After successfully laying siege to Fort Henry, which surrendered to the Union forces on 6 February, General Ulysses S. Grant pushed advanced elements of his army within 7 miles (11 km) of Fort Donelson. Fort Donelson, along with Fort Henry, was in a key defensive position and guarded the Cumberland River, an important conduit for a southern invasion. Flag Officer Andrew Foote sent three of his gunboats on a raid up Tennessee River, while the remainder of his gunboat flotilla was sent to help seize Fort Donelson. On 11 February, Brigadier General McClernand and Brigadier General Charles Smith partially invested Donelson. Foote’s flotilla arrived, carrying General William Wallace’s division. On 14 February, Foote’s gunboats were driven back by Confederate artillery fire from the fort. Meanwhile, Wallace marched to the front, giving Grant numerical superiority.
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