While McClellan was drilling his troops so as to have them ready to take Richmond, other Union generals were trying to get possession of the Southern forts along the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi rivers. For instance, Commodore Foote and General Grant took Fort Henry (1862). Next, after three days’ very hard fighting at Fort Donelson, General Buckner asked General Grant what terms he would make if the fort surrendered.
The Union general, who was a man of few words, promptly answered: “No terms except immediate and unconditional surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.”
When this short letter, which Buckner was not in a position to resent, became known in the North, some one exclaimed that Grant’s initials, U.S., evidently stood for “Unconditional Surrender.” This joking remark so pleased the public that the name was generally adopted, and you will often hear this Union general mentioned as “Unconditional Surrender,” instead of “Ulysses S.,” Grant.
We are told that a Union officer had been accused of not being loyal, simply because he was very quiet and inclined to be fair. When one of his friends asked why he did not deny the accusation, he gently said: “Oh, never mind; they’ll take it back after my first battle.” At Donelson, when called upon to take a battery, this same officer called out” “No flinching now, my lads! Here—this is the way; come on!” And he led his men so bravely that his fellow–soldiers not only took back all they had said against him, but declared that their triumph was due to his good example.
The taking of Forts Henry and Donelson broke the Confederate line in one place, and the Union army and gunboats now went on southward, to win the victory of Shiloh. Here nearly ten thousand men on each side were killed or injured, and the Southern General Albert S. Johnston received a mortal wound. He was one of the South’s noblest men, and proved it to the very last by begging his surgeon to leave him and hurry off to help the Union soldiers, some of whom could yet be saved. In this battle, General William T. Sherman did such wonders that when Grant sent the news of the victory to Washington, he said: “I am indebted to General Sherman for the success of that battle.”
The Union troops had already secured Nashville and Columbus, and, while the battle of Shiloh was being fought, they became masters of Island No. 10, and soon after of Fort Pillow and Memphis. Thus they won control of the Mississippi as far south as Vicksburg, where large Confederate forces blocked their path. Hoping to regain lost ground, the Confederates, under General Bragg, now made a raid into Kentucky, but they were defeated at Perryville and twelve weeks later at Murfreesboro. While this raid was taking place, part of their army, left behind, was beaten at Iuka and Corinth.
Other Union troops had in the meantime won a victory at Pea Ridge in Arkansas, and by the end of the year they managed to drive the Confederates south of the Arkansas River. At the same time an attempt was made to secure the rest of the Mississippi, an undertaking which needed the efforts of both army and navy. So the fleet which the year before (1861) had taken the forts at Hatteras Inlet in North Carolina, and Port Royal in South Carolina, was now ordered to the Gulf of Mexico.
The plan was that Commodore David G. Farragut and General Butler should take New Orleans, and then sail up the Mississippi to meet the army under Grant, and the gunboats under Porter, at Vicksburg. But this was a very difficult undertaking, for the Confederates had Forts Jackson and St. Philip, on either side the river, about sixty miles below New Orleans, and between them there was a line of hulks, chained fast together, so as to form a very strong barrier.
The first thing was, if possible, to reduce these forts; so Farragut prepared to attack them. To protect his large fleet of wooden vessels, and make them ball–proof, he looped heavy chains all over their sides; for there were at this time only two ironclads in the whole fleet. Sailors were then so sure iron ships must sink that when one was asked to transfer his flag to an iron vessel, he angrily muttered that he did not want to go to the bottom “in a teakettle.”
Besides these ships, Farragut also had a number of mortar boats anchored along the shore. They were so well hidden by leafy branches and long canes that they could not be located against the green banks. The bombarding of the two strongholds now began, and was kept up for six days and nights, during which time nearly seventeen thousand shells were hurled at the forts.
The noise of the bombardment was so deafening that it was heard forty miles away. Windows thirty miles away were shattered; birds flying near there were stunned, so that they fell to the ground as if shot; and fishes floated as if lifeless on top of the waters, into which so many cannon balls fell that it looked as if they were boiling hard. But, in spite of all this, the forts did not surrender.
Finally Farragut made up his mind to break the chain, sail boldly up the river between the forts, and then land forces so as to attack them on all sides. His plans being ready, a brave young officer volunteered to cut the chains which held the hulks together. As soon as he had done so, the hulks, driven by the current, drifted apart, and the Union fleet suddenly started upstream. The orders were to run the vessels as close to the shore as possible, so that shots from the forts would pass right over them.
In spite of a hot fire, the Union fleet, directed by Farragut, steamed safely past the forts, and destroyed the Confederate ships there. Troops being landed, the forts were forced to surrender to the double attack by land and sea.
Meanwhile, Farragut proceeded up the river to New Orleans. Large quantities of cotton had been stored there, and when the people heard that the Yankees were coming, they set fire to it, so it should not fall into their hands. They also burned their shipping, and when Farragut drew near the city, he saw a line of fire on the piers five miles long. Ever so much property was thus destroyed, for the cotton alone was worth more than $1,500,000. But the people of New Orleans could not prevent the landing of the Union troops, who joyfully hauled down the stars and bars, and hoisted the stars and stripes instead.
The, Northern army now took control of affairs in New Orleans, where people felt very bitter toward it. It also secured the cities of Natchez and Baton Rouge, and thus gained control over all the lower part of the Mississippi. The Confederates, therefore, had only two important points left on the river, Port Hudson and Vicksburg, which were both situated on such high bluffs that they were above the reach of cannon balls hurled from the river.