FORT DONELSON, NEAR DOVER
Stewart County, Tenn., Feb. 19, 1862
MR. EDITOR: A kind Providence has spared me to fulfill my promise of writing a few lines from Tennessee. I am now sitting upon a camp cot in a tent pitched upon a slippery red clay side hill, in the Redan, or rear Fort, with my portfolio upon my lap, whilst a cold and pitiless rainstorm is raging without. As we have no stoves you can judge that my position, if not my disposition is not the best in the world for writing a readable article. I will, however, endeavor to make a few extracts from my diary since leaving St. Louis, which I find covers some twenty odd pages in my note book.
Having been relieved of our prisoners at McDowell’s College, we left for St. Louis on Monday evening on the 10th inst., on the T L McGill, a very slow old craft, and arrived at Cairo on the morning of the 12th. Here our destination was changed from the Tennessee to the Cumberland. Left Cairo in the evening and found ourselves next morning some ten or fifteen miles above Smithland. The day was pleasant and scenery beautiful. The Cumberland valley, if properly titled, would be one of the richest and most productive in the world. But alas the effects of our national curse are everywhere seen. Ill planned houses, dilapidated fences and overtaxed soils are all the improvements with few exceptions that meet the eye. The women at the little towns and farm houses along the river generally waved some kind of a white rag and the “niggers” universally grinned us a welcome. – Very few “men folks” were to be seen. Our fine Brass band played as we passed the towns, and its music reverberated from hill to hill, apparently charming the astonished “natyves.”
In the afternoon we overhauled the transports, thirteen in number, and five or six gunboats accompanying them. They all moved on slowly together, making a grand spectacle never before seen in this stream. The river was very high and admitted the largest class of steamer, such as the Alex Scott, Memphis, &c. About 10 o’clock the wind tacked round to the north and it commenced snowing. In the morning we found ourselves laid up against the west bank of the river. About two inches of snow was on the ground. The disembarkation of troops began early and most of the gun boats proceeded up the river to feel for torpedoes and get the range of the guns in the main Fort. Our regiment, with five or six others, were soon under way to connect with those thrown across from Fort Henry. After marching four or five miles over hill and dale we struck the left wing commanded by Gen. Smith. This wing rested on a slough running back about two miles from the river, below the fortified hills. We were placed in Acting Brigadier General Lauman’s Brigade on the extreme left wing. It comprised the 7th and 14th Iowa, 25th Indiana and Birge’s regiment of Sharp shooters. The several regiments in General Lauman’s Brigade had endeavored the day previous to storm the outer Forts and were repulsed with considerable loss, being saved from a general Massacre by the faithful sharp shooters, who clung to the snowy side hills from morning till night and picked off the enemy’s gunners every time they attempted to load their heavy pieces. The Illinois 17th and 14th on the right wing in General McClernand’s division, had also attempted to storm a battery and were repulsed.
Thus matters stood when our regiment, the 2nd Iowa Infantry, arrived at the scene of action.
The gunboats were to open fire at noon when a general movement was to be made inward by the land forces. They found the river clogged with felled trees which they had to pull out and it was fully 3 o’clock before they opened upon the fort and 4 o’clock before the firing became general. Our regiment was chosen to charge the left wing. The flank companies were sent out as skirmishers but before the general attack was ordered the gun boats ceased firing and the matter was laid over till the morrow.
During the forenoon of the 15th the enemy made a desperate attempt to cut through the right wing. Eleven regiments on our side were engaged, some of which were badly cut up. The 11th Illinois alone losing 68 killed and a large number wounded. The enemy’s cavalry broke through and escaped but their infantry were driven back. I walked over that battle field after the surrender and found it a sickening sight indeed. The woods were literally strewn with corpses and almost every bush was shattered with balls. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon our regiment was ordered to charge on the forts. Col. Tuttle led the left wing in advance, and Lieut. Col. Baker the right, closely following the Colonel. The batteries were planted on the brest [sic] of a hill which receded in deep hallows and sharp ridges towards the bottom where we had been encamped. The dense growth of oak on the steep points had been felled down the hill and their limbs trimmed up and sharpened. Against these we had to charge for nearly half a mile constantly exposed to the enemy’s fire without an opportunity of returning it, as green oak logs were placed on top of the embankments with loop holes through them for riflemen whom it was impossible for us to see. Our brave fellows began to fall before the leaden storm which rained down upon us. Capt. Cloutman of company K (Ottumwa) fell pierced through the heart. Capt. Slaymaker of company C, (Davenport) fell shot through the abdomen, and cheered his men on with his last gasp. Our excellent Major Chipman, fell badly wounded, and a number of other officers before which the rebels with their six shooting rifles quailed and fled. We had just cleared about half a mile of those rifle pits when the enemy, in several interior Forts opened on us with grapeshot. An order now came to charge the Forts and onward we moved to the attack within musket shot. Here we stood for half an hour torn by grape and musketry, awaiting the cowardly Indiana 52nd which was ordered to support us but got no further than a deep hollow behind us where their fired up and killed some of our men. The gallant 7th Iowa was then ordered forward and broke through these cowards to relieve us. Our glorious old Colonel, who stood constantly at the head of his men, wept to see them falling around him and gave the order to fall back slowly behind the first batteries we had taken, leaving the field to the 7th, 12th and 14th Iowa regiments all of whom Gen. Lauman had on the field. But it soon became evident that our small arms were availing but little and all the troops were called back where several pieces of artillery had been brought up and kept up an exchanges of shots with the enemy until dark, when the firing ceased. Four regiments bivouacked in the trenches. In the morning the enemy surrendered and we marched in.
I am freezing. In my next I will give a description of the Fort.
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 1, 1862, p. 1