Great Battle on the Cumberland River!
The gunboats opened fire at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, throwing a brisk volley of shot and shell in the midst of the enemy's fortifications. The four iron-clad gunboats gradually diminished the range of their guns until they were within three hundred yards of the fort. When the firing was hottest, a shot from the Louisville dismantled one of the enemy's 128-pound guns. The gunboats dismantled all of the guns of the river batteries of the enemy. The Louisville received fifty-eight shots, one of which cut the tiller-rope, which was quickly caught by some of the crew, and would have been repaired but for the bursting of a shell from the St. Louis, passing over her deck, and scattering her men. The Louisville then drifted out of the line of attack. Two other shots hit her, and the boat is badly damaged.
The gunboats continued firing for one hour and twenty minutes, at the end of which time, finding that their shots were having little effect, they all withdrew.
The 18th Illinois suffered severely, and the 7th Iowa sustained considerable loss.
Schwartz's battery, which was taken by the enemy, was captured by our men. Two Federal Colonels were wounded, and two killed. The loss was heavy on both sides. The upper fort was taken at 4 o'clock, and the Union flag now floats over it. Our troops behaved with great gallantry.
The St. Louis, Pittsburg, and Louisville were disabled.
Last night was very severe on our men, rain having set in which turned to snow. It is freezing to-day and old citizens say they rarely have seen such cold weather in this latitude.
The more I see of the Fort the more convinced I am that it can not be reduced without a terrible slaughter. Its rear appears almost impregnable. The outer works and bastions of the Fort are located on ridges 150 to 250 feet high, covered with timber and undergrowth.
Upon a similar range of hills outside of them, our army is drawn up in line of battle, completely encircling the enemy from the Cumberland south of the Fort to the backwater of a stream which flanks the fort on the north.
Gen. Oglesby, who has the extreme right, last night pushed forward his brigade to the Cumberland, and has planted a battery commanding the river, which will effectually, prevent the arrival of any more reinforcements.
In fact, we have them completely surrounded, and can complete the job at our leisure. An attempt was made last night to take Taylor's battery by the enemy, who approached under cover of darkness, but were gallantly repulsed by the 20th Illinois.
Considerable skirmishing occurred during the night, both forces endeavoring, in the darkness, to crowd in upon the other. This morning, it was discovered that the enemy had placed logs on the top of their breastworks, leaving little space for them to shoot through, and much diminishing their risks from the unerring aim of our sharpshooters.
The casualties among our artillery, thus far was very small. The loss of the enemy, as far as can be ascertained, is considerable.
Yesterday afternoon, after the storming party had retired, and when the rebels were thickly crowded together to repel the assault, Captain Taylor opened on them with shell with terrible effect. His practice was superb, creating the greatest consternation in their ranks, and causing them to take refuge in their intrenchments.
The gunboats assault was terrific, exceeding even the Fort Henry bombardment. — It lasted about an hour and a half. The enemy has fronting on the river two batteries, the lower one of nine and the upper four guns, besides a 10-inch Columbiad.
The wooden gunboats Tyler and Conestoga were engaged in the fight. Commodore Foote pronounces the engagement the hottest he ever witnessed. Seven of the nine guns in the lower tier of the enemy's battery had been silenced, and everything was apparently progressing favorably, when the rudder-chain of the Carondelet was severed.
The Pittsburgh was damaged in the wheel so as to be unable to stem the current, and the pilot-house was knocked off, killing the pilot and wounding several others, among them Com. Foote. The fleet then were obliged to retire. One of our shells struck immediately under the enemy's guns, throwing the gun and bodies of the gunners high in the air.
Fort Donelson surrendered at daylight this (Sunday) morning to General Grant, commanding the Federal forces before the fort.
The surrender was unconditional, and included vast amounts of war material. We have taken as prisoners General Buckner, Bushrod Johnston, hosts of commissioned officers, and from 12,000 to 15,000 private soldiers. Three thousand horses, for cavalry and transportation service, were also captured.
Gens. Pillow and Floyd, with their brigades, gave the Union army the slip. They got on boats in the night, and escaped, without letting Buckner know of their intentions.
General C. F. Smith led the charge on the lower end of the enemy's works, and he was the first man inside the fortifications.
All the rebels that made their escape from Fort Henry have been bagged here.
The prisoners are now being placed on steamboats, for Cairo. Our loss is very heavy. It will probably reach 400 in killed and 800 in wounded. We lose a large percentage in officers. Among the officers killed are Lieut. Col. Erwin, of the 20th Illinois; Lieut. Col. White, of the 31st Illinois; and Lieut. Col. Smith, of the 48th Illinois.
Cols. John A. Logan, Lawler, and Ransom, are wounded.
Major Post, of the 8th Illinois, with 200 privates, were taken prisoners by the enemy, and have been sent to Nashville, Tenn. They were surprised and taken the night before the surrender of the Fort.
The enemy's loss in killed and wounded is heavy, but not so large as ours, as they fought behind intrenchments and from rifle-pits. We should have taken the fort, by storming it, on Saturday, but our ammunition ran out. On the right, Gen. McClernand's division, consisting of Oglesby's, McArthur's and Wallace's brigades, suffered terribly.
This division is composed of the 8th, 9th, 11th, 18th, 20th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 45th, 48th, and 49th Illinois Volunteers.
The greatest victory and the hardest fought battle of the rebellion was consummated on Sunday morning by the unconditional surrender of the rebels at Fort Donelson, Tenn., to the Federal army under Gen. Grant, after a desperate struggle of over three days and nights. The forces were about equal, but the rebels had all the advantage of position, being well fortified on two immense hills, with their fort near the river, on a lowering piece of ground. — From the fort, their intrenchments, rifle pits, and abattis extended up the river, behind the town of Dover. Their fortifications on the land side, back from the river, were at least four miles in length.
Their water battery was in the center of their fortifications where it came down to the river. This battery mounted nine heavy guns. The rebels were at least 25,000 strong, commanded by Gens. Pillow, Buckner, Floyd, and Bushrod Johnston, and were sure of victory; and in any other cause, and pitted against less brave troops than those against whom they contended, could have repelled a force of one hundred thousand men. The Northwest has done the business for the rebellion. It has fought the enemy even-handed on an unprotected field, whilst he was safely protected by earthworks. It has fought him at a disadvantage and forced him to yield unconditionally. No Bull Run affair this.
The gunboats did not do the service they did at Fort Henry, as the enemy, lodged on high hills, had the advantage over them, as we had no mortars. Three boats were disabled soon after the opening of the battle one of them badly, having nine men killed.
As it would require several days to repair, General Grant decided not to wait, but to attack the enemy with his land force alone.
Saturday night Floyd took the three Virginia regiments be brought here, and escaped up the river on transports, under cover of the night. Gen. Pillow also escaped, and a portion of Forrest's cavalry brigade.
The main battle was fought on Saturday, at daylight. The rebels made an attempt to out their way through the right of our line. One regiment, the Kentucky Twenty-fifth, fell back, but the Southern Illinois troops threw themselves into the breach and drove the enemy back into their intrenchments. The battle raged furiously all day, the enemy making frequent sorties to break through our lines, but being us often driven back. They could not be made stand before the gallant western boys in a fair open fight, but blazed away furiously from their trenches and file pits upon the latter. A parapet of logs had been placed in their fortifications, with loopholes for musketry.
About 3 P. M. General C. F. Smith's brigade charged upon the breastworks of the enemy's right, and drove them back. — The Iowa Second and Illinois Seventh were the first regiments to enter the enemy's works. The advantage thus gained was held; this was the turning point of the battle. Both armies ceased fighting at night and slept upon their arms. On Sunday morning the gunboats threw a few shells into the fort, but received no reply.
A tug was then sent up with a flag of truce and returned with intelligence of the surrender.
Our whole force were soon in the enemy's works, and the rebel officers gave up their swords. The bulk of the rebels knew of the surrender long before our men were apprised of it. Pillow and Floyd planned and executed their escape during the night, taking with them Floyd's brigade and a few favorites, occupying what few small steamers the rebels had. At first the prisoners were loud in their denunciations of the runaways. Many acknowledged the hopelessness of their case and intimated their willingness to take the oath of allegiance and return to their homes. To a question put to one of their officers as to how many prisoners we had, he replied: — You have all out of twenty-five thousand who were not killed and did not escape."
It is impossible to get a list of our killed and wounded, as the killed have not all been brought in, and are mixed with the enemy's killed; and the wounded are in half a dozen hospitals and steamboats five and six miles apart.
Late on Friday afternoon, when our men retired for ammunition, some prisoners and all our wounded in ambulances and temporary hospitals were taken by the enemy.
Some of our best officers and men have gone to their long homes. Hardly a man went over the field after the battle, and came away with dry eyes. Every one discovered a comrade who had fallen. Our officers have suffered the heaviest loss. We lost three Lieutenant Colonels, and at least one-quarter of all other officers are killed or wounded.
When we retired for want of ammunition the enemy took our temporary hospitals and General McClernand's quarter, which were retaken in half an hour. When John A. Logan's regiment run out of ammunition, he approached Lieut. Col. Ramson, of the Eleventh Illinois, and asked: "What shall I do? I have not another cartridge." Ranson replied: "You have the best position. File out and I will take your place. This was immediately done, and the Eleventh fired the balance of their shots. — During Saturday night, a contraction of all our lines was made for a simultaneous assault from every point, and orders were given by General Grant to attack the enemy at the point of the bayonet. The next morning every man was at his post — the Fifty-seventh, Colonel Baldwin, on the extreme right. At daylight the advance was made and when the full light of day broke forth white flags were hung in many places on the enemy's works. A Federal officer approached a convenient point, and was informed that they (the rebels) had surrendered.
The damage done to the rebel works by the gunboats, on Friday, was not so great as at first reported. Only one gun was dismounted in a battery of eight 32 pounders, and a 10-inch shell gun of Richmond make.
The total loss of the Federals in the battle, or series of battles, will not exceed 300 killed and 1,000 wounded. The rebel loss in killed is about the same, but their wounded are not so many. Our troops fought at a disadvantage, having no breastworks to protect them from the enemy's fire.
We have taken 12,000 prisoners, 17 heavy guns, 8 field batteries 1,000 mules and horses, and other military property to the value of $1,500,000. They were from Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Virginia, and Kentucky, and were nearly all picked troops. Four-fifths of the troops engaged on our side were from Illinois.