In the weeks leading up to Ft. Donelson the 31st Illinois had landed in Paducah, Kentucky, via steamers from Cairo, Illinois. The men already had their first taste of conflict at Belmont, Missouri, in 1861, yet were still poorly equipped. They lodged in old Confederate barracks at the captured Ft. Henry, where many men took abandoned rebel uniforms. On Feb 12th, 1862 the 31st Illinois would engage in the deadliest fighting they would see of the war, outside of Ft. Donelson. Here they briefly engaged with Confederate cavalryman, General Nathan Bedford Forest, near the Dover landing located in close proximity to Fort. At dawn of Feb. 15th, 1862 the 31st Illinois was surprised by artillery fire from Confederate guns. Outside of Ft. Donelson they took a prone position and fought for two hours, repelling attacks from Texas and Tennessee regiments. The fighting was noted to be especially fierce, and the 31st was last regiment of the brigade to be forced off the field. The battle was ended later that evening by General A. J. Smith’s charge, capturing Ft. Donelson, and securing a major victory for the Union.
The 31st’s losses were among the most in the army. In just two hours of fighting 58 men of the 31st Illinois were killed, with a fellow Colonel of the brigade Col. White, left dead. Col. John A. Logan, nicknamed “Black Jack” by his troops, was shot in the shoulder holding the line, and was helped off the field to the rear. (Morris p. 37) The fighting was a huge success for the Union army. In his reports Gen. Grant stated, “For four successive nights, without shelter, they faced an enemy large in force, in a position chosen by himself. Though strongly fortified by nature, all the safeguards suggested by science were added. Without a murmur this was borne, prepared at all times to receive an attack, and with continuous skirmishing all day, resulting ultimately in forcing the enemy to surrender without conditions.” (Morris p. 40) After the battle Col. Logan was promoted to Brigadier-General. The battle is of particular historical significance to Illinois, as the greatest number of war prisoners ever taken in a North American battle up to that time were captured and sent to Rock Island, Illinois. For residents of Little Egypt the battlefield became an instant tourist attraction. During the fighting canon fire could be heard in Southern Illinois counties as far away as Benton County. Intrigued by the sound of warfare hundreds of Little Egypt residents came out to see the aftermath of the battle in the weeks following the capture of Ft. Donelson.