Note: I was quite a ways along on this post on Sunday evening. The plan was to finish it up Monday and let it post on Tuesday. Instead I ended up in the ER Monday afternoon and am not feeling well enough to finish this. I am choosing to let it post as-is. I didn’t quite make it to Shelbyville. I’ll pick up that part next week. I also had photos I wanted to add but those will also have to wait. Hopefully you will enjoy it despite its unfinished state.
This is part two of the final years of John BATES’ life. For those of you just getting here, I’ve posted several times about John. My initial post about John is here and it gives you the background you’ll need about John’s life. My cousin visited Rock Island (where we thought John had died) and he guest-wrote a blog post that you can find here. On a trip to Georgia I found some documents related to John and wrote about some of those here. Recently I made another discovery that initiated this blog series about John and you can read that post here. The initial timeline for the final years of John BATES is included in that post however, I was able to create a more accurate timeline that will serve as the outline for this series and I posted that here. Lastly, you’ll find part one of the final years of his life here. Each installment of his final years will be posted on Tuesdays. Next stop, Tennessee.
Before Shelbyville, Tennessee
Before I get into Shelbyville, Tennessee, I want to talk about the Battle of Fort Donelson. The Battle of Fort Donelson happened in Tennessee between February 11th and 16th, 1862. Initially I thought John was in that battle due to a regimental history I found online. However, with the discovery of the pay records, I am not sure what to think. I’m going to briefly discuss the Battle of Fort Donelson with the caveat that I don’t know if John was really there or not. According to Wikipedia, this is the battle that catapulted the Union’s Ulysses S. Grant into Major General status and earned him the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. (Wikipedia) So you can imagine the battle didn’t go well for John’s regiment. Fort Donelson was a Confederate fort and an important target for the Union to capture if they wanted to win the war. Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking the Confederates didn’t try to hold the fort. Despite a snowstorm that rolled in the night of February 13th, the Confederates put up a valiant fight. The storm brought 3 inches of snow overnight and the strong winds that accompanied the storm brought the wind child down to the teens. The wet, muddy ground froze. Guns and wagons were frozen to the ground and the troops couldn’t start campfires for cooking or heat due to the close proximity of enemy lines. Many troops had arrived with no coats or blankets. It was a miserable night. During the early morning hours of February 14th, Confederate Brigadier General Floyd had a meeting of leaders during which one of his top aides was picked off by a Union sharpshooter. Later that day, “Union gunboats…attempted to reduce the fort with gunfire” and “were forced to withdraw after sustaining heavy damage from Fort Donelson’s water batteries”. (Wikipedia)
The following day (the 15th) the Confederates attacked Union forces in a surprise attack. Grant was not with his troops at the time but he did come back in time to launch a counterattack. Brigadier General Floyd apparently lost his nerve and didn’t follow through with a planned attack on the Union soldiers. I’m sure that Floyd watching his top aide die in front of him in the early morning hours of the 14th, coupled with the fact that Floyd was a wanted man in Union territory influenced his decisions and actions heavily that day. For whatever reason, the top two Confederate Brigadier Generals (Floyd and Pillow) left the fort in the command of a lower Brigadier General and escaped the fort with a few troops. The fort was unconditionally surrendered on February 16th to Grant by the Brigadier General later that day. Fort Henry had been surrendered just days earlier thus giving the Union a huge advantage in Tennessee. I recommend going to the Wikipedia link above and reading about the battle, about Grant’s relationship with the Confederate Brigadier General that surrendered Fort Donelson. I also recommend reading up on the battle at https://www.civilwar.org/learn/civil-war/battles/fort-donelson.