In February of 1862, Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant led a combined army and navy campaign against the Confederate garrisons on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in the state of Tennessee near the Kentucky border. Fort Henry on the Tennessee River fell to Union forces on February 6th. About 12 miles east of Fort Henry was the much larger and much more well defended Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River.
Union forces made some preliminary actions against the Confederates on February 13th. Over the next two days, there was extensive fighting, and while the Confederates held, it became clear that Grant’s position was too
strong and the fort would eventually fall. An attempt to break out of Fort Donelson ended in failure and the decision was made to surrender. Generals John B. Floyd and Gideon Pillow feared they would be punished by the U.S. government if they were captured (Floyd was a former Secretary of War under James Buchanon, and was under indictment for conspiracy and fraud), and did manage to escape with about 2000 men. (Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest, disgusted with the actions of Floyd and Pillow, refused to surrender and successfully escaped with his cavalrymen). With Floyd and Pillow gone, Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner was left in command and had the unenviable task of negotiating surrender terms with Grant.
But when Buckner asked for terms, Grant’s reply was that “no terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” Buckner was taken aback by this demand; but with little choice he reluctantly accepted. On February 16th, Grant arrived at Buckner’s headquarters at the Dover Hotel located on the Cumberland River in the small town of Dover. Buckner surrendered Fort Donelson and its approximately 13,000 defenders to U.S. Grant, who earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender” Grant for this decisive and important Union victory.
Before it was Buckner’s headquarters, the Dover Hotel, built in about 1851, had served travelers on the Cumberland River. After the Confederate surrender of Fort Donelson, the hotel served as a Union hospital. After the war, it once again became a hotel, and remained so until it was acquired in 1927 by an organization called the Fort Donelson House Historical Association, a group formed to restore and preserve the building which had fallen into disrepair. Following restoration, It reopened as a museum in 1930 and was donated to the National Park Service in 1959 and became part of Fort Donelson National Battlefield. Today, the Dover Hotel, also known as the Surrender House, is a stop on the battlefield auto tour and has museum exhibits on the first floor.