In February 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant, a native Ohioan, led a Union force that captured Fort Henry from the Confederacy.
On February 4, 1862, Union warships transported soldiers under Grant's command to Fort Henry. Located in Tennessee, Fort Henry guarded the Tennessee River. Nine Union ships under the command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote opened fire on the fort on February 6. Before the Northerners attacked, Confederate Brigadier-General Lloyd Tilghman evacuated the majority of his troops. The Confederates traveled to Fort Donelson, a post located approximately ten miles away along the Cumberland River. Tilghman left only some artillerymen inside Fort Henry to return fire to the Union's attack. After two hours of bombardment, the Southerners surrendered. Grant's force then advanced on Fort Donelson, capturing this installation on February 16.
The Northern victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson were the first significant ones for the Union in the western theater of the war. They also gave the Northern military unfettered access to the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, allowing the Union to gain deeper access into the South and an easier means to transport troops and supplies. These victories enhanced Northern morale, including that of Ohioans. Previously, many Northerners were demoralized by Southern victories at the Battles of First Bull Run and Ball's Bluff in 1861. The Battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson also signaled Grant's ascendancy as a prominent military leader for the North.