African-Americans at Fort Donelson Page 3
"My field embraces all the colored people at this post—the camp, Clarksville and Providence—also the colored people at Fort Donelson, who are now building their own school-houses and teachers' quarters. They sent me $30, collected from their own circle, to purchase sash, glass, locks, and hinges. "—Capt. William Brunt, February 23, 1865
African Americans as Soldiers
Many African-American men wanted to fight for their freedom, but the Union Army was reluctant to initiate recruitment. Yet, some men took any opportunity they could to support the cause. During the Confederate attack of Fort Donelson in February 1863 (known as the Battle of Dover) several freedmen were armed and prepared to fight. When the Union commander heard about this, he ordered them to put down their weapons. At least five of the men ignored the colonel's order, picked up weapons from wounded Union soldiers, and rejoined the fighting.
Fort Donelson eventually became a recruiting station for African-American men in November 1863. In October 1864, the 119th U.S.C.T. and the Fourth Colored Artillery (Heavy) skirmished near Fort Donelson.
"Our loss is Lieutenant Johnston, Company I, Fourth Colored Artillery, and 3 enlisted men killed, and 9 enlisted men wounded . . . As for the colored soldiers they behaved nobly. There was not a single instance in which they did not surpass my expectations. "—T.R. Weaver, 119th Colored Infantry, October 12, 1864
Suggested Reading: Slavery's End in Tennessee, John Cimprich; Fort Donelson's Legacy: War and Society in Kentucky and Tennessee, 1862-1863, B.F. Cooling; The Destruction of Slavery (Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867), Ira Berlin, et al.; Official Records; Manuscript Collections, Tennessee State Library and Archives; Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant & the Politics of War & Reconstruction, Brooks D. Simpson; Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, Bobby L. Lovett and Linda T. Wynn; and Grant, Lincoln and the Freedmen, John Eaton.
Did You Know?
There was a significant enslaved population in Stewart County, TN, before and during the 1862 battle. After the Union victories at Forts Heiman, Henry and Donelson, many freedom seeking slaves sought refuge at these forts, even establishing a community near today's Fort Donelson National Cemetery.