Friday, September 14, 2012

The Crews Cousins and The Battle of Fort Donelson

"No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted." - Ulysses S. Grant, February 16, 1862

The previous day, February 15, 1862 was a sad day for the Crews family.   First cousins James H. and William James Crews were killed in the Battle of Fort Donelson, Tennessee.   It was this engagement on the Cumberland River that would propel U. S. Grant from an unproven leader to the rank of Major General.  The Battle of Fort Donelson would also give Grant the nickname "unconditional surrender" due to the quote above.


Brigadier General U.S. Grant
 
James H. Crews was born in Maury, Tennessee in 1835.  He enlisted as a Corporal in Company E, Tennessee 3rd Infantry Regiment on May 16, 1861.   Unfortunately his first muster roll would also be his last.

The 1st and Last Muster Roll for James

William James Crews was born in Maury, Tennessee on September 28, 1842.  He enlisted as a Private in Captain Barry's Company, Tennessee Light Artillery on May 9, 1861. 


William James Crews' 1st Muster Roll

An error in his file would at least keep his spirit alive for more than 2 years following his death.  Another member of his unit, William H. H. Sims was mistaken for William James Crews in the official Muster Rolls.  

Service Record Cover showing cards also filed with "William H. H. Sims"

This mistake went unnoticed until April of 1864.

Muster Roll finally indicating the error


Both James and William died on February 15, 1862 while defending Fort Donelson.

"The Battle of Fort Donelson" by Kurz and Allison (1887)

The Battle of Fort Donelson began on the afternoon February 14, 1862.  An armada of six Union gunboats commanded by  Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote arrived from Fort Henry.   The four ironclads, USS St. Louis,  USS Pittsburgh, USS Louisville, and USS Corondolet along with the two timberclads, USS Conestoga and USS Tyler made their way down the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers and began exchanging "iron valentines" with an 11 gun Confederate Battery that supported the fort. 


Union gunboats bombarding Fort Donelson

During the near two hour duel, Confederate forces wounded Foote and inflicted such damage upon the gunboats that the they were forced to retreat upriver.  This initially pleased the Confederate command of Brigadier General John B. Floyd and commander of Fort Donelson, General Gideon Pillow . Knowledge that Grant was receiving reinforcements almost daily and that these reinforcements had nearly extended Grant's left flank to Lick Creek, completing the Union encirclement of the Confederates eventually sobered the excitement from the commanders. 

The Confederates knew they had to act quickly or else they would be subjected to being starved into submission via siege.  On the morning of February 15, Confederates massed their troops against the Union right in hopes of clearing an exit route to Nashville.  The two forces engaged each other for hours before Union troops retreated in late afternoon.   All seemed to be going the Confederates way until the Confederate forces were ordered to return to their entrenchments.   This was a result of both confusion and indecision by the Confederate command. 


The Storming of Fort Donelson by Union forces on Feb. 15, 1861

Almost instantly, Grant began to launch a series of brutal counterattacks which retook most of the ground previously lost and gained new ground as well.  These attacks virtually cut off the Confederate retreat.  The Union was poised to seize both Fort Donelson and it's river batteries by first light.  Both Floyd and Pillow sensed this and turned over their command of the fort to Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner, who agreed to stay behind and surrender the ford.  Floyd and Pillow, along with about 2,000 Confederates slipped away to Nashville.  General Nathan Bedford Forrest was disgusted by the cowardice shown by both Floyd and Pillow.  Forrest stormed out of his meeting with General Buckner stating "I did not come here to surrender my command."   He then escaped the fort with about 700 of his cavalrymen.


Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner

I need to interject a little back story here.   Simon Bolivar Buckner and Ulysses S. Grant were close friends, although they faced each other as opponents in the Civil War.  In 1854, Grant had been removed of his command at an army post for reported drunkenness.   Buckner loaned Grant a substantial amount of money to help him return home to Illinois after he was forced to resign his commission. 

On the morning of February 16, Buckner sent a note to Grant requesting an armistice and asking for conditions of the forts surrender.  Buckner had hoped that his friendship with Grant would lead to favorable terms for the Confederates.   To Buckner's dismay, Grant showed no mercy towards the men he perceived were rebelling against the Federal Government.  Grant's brash reply became one of the most famous quotes from the war and earned him the nickname "unconditional surrender". 

Grant's reply was was merely:

Sir: Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.
I propose to move immediately upon your works.
I am Sir: very respectfully
Your obt. sevt.
U.S. Grant
Brig. Gen
Buckner coldly responded:

SIR:—The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

Although Grant was courteous to Buckner following the surrender by offering him money and assistance in seeing him through his impending imprisonment, Buckner declined.  The surrender was not only a humiliation to himself, but also a huge strategic defeat for Confederate forces.  Confederate casualties were estimated at 327 killed, 1,127 wounded and 12,392 captured or missing, along with 48 captured artillery pieces.  The most severe Confederate loss was it's control of the Cumberland River.   The capture of Fort Donelson was the first significant victory for Union forces in the Civil War.   The Union control of the Cumberland would allow Union entry into the heart of the Confederacy, where Federal forces could make multi-pronged attacks against Confederate positions.  This victory for Grant led to his promotion to Major General. 

This victory would cost my family two of it's sons.  Both would die as bachelors.  Burial locations are not known for either James H. or William James.  It's likely they are buried in a mass grave on the battlefield. 

Here's my relation to James:

James H. Crews (1835 - 1862)
is your 2nd cousin 5x removed
William A Crews (1808 - 1860)
Father of James H.
William Littleberry Crews (1788 - 1855)
Father of William A
Gideon Crews (1730 - 1815)
Father of William Littleberry
Abigail Crews (1775 - 1822)
Daughter of Gideon
L. Chesley Daniel (1806 - 1882)
Son of Abigail
William Henry "Buck" Daniel (1827 - 1896)
Son of L. Chesley
Phebe Lucy Daniel (1862 - 1946)
Daughter of William Henry "Buck"
Valeria Lee Moss (1890 - 1968)
Daughter of Phebe Lucy
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
Daughter of Valeria Lee
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
Daughter of Phebe Teresa
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce


Here's my relation to William: 

William James Crews (1841 - 1862)
is your 2nd cousin 5x removed
Wesley E Crews (1821 - 1894)
Father of William James
William Littleberry Crews (1788 - 1855)
Father of Wesley E
Gideon Crews (1730 - 1815)
Father of William Littleberry
Abigail Crews (1775 - 1822)
Daughter of Gideon
L. Chesley Daniel (1806 - 1882)
Son of Abigail
William Henry "Buck" Daniel (1827 - 1896)
Son of L. Chesley
Phebe Lucy Daniel (1862 - 1946)
Daughter of William Henry "Buck"
Valeria Lee Moss (1890 - 1968)
Daughter of Phebe Lucy
Phebe Teresa Wheeler Lewis (1918 - 1977)
Daughter of Valeria Lee
Joyce Elaine Lewis (1948 - )
Daughter of Phebe Teresa
Chip Stokes
You are the son of Joyce

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