A correspondent of the New York Tribune gives a graphic account of the three day’s fighting at and the final surrender of Donelson, from which we extract an account of the event which decided the contest.
Gen. Smith, with his Division, composed of Indiana, Iowa and Illinois regiments, immediately marched up to the breastworks and engaged the enemy in the most spirited manner.
The Iowa 2d was the first regiment, to its honor be it said, that scaled the breastworks. They performed this hazardous and brilliant movement in masterly style, and after the manner of the veterans who immortalized the wars of Napoleon.
They never hesitated, they never faltered, but with firm step and flashing eye, they passed without firing a gun into the rebel works. In a few seconds other regiments followed them, and a terrible strife ensued between the contending parties. The Secessionists seemed resolved to drive the Unionists back, and the latter equally determined not to surrender the advantage they had obtained.
For at least two hours the rattling of musketry was unceasingly heard, and the armed masses swayed to and fro; fortune appearing to favor now one side and now another.
Ever and anon a loud cheer went up for the Union, and this was caught up at a distance, and echoed by our soldiers, and joyously re-echoed by the surrounding hills. Many a brave warrior heard that glorious shout as his senses reeled death, and his spirit went forth embalmed with the assurance that he had not fallen in vain.
A large rebel gun every few seconds would pour its iron hail upon our struggling heroes; but generally the firing was too high to do much harm. Our courageous troops soon planted the Stars and Stripes within the entrenchments, and as the good old flag waved its folds there, a deafening shout went up to heaven that gave the defenders of the Union strength to battle anew in the cause whose glory shall never set.
Southern regiment after regiment went to the assistance of the rebels, who were burning to retrieve their fallen fortunes; but our troops hastened forward and threw themselves into the stronghold of the enemy, and battled as the hosts of Richard the Lion-Hearted battled once in the home of the Saracens.
“If we only had a battery,” the Unionists often said. “We fear the rebels will overpower us with numbers and repulse us on the very threshold of victory.”
Those were anxious moments, and many a heart-prayer was offered up for the success of the cause of liberty and right, for the sustainment of the Constitution and the Laws.
Your correspondent watched the progress of the battle from a hill immediately adjoining the breastworks, and heard painfully anxious questions from the troops who stood around. “Are the Stars and Stripes still there?” “Are the rebels retreating?” “Do our boys stand their ground?” “Have we whipped them yet?” was heard at almost every breath.
Soon a loud report was heard, and the woods reverberated with a Union cry of joy, for the men recognized it as the thunder of a Union gun, and believed it would do much to control the battle.
Again and again the gun sounded, and the national banner waved, and the rebels were driven from their redoubt.
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, March 1, 1862, p. 2