Pillow goaded Polk to take Columbus in 1861

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DanSBHawk

Sergeant Major
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I'm beginning to think that Gideon Pillow was a Union plant into the CS forces, because everywhere he was involved was a disaster for the Confederates.

Its commonly accepted that Polk made a mistake in occupying Columbus KY in early September 1861, because it appeared to violate Kentucky's neutrality and gave Grant the green light to take Paducah and Smithland, which he used as springboard for taking Forts Henry and Donelson.

What I didn't realize, is that a week before Polk made that movement on Columbus, General Pillow sent him a dispatch encouraging Polk to take Columbus. From the OR volume 3 page 685:

New Madrid, August 28, 1861.​
Major-General Polk :​
General : I have just received Hardee’s reply to your dispatch and mine in regard to his co-operation with me. He says that he cannot advance, and will not attempt it. That point being settled, it only remains for me, with as good grace as I can,' to turn my face (now ready for the first time since I landed at this place) upon other duty, without an apparent abandonment of a forward movement. I have to-day visited the works being built above this place. To my surprise I found the battery constructed on ground subject to fully 3 feet of overflow, and about a mile above the head of the island, in a muddy, damp, and dark forest of heavy cottonwood. Opposite this battery there is a wide and flat sand bar, over which boats can float in a full river at least 1 mile, and I think 11 miles from the battery. It is built on the very brink of a soft bank already chipping off by the action of the water. The first full river will sweep away the parapet. In addition to this error in the selection of the site, the engineer is now grading down the original bank within the work fully 2 feet, so that the seep water will drive out the forces in the work before the river gets within 3 or 4 feet of high-water mark. The forest is so damp and the overflow bottom is so wet, that it is impossible for troops to live in the work. They will die like sheep of the rot.​
Just at the head of the island, on the Tennessee shore, there is a good position for a battery to command the Tennessee chute, and about half way down the island, on the west side, is a very favorable position for another battery to command the western chute. The Tennessee battery can be turned and taken in reverse, and has but little advantage of position, and when taken, that channel of the river is open, and the other battery will be of no practical value. In addition to these two batteries, both of which must have a strong supporting force, you must have a strong intrenched work at this place, else that work will be liable to be cut off from its river base. My judgment therefore is, that the value of this position is greatly overrated. Less than 5,000 men could not hold this place, and an equal force on the Tennessee shore, and 1,000 on the island, which would make the position a very expensive one. Even then it will not add materially to the safety of the river. You are in possession at Fort Pillow of the only strong strategical position on the river below Columbus. My mind reaches now to that gateway into Tennessee as the only protection against an invading column into the interior as well as descent down the river. That has always been my opinion, and it was to get as far on the way to Columbus as I could go that induced me to establish the force at Union City, looking with certainty to the time that I could occupy Columbus.
That time, I think, has arrived. Kentucky is now a boiling cauldron. Lincoln forces are organized and under arms in five counties in the State. They are rapidly aggregating into military organizations and threatening a descent upon Tennessee. General Anderson is in command or on his way to take command of these forces. Every paper we meet is full of accounts of the pouring of arms and munitions of war into the State to make war upon the patriots of that State and Tennessee. Kentucky neutrality is no longer regarded, if indeed it ever was. In addition to this, it is well known that Fremont had his boats loaded with troops to take possession of Columbus when he received the news of Lyon’s defeat.​
If you do not intend to let the enemy take possession of that gateway, you must take it first. If he gets possession of it once, you can never dislodge him. Its possession is a military necessity, involving the ultimate safety of Tennessee from devastating invasion. My force here being now well organized, equipped, and in hand, give me permission and I will do the work and hold all below protected and safe. With the Union City forces added to mine, I can close the door effectually against invasion of Tennessee or descent of the Mississippi. It will not hasten matters in Kentucky. As rapidly as events can hurry on the conflict it is coming, and as soon as it is possible for Lincoln to raise forces to meet other pressing wants he will take possession of this place, and from it, as a point da'ppui, he will direct his column upon Tennessee.​
If you approve, send me three boats, one at a time, and make arrangements to have the Union City forces advanced when I notify the commanding officer, and authorize me to use the guns now at the works above, and to take Captain Gray with me. I will draw back my forces so gently to this place and move up there, and have everything secure before the enemy is in condition to move. If you approve, send me up the gunboats. This move will attract so much attention when made that the real object of the move here will not be thought of. It will avoid any discussion, and if any reference is made to it, the failure of Hardee to co-operate will vindicate the movement and commend the discretion of turning the object of the campaign to so good an account. If we do not move now, we never can.
If you can come up and yourself examine the works above as they are being constructed and the site of those proposed, you will see that my judgment is correct. Since I have myself examined these positions, I beg to say that my opinion of their value as a line of defense is greatly modified. This is the only position left us, and that is a paramount military necessity, and is now clearly justified by the attitude of Kentucky and the action of the Federal Government and troops, utterly disregarding her assumed neutrality. If you leave me discretion, I will be there before the object is suspected. I am willing to be saddled with all the responsibility. If I am allowed to make the move, I will send Cheatham to take possession by Union City forces first, and fix some field pieces there before I advance with the forces by water. If you send me the gunboat I may move differently. If you will allow me to make the move, and place the Union City forces, gunboat, steamers, and forces above here at my disposal, I know how to do the work.​
Let me hear from you as early as possible. If you do not approve,. don’t hurry me away, as I am trying to effect a move on Cairo. I will be cautious and make no false step. I wish to aid Thompson by placing this portion of Missouri in safe position. We owe the people who have so committed themselves to our policy that much, and while we remain here threatening an advance, we are preventing a concentration of his forces against McCulloch.​
Hardee did not wait until he received my dispatch, which followed Borland, and of which I gave you the substance, before he decided. He has acted in the face of his agreement, by Borland, to abide your decision.​
Respectfully, your obedient servant,​
GID. J. PILLOW,​
Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.​
 
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The Kentucky issue was a mistake. An another mistake soon to follow was his success in causing the Fort Donelson garrison to not evacuate the Fort. This costed the Confederacy 12,000 or more troops who would have been more useful at Shiloh. He was a foaming at the mouth State Right militant and believed the most richest man in Tennessee from his Slave Empire. He could not stand to yield one inch of Tennessee due to the threat to his wealth. He was not a Federal spy but a very stupid egotistical fool. We should be thankful he was on the Confederate side in the slaveholder insurrection of 1860.
 

diane

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Location
State of Jefferson
Ah! You've noted one of Gideon Pillow's finest moments, a veritable zenith. His reputation was made during the Mexican War where one of the honors he earned was a court-martial and a conviction for behavior unbecoming a gentleman. All the officers in both armies had a bad word for him, or a few. He managed to screw up everybody and everything he touched, including Winfield Scott. Grant was pleased he was in command at Ft. Donelson - he figured he could pretty much walk up to the gates with a pistol and Pillow would let him on in...and he was right. Forrest had many words for Pillow - none of them printable! (And the guy came back to haunt him even without being there.) Polk, Bragg and Pillow doing their best together was a wonderful thing for the Union. When your enemy is delighted to see you, something is really wrong!
 
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Pillow was a powerful influence in the State of Tennessee and many came to enroll in the Confederate Army under his spell. It was my understanding that one of his loyal supporter was Bedford Forrest. They both were made very wealthy from the Slave Institution and they had a prior relationship. At Fort Donelson Bedford came to Pillow, like a son to a Father, and asked approval to not surrender to Grant. Pillow granted consent by saying to Bedford "cut your way out" or something to that effect. Note that was not the proper chain of command as Buckner was left in command but Bedford ignored him. Bedford was not that upset with Pillow but was very upset with Buckner and Floyd. I understood Bedford supported Pillow fleeing the battlefield "in an old scow". Both had the same idea of no surrender to Grant but escape. I have read a source that reveals later in the War and some point Bedford went to Pillow to encourage Pillow to return to a field command so that Bedford may serve under Pillow thus escaping having to serve under Bragg. This may be a shock to some that Bedford Forrest appears to have been somewhat of a Toadie to Pillow.
 

diane

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Pillow was a powerful influence in the State of Tennessee and many came to enroll in the Confederate Army under his spell. It was my understanding that one of his loyal supporter was Bedford Forrest. They both were made very wealthy from the Slave Institution and they had a prior relationship. At Fort Donelson Bedford came to Pillow, like a son to a Father, and asked approval to not surrender to Grant. Pillow granted consent by saying to Bedford "cut your way out" or something to that effect. Note that was not the proper chain of command as Buckner was left in command but Bedford ignored him. Bedford was not that upset with Pillow but was very upset with Buckner and Floyd. I understood Bedford supported Pillow fleeing the battlefield "in an old scow". Both had the same idea of no surrender to Grant but escape. I have read a source that reveals later in the War and some point Bedford went to Pillow to encourage Pillow to return to a field command so that Bedford may serve under Pillow thus escaping having to serve under Bragg. This may be a shock to some that Bedford Forrest appears to have been somewhat of a Toadie to Pillow.
Indeed, that is a shock - I've never seen where Forrest was a toadie to anybody! I do have a somewhat different version of the events at Fort Donelson but you're absolutely right that Forrest and Pillow were good friends and political allies before the war. Pillow was a well connected man - which is why a large amount of ill fortune did not befall him that probably should have - and both were good friends of Isham Harris, the governor of Tennessee at that time. Harris recruited Forrest at Pillow's suggestion...which is one of the very few times Pillow had the right idea. (Pardon me but I am no fan of Pillow's!)

However, Fort Donelson is where I respectfully disagree with you. Forrest's first suggestion to Pillow, who was the commander of the fort, was that he be allowed to take his cavalry and their shotguns, and hold open an evacuation route through Grant's line. He knew he could do it because he had done it earlier - his troops were devastatingly effective that time, and Grant was wary that this very thing would happen again. Forrest's suggestion was turned down by Pillow because he didn't believe it could be done and that disaster awaited once the army was out of the fort. He maintained all the escape routes were being watched by Union scouts. They were indeed but Forrest and his brother Jeffrey checked out all the creeks and fords - they encountered a local man who showed them a ford the Federals did not know about. It was clear as a bell and deep as the saddle skirts. That meant it was too cold to take men across at chest deep but he could double up riders on the horses and at least take that many. Pillow discounted Forrest's report and decided to give up, Floyd seconded it and found a rather too handy boat - Buckner really didn't have much choice but to take the bag they handed him. "I did not come here to surrender," said Forrest. He was definitely not feeling the love for anybody in that room. As he stormed out onto the porch he said, "Boys, these people are talking about surrendering and I am going out of this place before they do or bust hell wide open!"

I'd really appreciate seeing your source for Forrest wanting Pillow to be in command so he wouldn't have to serve under Bragg. My information suggests Forrest thought much more highly of Bragg as a soldier than most think, at the beginning of the war. Later on Bragg mystified him when he began to consistently snatch defeat from the jaws of victory - "What does he fight battles for?" and their differences became such that Forrest decided to find a way to separate himself from Bragg's command.

After the war, Pillow and Forrest once again became political allies but they were not as close as before.
 
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Diane

The source is NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST: A BIOGRAPHY by JACK HURST and is located on page 127. Pillow had disclosed this information to Tennessee Governor Harris in a letter dated May 9.

I am unsure that Bedford Forrest sought to force “open an evacuation route” but instead he was seeking an unguarded route left open by the returning Federals. A route was found, and it was the flooded River Road that was chest high in cold river backwater water. The Federals had left it unguarded. No one had to “cut your way out”.

I want to make sure of the command situation. Floyd is the chief commanding authority, but once he came convince the Army was doomed, he caused the command to be turned over to Pillow. Floyd believed he would be tried and hung for treason for an issue need not be discussed here. Pillow within a very short time appears to have been shocked by this command, whereupon he soon declared he desires to fled and not surrender himself still trying to save his slave empire. It was left to Poor Old Buckner to manly step up and assumed command (he is the only West Point professional officer of the three) and agreed to do the formal surrendering to Grant. Pillow and Forrest were in total agreement to fight to the very end. It was very late in night before Pillow came to understand that the Army was hopelessly doomed. Pillow and Forrest then agree to fled which is a violation of the general agreement that an Army surrender. I do not think Pillow was the chief commander when he gave Forrest consent to leave the Fort. Technically, Forrest and his men seems to have been deserting the command without the consent of the Confederate Command. The Commander Buckner within moments after Forrest escape had placed armed guards to prevent any Confederate troops from escaping the Fort on that same River Road. That armed guards could have attempted to stop Forrest at gunpoint and shoot if necessary.
 

diane

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State of Jefferson
Diane

The source is NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST: A BIOGRAPHY by JACK HURST and is located on page 127. Pillow had disclosed this information to Tennessee Governor Harris in a letter dated May 9.

I am unsure that Bedford Forrest sought to force “open an evacuation route” but instead he was seeking an unguarded route left open by the returning Federals. A route was found, and it was the flooded River Road that was chest high in cold river backwater water. The Federals had left it unguarded. No one had to “cut your way out”.

I want to make sure of the command situation. Floyd is the chief commanding authority, but once he came convince the Army was doomed, he caused the command to be turned over to Pillow. Floyd believed he would be tried and hung for treason for an issue need not be discussed here. Pillow within a very short time appears to have been shocked by this command, whereupon he soon declared he desires to fled and not surrender himself still trying to save his slave empire. It was left to Poor Old Buckner to manly step up and assumed command (he is the only West Point professional officer of the three) and agreed to do the formal surrendering to Grant. Pillow and Forrest were in total agreement to fight to the very end. It was very late in night before Pillow came to understand that the Army was hopelessly doomed. Pillow and Forrest then agree to fled which is a violation of the general agreement that an Army surrender. I do not think Pillow was the chief commander when he gave Forrest consent to leave the Fort. Technically, Forrest and his men seems to have been deserting the command without the consent of the Confederate Command. The Commander Buckner within moments after Forrest escape had placed armed guards to prevent any Confederate troops from escaping the Fort on that same River Road. That armed guards could have attempted to stop Forrest at gunpoint and shoot if necessary.
"Evacuation route" was not a proper term - as you say, Forrest was looking for an unobserved way out. He did point out the whole army could be got out and refused to be part of the surrender when Pillow stated it would certainly be done. "I cannot surrender my men or myself," said Forrest. In Men of Fire, by Jack Hurst, the author points up the differences between Pillow and Forrest - Pillow wasn't a chicken but he didn't want to waste lives, either - he thought Forrest's plan would do that. He had his fingers crossed that Grant would not attack the fort and would find the going too tough to the south of the fort, which was very rugged country. I see no mention of armed guards to stop Forrest if necessary...that really would not have been productive at all. It was Gantt's cavalry that was the problem - they were pretty skittish and prone to flight. Quite a few of them went out with Floyd.

I do feel sorry for Buckner! Pillow kept leaving the fort to talk to various people and invariably left Buckner in charge and uninformed - got so bad Grant finally decided to just come ahead! The gunboats had really upset Pillow as well. (They'd upset Forrest, too, and got him to praying!) Pillow was busy entrenching while forgetting that Grant didn't need to do that. He did read the situation quite upside down. Forrest was in command of all the cavalry present at Ft Donelson, and he out-ranked Gantt, so it was not insubordination when he took his command out of the fort. At the point that he did leave there was no need to shoot at him or anything else - the surrender was a done deal. Forrest would certainly have fought about it, possibly to the death because he knew how important holding the river power was, but living to fight another day proved to be the best course!

Gideon Pillow was definitely one of the major planters in Tennessee - quite heavily invested in land, slaves and cotton. He'd been noted at the Nashville Convention just before the war and helped sponsor fire-eater speakers like Yancey at various meetings around the state. So did Forrest, although he was more of a moderate. As a politician, Pillow was not bad...as a soldier he left a good deal to be desired!
 
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DanSBHawk

Yes, indeed when I first saw that it brough a grin on my face as well. I believe that is exactly what people were saying about Pillow that knew him from the Mexican War. While he was combative, he had a simpleton mind in area of military affairs, and he was bombastic without any natural warrior instinct. Forrest did have a warrior instinct that worked well in smaller scale warfare. I assume Pillow was daydreaming of a concentration of forces in southwest Missouri and somehow crossing over the Mississippi River above Cairo and storming the town from the land side thus force Federal withdraw from Tennessee. Its why Grant was happy Pillow was calling the shots at Fort Donelson, as Grant knew that there had to be a major Pillow blunder at some point where Grant could deal a fatal blow. Grant likely felt the same with Floyd. While respecting Buckner, Buckner was not in charge of the Army, till he got the responsibility to surrender the Army to Grant. Buckner could have saved the Army. I believe Pillow’s successful offensive opening had more to do with the abilities of West Point trained Bushrod Johnson and a few others than anything to do with Pillow.
 
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Diane

I believe the issue of Confederate armed guards placed to prevent any Confederates from leaving the Fort was found in my source: THE LIFE AND WARS OF GIDEON J. PILLOW by two authors HUGHES AND STONESIFER. I well understand that the Confederate High Command meeting did authorized Floyd to leave with most of his Virginia troops as a special allowance to the ban from leave rule. A special allowance must have been given to Pillow to catch the “old scow” but unsure about it. As far as the issue of is Pillow a “chicken” I have remain undecided pending review. I have said he was combative in the sense of forming up an attack plan and causing it to be carried out.

I think grounds exist to say Forrest never really believed the Army could escape the Fort by the flooded River Road. What he did said is that his Cavalry could escape by horseback and anyone else could if they found room to hang upon the horse going through the water. That’s what happen as the only ones to escape had to have a horse either on it or hold onto it. The common infantryman could not walk on their own through it plus there was that standing order from the Commander for no one to leave. I do not understand your comment that Forrest and his Cavalry was not under the command of the Fort Commander Floyd/Buckner, therefore can leave the Fort without orders.

I am puzzled somewhat about your comment that Pillow did not think Grant would attack, and that Grant could not advance to Nashville, due to the harsh terrain south of the Fort, thus we get a Grant withdrawal. May I assume your meaning Pillow believed Grant would not launch a second attack the next day but would withdraw giving a win to the Confederates? My understanding is that Pillow foolishly believed he could withdraw his forces back to the Fort, for a nice sleep and rearming, then return to the same battle line, and resume combat with a weaken Federal Army.
 

diane

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Diane

I believe the issue of Confederate armed guards placed to prevent any Confederates from leaving the Fort was found in my source: THE LIFE AND WARS OF GIDEON J. PILLOW by two authors HUGHES AND STONESIFER. I well understand that the Confederate High Command meeting did authorized Floyd to leave with most of his Virginia troops as a special allowance to the ban from leave rule. A special allowance must have been given to Pillow to catch the “old scow” but unsure about it. As far as the issue of is Pillow a “chicken” I have remain undecided pending review. I have said he was combative in the sense of forming up an attack plan and causing it to be carried out.

I think grounds exist to say Forrest never really believed the Army could escape the Fort by the flooded River Road. What he did said is that his Cavalry could escape by horseback and anyone else could if they found room to hang upon the horse going through the water. That’s what happen as the only ones to escape had to have a horse either on it or hold onto it. The common infantryman could not walk on their own through it plus there was that standing order from the Commander for no one to leave. I do not understand your comment that Forrest and his Cavalry was not under the command of the Fort Commander Floyd/Buckner, therefore can leave the Fort without orders.

I am puzzled somewhat about your comment that Pillow did not think Grant would attack, and that Grant could not advance to Nashville, due to the harsh terrain south of the Fort, thus we get a Grant withdrawal. May I assume your meaning Pillow believed Grant would not launch a second attack the next day but would withdraw giving a win to the Confederates? My understanding is that Pillow foolishly believed he could withdraw his forces back to the Fort, for a nice sleep and rearming, then return to the same battle line, and resume combat with a weaken Federal Army.

Oh, no, Grant did not withdraw - he advanced. Pillow thought (perhaps wishfully) that he would withdraw. He didn't understand Grant. You're right that Pillow thought he could stay in the fort...assuming Grant would do a siege. Grant wasn't about to when it was clear his opponent was no match for him. Forrest always had a lot of respect for Grant and read him right - Grant was like a pit bull and would not let go when he had his teeth set. The fort was going down sooner rather than later.

You're correct that when Forrest went out, the ford he and Jeffrey had found was deep but low enough for men to wade across but it was far too cold. The best he could do was double them up. Forrest was indeed under Pillow's command - he was in command of all the cavalry. Therefore, when he left it was the cavalry he took - or as many of them as decided to go with him. Some decided to remain. (One of the interesting officers captured at Ft Donelson was John Morton, Forrest's future artillery captain. Forrest's leaving with as many as he could was a good part of the reason young Morton wanted to serve with him. His artillery battery was under the command of Buckner, whose men remained.)

Didn't say Pillow was a chicken - he wasn't - but he wasn't a good soldier. I think he could have best served the Confederacy by being a member of Davis' administration. Not too many 'political generals' made good on the battlefield.

Thanks for mentioning that book about Pillow. I've glanced through it before but haven't really read it - need to!
 
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Rhea Cole

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My personal choice for Pillow's strange & wonderful behavior during the fall & winter of 1861 is Thomas Connelly's Army of the Heartland, The Army of Tennessee, 1861-62. p 104-116, he documents Pillow assuming command at Columbia after "Lady Polk" exploded & removed both General Polk's pants & his wits. In order to trick Johnston into giving him the men he needed for an attack on Paducah KY, he fabricated reports of 25 to 100,000 men advancing on him at Columbus. I suppose General Polk can be somewhat forgiven for holding fast at Columbia & all but ignoring Forts Henry & Donelson as a result of Pillow's scheme. Having convinced Polk that 50,000 Yankees were going to descend on Columbus, Pillow got bored & resigned his post. That is why he was in Bowling Green KY after Donelson fell. He was sent to Clarksville where he received orders to gather the poorly armed troops there & proceed to Fort Donelson. The artillery he brought with him had defective frictions primers & had to fire their pieces using home made quill primers & linstock which were nearly useless during rainy weather. He set out after issuing his personal battle cry, "Liberty or Death!"

On February 12 Pillow began sending Floyd the same sort of misinformation that had confused Gen Polk. Before Floyd arrived at Donelson, he & Pillow squabbled like a couple of small children. By the time Floyd arrived at the fort, the command structure was in total disarray. Three days later, Grant issued his famous surrender terms. When he heard that Pillow had fled, Grant wryly commented that it was a good thing because Pillow was only going to do more damage to the Confederacy.
 

wausaubob

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I'm beginning to think that Gideon Pillow was a Union plant into the CS forces, because everywhere he was involved was a disaster for the Confederates.

Its commonly accepted that Polk made a mistake in occupying Columbus KY in early September 1861, because it appeared to violate Kentucky's neutrality and gave Grant the green light to take Paducah and Smithland, which he used as springboard for taking Forts Henry and Donelson.

What I didn't realize, is that a week before Polk made that movement on Columbus, General Pillow sent him a dispatch encouraging Polk to take Columbus. From the OR volume 3 page 685:

New Madrid, August 28, 1861.​
Major-General Polk :​
General : I have just received Hardee’s reply to your dispatch and mine in regard to his co-operation with me. He says that he cannot advance, and will not attempt it. That point being settled, it only remains for me, with as good grace as I can,' to turn my face (now ready for the first time since I landed at this place) upon other duty, without an apparent abandonment of a forward movement. I have to-day visited the works being built above this place. To my surprise I found the battery constructed on ground subject to fully 3 feet of overflow, and about a mile above the head of the island, in a muddy, damp, and dark forest of heavy cottonwood. Opposite this battery there is a wide and flat sand bar, over which boats can float in a full river at least 1 mile, and I think 11 miles from the battery. It is built on the very brink of a soft bank already chipping off by the action of the water. The first full river will sweep away the parapet. In addition to this error in the selection of the site, the engineer is now grading down the original bank within the work fully 2 feet, so that the seep water will drive out the forces in the work before the river gets within 3 or 4 feet of high-water mark. The forest is so damp and the overflow bottom is so wet, that it is impossible for troops to live in the work. They will die like sheep of the rot.​
Just at the head of the island, on the Tennessee shore, there is a good position for a battery to command the Tennessee chute, and about half way down the island, on the west side, is a very favorable position for another battery to command the western chute. The Tennessee battery can be turned and taken in reverse, and has but little advantage of position, and when taken, that channel of the river is open, and the other battery will be of no practical value. In addition to these two batteries, both of which must have a strong supporting force, you must have a strong intrenched work at this place, else that work will be liable to be cut off from its river base. My judgment therefore is, that the value of this position is greatly overrated. Less than 5,000 men could not hold this place, and an equal force on the Tennessee shore, and 1,000 on the island, which would make the position a very expensive one. Even then it will not add materially to the safety of the river. You are in possession at Fort Pillow of the only strong strategical position on the river below Columbus. My mind reaches now to that gateway into Tennessee as the only protection against an invading column into the interior as well as descent down the river. That has always been my opinion, and it was to get as far on the way to Columbus as I could go that induced me to establish the force at Union City, looking with certainty to the time that I could occupy Columbus.
That time, I think, has arrived. Kentucky is now a boiling cauldron. Lincoln forces are organized and under arms in five counties in the State. They are rapidly aggregating into military organizations and threatening a descent upon Tennessee. General Anderson is in command or on his way to take command of these forces. Every paper we meet is full of accounts of the pouring of arms and munitions of war into the State to make war upon the patriots of that State and Tennessee. Kentucky neutrality is no longer regarded, if indeed it ever was. In addition to this, it is well known that Fremont had his boats loaded with troops to take possession of Columbus when he received the news of Lyon’s defeat.​
If you do not intend to let the enemy take possession of that gateway, you must take it first. If he gets possession of it once, you can never dislodge him. Its possession is a military necessity, involving the ultimate safety of Tennessee from devastating invasion. My force here being now well organized, equipped, and in hand, give me permission and I will do the work and hold all below protected and safe. With the Union City forces added to mine, I can close the door effectually against invasion of Tennessee or descent of the Mississippi. It will not hasten matters in Kentucky. As rapidly as events can hurry on the conflict it is coming, and as soon as it is possible for Lincoln to raise forces to meet other pressing wants he will take possession of this place, and from it, as a point da'ppui, he will direct his column upon Tennessee.​
If you approve, send me three boats, one at a time, and make arrangements to have the Union City forces advanced when I notify the commanding officer, and authorize me to use the guns now at the works above, and to take Captain Gray with me. I will draw back my forces so gently to this place and move up there, and have everything secure before the enemy is in condition to move. If you approve, send me up the gunboats. This move will attract so much attention when made that the real object of the move here will not be thought of. It will avoid any discussion, and if any reference is made to it, the failure of Hardee to co-operate will vindicate the movement and commend the discretion of turning the object of the campaign to so good an account. If we do not move now, we never can.
If you can come up and yourself examine the works above as they are being constructed and the site of those proposed, you will see that my judgment is correct. Since I have myself examined these positions, I beg to say that my opinion of their value as a line of defense is greatly modified. This is the only position left us, and that is a paramount military necessity, and is now clearly justified by the attitude of Kentucky and the action of the Federal Government and troops, utterly disregarding her assumed neutrality. If you leave me discretion, I will be there before the object is suspected. I am willing to be saddled with all the responsibility. If I am allowed to make the move, I will send Cheatham to take possession by Union City forces first, and fix some field pieces there before I advance with the forces by water. If you send me the gunboat I may move differently. If you will allow me to make the move, and place the Union City forces, gunboat, steamers, and forces above here at my disposal, I know how to do the work.​
Let me hear from you as early as possible. If you do not approve,. don’t hurry me away, as I am trying to effect a move on Cairo. I will be cautious and make no false step. I wish to aid Thompson by placing this portion of Missouri in safe position. We owe the people who have so committed themselves to our policy that much, and while we remain here threatening an advance, we are preventing a concentration of his forces against McCulloch.​
Hardee did not wait until he received my dispatch, which followed Borland, and of which I gave you the substance, before he decided. He has acted in the face of his agreement, by Borland, to abide your decision.​
Respectfully, your obedient servant,​
GID. J. PILLOW,​
Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.​
https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/kentucky-in-the-civil-war-1861-1862.html I don't think occupying Columbus, KY was such a big mistake as neutrality was already dissolving by the end of August 1861. However, not having a plan to proceed to Paducah and Smithland, and to carefully supervise the forts on the Cumberland and Tennessee River, made it a mistake. But the Confederates had resource limitations that made for difficult choices.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I'm beginning to think that Gideon Pillow was a Union plant into the CS forces, because everywhere he was involved was a disaster for the Confederates.

Its commonly accepted that Polk made a mistake in occupying Columbus KY in early September 1861, because it appeared to violate Kentucky's neutrality and gave Grant the green light to take Paducah and Smithland, which he used as springboard for taking Forts Henry and Donelson.

What I didn't realize, is that a week before Polk made that movement on Columbus, General Pillow sent him a dispatch encouraging Polk to take Columbus. From the OR volume 3 page 685:

New Madrid, August 28, 1861.​
Major-General Polk :​
General : I have just received Hardee’s reply to your dispatch and mine in regard to his co-operation with me. He says that he cannot advance, and will not attempt it. That point being settled, it only remains for me, with as good grace as I can,' to turn my face (now ready for the first time since I landed at this place) upon other duty, without an apparent abandonment of a forward movement. I have to-day visited the works being built above this place. To my surprise I found the battery constructed on ground subject to fully 3 feet of overflow, and about a mile above the head of the island, in a muddy, damp, and dark forest of heavy cottonwood. Opposite this battery there is a wide and flat sand bar, over which boats can float in a full river at least 1 mile, and I think 11 miles from the battery. It is built on the very brink of a soft bank already chipping off by the action of the water. The first full river will sweep away the parapet. In addition to this error in the selection of the site, the engineer is now grading down the original bank within the work fully 2 feet, so that the seep water will drive out the forces in the work before the river gets within 3 or 4 feet of high-water mark. The forest is so damp and the overflow bottom is so wet, that it is impossible for troops to live in the work. They will die like sheep of the rot.​
Just at the head of the island, on the Tennessee shore, there is a good position for a battery to command the Tennessee chute, and about half way down the island, on the west side, is a very favorable position for another battery to command the western chute. The Tennessee battery can be turned and taken in reverse, and has but little advantage of position, and when taken, that channel of the river is open, and the other battery will be of no practical value. In addition to these two batteries, both of which must have a strong supporting force, you must have a strong intrenched work at this place, else that work will be liable to be cut off from its river base. My judgment therefore is, that the value of this position is greatly overrated. Less than 5,000 men could not hold this place, and an equal force on the Tennessee shore, and 1,000 on the island, which would make the position a very expensive one. Even then it will not add materially to the safety of the river. You are in possession at Fort Pillow of the only strong strategical position on the river below Columbus. My mind reaches now to that gateway into Tennessee as the only protection against an invading column into the interior as well as descent down the river. That has always been my opinion, and it was to get as far on the way to Columbus as I could go that induced me to establish the force at Union City, looking with certainty to the time that I could occupy Columbus.
That time, I think, has arrived. Kentucky is now a boiling cauldron. Lincoln forces are organized and under arms in five counties in the State. They are rapidly aggregating into military organizations and threatening a descent upon Tennessee. General Anderson is in command or on his way to take command of these forces. Every paper we meet is full of accounts of the pouring of arms and munitions of war into the State to make war upon the patriots of that State and Tennessee. Kentucky neutrality is no longer regarded, if indeed it ever was. In addition to this, it is well known that Fremont had his boats loaded with troops to take possession of Columbus when he received the news of Lyon’s defeat.​
If you do not intend to let the enemy take possession of that gateway, you must take it first. If he gets possession of it once, you can never dislodge him. Its possession is a military necessity, involving the ultimate safety of Tennessee from devastating invasion. My force here being now well organized, equipped, and in hand, give me permission and I will do the work and hold all below protected and safe. With the Union City forces added to mine, I can close the door effectually against invasion of Tennessee or descent of the Mississippi. It will not hasten matters in Kentucky. As rapidly as events can hurry on the conflict it is coming, and as soon as it is possible for Lincoln to raise forces to meet other pressing wants he will take possession of this place, and from it, as a point da'ppui, he will direct his column upon Tennessee.​
If you approve, send me three boats, one at a time, and make arrangements to have the Union City forces advanced when I notify the commanding officer, and authorize me to use the guns now at the works above, and to take Captain Gray with me. I will draw back my forces so gently to this place and move up there, and have everything secure before the enemy is in condition to move. If you approve, send me up the gunboats. This move will attract so much attention when made that the real object of the move here will not be thought of. It will avoid any discussion, and if any reference is made to it, the failure of Hardee to co-operate will vindicate the movement and commend the discretion of turning the object of the campaign to so good an account. If we do not move now, we never can.
If you can come up and yourself examine the works above as they are being constructed and the site of those proposed, you will see that my judgment is correct. Since I have myself examined these positions, I beg to say that my opinion of their value as a line of defense is greatly modified. This is the only position left us, and that is a paramount military necessity, and is now clearly justified by the attitude of Kentucky and the action of the Federal Government and troops, utterly disregarding her assumed neutrality. If you leave me discretion, I will be there before the object is suspected. I am willing to be saddled with all the responsibility. If I am allowed to make the move, I will send Cheatham to take possession by Union City forces first, and fix some field pieces there before I advance with the forces by water. If you send me the gunboat I may move differently. If you will allow me to make the move, and place the Union City forces, gunboat, steamers, and forces above here at my disposal, I know how to do the work.​
Let me hear from you as early as possible. If you do not approve,. don’t hurry me away, as I am trying to effect a move on Cairo. I will be cautious and make no false step. I wish to aid Thompson by placing this portion of Missouri in safe position. We owe the people who have so committed themselves to our policy that much, and while we remain here threatening an advance, we are preventing a concentration of his forces against McCulloch.​
Hardee did not wait until he received my dispatch, which followed Borland, and of which I gave you the substance, before he decided. He has acted in the face of his agreement, by Borland, to abide your decision.​
Respectfully, your obedient servant,​
GID. J. PILLOW,​
Brigadier-General, C. S. Army.​
"The 1860 election results reflected Kentucky’s nationalist viewpoint. This resulted, in part, from the state’s exporting her population. In 1860, 60,000 Illinois residents were Kentucky-born; Missouri counted 100,000 Kentuckians; Indiana counted 68,000 Kentuckians, while Ohio counted 15,000, and Iowa, 13000. While Arkansas and Texas had a scattering of Kentuckians, very few migrated to other southern states. In addition, Ohio passed resolutions of respect upon the death of Richard M. Johnson, a Kentuckian who had fought the Shawnee in Ohio in 1813, later becoming Vice-President.[6]​"
Mr. Bernstein wrote that there were too many family ties between Kentucky and the Midwest for Kentucky to take secession lightly.
 
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gjpratt

Private
Joined
Apr 14, 2019
Several years ago I set out to learn more about CW military commanders whose reputations were abysmal. I started with Bragg (who did have redeeming military abilities that are obscured if not overwhelmed by the many negatives flowing from his personality and command style). When I turned to Pillow, I was astonished at the prominent role he played in Tennessee and even American history. His CW debacles are a very small chapter in his life, although in a sense they were inevitable.Louisiana Jayhawker's characterization of Pillow as "a very stupid egotistical fool" is spot on.

Pillow was a force in Tennessee politics from the 1820s onward. He had an early alliance with James K. Polk. Totally unknown to me, a native Tennessean who grew up venerating Polk, was that Pillow skillfully and adroitly manipulated the Democratic National Convention in 1844 to create a deadlock that enabled him to bring Polk forward as the darkhorse compromise candidate. This was a fully developed, premeditated plan of Polk and Pillow. There is a extensive correspondence between the two of them both before, during and after the convention. Parenthetically, he tried the same tactics to get him nominated at the 1852 Convention but Franklin Pierce did not cooperate. Pillow advocated the Mexican War to Polk and was rewarded with a brigadier and later a major general commission. He was personally brave but a terrible field commander. He commanded the left wing of the army at Chapultepec and needlessly sacrificed many men by stubbornly clinging to the original battle plan in the face of obvious changing circumstances. DH Hill's Mexican War diary has many entertaining and colorful passages about Pillow (not flattering).

The biography of Pillow by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr. and Roy Stonesifer, Jr. is superb. The Life and Wars of Gideon J. Pillow. One of the finest biographies of a minor historical figure I have ever read. This was possible because of the vast correspondence and papers of Pillow that survived. Hughes also edited and published DH Hill's diaries.

Pillow was a military flop but an intriguing historical character anyway. I highly recommend these books.
 

Rhea Cole

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
"The 1860 election results reflected Kentucky’s nationalist viewpoint. This resulted, in part, from the state’s exporting her population. In 1860, 60,000 Illinois residents were Kentucky-born; Missouri counted 100,000 Kentuckians; Indiana counted 68,000 Kentuckians, while Ohio counted 15,000, and Iowa, 13000. While Arkansas and Texas had a scattering of Kentuckians, very few migrated to other southern states. In addition, Ohio passed resolutions of respect upon the death of Richard M. Johnson, a Kentuckian who had fought the Shawnee in Ohio in 1813, later becoming Vice-President.[6]​"
Mr. Bernstein wrote that there were too many family ties between Kentucky and the Midwest for Kentucky to take secession lightly.
An additional factor was that Kentucky's top export was hemp. It was shipped northward on one of the six railroads that touched on the Ohio River. Kentucky's commerce went northward, not southward. The only rail link going southward was the L&N. The locks at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville opened in 1860, so a direct river link to the south had yet to develop. It is also worth noting that only 75 families owned the 50 slaves necessary to achieve plantation status in 1860.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
An additional factor was that Kentucky's top export was hemp. It was shipped northward on one of the six railroads that touched on the Ohio River. Kentucky's commerce went northward, not southward. The only rail link going southward was the L&N. The locks at the Falls of the Ohio at Louisville opened in 1860, so a direct river link to the south had yet to develop. It is also worth noting that only 75 families owned the 50 slaves necessary to achieve plantation status in 1860.
Which gets back to your original suggestion. Kentucky was in favor of the Confederacy's political goals, but lacked confidence in secession.
As events in w Virginia unfolded, it seems as if people in Kentucky did not want similar events to occur in their state.
 
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wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
"The 1860 election results reflected Kentucky’s nationalist viewpoint. This resulted, in part, from the state’s exporting her population. In 1860, 60,000 Illinois residents were Kentucky-born; Missouri counted 100,000 Kentuckians; Indiana counted 68,000 Kentuckians, while Ohio counted 15,000, and Iowa, 13000. While Arkansas and Texas had a scattering of Kentuckians, very few migrated to other southern states. In addition, Ohio passed resolutions of respect upon the death of Richard M. Johnson, a Kentuckian who had fought the Shawnee in Ohio in 1813, later becoming Vice-President.[6]​"
Mr. Bernstein wrote that there were too many family ties between Kentucky and the Midwest for Kentucky to take secession lightly.
This distribution had to cause Kentuckians to doubt that slavery was necessary and to consider the view expressed by Lincoln, that it was an incident preserved from the past that was inessential to the future.
 

wausaubob

Major
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Without the livestock wealth and the diverse farm wealth of Kentucky, the Confederacy was handicapped. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/decennial/1860/agriculture/1860b-09.pdf?#Their mobilization was smaller and they were deprived of the buffer that Kentucky might have been. Since Fl, LA, MI and TX, all were either undeveloped or thinly populated, Kentucky was one of the 8 states that had both a large white population and a stake in the preservation of slavery. The decision of Kentuckians to not secede probably was the reason the war was fought to a conclusion in that decade, rather than later when the US had even greater industrial power and more efficient means of killing people.
 
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