February 1862 did not witness a massed Unionist attack on Richmond despite the orders of Lincoln. However, a major Confederate fort was captured by Grant’s men – a move that boosted morale in the capital.
February 1st: Confederate generals became aware that Union forces were massing along the line of the Mississippi River near Virginia and planned to expect a major Union offensive with the targets thought to be either Fort Henry or Fort Donelson.
February 2nd: Confederate intelligence indicated that the Union’s ability to move its men along river systems was not good. However, the Confederates were unaware of Lincoln’s order – to attack regardless.
February 3rd: Lincoln again asked McClellan to make a major move for Richmond using the Army of the Potomac. McClellan again showed his usual reluctance to do anything without having it precisely mapped out first. He told Lincoln that he wanted to move troops by sea to the Virginia Peninsula and then push the 40 miles inland.
February 5th: General Grant concentrated his forces for an attack on Fort Henry. He had 15,000 men under his command while the Confederate defenders at the fort numbered 3,200.
February 6th: Union gunboats on the Tennessee River bombarded Fort Henry. The fort commander, General Tilghman withdrew as many men as he could to Fort Donelson but ensured that gunners remained in Fort Henry. By mid-afternoon the walls of Fort Henry were broken and Tilghman decided to surrender. Only 63 men were left in the fort. Over 3,000 made it to the relative safety of Fort Donelson, which prepared itself for an attack. However, the control of the Tennessee River at that point was very important to the Unionists as it allowed them to make river patrols up to northern Alabama.
February 7th: Grant prepared for an attack on Fort Donelson, which was a far tougher proposition than Fort Henry. Fort Henry was by the river’s edge while Fort Donelson was 100 feet above the Cumberland River.
February 8th: Union forces took prisoner 2,527 Confederate troops at Roanoke Island.
February 10th: Grant told his men that they would move on Fort Donelson within 24 hours. The fort was 12 miles from Fort Henry. Grant’s large land force was bolstered by a large river force as more Union gunboats joined the attack.
February 12th: 20,000 Union troops moved on Fort Donelson. By the time Grant’s men arrived at the fort, it is thought that there were about 18,000 Confederate troops in it.
February 13th: The attack on Fort Donelson started though the gunboats were late in arriving. Artillery fire continued throughout the day and into the night.
February 14th: Six Union gunboats arrived at Fort Donelson. They accompanied ten transport ships that brought an extra 10,000 Union troops to the fight. The gunboats added an extra 70 guns to the Union’s artillery capability. As well as being pounded from the land, the fort was attacked from the river. During the night, the fort’s commander, General Floyd, decided that the Confederate force in the fort had to fight its way out and push into open land. Floyd assumed that they had no chance of holding Fort Donelson.
February 15th: One hour before daybreak the Confederates in Fort Donelson attempted their breakout. They had surprise on their side and attacked on just one front but after initial success had to face Union troops sent to reinforce that front. By the afternoon, the Confederates had to return to Fort Donelson. By the end of the day, Fort Donelson was totally surrounded. Union troops surrounded it on three sides on land and the Union gunboats dominated the Cumberland River.
February 16th: At dawn Fort Donelson surrendered. The Confederates had hoped to negotiate terms but Grant told them that “unconditional and immediate surrender can (only) be accepted”. The loss of Fort Donelson resulted in the Confederates losing control of Tennessee and Kentucky. Over 14,000 Confederates were taken prisoner.
February 18th: There was much celebration in Washington DC when news reached the capital of the surrender of Fort Donelson. The First Congress of the Confederate States of America met in Richmond.
February 21st: The Battle of Fort Craig in New Mexico was fought. This saw a Confederate victory against a larger Union force. The Confederates captured six artillery guns from the Unionists.
February 22nd: Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as the first President of the Confederate States of America.
February 25th: General Halleck, commander of the Army of the Southwest, sent a series of telegraph messages stating how well the Unionist forces were doing in Missouri – a state seen as a thorn in the side to Federal aspirations. However, these telegraph messages were misleading in that Halleck had yet to achieve anything decisive.
February 27th: Davis was given permission by the Confederate Congress to suspend habeas corpus if he felt it was necessary to do so. Davis asked for martial law to be introduced at Norfolk and Portsmouth – both important naval bases in Virginia.
February 28th: Charleston was captured by Unionist forces. Charleston was to become the capital for the new state of West Virginia.