Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Exchanging Iron Valentines

Marker ID: NPS 
Location: Lock D loop, stop 4, the river batteries, on the driving tour of Fort Donelson National Battlefield, Dover, TN
County: Stewart
Coordinates: N 36° 29.689    W 087° 51.373
  36.49481666    -87.85621666
Waymark: None


"We awaited with deep anxiety the result of the attack and severe bombardment of the river batteries by our gunboats. Gloom ... ensued upon the news reaching us of their failure and withdrawal from the contest."
H.W. Dudley, Taylor's Battery, McClernand's Division

Before building Fort Donelson, Confederates built two river batteries along the Cumberland River to defend the water approach to the major supply centers of Clarksville and Nashville. One, the Upper River Battery, is located several hundred feet to your right. The other, reconstructed here, was known as the Lower River Battery. Both were armed with heavy seacoast artillery, manned by inexperienced gunners. This battery contained eight 32-pounder cannon and, on the extreme left, one 10-inch Columbiad.

On February 14, 1862, Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote's Union gunboat flotilla rounded the bend in the distance and steamed up the Cumberland to exchange "iron valentines" with the water batteries. Using the tactics that proved successful at Fort Henry a week earlier, Foote maneuvered his gunboats very close, intending to shell the batteries into submission. The cumbersome vessels, however, moved so slowly that they became excellent targets for the untested Confederate artillerymen and were forced to withdraw.

10-inch Columbiad
This impressive weapon could hurl a 128-pound projectile over three miles, but was not as effective as the combined firepower of the 32-pounder smoothbores, or the 6.5-inch rifle in the Upper River Battery.

32-pounder Smoothbores
Arranged in two batteries of four guns each, these cannon, capable of firing a 32-pound shot up to a mile, inflicted most of the damage on the Union gunboats.

The timberclads played no significant part in the attack on the river batteries
Tyler • Conestoga

Lower River Battery
[Picture - no text]

Upper River Battery
6.5-inch Rifle

Union Ironclad Gunboats They weren't invincible
Despite the gunboats' reputation and protective armor, the Confederate river batteries pummeled the Union fleet in a 90-minute battle during which, as Flag Officer Foote put it, they were "all cut up." From a total of just under 400 rounds fired, Confederate gunners hit the St. Louis, Foote's flagship, 59 times, the Carondelet 54 times, the Louisville 36 times, and the Pittsburg 20 times.
St. Louis • Louisville • Pittsburg • Carondelet

Erected by Fort Donelson National Battlefield - National Park Service - Department of the Interior.


More information:
Wikipedia: Battle of Fort Donelson
NPS: Fort Donelson
NPS: Fort Donelson - Battle Summary