Battle of Fort Henry

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You are standing inside the easternmost riflepits of Fort Henry. These earthworks are all that remain of the hastily constructed earthen fort that now lies beneath the waters of Kentucky Lake.

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 You are standing inside the easternmost rifle pits of Fort Henry. These earthworks are all that remain of the hastily constructed earthen fort that now lies beneath the waters of Kentucky Lake. At noon on February 6, 1862, Union Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s flotilla of four ironclad and three timberclad gunboats steamed upriver (from your right) and began firing into Fort Henry. This, the initial battle in Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grants campaign to open the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers to Union forces, was the first time American ironclad vessels were used in combat. With the fort partly inundated by Tennessee River floodwaters, its commander, Brig. Gen. Lloyd Tilghman, knew Fort Henry could not be held. Keeping 100 artillerymen, he sent the rest of his forces (about 2,500 men) to Fort Donelson, 12 miles away on the Cumberland River.

Tilghman and his gunners gamely returned the gunboats fire, but were severely outgunned. At 1:45p.m., with only four cannon still operating, Tilghman surrendered to Foote. The Confederates had suffered five killed and 11 wounded; the Union sailors lost 11 killed and 31 wounded.

Grant and Brig. Gen. John A. McClernands troops, much to the navys delight, arrived on the scene only after the fort had been surrendered.

February 6, 1862 noon

Where is Fort Henry? The original site of Fort Henry is completely submerged beneath Kentucky Lake. The buoy in the middle of the channel (upriver and slightly to your left) marks its approximate location.

Height Disadavantage: With the fort at or below water level, Fort Henry’s cannon could not be positioned like those at Fort Donelson to shoot down onto the ironclads vulnerable decks.

Two Enemies: Besides Foote’s gunboat flotilla, heavy rains prior to the battle caused the Tennessee River to rise, flooding parts of the interior of Fort Henry.

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