Sleeping in the Snow

While a nor’easter dumps feet of snow on New England, we’re reminded of Lew’s snowy experience at Fort Donelson nearly 151 years ago. Tennessee may not see two feet of snow, but it still gets pretty cold.

Sleeping in the Snow

Here are a few excerpts from Lew’s autobiography about sleeping in the snow:

The snow was all of a couple inches deep on the level; on the south side of the logs it had collected in cadaverous drifts. Frost in specks of glancing sheen still streaked the air. We walked about and beat our bodies to keep up circulation, teeth chattering meanwhile like castanets. Shade of Thor, how cold it was! Yet there was nothing to do but wait and be ready.

The next day, Admiral Foote attempted a gunboat assault on the water batteries of the fort, but was defeated. On the morning of February 15, the Confederates attempted to break out, and nearly succeeded. Lew was able to reinforce McClernand before the Union line crumbled completely. Lew’s troops eventually retook the ground that lost in the breakout attempt. Then, more waiting:

There was nothing for us then but another night in bivouac without fires, and nothing to eat but crackers; literally suffering from the pinch of hunger added to misery from the pinch of cold. Yet I did not hear a murmur. This, I think, because there was not a soldier there so ignorant as not to know the necessity of keeping a tight grip upon our position.

After the Battle

Lew returned to his tent, hoping for food and fire, but discovered the tent looted and unattended. Discouraged, he returned to the command:

Behind their stacked muskets the thousands walked about, stamped, danced, threshed their bodies with their numbed hands, and kept the struggle with Jack Frost heroically going. If they were tired, hungry, cold, sleepy, so were we? Everybody watched the sky in the east, and had some Gheber of the kind sung by Tom Moore arisen and preached to us as became a fire-worshipper, there is no telling how many converts he might have made.

If you’re in New England, trying to dig out from under this weekend’s blizzard, at least you can take comfort that you aren’t sleeping in the snow!

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