General John B. Floyd Part 1

One element of the Battle of Fort Donelson which should surprise modern readers is the fact that the most senior Confederate officer present, John B. Floyd, elected to escape rather than share the fate of the soldiers under his command.

Gen John B FloydBrigadier General John B. Floyd was fifty-five years old in February 1862.  Prior to the Civil War, he had been a lawyer and a  politician in Virginia,  serving as governor of the state (1849-1852) and as the Federal Secretary of War (1857-1860) where he succeeded the future president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.  He was appointed a colonel in the Virginia Provisional army in 1861 and was promoted to brigadier general when the state’s forces were accepted into Confederate service.  He arrived at Fort Donelson on February 13th with his brigade of four regiments of infantry from western Virginia (36th VA, 50thVA, 51st VA, 56th VA) and assumed overall command as the senior officer present.  Although nominally in command, Floyd lacked military experience and relied heavily on Generals Pillow and Buckner to direct operations.

During the council of war which followed the failed Confederate attempt to break the siege on February 15th, the three general officers at Donelson decided among themselves that their mission to delay Grant’s advance on Nashville had been achieved and, as General Buckner put it: “It would be wrong to subject the army to a virtual massacre when no good could result from the sacrifice.”   Immediately, Colonel Bedford Forrest who commanded all of the garrison’s cavalry announced that he would not surrender his command.  Upon hearing this, Floyd appears to have reconsidered his personal position.

As the Secretary of War in the period immediately prior to the outbreak of the war, Floyd was under suspicion in the North for moving substantial numbers of muskets and cannons from the northern states into armories throughout the southern states.  It is possible that the transfer was in response to John Brown’s raid on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry as a means to arm local militias should further uprisings occur in the slave states.  Nevertheless, following Forrest’s announcement, Floyd announced that he would evacuate his four regiments using steamboats scheduled to bring reinforcements the following morning.

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