This Day in the Civil War

Sunday Feb. 16, 1862

The end came for the few remaining defenders of Confederate Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee today. There were few left because everybody in high position who could, had booked out the day before or overnight. The original commander, Floyd, had no stomach for presiding over a defeat so he turned command over to Gen. Pillow who had come in reinforcement. Pillow likewise saw no career advancement possibilities here, so he promptly resigned the honor to Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, and Floyd and Pillow climbed into a rowboat and skedaddled. Overnight, seeing a distasteful situation developing, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalrymen quietly gathered their horses and simply burst through the Union lines to fight another day. Today Buckner asked his old friend U.S. Grant his terms for surrender. Grant gained an immortal nickname with his response: “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.”

Monday Feb. 16 1863

The United States Senate today passed the final version of the first formal draft in the U.S in the Civil War. The action had already passed the House of Representatives, and since President Lincoln had been pressing urgently for its passage his signature was immediately forthcoming. This action had been long anticipated. In the first days of the war men had rushed to take the colors in a flush of patriotism, hopes of adventure, desire to impress female associates, or just because every other unattached male in the neighborhood seemed to be doing it. As the early enlistments were for very short terms, sometimes as little as six or even three months, so men had to be discharged before they were even very well trained, much less seasoned, experienced forces. Some of these men of course reenlisted, but as the war dragged on there was no longer any illusion of romance involved. The South had been using a draft for more than a year now.

Tuesday Feb. 16 1864

The party had started yesterday as the men of Gen. William T. Sherman’s army, having marched 140 miles to get to Meridian, Mississippi, and then taking the town without a fight, were turned loose to rip the place to shreds. They were pretty much unimpeded by even civilian opposition, since the population had fled in anticipation of a battle taking place. The troops were specifically told to destroy any public places such as train depots, stations and tracks, communications equipment such as telegraphs and wires, warehouses and arsenals, much of which could be considered legitimate military targets. However, they were also given license to rip up hotels, shops of all sorts and other mercantile establishments where the justification was not military, but simply to infuriate people and (hopefully) get them to pressure the government to surrender and end the war. Sherman’s men were told not to molest private residences, but enforcement was not strict.

Thursday Feb. 16 1865

Gen. William T. Sherman’s men had come today to Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, after taking a rather roundabout route which had kept the potential defenders confused as to which Carolina community was to be their destination. This had kept large numbers of troops from being gathered in any one place, which of course was exactly what Sherman wanted. The commander of the defenses of Columbia was Gen. Pierre G. T.  Beauregard, and he had the crack cavalry of Wade Hampton’s Legion to assist with the cause. Despite this, Beauregard telegraphed to Jefferson Davis that it was impossible to defend the city, much less save it, and he then left town after ordering the stored cotton to be burned to save it from capture. Several cannon shots were fired at the town, directed at Hampton’s cavalrymen whenever they became visible, and there were cries of outrage about inflicting war on helpless civilians. This prompted an investigation, which proved that the shelling hadn’t actually hurt anyone.

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