The first really significant major Union victory of the Civil War occurred 150 years ago today with the Confederate surrender of Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee. This is the occasion of the utterance of Ulysses S. Grant that “no terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted” … which became one of the famous quotes of the war and led to the name “Unconditional Surrender Grant.” With over 12,000 Southern troops surrendered, Grant had actually captured more soldiers than all American generals before him combined!
The several days leading up to the surrender saw both naval engagements – largely a Confederate success in defense – and infantry battle. Seeing that the Fort was likely to be surrounded, Confederate Generals John B. Floyd and Gideon Pillow escaped on the evening of the 15th with their approximate 2,000 troops, leaving the Fort to be surrendered by General Simon Buckner.
The news of the victory led to great rejoicing throughout the North and created a new war hero. The central heartland of the Confederacy was opened, as the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers and nearby railroads made the area a supply depot for the War effort. The South had to surrender southern Kentucky and much of middle and western Tennessee.