Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Five Books on the Battle of Fort Donelson

In commemoration of the Battle of Fort Donelson, which was fought during this week in 1862:

1. Grant Invades Tennessee: The 1862 Battles for Forts Henry and Donelson
by Timothy B. Smith (2016).
Smith's book is by far the deepest and best operational and tactical treatment of the campaign and its battles. The study also raises the strategic stature of the fall of Fort Henry, an event most often sidelined in campaign evaluations in favor of the much larger, bloodier, and dramatic Donelson battle and surrender that followed it.
2. Forts Henry and Donelson: The Key to the Confederate Heartland by B.F. Cooling (1987).
Over thirty years old now (yikes), Cooling's book has stood the test of time and is the classic standby when it comes to viewing the campaign through the widest lens. It ably combines a solid recounting of military events with regional social, political, and economic discussions.
3. Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862 by Kendall D. Gott (2003).
Also a reasonably detailed narrative history of the campaign, the differentiating feature of Gott's study is its central focus on leadership and command (in particular the failures on the Confederate side).
4. The Battle of Fort Donelson: No Terms But Unconditional Surrender by James R. Knight (2011).
This is for those that want a sound overview of events without having to read a full-length study. Knight has demonstrated a fine ability to condense Civil War subjects into tight little narratives for popular consumption (I especially liked his Pea Ridge effort).
5. Fort Donelson's Legacy: War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862-1863
by B.F. Cooling (1997).
Discussing the long shadow of Fort Donelson in a variety of contexts, this volume is the expansive sequel to Cooling's Donelson study referenced above. The author's multi-level exploration of the Civil War in the TN-KY heartland would eventually reach trilogy status with 2011's To the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: Stabilization and Reconstruction in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864–1866 (which I have not read).


  1. Taking Donelson led to the fall of Nashville and a memorable line ("No terms but ...") Taking Fort Henry opened up a highway into northern Mississippi and Alabama, thus threatening Memphis and Chattanooga.

  2. I would agree with that ranking 100%

    Bill G.

  3. Nice list. The idea that Cooling's wonderful book is thirty years old is indeed scary.


    1. I know what you mean. I am far from accepting that the 80s are ancient history now.


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