Friday, January 20, 2017

Fort Heiman

On January 30, Major General Henry Halleck ordered Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant to prepare "to take and hold Fort Henry."[1] Grant quickly got things moving. His invasion force consisted of 15,000 to 17,000 men in two divisions and the Western Flotilla. Brigadier General John A. McClernand commanded the First Division at Cairo, Brigadier General Charles F. Smith led Second Division at Paducah and Smithland, and US Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote directed the Western Flotilla. The Western Flotilla had four "ironclad" gunboats (Foote's flagship USS Cincinnati, USS Carondelet, USS St. Louis, and USS Essex) commanded by the flag officer, and three "timberclad" gunboats (USS Conestoga, USS Tyler, and USS Lexington) under Lieutenant Seth L. Phelps. 
Attack on Fort Henry and Fort Donelson

Grant informed Smith that " On Monday next I expect to start from Smithland, Paducah, and this place some 15,000 men for Fort Henry, to take and occupy that position. Full instructions will be received from General Halleck in the morning. At the present I am only in possession of telegraphic orders to take and hold it."[2]
Col. Adolphus Heiman
When the federal attack began on February 4, Colonel Adolphus Heiman was in command of the works because Brigadier General Tilghman was inspecting construction at Fort Donelson. The Confederates fired rockets to alert Tilghman of the Union assault. Fort Henry's garrison of 2,600 troops was scattered with two regiments at Fort Heiman and two up the river at Paris Landing. Colonel Heiman waited for Tilghman's orders to consolidate the dispersed troops. When Tilghman heard the artillery exchange that morning and learned that Union troops had landed below the fort that afternoon, he placed Colonel John W. Heard in command at Donelson and left for Henry. Tilghman and his escort reached Fort Henry around 11:30 p.m. on February 4.

General Lloyd Tilghman
The next day, Tilghman ordered the evacuation of Fort Heiman except for two companies of Alabama cavalry and the forty Kentucky men of Padgett's Spy Company. Tilghman instructed this small force to harass Union forces on the Kentucky side of the river. The Fifteenth Arkansas Regiment and Twenty-Seventh Alabama Regiment crossed the river and joined their comrades at Fort Henry.
Smith's Second division arrived on the scene. Two brigades landed on the Kentucky side and one brigade on the Tennessee side. It was after 11:00 p.m. on February 5 before all of Grant's army was in position. Tilghman knew he was outnumbered and regretted "the wretched military position of Fort Henry and the small force" at his disposal. [3]

Attack on Fort Henry
The attack began at dawn on February 6. While Union gunboats were bombarding Fort Henry, General Smith's troops advanced to Fort Heiman. The remaining Confederate quickly left Heiman when they saw Smith's troops. The Rebels abandoned the fort so fast that they left their recently prepared dinner. Smith and General Wallace enjoyed a meal of a block of pork "done to a turn" and cornbread. Across the river, they saw the United States flag flying over Fort Henry [4]

Flag Officer
Andrew H. Foote 
In the time it had taken for Smith's forces to reach Fort Heiman, Foote's seven-gunboat flotilla had bombarded Fort Henry into submission. Foote deployed the four ironclads in a line abreast, followed by the three wooden ships. Foote kept the "timber clad" gunboats away from the fort and fired from long-range on the works. The flagship USS Essex opened fire at 1,700 yards, and the artillery battle began. The other gunboats started shelling the fort, and Henry's guns returned fire. The gunships slowly approached the fort until they were within 600 yards of the Rebel batteries when "the fire both from the gunboats and fort increased in rapidity and accuracy of range." About twenty minutes before the fort surrendered, the Essex "received a shot in her boilers, which resulted in wounding, by scalding, 29 officers, and men, including commander Porter." The shot forced the disabled Essex out of the line. The firing continued with "unabated rapidity and effect upon the three gunboats" as they "continued to approach the fort with their destructive fire until the rebel flag was hauled down, after a very severe and closely contested action of one hour and fifteen minutes." General Tilghman had no choice except to surrender, and he sent a boat containing his adjutant general and captain of engineers to request a meeting with the flag officer. The fort was so badly flooded that a small boat was able to sail through the sally port [5] to pick up Tilghman for the surrender ceremony on the Cincinnati. The evacuating force left all of its artillery and equipment behind. Foote reported taking "the general, his staff and 60 or 70 men as prisoners,[6] and a hospital ship containing 60 invalids, together with the fort and its effects, mounting twenty guns, mostly of heavy caliber, with barracks and tents capable of accommodating 15,000 men, and sundry articles." Flag Officer Foote commented, "The excessively muddy roads and high stage of water" altered the army's role in the attack and "prevented the Army reaching the rear of the fort to make a demonstration simultaneously with the Navy" until after Foote had taken possession of the fort.[7]
The Union victory was mostly due to the flooded condition of the fort. The low elevation of the Rebel guns only allowed their shells to hit the ships where their armor was strongest. As Foote pointed out in his report to General Halleck, except for skirmishes the day before and pursuit of the fleeing Confederates, it was a victory won by the Union navy. While the flag officer and the new city class gunboats claimed the victory, both the army and navy were proud of the successful amphibious operation.
Buoyed by the easy victory, Grant sent a triumphant dispatch to Halleck:
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF CAIRO,Fort Henry, February 6, 1862.
Fort Henry is ours. The gunboats silenced the batteries before the investment was completed. I think the garrison must have commenced the retreat last night. Our cavalry followed, finding two guns abandoned in the retreat.
 I shall take and destroy Fort Donelson on the 8th and return to Fort Henry.
U. S. GRANT,Brigadier-General.Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Saint Louis, Mo.[8]
Last Fall, I had the opportunity to return to Fort Donelson and discovered the Fort Heiman unit of the National Battlefield.

Entrance to Fort Heiman
Markers along the road explain the role of the fort in the Civil War.
Description of the Unfinished Fort prior to the Battle of Fort Henry

Along the road with remains of earthworks

The fort was under Union control after the Battle of Fort Henry

General Forest conducted a raid on the Union Works

Video 1 on earthworks

Video 2 on earthworks


[1James Knight, Battle of Fort Donelson (Charleston: History Press, 2011), 70. 

[2] Grant, U. S. Orders to C. F. Smith, January 31, 1862, Official Records, Ser. 1 - Vol. 7, 575. 
[3] Knight, Fort Donelson, 73.
[4] Knight, Fort Donelson, 80.

[5] A sally port is a secure, controlled entryway of a fortification. Sally port,, Accessed 15 October 2012.

[6] Other accounts say 12 officers and 82 men surrendered with 15 men killed and 20 wounded.

[7] Foote, A. H. Report to H. W. Halleck, February 7, 1862, Official Records, Ser. 1 - Vol. 7, 122-124.

[8] Grant, U. S. Note to H. W. Halleck, February 6, 1862, Official Records, Ser. 1 - Vol. 7, 124.

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