The 29th Illinois Infantry left Paducah, Kentucky on February 3, 1862 as part of the invasion force that would capture Fort Henry, a Confederate fort sitting on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River, just south of the Kentucky border. The 29th, along with the 8th Illinois Infantry; 18th Illinois Infantry; 29th Illinois Infantry; 30th Illinois Infantry; 31st Illinois Infantry; Stewart’s, Dollins’s, O’Harnett’s, and Carmichael’s cavalry companies; and Schwartz’s and Dresser’s batteries, composed the First Brigade (commanded by Col. Richard J. Oglesby) of the First Division (commanded by Brig. Gen. John A. McClernand) of the army which would eventually be known as the Army of the Tennessee. The soldiers of the First Division were aboard transport ships headed up (southbound) the Tennessee River and were accompanied by the Essex and St. Louis ironclad gunboats.
Fort Henry was constructed in 1861 on the eastern bank of the Tennessee River. It was a five-sided structure that comprised ten acres of real estate. The site for the fort was scouted by Brig. Gen. Daniel S. Donelson and was named in honor of Tennessee Senator (C.S.A.) Gustavus Adolphus Henry, Sr. The location of the fort provided for a two mile field of fire downriver. This was, however, the only benefit to the location. The fort was situated on low-lying swampy ground that was prone to flooding and was overshadowed by high-reaching bluffs across the river on the west bank. To secure the bluffs overlooking Fort Henry, the rebels constructed an earthen fort on the west bank, named Fort Heiman. Prior to the siege of Fort Henry, rebel soldiers numbering 1,885 and 1,100 manned the fortifications at Fort Henry and Fort Heiman, respectively, with Col. Heiman in command of all troops. The defenses of Fort Henry consisted of 20 foot masonry walls, 20 feet thick at their base and tapering up to 10 feet thick at their crest. Seventeen guns defended the fort: one (1) 10-inch Columbiad, one (1) 24-pounder rifled cannon, and fifteen (15) 32-pounder smoothbore cannons. Eleven of these were gazed upon the river, while the remaining six were facing inland to protect against an overland assault. In addition to the large guns, the rebels had sunk torpedoes (mines) in the river channel to protect against the invading gunboats. The garrison of Forts Henry and Heiman were armed with old flintlock rifles that had been in action since the War of 1812.