Battle of Fort Henry

Fort Henry’s battle is one of the major battles between the Union states and the confederate states during the American Civil War. In the early days, slavery was a common thing in America; however, when President Abraham Lincoln was elected president, he was against slavery. The American states were divided into the Union (Northern states) and the Confederates (Southern states). The division led to many differences between the union and the confederates and initiated the civil war. During the time the war was in progress, the two groups of states also fought over the Fort Henry site located at Ft. Henry, Stewart County, and Henry County, Tennessee. The purpose of this paper is to research the battle of Fort Henry, its background, construction, who won between the union and confederates, and what factors led to their victory.

About Fort Henry

It is a historical site situated on swampy ground in Tennessee. It was named after its location, known as Henry County. It was a five-sided and open structure covering 10 acres of Tennessee River (Gott, 2003). In 1861, the fortifications on the river were built by the state’s attorney general. Its construction commenced in mid-June 1861, where slaves and the infantry were the significant sources of labor. The primary purpose of constructing the Fort was to control traffic and floods on the river. Hence, the Fort was substantial, and due to this, both the union and confederate needed to own it.

Background and History of the Battle

The battle was fought on February 6, 1862, during the American civil war between 1861 and 1865. It was the first significant victory that the union states won during the civil war. The war’s primary reason was that both the union and the confederates wanted to control the rivers that the Fort surrounded (McPherson, 2012). Besides, they both wanted to supply lines west of the Appalachians, and due to this, war was declared. Additionally, the Fort divided southern lines and housed valuable minerals, agricultural lands, and the famous and vital Nashville city. Therefore, each state wanted to own the Fort to access the town, the minerals, and the agricultural lands.

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Before the battle began, each side selected their generals or commanders to arrange and win the war. The union had two commanders; Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant for the army and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote for the navy. On the other hand, the confederate only had one commander named Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman. Furthermore, each group had to deploy a number of soldiers who would help them win. The union had 16,000 soldiers who constituted 15,000 armies and 1,000 navy soldiers, while the confederate had a total of 3,000 soldiers (History Net, n.d.). The number of soldiers, combined with other factors that the paper will discuss later, are the significant factors that contributed to the union’s victory over the confederate.

Preparation for the battle began on February 2, when the union expedition left Cairo, Illinois. The Grant’s troops were more aggressive than those of the confederate. They were armed with four ironclads; three timber clads that brought Lexington, Conestoga, and Tyler. Also, two troop lifts for transporting Grant’s men on February 4 and 5 to the fort site in preparation for the battle. At that time, on February 4 and 5, the Tennessee River was flooding, so the union had to prepare in advance. By afternoon on 5th, the union had already started the battle and approached Fort Henry, eliciting a six-shot response to the confederates, and later, their boats withdrew. On the same, Grant ordered his troop to begin simultaneous water, and land attack by 11.00 am on February 6. The primary reason was to strike before the confederate even arrived at the Fort and win the battle (Mecredy, 2000).

The union continued to prepare and by 10:50 am, its flotilla had already gone underway. Both the timber clads and ironclads and the troop were of help to the union. They used the ironclads to open fire against the confederate. However, the confederate also rose and responded to the battle with nine gunshots facing the water, and all the union’s boats were hit. As a result, about 30 union men were injured and others killed.  The union’s fire also had an impact on the confederate as most of their confederate’s guns were struck.

Nevertheless, with only four guns left to fight the union gunboats sweeping around the Fort with shot and shell, Tilghman, the confederate commander, surrendered around 2:00 pm. By the time Grant’s soldiers, who were also armed, arrived, the confederate had already given up, and the battle was over. The end of the fight and the confederate commander surrendering marked the victory of the union. The union captured the Fort, Nashville city, Tennessee, and the railroad route. Fort Henry’s victory marked the first significant victory that the union states won under the American Civil war. It was mainly driven by several factors that are discussed in the following section.

Factors that Led to Union’s Victory

The union states had much that contributed to their victory of Fort Henry. Firstly, their preparation was a significant factor. The fact that they started preparing two days before February 6 granted them victory. The preparation was vital because they identified areas of weaknesses before the battle began; hence, they had time to rectify them. Also, it enabled them to adjust to the environment and other factors that could have prevented them, such as the failure of equipment, boats, or guns. Due to this, their ships and guns were in good condition, which enabled them to win the battle.

Another major factor is that the union had many and more specialized soldiers than the confederate. They had 15,000 army and 1,000 navy soldiers, while the confederate had only 3,000 soldiers in total (History Net, n.d.). Soldiers were the main factor because they led the battle. So, if the union had many soldiers who led it to the fight, and the confederate had not even a quarter of what the union had, it is evident that the union was to win the battle. Many soldiers depict a high level of power because the more they are, the more they can defend the group. It could have been impossible for 3,000 soldiers to fight against 16 000 soldiers. Besides, the navy soldiers that the union had were specialized, and due to this, they fought effectively. They were able to use boats while going underwater to attack the confederate soldiers. Furthermore, the union had a larger population than the Confederates. It could have contributed to it having more soldiers. Therefore, the presence of more soldiers was a significant factor.

The third factor is robust infrastructure and equipment. The union had four ironclads, three timber clads, and two troop lifts. The three equipment groups earned the union victory by helping it in the battle (Mecredy, 2000). It is opposed to the confederate, who had nothing other than guns. Soldiers cannot battle alone, and what helps them is the equipment to defend themselves against their enemies. For instance, because of the gunboats that the confederate never had, the union could attack their counterparts while sweeping on the water surface through the boats. Again, the Tennessee River was flooding at that time, and thus, boats such as those of the union were needed. Therefore, adequate infrastructure and equipment were one of the factors that contributed to the union’s victory.

Fourthly, even though it may be an indirect factor, the union’s industrial superiority contributed to the battle’s victory. The two groups of states’ economic conditions were different; the union was mainly industrious while the confederate was primarily in the agricultural sector. Because of specializing in a dynamic economy, the union was far much better and civilized than the confederate. Economy-wise, the union was better, and due to this, it had enough finances to cater to its need for the Fort Henry battle. Unlike the confederate, the union was also creative, which depended on slaves to work on the agricultural farms. Due to the creativity in the industrious sector, people from the union could think of creative ways of winning the battle.


Lastly, the union had a strong federal government led by President Abraham Lincoln. In many cases, the federal government majorly contributes to its followers succeeding or failing. In this case, the union’s federal government was strong and helped it win over the confederate. Although not mentioned, the government probably contributed to finances, providing the navy and army soldiers, the soldiers’ equipment, and training. It is an excellent contribution that the confederate could not have gotten from its federal government. The government’s support is crucial because it probably gave the union soldiers the morale to continue fighting and put more effort, which finally paid off by achieving Fort Henry’s victory.


To sum up, the Fort Henry battle was a significant battle that led to the union marking its first victory over the confederate during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. The two states fought over the structure because it was situated in a valuable land with minerals, agricultural land, and the city known as Nashville. Hence, both of them wanted to have control over the Fort. The battle began in 1861 on February 6, between the United States and the confederate states. However, the union began preparing its equipment and soldiers on February 4, which marks one of the significant factors contributing to its victory. Another factor is it had more soldiers, including the army and the navy, than the confederate. The union had 15,000 armies and 1,000 navies, while the confederate had a total of 3,000 soldiers. Thirdly, a robust infrastructure and equipment such as ironclads, three timber clads, and two troop lifts. Also, industrial superiority and a powerful federal government contributed to its victory. At last, on February 6, Tilghman, the general commander of confederate surrendered, and the union took over Fort Henry. 


Gott, K. (2003). Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry-Fort (1st ed.). Stackpole Books.

History Net. Fort Henry. HistoryNet. Retrieved April 7, 2021, from

McPherson, J. (2012). War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (16th ed.). University of North Carolina Press.

Mecredy, S. (2000). Fort Henry (1st ed.). James Lorimer & Company Ltd.