150 Years Ago: The Guns of Fort Donelson

Happy Valentine’s Day.  But in 1862, Valentine’s Day wasn’t such a pleasant day.  I yesterday mentioned the engagement on the Savannah River between Federal batteries and Confederate gunboats.  The respective seats changed along the Cumberland River where the Federal Mississippi River Squadron rounded the bend (seen below) to engage Confederate batteries at Fort Donelson.

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View Downriver from Fort Donelson

This naval battlefield has changed somewhat over time, with the creation of Lake Barkley.  But the geometry to the main channel is easily visualized today.

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Confederate 10-inch Columbiad pointed down river

The Confederate defenders arrayed their river-side defenses in two groups – the Upper Water Battery and the Lower Water Battery – named for the location with respect to the river flow, and not in regard to elevation. Eight 32-pdr guns and one 10-inch Columbiad armed the Lower Water Battery on the downstream facing of the fort.  The Upper Water Battery contained two 32-pdr carronades and a 6 1/2-inch rifled Columbiad (likely a 10-inch Columbiad bored out as a rifle).

Captain Joseph Dixon commanded the fort’s batteries.  But on February 13 during a one hour duel with the USS Carondelet, a shot from the Federal gunboat disabled one of the fort’s 32-pdrs and killed Dixon.  Captain Jacob Culbertson assumed command of the batteries.

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View from the 32-pdrs on the Lower Water Battery

Captain Ruben R. Ross commanded a detachment from the Maury (Tennessee) Artillery manning the Upper Water Battery.

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Replica 10-inch Columbiad in the Upper Water Battery

The gunners in these batteries exchanged “iron valentines” with the Federal gunboats on the 14th, with the Federals getting the worst end of the deal.  Eric, over at Civil War Daily Gazette, has a good accounting of the action.  And “That a Nation Might Live” has a brief podcast discussing the battle of Fort Donelson, to include the Confederate breakout attempt and surrender.

Fort Donelson National Battlefield has several anniversary events scheduled through this week.  But for those of us unable to break away from work, let me offer up a virtual tour of the cannons displayed on the battlefield today:

Fort Donelson has one of the best collections of surviving 32-pdr guns within it’s mix of field, siege, and secoast guns.  Enjoy!

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