Today the Grant Memorial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin tells the story of the capture of Fort Donelson 153 years ago.
On February 16, 1862, the 12,000-man garrison at Fort Donelson surrendered unconditionally to Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
The culmination of the fighting from February 11-16 struck a blow to the South and gave the North a major victory.
Shortly afterwards, Grant received a promotion to major general for the victory and became known as “Unconditional Surrender.”
The newspapers of the day provided insights into the fighting. From the Baltimore American and General Advertiser:
Fight at Fort Donelson.
The Upper Fort Captured.
The Main Fort Commanded by our Guns.
Prolonged and Desperate Fighting.
The Gunboats Disabled.
Com. Foote’s Despatch.
Heavy Losses on Both Sides.
Progress of the Battle.
Three Days Fighting.
Position of the Fort.
Two of the Redoubts Captured.
The Fight to be Renewed Yesterday.
St. Louis, Feb. 16, pm —The city is wild with excitement and rejoicing at the glorious news just made public from headquarters that “the American flag now waves over Fort Donelson.”
The struggle has been severe and the loss heavy on both sides.
Major General Grant’s batteries were taken by the Rebels, but were recaptured by our brave troops.
Some of the gunboats are said to be badly damaged.
Particulars are expected tonight.
Progress of the Fight.
St. Louis, Feb. 16 — A special despatch to the Missouri Democrat, dated Sunday, February 15, pm, says:
Commander Foote reached here at 12 o’clock last night, on board the United States gunboat Conestoga. We stormed Fort Donelson on Friday afternoon.
The gunboats St. Louis, Louisville, Pittsburg, Carondelet, Tyler and Conestoga, after fighting a little over an hour, withdrew.
Fifty-four were killed and wounded on our gunboats; Pilots Riley and Hinton of the St. Louis, being among the latter.
Commodore Foote, whilst standing on the pilot house of the St. Louis, his flagship, was slightly wounded.
The St. Louis was hit sixty-one times, and two of the gunboats were disabled.
The Tyler and Conestoga remained out of range of the enemy’s guns.
The line of battle was as follows: The St. Louis on the right, next the Louisville, then the Pittsburg and the Carondelet on the left.
The enemy’s fire was very accurate. They had three batteries—one near the water, one fifty feet above this and a third fifty feet above the second. The upper one mounted four eighteen pounders. This one was held in reserve until our boats got within four hundred yards of the fort.
Our fire was directed principally at the water battery. One of the enemy’s guns burst and a number were dismounted. The enemy could be seen carrying the dead out of their trenches.
All the gunboats were left up the Cumberland except the Conestoga. She left there yesterday morning.
A rifled gun on the Carondelet burst, killing six men. The rudder of the Pittsburg was shot away.
The mortar boats left here yesterday morning.
The above statements of the fight were received from a gentleman who was aboard the St. Louis during the engagement.
A gentleman who left Fort Donelson yesterday afternoon at 3 o’clock and reached here at noon today, says that the fight had been going on all day yesterday. The right wing of the enemy’s fortifications were taken, and the Stars and Stripes were floating over them. The forces were breast to breast, and the battle was to be renewed.
Cairo, Feb. 16. —The steamer Minnehaha arrived here from Fort Donelson, having left the Fort at five o’clock last evening, bringing a military mail and despatches and one hundred and fifty wounded to the hospital at Paducah.
The fight commenced, as before stated, on Thursday, and on Friday and Saturday the contest was desperate.
The Illinois Eighteenth suffered severely, and the Iowa Seventeenth sustained considerable loss.
Captain Swartz’ battery, which was taken by the enemy, was recaptured by our men. Two Colonels were wounded and two killed. The loss is heavy on both sides.
The upper fort was taken at 4 o’clock, and the Union flag is now floating over it. Our troops behaved with great gallantry. The gunboats St. Louis, Louisville and Pittsburg were disabled. The Minnehaha met the mortar boats at Paducah going up.
St. Louis, Feb 16. —Despatches received at headquarters say that all our gunboats were pretty effectually disabled except one.
Commodore Foote was wounded twice, but not seriously.
The upper redoubt taken by our troops commands the main work of Fort Donelson, and Gen. Grant telegraphs that he would be able to capture that fort today (Sunday).
Chicago, Feb. 16. —The Tribune’s special correspondence is as follows:
Fort Donelson, Feb 15, forenoon.
The firing commenced yesterday at daybreak and continued at intervals all day. Up to 4 o’clock no movement or assault by the land force had been made. Night before last an attempt was made by the Rebels to take Taylor’s battery, but they were repulsed by two regiments and driven back beyond their entrenchments.
Our loss in wounded is considerable, but so far not more than three or four are dangerously wounded.
Six gunboats arrived yesterday, and commenced an attack on the fort at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The firing was very rapid and severe, and lasted one hour and twenty minute, when our gunboats fell back. The four iron-clad boats went within three hundred yards of the fort.
All the Rebel river guns, except six, were either dismounted or silenced. The first shot fired from the gunboat Louisville dismounted the Rebels 128 pounder.
The Louisville received fifty-seven shots, two of which took effect, one striking the starboard side of her deck, passing through the entire length of the boat, killing three men and breaking her tiller rope a short distance from the pilot house. The rope was then managed by some of the hands, when a shell from the Tyler, which lay some distance astern, burst over the Louisville, scattering the men at the tiller rope, and so much disabled the sterning tackle that the boat was compelled to fall astern.
One shot struck the Pittsburg in the bows and stove an immense hole in her which caused her to drop out of action. The leak, however, has been stopped.
One shot struck the pilot house of the St. Louis, passing through it between the pilot’s legs without injuring him. All the boats were more or less injured, but not but the Louisville severely. There were five killed and two wounded on the Louisville.
The gunboats will not be in a condition to renew the attack before tomorrow morning. In the consequence of the heighth of the bluff on which the Rebel fortifications are built, our cannon cannot have as much effect on them as on Fort Henry. Therefore it will require a much longer time to reduce this fort. The Rebels have raised the black flag; it can be seen flying from a bank a short distance above.
The newspaper continued with the Despatch from General Foote to the Navy Department detailing the issues with the gunboats.
At the end, the newspaper included:
The Latest Official Intelligence.
Washington, Feb. 16. —The despatch announcing a victory at Fort Donelson has occasioned intense joy here, but up to ten o’clock tonight no official despatches had been received in confirmation of the report, further than that the upper fort had been captured by the land forces.
The Grant Memorial Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows against the background of an artist’s rendition (circa 1887) of the fighting at Fort Donelson in 1862.