Forrest on Fort Pillow: 1868 Cincinnati Commercial Newspaper Interview

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lelliott19

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This interview with General Nathan B Forrest appeared in The Daily News and Herald. (Savannah, Ga.), September 12, 1868, page 1. It was reprinted from the Cincinnati Commercial and also appeared in The Louisville Daily Journal. (Louisville, Ky.), September 8, 1868, page 1. I searched some key phrases from the interview, and did not see it posted before here at CWT..... or anywhere else, for that matter. If it has been previously discussed, I apologize.

[Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial]
Memphis, Tenn. September 3, 1868
<extensive excerpt detailing the circumstances of visit with General Forrest as well as the geography of Fort Pillow and the surrounding area>
“Before I describe to you the particulars of the fight of April 12, 1864, I must give you a little preface to the story. While at Jackson and other points in West Tennessee, I learned, from what I still believe to have been reliable sources, that the Tennessee troops under Major Bradford, at Fort Pillow, had pillaged the whole country, and under the pretext of looking for rebel arms, had insulted women, abused old men, and in several instances had committed the most brutal outrages upon highly respectable women. Many of these persons so abused, robbed and insulted were near relatives and friends of the Tennessee troops under my command. These men positively refused to leave Tennessee unless I would first take and destroy Fort Pillow. In addition to this a delegation of citizens from Jackson waited upon me and made the same request.

“Therefore, with the people opportuning, and my troops refusing to move, I had no alternative but to attack the place, although I did not consider of enough importance to waste the life of one of my men upon, for I was not so situated that I could hold it with my small force. This preface explains to you why I came here and made the fight which has given me a notoriety which, being unmerited, is very unpleasant to me.

“When I ordered the troops forward, only about 1400 in number, from Brownsville, I was at Jackson, about seventy-six miles east of here. I rode from there here in about twenty-six hours, and arrived upon the field about 9 o’clock in the morning. You see that line of old works running along the top of the ridge to the south of us, the right hand disappearing into the ravine next to the river. Well, behind that my men were sheltered somewhat, but my sharphooters were on those little knolls between here and there, and also along the ridge running along our front from the south up to those trees and intersecting Coal Creek.”

The point of intersection indicated by the General is about one hundred and fifty yards from the works we were sitting upon.

“From this point I advanced my lines through the hollows, until I had driven the enemy within their main works, and was within sixty yards at the south side and thirty yards of their works at the northeast corner over there, near the bank of Coal Creek. Just to the south here, where you see those barred spots, stood some hospital buildings in which some of their wounded were laid. These buildings the enemy fired to prevent my men from taking shelter behind them, and I think they burned up some of their own dead and wounded. That was the only fire made during or after the fight, that day, and, if anybody was burned, it was done then.

“Having my men this near and my sharpshooters in such position that they could pick off the gunners within the fort, and knowing that I could take it by storm, I desired to save all the lives I could, and therefore sent in a flag of truce, demanding the unconditional surrender of the garrison, at the same time assuring them that they would be treated as prisoners of war. My men were then so close to the works, here on the southwestern corner, that the flag of truce was halted before it passed my line, and the conference took place just to the left of my troops. The officers from the fort at first refused to surrender; and when this reply was brought to me I sent another demand, in which I stated that the animosity existing between the Tennessee troops in my command and the Tennessee troops in the fort was such that I could not be responsible for the fate of the garrison. To this demand Maj. Bradford returned an answer asking for an hour to consult with the officers of the gunboat New Era.

“I saw at once that this was a ruse to gain time, for I had learned, only a few minutes before, that a force had been landed below at Fulton, which could cross the country, get on the ridge in my rear, and leave me no line of retreat. Added to this, the smoke of boats above and below was seen approaching, and I therefore sent back an answer that I would give them twenty minutes; that I did not ask the surrender of the gunboat, but only of the Fort. During this time, the boat coming up the river was approaching, and we could plainly see that she was loaded with troops and artillery; but a shot across her bows sent her on up the river…..”

TO BE CONTINUED
Image from The Illustrated London News
 
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