ranks, was promptly advanced to the position gained, and, instantly supported by the remainder of his division, the point was secured against any force the enemy could bring to hear against it.
In the meantime Gen. Lew. Wallace had completed his preparations for an attack on the enemy occupying the position he had wrested from us in the morning, some two miles and a half to the right. Just as his columns was being put in motion a messenger arrived with the joyful tidings that Smith was inside of the entrenchments. With a cheer that resounded far and near, the irrepressible 8th Missouri and 11th Indiana, which occupied the front, advanced on a double quick into the encounter they had so long been seeking. These two regiments, from their superiority in drill and fighting capacities, had been considered a "crack corps," and most nobly did they uphold to the letter their enviable reputation.
They did not tarry long to bother with powder and ball, but with a shout of itself terrific enough to appeal their foes, gave them the cold steel with a will which will long be remembered. Shell and round shot, grape and canister were hurled at them in vain. Still onward they pressed, and regiment after regiment fled before them. Valiantly supported by the 1st Nebraska, 13th Missouri, and other regiments of Col. Thayer's and Cratts' brigades, a steady advance was made, until by dusk the ground which had been so hotly contested in the morning was ours again, and once more the rebels were forced to seek the protecting shadow of their earthworks.
The effect of these successes upon the army was electrical — six hours before, with gunboats disabled, and the enemy in possession of a portion of our ground, the position of affairs was gloomy in deed. But now all was changed. Elated with victory and the knowledge that at last they had obtained a foothold in the enemy's fortification, and savage at the thought of the privations they had encountered, and at being so long balked in the possession of their prey, officers and men alike clamored for an immediate assault that night.
Gen. Grant, however, mindful of the risks attending such an operation, even with troops exhibiting such an operation, even with troops exhibiting such veteran characteristics as those under his command had displayed, wisely postponed the final coup de main till the coming of the morrow's fight.
What the morrow brought forth, and how the rebels, worn out, dispirited by the protracted beleaguerment concluded to give up their stronghold and lay down their arms, is already well known. The more detailed particulars of the surrender of Fort Donelson, and its cordon of field works, the departing mail allows me no time speak of.