Nebraska Revised Statute 82-801

Chapter 82


Legislative findings.

The Legislature finds that:

(1) In February 1862, the Battle of Fort Donelson was fought in the woods of northwestern Tennessee. On February 13, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's Union army laid siege to Confederate fortifications surrounding the town of Dover, fortifications that guarded the vital Cumberland River route to Nashville. Bottled up in their trenches were thousands of Confederate defenders;

(2) Grant's army had failed to break the Confederate lines during brutal fighting on February 13. The next day, February 14, Union gunboats on the Cumberland River were repulsed by Confederate cannon firing from the shore. In the meantime, Union reinforcements reached the battlefield, including the First Regiment Nebraska Volunteer Infantry. That night, while both armies slept fitfully and snow fell upon the camps, Confederate generals hatched a plan for their army to break out of encirclement and to escape to open countryside. The First Nebraska would help ensure that the Confederate army would not escape, and made an important contribution to the first decisive Union victory of the Civil War;

(3) At dawn on February 15, the Confederates assaulted the Union army's right and forced the blue-clad soldiers into headlong retreat. By mid-morning, the Union line had been broken. Just as the Confederates seemed poised on the brink of victory, Brigadier General Lew Wallace ordered up the First Nebraska, several Illinois and Ohio regiments, and two cannon batteries to block the Confederates' decisive attack. When the attack came, reported Private Thomas Keen, the First Nebraska soldiers "kept up a terrible fire on them" for three quarters of an hour and the enemy withdrew in confusion. The Nebraskans' performance in their first battle drew General Wallace's praise: "The (First Nebraska) met the storm, no man flinching, and their fire was terrible. To say they did well is not enough. Their conduct was splendid. They alone repelled the charge.";

(4) After the Confederate attack had been turned back, Grant ordered Union troops at the other end of his line to charge enemy trenches from which troops had been withdrawn to join the morning breakout. This charge captured part of the Confederate lines, giving the Union army the upper hand. The next morning, the Confederates surrendered, netting Grant a dramatic victory along with an estimated sixteen to seventeen thousand rebel soldiers as prisoners of war. General Grant earned his moniker "Unconditional Surrender" Grant from this battle;

(5) Civil War historian Bruce Catton called the Battle of Fort Donelson "one of the most decisive engagements of the entire war." It was a devastating blow to the Confederate strategic position in the western theater, and Nashville soon became the first rebel state capital to fall to Union forces. Moreover, Grant's success at Fort Donelson brought him to national attention. He would go on to command all Union armies by 1864; and

(6) Nebraskans can be proud of their regiment's role in this pivotal Civil War battle. The members of the First Nebraska deserve a monument at the battlefield commemorating their actions.