Grant Concludes that Fort Henry Must Be Taken

January 28, 1862 (Tuesday)

“With permission, I will take Fort Henry, on the Tennessee, and establish and hold a large camp there.”
-Brigadier-General U.S. Grant

General Grant, commander of what would soon be called the Union Army of the Tennessee, had formulated a plan to take Fort Henry, along the Tennessee River. He, along with the Navy’s Flag-Officer Andrew Foote, wired General Henry Halleck, commander of the Department of Missouri. While Grant’s telegram was strictly to the point, Foote’s explained slightly more about the program.

Foote, as well as Grant, believed that Fort Henry could “be carried with four iron-clad gunboats and troops to permanently occupy.”1 This was not, however, a scheme concocted out of the simmering darkness.

Grant had met with General Charles Smith, who had been aboard the USS Lexington when she lobbed a few shells at Fort Henry. Smith was convinced that the fort could be taken with two gunboats. Determined to act upon this information, Grant asked General Halleck for permission to meet with him in person.

The past week had seen General Grant travel to St. Louis to meet with Halleck. There, he proposed the action to assail Fort Henry. Halleck made the meeting an uncomfortable one, and dismissed Grant as he was explaining the plan. Halleck may have refused to hear Grant out because he, General Buell, commanding in Kentucky, and General McClellan had already dreamed up a strikingly similar plan based upon the same information that Smith had given to Grant.2

Halleck, however, failed to mention this to Grant. It seems that General Halleck had no plans to allow Grant to command the operation. Leading a demonstration with orders not to bring on a battle was one thing, but a campaign towards Nashville was a horse of another color. Besides, Halleck didn’t want to step off until mid-February.

Grant knew none of this. He knew nothing except that Halleck had cut him short. When he returned to Cairo, he returned a crestfallen man.

This disposition, while bordering on severe, was short-lived. In Cairo, he could discuss the particulars of the Fort Henry situation with General Smith and Flag-Officer Foote. As they chewed upon the facts, knowing that the center of Rebel General Albert Sidney Johnston’s line through Tennessee was weakest along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, they finally came to the conclusion that they must act.3

Halleck might not have given Grant much credence, but Foote and Smith both had his ear. This was when both Grant and Foote wired General Halleck. In Foote’s telegram, he specifically mentioned that he first passed the idea by General Grant, possibly bringing him back into the loop.4

Foote would receive his reply the following day. Grant would have to call again to gain his commander’s attention.5


Loring Takes His Case to Stonewall Jackson Himself

While Union forces were conspiring against Confederates in the West, Confederate officers had been conspiring against each other in the East. The complaints over General Stonewall Jackson’s Romney Expedition were beginning to pile up. General Loring, who commanded a large portion of Jackson’s army, was campaigning to be rid of Jackson and to regain his independent command.

These complaints, due mostly to their validity, had found their way to the desks of President Davis and Secretary of War Judah Benjamin. The latter wrote to Jackson’s commander, General Joe Johnston, vaguely explaining that the situation in the Shenandoah Valley needed to be looked into. Johnston, who had not yet received Benjamin’s letter and would have no idea what he was talking about anyway, wrote to Jackson on this date.

On the 21st and 24th, Jackson had written to Johnston, asking for reinforcements. Since both of those letters arrived on this date, Johnston took the opportunity to pass along a few suggestions.

Since the Romney Expedition, Jackson had moved the Stonewall Brigade to Winchester, while Loring’s three brigades remained at Romney, across a mountain range, forty miles away. Johnston urged Jackson to concentrate his force “to oppose an enemy coming from Harper’s Ferry, Williamsport, or the northwest.”

Johnston was writing his own opinions and not those of Secretary Benjamin. Johnston had received a report stating that Union forces were stirring and thought it “imprudent… to keep your troops dispersed as they now are.”

While he did not order Jackson to recombine his four brigades, he closed with a warning: “The enemy might not only prevent your concentrating, but interpose himself between us, which we must never permit.”6

As Johnston penned his letter to Jackson, General Loring wrote one of his own. Loring, who was conspiring with his officers to be relieved of Jackson, took his argument to the man himself. In his letter, Loring did not vent his myriad frustrations, but rather took a more logical approach.

He had an engineer whom Jackson respected, Seth M. Barton, survey the ground around Romney. Barton determined it to be an “indefensible” position for a small force such as Loring’s. General Loring passed along the report, adding his own closing arguments.

“If it is the intention to keep this command here,” argued Loring, who had once been a lawyer in the 1840s, “I am compelled to say that the force is not equal to the requirements, and I therefore respectfully but earnestly request a re-enforcement of 3,000 men to meet the immediate concentration of the enemy as well as to relieve the command of the unparalleled exposure to which they have been and are now subjected.”7

Jackson probably paid little mind to either the report or Loring’s deposition. There were, however, workings in Richmond that would soon grab his attention.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p120, 121. []
  2. Grant Rises in the West; The First Year, 1861-1862 by Kenneth P. Williams, University of Nebraska Press, 1952. []
  3. Forts Henry and Donelson; The Key to the Confederate Heartland by Benjamin Franklin Cooling, University of Tennessee Press, 1987. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p120. []
  5. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p121. Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 22, p525. []
  6. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1050. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p1054-1055. []
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