Retreat or Surrender
Never Know When to Quit
The battles, early on in the Civil War, at Fort Donelson opened the action between Union Federals and the Southern Confederacy. The Confederate artillery batteries and entrenchments in Kentucky fended off a naval bombardment from the Yankees fairly well. Colonel Forrest was pleased with the outcome of his troops and was looking forward to furthering the cause. His horse had been shot out from under him, but he fought on foot until he secured another ride and ended the fighting for the day of February 16, 1862. He was still optimistic despite the fact that the North outnumbered South. The Union was waiting for reinforcements to arrive at Fort Donelson and the Southern leadership, knowing that fact, began to falter with the idea that they would be overrun by a larger force than their own. Late in the evening on February 16, 1862, a conference was held to discuss terms of surrender to the Union Army by Colonel Buckner in command of the Southern Army of Tennessee.
A lapse in communication must have occurred among the Southern leadership because there was a nearby Southern force of supplies and troops ready to either assist in safe retreat or resupply. However, that information never made it to Colonel Buckner or he was too pessimistic to look at options other than surrender. Colonel Forrest stormed out of the midnight meeting of leaders refusing to obey the order to surrender. He awoke his troops and offered to bring along any that would follow him in safe retreat along a nearby creek. He had scouted the area and was well aware that there were no signs of enemy presence or intent to attack.
The bugle of the Army of Tennessee, under command of Colonel Buckner, sounded the call for surrender as Forrest's group safely fled the poor leadership decision early the next day. Forrest and his group escaped to carry on the Southern cause throughout the rest of the Civil War. Colonel Buckner surrendered the Army of Tennessee to General Grant. And so began a bad trend for the Southern leadership and, unfortunately, also for the brave volunteers of the Army of Tennessee.
This is fact. It is written several times over in reports of post action accounts by both Northern and Southern officers. I don't find all of the blame to go onto the shoulders of the Southern leaders like Colonel Buckner. I look at it more as an example of someone like Colonel Forrest showing a will to fight on at all costs for a cause that was already determined to be worth any effort, including death. I do imagine that at the time of the midnight meeting there was some desperation in the faces of Colonel Buckner and the like. And, in the moment, he may have been doing what he felt was in his and therefore his troops best interest in the Southern war effort. I'd like to have run on with Colonel Forrest.