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NEWS OF 150 YEARS AGO

March-April 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, March 1, 1862.

From Fort Donelson.

INTERESTING PARTICULARS OF THE BATTLE.

[Special Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]

FORT DONELSON, TENN.,
Monday, Feb. 24, 1862.

So lengthy and so severe an engagement as the one before Donelson, must always result in at greater or less disorganization of the troops engaged in it. It is therefore hardly to be expected, after having undergone so many hardships, and participated in three days of almost continual fighting, that our army—well disciplined and so well perfected in its organization as it is—should have been immediately prepared to again take the field.

But at length a considerable degree of order has been worked out of the universal chaos which during the past week has reigned almost supreme, and it can be safely said that the army machinery is again in fair working condition. The troops rested from their fatigues, are even now, like Alexander of old, sighing for new conquests and new victories. Gen. Grant is not the man to keep it long in suspense, and probably ere this appears in print, his column will again be in motion. Whither it is to go, is as yet known only to the Generals, but the country may rest assured that it will be heard from again ere many days have passed. Whether the army moves South or moves West matters little, so the army does move.

GENERAL GRANT’S PROMOTION

Gives great satisfaction to the best military men of his command. Though most modest and unassuming, and possessing none of the “fuss and feather” characteristics possessed by too many of our military men now prominently before the country, he has not failed to impress all who have come in contact with him, and who have closely watched his career, as a man of no little merit. The generalship displayed on the hotly-contested fields around Donelson shows him to be possessed of the decisive qualities belonging to a true General. With a less energetic and decisive man at the head of our army on Saturday noon, the coming Sabbath sun must surely have shone upon as inglorious a defeat as ever an army sustained. I do not know that there is any necessity of concealing the fact that in the battle of Dover, on our right wing, on Saturday morning, our army suffered a severe repulse. Our troops fought at bravely as troops ever fought, but pressed by twice their number, and contending on an unequal ground, with an inadequate artillery force, and not promptly supported, they were obliged to retreat, and did retreat. The regiments in the advance of the right wre sadly cut up. Then Ninth, the Eleventh, the Eighteenth and other regiments, reported to their brigades with hardly a handful of the brave fellows who had entered the fight. Other regiments suffered quite as severely with officers killed and wounded. All these regiments, in the chaos which for the time being reigned, fell into more or less confusion. The men became scattered, and wandered through the lines to the rear, averring everywhere that they “had been cut all to pieces,” and that they were probably the only surviving ones to tell the tale; and the oftener they proclaimed the story the larger did it become, and the more firmly impressed were they with the truth of it. The effect of such statements coming from the members of a half dozen different regiments, upon the rest of the army, can well be conceived.

It was in this hour of peril and confusion that Gen. Grant, returning from the river landing, some eight miles distant, where he had been conferring with Commodore Foot, first became aware of the state of affairs. Commodore Foot had just told him it was impossible for the gunboat fleet to be again brought into action for several days at least, and now he was informed by Gen. McClernand of the melancholy condition of his division.

It is in such moments that true general ship displays itself. Two hours of indecision at this time and Fort Donelson would to-day have still been in possession of a rebel garrison. Calm and imperturbable as ever, the General listened to the accounts of the condition of affairs, and without a moment’s hesitation said, “an immediate and general advance must be made; two more hours of this and we are whipped.” The necessary orders were immediately given. General Smith was ordered to storm the works on the left as soon as he could make his dispositions to do so. General Lew. Wallace at the time was placed in command of a new division of troops previously held in reserve, and took General McClernand’s place on the right, with instructions to regain our old position there. How well both Generals performed the task allotted them, the country already well knows. General Smith, with the impetuosity of a Murat, drove everything before him, and planted his flag and his battery fairly within their intrenchments. The gallant Eighth Missouri and Eleventh Indiana “pitched in” with equal vigor on the right, drove three times their number before them, over all the ground we had previously lost, fairly into their intrenchments again, and then sighed for an hour or two more of daylight to allow them to go over them as well. And thus the day, which four hours before had seemed so nearly lost, was won again, and the sun went down over an army once more enthusiastic and hopeful, and ardently longing for the finishing stroke which the coming dawn was to inaugurate. The victory was ours, and to General Grant and his Generals, Smith and Wallace, who so bravely and skillfully carried out his orders, belong the honors.

OUR OWN EIGHTH.

Among the most brilliant of the achievements of our army about Donelson, the charge of the Eighth Missouri, supported by the Eleventh Indiana, under command of acting Brigadier General Morgan L. Smith, is justly entitled to take a front rank. It was a striking exemplification of the value of discipline and confidence in superior officers. These two regiments were in the advance of Gen. Lew. Wallace’s division, and proceeded to the scene of action in the afternoon of Saturday last, after Gen. McClernand’s division had suffered its repulse, and the roads were lined with dead and wounded, and along which, on all sides, were the disorganized remnants of regiments engaged in weaving accounts of their sad losses in the morning, and in circulating fabulous stories of the force of the enemy in front. It was a march well calculated to demoralize a less gallant or well disciplined command. It had but little effect upon the Eighth and Eleventh, however. Nerved to a more desperate courage by the sight of their dead and wounded, and taunting the idle tale bearers with a lack of courage, they steadily moved on, with the Colonel at their head, into the face of the enemy, of which they had received such enlarged accounts. Deploying four of his companies as skirmishers in advance of the remainder of the Eighth and Eleventh, the Colonel soon woke up the rebels, and was not slow to engage them. The result is well known. Ever pressing steadily on, drop[p]ing on their faces at every fire of the enemy, and then rushing at them with the cold steel, in three hours, every rebel regiment had been cleared from the ground, and forced to seek the protection of their earth-works on the extreme right, close up to Dover. A strong force was posted close up to these works, and during the night, while the Colonel had his command busily engaged in burying the dead left on the field in the morning, not a guard, picket or sentinel did the rebels dare to place outside their works. It is worthy of mention that upon no single occasion did the enemy receive a bayonet charge. Our boys rushed at them several times with the cold steel, but upon every occasion they broke and fled. The management of the fight, upon the part of Colonel Smith, reflects no little credit upon his generalship. Although continuously engaged for three or four hours, so well versed were his men in these tactics, and so obedient were they in their instructions to avail themselves of all protection afforded them by trees and logs, that the formidable work undertaken by him was performed at a loss of only 15 killed, and 45 wounded. The officer who with two regiments performed so formidable an undertaking as was that given to Col. Smith, and with so small a loss, is entitled to no small share of the honors of the grand victory, which has so electrified the whole nation. St. Louis need not be ashamed of its Colonel, or of its regiment. Both may well be taken as a model for the best one in the service.

THE TROOPS

Here, as I have above remarked, have pretty much recovered from the fatigues and privations incident to the engagements here, and are now anxious to move on once more. It will be some time yet, apparently, before “things” hereabouts assume the ship-shape appearance again. Quartermasters, commissaries, and ordnance officers are still up to their elbows in their recently acquired stores, and it will be many a long day ere Donelson subsides into its old quiet. Blankets, cartridge boxes, canteens, muskets, and all the odds and ends of an army are still “lying around loose” in the greatest disorder. Even many of the captured cannon are still lying in the mud, turned topsy turvy, and one wandering over the battle field will find ghastly relics of the mortal strife yet lying unburied in the dense thickets surrounding.

G. W. B.

 

Large Number of Prisoners Released---Union Converts---Want the Oath and Liberty---Result of the Commission to Alton Penitentiary.

It has been ascertained that of the persons confined in the Alton Penitentiary, no less a number than six hundred and eighteen were desirous of taking the oath. It has been ascertained, also, that the desire to take the oath was attributable more to a conviction of the wrongfulness of the cause in which the men had been engaged, although, no doubt, some of the cases are attributable solely to a longing for liberty-that of which they would have deprived others.

The entire number of 618 were recently examined by a board of commissioners, consisting of Assistant Provost Marshal General Fletcher, Capt. C. Ewing and Lieut. John Ford, of the Thirteenth Regiment U. S. Regulars, who, on mature deliberation, decided to release four hundred and ninety-nine.

Two hundred and eighty-three have been liberated, and either to-day or to-morrow two hundred and sixteen will be released. Many others are petitioning to be released on oath and bond. The Fort Henry prisoners are eager to take the oath, and declare seriously, and doubtless truthfully, that they were forced to take a part in the war on the side of the rebels. It was interesting to observe the eagerness manifested by the prisonerst to be released, there being quite a contest among them as to who should be the first to leave the prison walls.

Our attention has been directed to the fact that the prisoners on being discharged have no means, and it is remarked that "It is hard to turn the poor fellows out without a cent to pay their way, not even enough to pay for their ferriage across the river." We acquiesce in the remark, but no remedy occurs to us. We are further informed, on irrefutable authority, that they are unanimous in denouncing the men by whom they were induced to join in this rebellion. This applies to those made prisoners in this State, as well as the others.

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