February 16-17: Sinking of USS Housatonic, the End of the Battle of Fort Donelson, and Other Events of the Dates
A number of interesting events have taken place on February 16 and 17 in U.S. history. Here is our take on the most interesting and valuable of them.
February 16, 1862 – American Civil War: the End of the Battle of Fort Donelson
Today marks the anniversary of a very important battle fought during the early stage of the American Civil War, as the Battle of Fort Donelson was fought from February 11 t0 16, 1862, in the Western Theater. The Union capture of the Confederate fort near the Tennessee–Kentucky border opened the Cumberland River, an important avenue for the invasion of the South. The Union's success also elevated Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant from an obscure and largely unproven leader to the rank of major general, and earned him the nickname of "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.
Grant moved his army 12 miles overland to Fort Donelson from February 11 to 13 and conducted several small probing attacks. Although the name was not yet in use, the troops serving under Grant were the nucleus of the Union's Army of the Tennessee. On February 14, Union gunboats under Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote attempted to reduce the fort with gunfire, but were forced to withdraw after sustaining heavy damage from Fort Donelson's water batteries.
On February 15, with the fort surrounded, the Confederates, commanded by Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd, launched a surprise attack against the right flank of Grant's army in an attempt to open an escape route to Nashville, Tennessee. Grant, who was away from the battlefield at the start of the attack, arrived to rally his men and counterattack.
Despite achieving partial success and opening the way for a retreat, Floyd lost his nerve and ordered his men back to the fort. The following morning, Floyd and his second-in-command, Brig. Gen. Gideon Johnson Pillow, escaped with a small detachment of troops, relinquishing command to Brig. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, who accepted Grant's terms of unconditional surrender later that day.
Overall casualties were pretty high for both sides, as the Union forces suffered 507 killed, 1,976 wounded and 208 captured and missing, while the Confederates suffered the losses of 327 killed, 1,127 wounded and up to 12,392 captured and missing.
February 17, 1864 – American Civil War: Sinking of the USS Housatonic
The sinking of the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864 during the American Civil War was an important turning point in naval warfare. The Confederate States Navy submarine, H.L. Hunley made its first and only attack on a Union Navy warship when it staged a clandestine night attack on the USS Housatonic in the Charleston harbor.
The Hunley approached just under the surface, avoiding detection until the last moments, then embedded and remotely detonated a spar torpedo that rapidly sank the 1,240 long tons (1,260 t) sloop-of-war with the loss of five Union sailors. The Hunley became renowned as the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel in combat, and was the direct progenitor of what would eventually become international submarine warfare, although the victory was Pyrrhic and short-lived, since the submarine did not survive the attack and was lost with all eight Confederate crewmen.
February 17, 1944 – Second World War: War in the Pacific: the Beginning of Operation Hailstone
Another important battle was fought on this date in the fields and waters of the Second World War. Operation Hailstone was a massive United States Navy air and surface attack on Truk Lagoon conducted as part of the American offensive drive against the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) through the Central Pacific Ocean during World War II.
Prior to Operation Hailstone, the IJN had used Truk as an anchorage for its large Combined Fleet. The coral atoll surrounding Truk's islands created a safe harbor where the few points of ingress and egress had been fortified by the Japanese with shore batteries, anti-aircraft guns, and airfields.
American estimates of Truk's defenses and its role as a stronghold of the Japanese Navy led newspapers and military men to call it the "Gibraltar of the Pacific," or to compare it with Pearl Harbor. Truk's location in the Caroline Islands also made it an excellent shipping hub for armaments and aircraft moving from Japan's home islands down through the South Pacific Mandate and into the Japanese "Southern Resources Area."
By early 1944, Truk was increasingly unsustainable as a forward base of operations for the Japanese. To the west, American and Australian forces under General Douglas MacArthur had moved up through the Southwest Pacific, isolating or overrunning many Japanese strong points as part of Operation Cartwheel. The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Army, under the command of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, had overrun the most important islands in the nearby Gilbert Islands and Marshall Islands, and then built numerous air bases there. As a result, the Japanese Navy had to relocate the Combined Fleet's forward base to the Palau Islands, and eventually to Indonesia, and the Fleet had begun clearing its major warships out of Truk before the Hailstone attack struck.
These are the most notable events in U.S. history that occurred on February 16 and 17, at least in our view.