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On the Cumberland River near Dover, Fort Donelson National Battlefield embraces the area where the first major Federal victory of the Civil War was won. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant began the campaign in February 1862 to gain control of the Mississippi Valley and bisect the South.
When Grant moved 15,000 men up the Tennessee River to Fort Henry, the main Confederate garrison withdrew to Fort Donelson, leaving the remaining detachment to surrender after a short battle. Five days later, Grant moved against Fort Donelson, and a Feb. 13 skirmish had no clear outcome. The following day a Union gunboat attack failed, but Union reinforcements arrived and Grant's army swelled to 27,000 men.
Fearing entrapment, the Confederates rallied to clear the road to Nashville and steadily forced back the Union lines. Escape seemed sure until the Confederate commanders, in confusion, ordered their forces back to their trenches. Grant immediately ordered an advance and gained new ground.
Three Confederate officers with 1,500-2,000 troops managed to escape during the night of Feb. 15, but the following morning Grant issued his famous ultimatum, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.” Confederate Gen. Simon Buckner accepted and delivered approximately 13,000 troops as prisoners of war, at that time the largest number ever to surrender in North America.
This Confederate defeat resulted in the evacuation of Bowling Green, Ky., Columbus and Nashville, delivering Kentucky and most of middle and western Tennessee into Union hands.
The 554-acre park contains the Confederate-built fort, river batteries, outer defenses, the Dover Hotel where Buckner surrendered to Grant, and a national cemetery. Markers indicate all points of historical interest along a 6-mile driving tour. Dover Hotel open daily 8-4:30. National cemetery daily 8-7, Memorial Day-Labor Day; 8-5, rest of year.
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Current Location: Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Tennessee