We have reason to believe, if not the certainty, that Fort Donelson has fallen. After a struggle, desperate on both sides, and, as far as my be judged from the imperfect details which have reached us, creditable to the fighting qualities of both, the post capitulated, and the National colors took the place, on the ramparts, of the rebel rag. The destruction of life and the lists of wounded are probably largely in excess of those of any previous contest of the war. It could hardly be otherwise. The opposing forces were strong in numbers, but while the assailants were more perilously exposed, the defenders, from their very numbers, cooped up as they were in lines where they were helpless to fight, and simply in the way of each other, must have suffered frightfully from the storm of shell and shot hurled upon them from that circumvallation of fire. It was doubtless the terrible sacrifice of life to which they were subjected within the fort that prompted these daring sorties which the besiegers so gallantly repulsed.
Having this glorious result of the fight, we may well postpone the discussion of details. With the capture of Fort Donelson, another of those mortal blows recently struck at the heart of the rebellion has been inflicted. Nor are we to lose sight of the fact that nearly all of these victories come from the command of Gen. HALLECK. Fort Henry captured, the loyalty of Tennessee brought to light, the surrender if Fort Donelson, the retreat of PRICE, from Springfield, and the report of this morning that CURTIS had overtaken his rear, had seized his baggage-train and more prisoners that he knew what to do with, show with what energy and how victoriously the commander of the Western Department is executing his part of the great programme. These, with the retreat of JOHNSTON from before BUELL, relieve, practically, both Missouri and Kentucky from the rebel enemy, and lay bare the Tennessee to the admission of these Union armies which shall bring liberation to its oppressed but loyal people.
While the war in the West is thus drawing to a close, the signs are not less significant in the East. There is little doubt that in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, our forces are at this moment executing flank movements to the interior, which must effectually isolate the main rebel army in Eastern Virginia from its sources of supply. It is clearly improbable for the rebels to hold their position at Manassas. Their retreat must be a question of a few days—perhaps of a few hours. There is but one reason for the evacuation of Bowling Green that is not valid for the evacuation of Manassas, and it is that no division of the Potomac army has been thrown forward to threaten an attack. But such a threat is no longer necessary. The news that Fort Donelson is in National hands; that the Tennessee river is open to our gunboats even to Muscle Shoals in Alabama; that the Cumberland can now be ascended to Nashville; that Memphis is in danger, and that the garrison of Columbus are for all practical purposes prisoners of war, must give that shock to the rebels near Washington which shall leave to its leaders an only alternative of withdrawing their army, or seeing it dissolve. A retreat will be begun, but where will it end? Nowhere, we conceive short of the Gulf States. The only pause at Richmond will probably be to witness the gloomy pageant of JEFF. DAVIS inaugurated as President, like a King crowned on his death-bed, or the succession of a Byzantine Emperor, when Byzantium itself was beleaguered and stormed by the Turks. It will be in the Gulf States that the last stand of the rebels will be attempted. But there our lines are already drawn tightly about them. We hold the coast. The blockade is pinchingly close. What our gunboats and mortar-boats have done East and West they can do for every river and harbor on the Gulf. Our troops will escape from the mud and the frosts of the Border States, to a theater of war, where for months to come the temperature is that of our Northern Summer, and where roads are settled, and military movements facile. Indeed, of the resistance of the desperate traitors can be protracted through the Summer, a campaign in July and August would convey no discomfort to those who have experienced similar heats in our own latitudes; for the steady Southern Summer is far less intolerable that the varying temperatures of the North.
It is no extravagance, therefore, to say the rebellion has culminated. Its settling must be as the flash of a meteor. Had the illusory stimulus of the apparent victories of Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff been wanting; and had the certainty of the non-interference of France and England been earlier attained, the result must have been early reached. After this, it certainly can[no]t be materially postponed. The monster is already clutched and in his death struggle.
SOURCE: “The Victory on the Cumberland—The End in Sight,” The New York Times, New York, New York, Monday, February 17, 1862, p. 4.