February 1st saw the publication of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”by Julia Howe, which would become the anthem for the Union Army.
On February 2, Captain David Farragut put to sea enroute to taking command of naval operations on the southern Mississippi River. Two days later, Confederate forces in Fort Heiman withdrew across theTennessee River to Fort Henry as Union General Grant started to land two divisions just north of the Fort. On the 6th, Union gunboats commanded by Andrew Foote began bombarding Fort Henry. The fort was poorly sited, almost completely inundated by rising flood waters and that, combined with excellent naval gunfire, compelled Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman to surrender his garrison to the Navy before Grant’s troops arrived. The action opened the Mississippi to the Union up to and past the Alabama border.
On February 7th in another joint operation, Union gunboats supported the landing of a division of troops under A. E. Burnside on Roanoke Island in the North Carolina Sound just south of Virginia. The troops flanked the Confederate line on both sides and compelled the grey troops to withdraw to the forts, both of which were taken on the 8th. The Southern commander, Colonel Henry Shaw, surrendered in order to avoid pointless bloodshed. This victory closed the back door of resupply to the port city of Norfolk and helped to close the blockade of the South by the United States Navy.
Also on the 7th, Stonewall Jackson withdrew from Romney, WV and returned to Winchester.
Union General Charles P. Stone was arrested on February 9th. This arrest was the culmination of several incidents that began with his announced policy of returning escaped slaves to their owners, which enraged several powerful radical Republicans in the Senate. On top of that, poor decisions by a subordinate commander of Stone led to the Union defeat at Balls Bluff. Stone was held in two separate military prisons for nearly five months without ever being formally charged with any crime, then released with no apology or explanation.
In a closing action of the Roanoke Island fight, Ambrose Burnside’s naval forces destroyed a small squadron of Confederate gunboats in Pamlico Sound on the 10th.
Also on the 10th, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles formed what would become the National Academy of Science to review inventions and technical developments for the Navy.
After the capture of Ft. Henry, Union General Grant moved his forces overland 12 miles to Fort Donelson beginning on the 11th. He conducted probing attacks on the 12th and 13th and on the 14th sent Foote’s gunboats to bombard the fort. The bombardment was unsuccessful due to heavy and accurate counter-battery fire and the fleet was forced to withdraw with heavy damage. Grant had surrounded the fort and on the 15th, the Confederate commander, General John B. Floyd, attempted a surprise attack, trying to force an escape route for his forces. He achieved partial success, but lost his nerve and withdrew to the fort. On the 16th, Floyd and his deputy commander, Gideon Pillow, both in a state of panic, turned over command to General Simon Bolivar Buckner who then agreed to Grant’s terms of “unconditional surrender,” the initials of which (U.S.) became Grant’s nickname. Floyd and Pillow escaped and arrived in Nashville on the 17th. General Buckner’s grandson of the same name would later command ground forces in the U.S. attack on Okinawa in 1945, where he would be killed in action.
February 18th saw the first meeting of the Confederate Congress in Richmond. Also on that day, the West Virginia Constitutional Convention adopted their state’s first constitution.
February 20th saw tragedy in the White House. Abraham Lincoln’s 12-year-old son William died of Typhoid Fever.
On February 21st in New Mexico Territory, Confederate troops under General Henry H. Sibley attacked Union forces under General Edward Canby near Ft. Craig, about 140 miles north of El Paso. In the ensuing action, called the Battle of Valverde, General Canby, after his right flank collapsed under the weight of a desperate Southern attack, was forced back to Ft. Craig, leaving the road to Santa Fe wide open to the Confederates.
Celebration was the rule of the day in Richmond on February 22nd, when Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first (and only) President of the CSA.
On February 25th, Union General Bull Nelson accepted the surrender of Confederate forces in Nashville, the first state capitol to fall in the South.
On February 28th, the opening shots of the Battle of New Madrid were fired, a fight that would go on until April 8th for possession of a strategically important island in the Mississippi River. In 1812, this area also saw the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in North America.
- Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living. I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh. I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me. Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying. I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.