Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

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Reminiscences of the Civil War by William and Adelia Lyon.

February 6, 2013

Reminiscences of the Civil War, William and Adelia Lyon

To Mrs. Lyon

February 6, 1863.—We received the intelligence on Tuesday afternoon at one o’clock that the rebels were advancing on Donelson. The only forces there were the 83d Illinois, Colonel Harding, and Flood’s 2d Illinois Battery of four pieces. Colonel Harding had also a 32pounder siege gun in position. One of his companies was absent, so that the whole defensive force there was less than 700 men, with five pieces of artillery.

We could not ascertain whether the rebels were in large force, and we apprehended that the attack there was only a feint, and that the real point of attack would be Fort Henry. Colonel Lowe hesitated, therefore, to send reinforcements until the necessity was apparent.

Finally we got a dispatch that the battle had commenced, and I was ordered to push rapidly over there (it is fifteen miles from here) with the Thirteenth. Soon after we left the telegraph wire was cut, which showed that the enemy were in our path. Colonel Lowe started reinforcements to me. Six miles this side of Fort Donelson my advance guard was fired into and fell back to the main body. This was after dark. I formed a line of battle and reconnoitered in front. The first men that advanced in front of our lines were fired upon and wounded. We reconnoitered carefully in front, and hearing heavy firing renewed at Donelson, I pushed on with the main body, moving slowly, with skirmishers deployed to the front .

In the meantime Colonel Lowe learned that we were attacked and sent me three pieces of artillery and more infantry. I moved slowly and cautiously to within two miles of Donelson, occasionally sending couriers in advance to ascertain the situation of things at the fort, for up to this time we had no intelligence from there. We passed the point where the rebel force on our road had been stationed. We learned from citizens that they had 300 or 400 men there, who retreated on our approach.

About midnight one of our couriers returned with intelligence that the road was clear, and we moved on to the fort. We found, when we arrived there, that the place was attacked between one and two o’clock by at least four thousand rebels with from ten to thirteen pieces of artillery. They were commanded by a Major General Wheeler and two Brigadiers, Forrest and Wharton. The fight lasted until night. The rebels surrounded the place, their lines running from the river bank above to the river bank below the town, which is surrounded by high hills. What is called Fort Donelson is really the village of Dover. The fortifications are abandoned and did not figure in the fight . They charged repeatedly upon our men, but were invariably repulsed. The history of this war shows no such fighting as was done by the 83d Illinois and Flood’s Battery. Without fortifications, except slight breastworks improvised for the occasion, inferior in artillery, and 700 against 4,000, they fought for hours, through ravines, over hills, through the streets of the village, behind houses, in companies, by squads, and often single-handed, they contested every inch of ground until night ended the conflict. And to render the condition of these gallant men more desperate, at four o’clock the battery was out of ammunition.

The regiment was never in battle before, but every man fought like a veteran. At night, with their lines drawn closely around the town, and their batteries all in position to renew the attack in the morning, the enemy sent in a demand to Colonel Harding to surrender the place or take the consequences. The Colonel replied that it was against his orders to surrender and he must therefore ‘take the consequences.’ All the time I knew, as did also Colonel Harding, that several gunboats were on their way up the Cumberland river and would reach Donelson on Tuesday evening. The rebels knew nothing of this.

The gunboats arrived about eight o’clock and opened fire with eight-inch Dahlgrens upon the rebels, scattering them in dismay out of our reach. Early in the morning we found that they were rapidly retreating southeast, in the direction from whence they came. The slaughter amongst them was terrible. The morning after we arrived there I looked over the ground and dead bodies could be seen in every direction. Up to Wednesday evening our men had buried 125 dead rebels, and they were still being found and brought in. We find the houses all along the line of their retreat filled with their wounded, and they took off all that they could move. Their killed will, I think, amount to 200 and their wounded to 600 or 800. The most remarkable circumstance of the whole affair is that the loss on our side was only 11 killed and 41 wounded!

This battle was fought a mile or more from old Fort Donelson. We have since learned that it was their intention to capture Fort Donelson and then move their whole force on to Fort Henry and take that fort also. There are great stores of supplies and provisions, as well as arms, here. Hence they threw out a strong force on the Fort Henry road to retard the advance of reinforcements from here; and then when they got Fort Donelson they could throw their whole force on us, they thought, and exterminate us. It was well planned—the theory was perfect—but it did not work well.

Yesterday we returned to our old quarters. Before leaving Donelson, however, we saw the Twenty-Second Wisconsin, which, with 20,000 to 30,000 other troops, were there on their way to Nashville and Murfreesboro. They have buried 70 men and left 150 sick behind them. The regiment is not in a good condition. I marched the Thirteenth down to the boat on which was the Twenty-Second, drew up in line, gave them a few rounds of cheers, said ‘Good-bye,’ and left for home.

They got news in camp after we left for Fort Donelson that we were fighting, and the fact that Colonel Lowe was constantly pushing reinforcements to me seemed to confirm it, and the women got quite nervous about us.

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