Union General Henry Halleck, in command of the Department of Missouri, directed Union troops to capture Fort Henry, strategically located but ill-sited on the Tennessee River, which along with the Cumberland River, was a vital supply route. General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Cumberland would move in conjunction with the gunboats of Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote.
Prior to a heavy naval bombardment on February 6, 1862, Confederate General Lloyd Tilghman evacuated troops east to Fort Donelson before surrendering. On February 13, Federal troops, again coordinating with naval forces, attacked Fort Donelson from the Cumberland River. General Simon B. Buckner surrendered the fort to his old friend Grant under terms of “Unconditional Surrender.”
Federal troops moved south, capturing Nashville before Confederate forces under General Albert S. Johnston launched a surprise attack on the Union encampment at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River near Shiloh Church on April 6. Johnston was mortally wounded, and command of the Southern forces fell to General Pierre G. Toutant Beauregard. Reinforced, Grant counterattacked and won a victory on April 7. Nearly 23,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in the two-day battle.
Beauregard’s troops staggered south to Corinth, Mississippi, a vital railroad crossroads of the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads. Federal forces in pursuit were hampered by heavy rains, poor roads and the timidity of General Halleck. Corinth had been reinforced but the Confederates were greatly outnumbered. Rather than surrender, Beauregard staged an elaborate deception and retreated out of the city with his army on May 30, 1862.