Voice from the Past: “A Desperate Fight at Fort Donelson”

Good morning! Today’s Fort Donelson sesquicentennial post comes from a letter William Penn Lyon wrote to Adelia Caroline Duncotabe Lyon on February 17, 1862:

Mound City, Monday noon, Feb. 17, 1862. — The regiment is now all at Cairo except Company K and about 100 men who, with Col. Murphy, went yesterday to Alton with the prisoners taken at Fort Henry. They are having a desperate fight at Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland river. General Paine came down yesterday, bringing intelligence that we have already lost 2,000 killed and wounded, among whom are several Illinois Colonels and other officers. Several gunboats came down from there last night and this morning; but, not stopping here, we got no news from above.

There has been heavy firing at Cairo within an hour. At first we thought the place had been attacked from Columbus, but as it ceased all at once we have concluded that they had heard that we had taken Fort Donelson and were firing a national salute in honor of the victory. The boys chafed like chained lions when they heard the firing at Columbus this morning.

Evening. — It is true that Fort Donelson is taken, and with it 10,000 to 15,000 prisoners. The backbone of this rebellion is broken. Now for Columbus and home! Our hearts bound as we begin to see the end of this war.

Wed. p. m., Feb. 19, 1862, Mound City, Ill., — There has been nothing going on here to break the monotony for a few days past except the arrival of a part of the wounded from Fort Donelson. These, with those that have previously been sent here, make about 400 of them at this hospital. A great many of them are severely wounded. They seem to be in good spirits. Surgeons have flocked in from all about and tendered their services. Some are prisoners. Steamer after steamer heavily laden with prisoners has gone down the river. I really begin to think that the war will be closed in a few months; and that, possibly, without the 8th having a fight. I tell you, when I see our wounded and maimed soldiers it makes me feel as though I wanted one chance at the authors of all this misery and suffering. I don’t believe that I have any apprehension of being hurt.

Source: Lyon, William Penn, “Letter from William Penn Lyon to Adelia Caroline Duncotabe Lyon, February 17, 1862,” in Reminiscences of the Civil War (San Jose: Press of Muirson & Wright, 1907).


Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, March 15, 1862.

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