In campaigning against Forts Henry and Donelson, Grant decided to employ a fleet of shallow-draft ironclad gunboats under the command of Flag Officer Andrew Foote. A bombardment from Foote's fleet, overpowering Federal numbers, and the weakness of the Confederate position at Fort Henry forced the garrison's commander Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman to surrender on 6 February, but not before he had sent most of his troops to reinforce Fort Donelson. The skipper of the Union gunboat Carondelet, Commander Henry Walke, described the naval action against Fort Henry in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.
During the winter of 1861-62, an expedition was planned by Flag-Officer Foote and Generals Grant and McClernand against Fort Henry, situated on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River, a short distance south of the line between Kentucky and Tennessee. In January the iron-clads were brought down to Cairo, and great efforts were made to prepare them for immediate service, but only four of the iron-clads could be made ready as soon as required.
On the morning of the 2d of February the flag officer left Cairo with the four armored vessels above named, and the wooden gun-boats Tyler, Lexington, and Conestoga, and in the evening reached the Tennessee River. On the 4th the fleet anchored six miles below Fort Henry. The next day while reconnoitering, the Essex received a shot which passed through the pantry and the officers' quarters, addressed them, and offered a prayer.
Heavy rains had been falling, and the river had risen rapidly to an unusual height; the swift current brought down an immense quantity of heavy driftwood, lumber, fences, and large trees, and it required all the steam-power of the Carondelet, with both anchors down, and the most strenuous exertions of the officers and crew working day and night, to