Report of Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest ref Fort Pillow

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tmh10

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Report of Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, C. S. Army, commanding Cavalry, of the Capture of Fort Pillow

MARCH 16-APRIL 14, 1864.--Forrest's Expedition into West Tennessee and Kentucky.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXII/1 [S# 57]


HEADQUARTERS FORREST'S CAVALRY DEPARTMENT,
Jackson, Tenn., April 26, 1864.
Lieut. Col. THOMAS M. JACK,
Assistant Adjutant-General.


COLONEL: I have the honor respectfully to forward you the following report of my engagement with the enemy on the 12th instant at Fort Pillow:
My command consisted of McCulloch's brigade, of Chalmers' division, and Bell's brigade, of Buford's division, both placed for the expedition under the command of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers, who, by a forced march, drove in the enemy's pickets, gained possession of the outer works, and by the time I reached the field, at 10 a.m., had forced the enemy to their main fortifications, situated on the bluff or bank of the Mississippi River at the mouth of Coal Creek. The fort is an earth-work, crescent shaped, is 8 feet in height and 4 feet across the top, surrounded by a ditch 6 feet deep and 12 feet in width, walls sloping to the ditch but perpendicular inside. It was garrisoned by 700 troops with six pieces of field artillery. A deep ravine surrounds the fort, and from the fort to the ravine the ground descends rapidly. Assuming command, I ordered General Chalmers to advance his lines and gain position on the slope, where our men would be perfectly protected from the heavy fire of artillery and musketry, as the enemy could not depress their pieces so as to rake the slopes, nor could they fire on them with small-arms except by mounting the breast-works and exposing themselves to the fire of our sharpshooters, who, under cover of stumps and logs, forced them to keep down inside the works. After several hours' hard fighting the desired position was gained, not, however, without considerable loss. Our main line was now within an average distance of 100 yards from the fort, and extended from Coal Creek, on the right, to the bluff, or bank, of the Mississippi River on the left.

During the entire morning the gun-boat kept up a continued fire in all directions, but without effect, and being confident of my ability, to take the fort by assault, and desiring to prevent further loss of life, I sent, under flag of truce, a demand for the unconditional surrender of the garrison, a copy of which demand is hereto appended, marked No. 1, to which I received a reply, marked No. 2. The gun-boat had ceased firing, but the smoke of three other boats ascending the river was in view, the foremost boat apparently crowded with troops, and believing the request for an hour was to gain time for re-enforcements to arrive, and that the desire to consult the officers of the gun-boat was a pretext by which they desired improperly to communicate with her, I at once sent this reply, copy of which is numbered 3, directing Captain Goodman, assistant adju-tant-general of Brigadier-General Chalmers, who bore the flag, to remain until he received a reply or until the expiration of the time proposed.


My dispositions had all been made, and my forces were in a position that would enable me to take the fort with less loss than to have withdrawn under fire, and it seemed to me so perfectly apparent to the garrison that such was the case, that I deemed their [capture] without further bloodshed a certainty. After some little delay, seeing a message delivered to Captain Goodman, I rode up myself to where the notes were received and delivered. The answer was handed me, written in pencil on a slip of paper, without envelope, and was, as well as I remember, in these words: "Negotiations will not attain the desired object." As the officers who were in charge of the Federal flag of truce had expressed a doubt as to my presence, and had pronounced the demand a trick, I handed them back the note saying: "I am General Forrest; go back and say to Major Booth that I demand an answer in plain, unmistakable English. Will he fight or surrender ?" Returning to my original position, before the expiration of twenty minutes I received a reply, copy of which is marked No. 4.

While these negotiations were pending the steamers from below were rapidly approaching the fort. The foremost was the Olive Branch, whose position and movements indicated her intention to land. A few shots fired into her caused her to leave the shore and make for the opposite. One other boat passed up on the far side of the river, the third one turned back.

The time having expired, I directed Brigadier-General Chalmers to prepare for the assault. Bell's brigade occupied the right, with his extreme right resting on Coal Creek. McCulloch's brigade occupied the left, extending from the center to the river. Three companies of his left regiment were placed in an old rifle-pit on the left and almost in the rear of the fort, which had evidently been thrown up for the protection of sharpshooters or riflemen in supporting the water batteries below. On the right a portion of Barteau's regiment, of Bell's brigade, was also under the bluff and in rear of the fort. I dispatched staff officers to Colonels Bell and McCulloch, commanding brigades, to say to them that I should watch with interest the conduct of the troops; that Missourians, Mississippians, and Tennesseeans surrounded the works, and I desired to see who would first scale the fort. Fearing the gun-boats and transports might attempt a landing, I directed my aide-de-camp, Capt. Charles W. Anderson, to assume command of the three companies on the left and rear of the fort and hold the position against anything that might come by land or water, but to take no part in the assault on the fort. Everything being ready, the bugle sounded the charge, which was made with a yell, and the works carried without a perceptible halt in any part of the line. As our troops mounted and poured into the fortification the enemy retreated toward the river, arms in hand and firing back, and their colors flying, no doubt expecting the gun-boat to shell us away from the bluff and protect them until they could be taken off or re-en-forced. As they descended the bank an enfilading and deadly fire was poured into them by the troops under Captain Anderson, on the left, and Barteau's detachment on the right. Until this fire was opened upon them, at a distance varying from 30 to 100 yards, they were evidently ignorant of any force having gained their rear. The regiment who had stormed and carried the fort also poured a destructive fire into the rear of the retreating and now panic-stricken and almost decimated garrison.
Fortunately for those of the enemy who survived this short but desperate struggle, some of our men cut the halyards, and the United States flag, floating from a tall mast in the center of the fort, came down. The forces stationed in the rear of the fort could see the flag, but were too far under the bluff to see the fort, and when the flag descended they ceased firing. But for this, so near were they to the enemy that few, if any, would have survived unhurt another volley. As it was, many rushed into the river and were drowned, and the actual loss of life will perhaps never be known, as there were quite a number of refugee citizens in the fort, many of whom were drowned and several killed in the retreat from the fort. In less than twenty minutes from the time the bugles sounded the charge firing had ceased and the work was done. One of the Parrott guns was turned on the gun-boat. She steamed off without replying. She had, as I afterward understood, expended all her ammunition, and was therefore powerless in affording the Federal garrison the aid and protection they doubtless expected of her when they retreated toward the river. Details were made, consisting of the captured Federals and negroes, in charge of their own officers, to collect together and bury the dead, which work continued until dark.

I also directed Captain Anderson to procure a skiff and take with him Captain Young, a captured Federal officer, and deliver to Captain Marshall, of the gun-boat, the message, copy of which is appended and numbered 5. All the boats and skiffs having been taken off by citizens escaping from the fort during the engagement, the message could not be delivered, although every effort was made to induce Captain Marshall to send his boat ashore by raising a white flag, with which Captain Young walked up and down the river in vain signaling her to come in or send out a boat. She finally moved off and disappeared around the bend above the fort. General Chalmers withdrew his forces from the fort before dark and encamped a few miles east of it.

On the morning of the 13th, I again dispatched Captain Anderson to Fort Pillow for the purpose of placing, if possible, the Federal wounded on board their transports, and report to me on his return the condition of affairs at the river. I respectfully refer you to his report, numbered 6.

My loss in the engagement was 20 killed and 60 wounded. That of the enemy unknown. Two hundred and twenty-eight were buried on the evening of the battle, and quite a number were buried the next day by details from the gun-boat fleet.

We captured 6 pieces of artillery, viz., two 10-pounder Parrott guns, two 12-pounder howitzers, and two brass 6-pounder guns, and about 350 stand of small-arms. The balance of the small-arms had been thrown in the river. All the small-arms were picked up where the enemy fell or threw them down. A few were in the fort, the balance scattered from the top of the hill to the water's edge.
We captured 164 Federals, 75 negro troops, and about 40 negro women and children, and after removing everything of value as far as able to do so, the warehouses, tents, &c., were destroyed by fire.

Among our severely wounded is Lieut. Col. Wiley M. Reed, assigned temporarily to the command of the Fifth Mississippi Regiment, who fell severely wounded while leading his regiment. When carried from the field he was supposed to be mortally wounded, but hopes are entertained of his ultimate recovery. He is a brave and gallant officer, a courteous gentleman, and a consistent Christian minister.

I cannot compliment too highly the conduct of Colonels Bell and McCulloch and the officers and men of their brigades, which composed the forces of Brigadier-General Chalmers. They fought with courage and intrepidity, and without bayonets assaulted and carried one of the strongest fortifications in the country.
On the 15th, at Brownsville, I received orders which rendered it necessary to send General Chalmers, in command of his own division and Bell's brigade, southward; hence I have no official report from him, but will, as soon as it can be obtained, forward a complete list of our killed and wounded, which has been ordered made out and forwarded at the earliest possible moment.

In closing my report I desire to acknowledge the prompt and energetic action of Brigadier-General Chalmers, commanding the forces around Fort Pillow. His faithful execution of all movements necessary to the successful accomplishment of the object of the expedition entitles him to special mention. He has reason to be proud of the conduct of the officers and men of his command for their gallantry and courage in assaulting and carrying the enemy's work without the assistance of artillery or bayonets.

To my staff, as heretofore, my acknowledgments are due for their prompt and faithful delivery of all orders.


I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. B. FORREST,
Major-General, Commanding.
 
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DixieRifles

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Nice job. Mind if I add a description of the events that followed?
I wasn’t sure if I should start a New thread or add this to an older one. Maybe this is where we could pick up the events---both Union and Confederate---that will eventually lead up to the Battle of Brices’ Crossroads.



Forrest began his West Tennessee Raid on March 20 {but I may have to verify this date} where he based his center of operations out of Jackson, Tennessee. The Battle of Fort Pillow was his last major engagement on April 12, but he stayed in Tennessee to allow more time for recruitment and leave for his Tennessee troops. He sent General Chalmers and his Mississippi troops back into Mississippi first, along with most of the Union prisoners captured at Union City and Fort Pillow.

Before his departure, General Forrest said farewell to a respected soldier. Major Charles Anderson wrote a memorial tribute about
Lieut-Col. Wiley Reed who was severely wounded while leading the 5 Mississippi Cavalry at the charge on Fort Pillow. This transcript indicates Major Anderson wrote this tribute on May 2 in Florence Tennessee. Most books state that General Forrest started his return trip on May 1st. However Jordan & Pryor’s biography and this account by Major Anderson agrees the date was May 2nd.

This is excerpts from Major Anderson's 3-page memorial:


On April 12, 1864 while gallantly leading this Regiment at Ft. Pillow, his tall commanding appearance doubtless made him a target, and he fell within 80 yards of the breastworks, pierced by three bullets. As soon as it could be done, Col. Reed was placed in an ambulance with proper attendants and sent to Jackson, Tennessee.
---skip some text ---
I saw Col. Reed every day and on the night of the 30th. I saw plainly that the end was near. After midnight I was called to his room and saw Col. Long’s family and attendants around his bed and in tears Col. Reed was lying with his chin elevated, his head thrown back over his pillow. I gently put my arm under his head and raised it to a natural position. His breathing became easier but in a few moments he breathed his last with his head resting on my arm. Thus passed away one of the purest and bravest men I ever knew.

On the following day, May 2, the remains in a metallic casket were moved into the parlor at 4 pm. Col. Kelly (Rev. Dr. D. C. Kelly) read a portion of the Burial Service of the Methodist Episcopal Church and announced that services would be concluded at the grave. The Masons took charge, placed the casket in the hearse and a long procession attended it to the cemetery. The citizens moved in front, the Masons before the hearse. Capt. Sam Donelson led Col. Reed’s horse equipped with his overcoat strapped behind the saddle, his boots reversed in the stirrups and sword-belt and scabbard pendent from his saddle-bow.

General Forest and staff came next, followed by his escort company and the 16th Tennessee Cavalry, Col. A. N. Wilson commanding. The Masonic ceremony was used. Col. Kelly concluded the burial service when two rounds were fired by the Military present. After which Col. Kelly spoke as follows:


- - “I do not propose to pronounce a eulogy upon our beloved friend and late comrade in arms. He went into the service early and cheerfully and while serving his country faithfully at all times—preeminently so at Ft. Pillow—he proved himself worthy of high praise bestowed upon him by his Commander. When Gen. Forest told me of Col. Reeds fall he said of him, “He was a good man, brave and patriotic.” This was praise enough.’” - -

The ladies sang “I Would Not Live Always”. The benediction was then pronounced.
---end of Quote --

General Forrest returned to Tupelo, Mississippi, on May 5
th, thus ending the West Tennessee Raid. He was preceded on May 2: McCulloch had returned to Panola and General Chalmers returned to his old headquarters at Oxford.
The following description of General Forrest’s return is quoted from Jordan & Pryor. All spelling is original to my copy of their book.

In the interval, Bell’s and Neely’s Brigades had reentered West Tennessee, and their several regiments were distributed at points favorable for recruitment, and for granting furloughs to officers and men to visit their families, renovate their clothing, and obtain remounts, as far as needful, by the end of the month.

By the 28th, Buford had assembled his whole division, including Bell’s Brigade, at Jackson, and on the 30th received orders to move on the 2d of May with it and Neely’s Brigade to Tupelo, convoying a large and heavy ox-train, freighted with subsistence and large amount of liquor (for hospital purposes) and leather, and some thee hundred prisoners. The Kentucky Brigade of this division, which had entered on the campaign with an effective total of 1004 men, now numbered 1717 fighting men; and Bell’s Tennesseeans, who took to the field 1254 strong, now mustered over 1700 well-mounted horsemen.


Meanwhile, on the 2d of May, General Forrest, breaking up his headquarters at Jackson, set out also for Tupelo with his staff and escort, taking the road through Bolivar, Tennessee, and Ripley, Mississippi. In the vicinity of Bolivar, on that afternoon, he was met by scouts with information that a Federal cavalry force, quite two thousand strong, under General Sturgis, was then engaged in a sharp skirmish with McDonald’s Battalion, under Lieut-Colonel Crews—not more than two hundred troopers---on the Sommerville road, about two miles westward of Bolivar. Pressing on at once with his accustomed decision, Forrest found several hundred unarmed men collected in the place. These he directed to move out with his headquarter baggage-train and ambulances, some five miles southward, on the road to Ripley, and encamp, while he repaired to the point where Crews still held the enemy at bay.

Placing himself at the head of the Confederates, reinforced by his escort, or now with about three hundred fighting men, boldly charging the foe in front, he presently drove back their skirmish line for three fourths of a mile upon their main force, inflicting a loss of some forty killed and wounded. Unable, however, to pursue this advantage further against such odds, Forrest now withdrew a short distance, and took post, with Crew’s men dismounted, in the outer line of fortifications, which had been thrown up some time previously by the Federals in the western suburbs of the place. His enemy, seeing in this evidences of weakness, taking heart, advanced vigorously upon his position, but were swiftly beaten back by a hot fire, at short range, from the steady, deadly rifles of the dismounted Confederates. In this affair, Major Strange, Forrest’s gallant and even efficient Adjutant-General, had his right arm broken by a minie ball. The Federals, breaking in dis-order, immediately quit the field and disappeared. The Confederate General then resumed his march, and caught up with his train, encamped, as before said, on the Ripley road, five miles beyond Bolivar.

Hurrying on without further incident, and crossing the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and thence through Ripley, the Confederate General arrived at Tupelo early on the
5th, a day in advance of Buford’s Division. Here he found Gholson’s Brigade of Mississippi State Cavalry, and Chalmers, with several regiments of McCulloch’s Brigade.

Today--or rather May 2nd-- is the 150th Anniversary of the end of the West Tennessee Raid.
 
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DSessom

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According to this report, there was no surrender, and no purposeful slaughter of blacks? How is it that the history books can get facts so wrong? Or did the rumors of slaughtered black Union soldiers arise after the war?
 

Allie

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According to this report, there was no surrender, and no purposeful slaughter of blacks? How is it that the history books can get facts so wrong? Or did the rumors of slaughtered black Union soldiers arise after the war?
Well, you're reading Forrest's version. The version told by the other side is rather different.

Welcome, by the way, I think I must have missed the thread where you joined up. It's very cool to have a close Forrest relative here.

Since this thread got bumped, let me ask here: I've read a lot of quoting from the Congressional investigation without ever reading original sources. Is the original Congressional investigation report available anywhere?
 

diane

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According to this report, there was no surrender, and no purposeful slaughter of blacks? How is it that the history books can get facts so wrong? Or did the rumors of slaughtered black Union soldiers arise after the war?
It was no post war rumor, which is why it is so volatile even today. From the moment it happened, it was a political football. Lincoln needed something to force Davis to treat black Union soldiers as equals, not re-enslave them or execute them. It worked. With the racial attitudes of that time, I think Chalmers, for a while, lost control of the men once they got into the fort. (Perhaps he didn't try too hard, either...)
 
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Allie

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It was no post war rumor, which is why it is so volatile even today. From the moment it happened, it was a political football. Lincoln needed something to force Davis to treat black Union soldiers as equals, not re-enslave them or execute them. It worked. With the racial attitudes of that time, I think Chalmers, for a while, lost control of the men once they got into the fort. (Perhaps he didn't try too hard, either...)
The most ****ing bit of evidence against Forrest is a contemporary letter home from one of Forrest's own soldiers describing the massacre and Forrest personally leading it. Since it was not intended for publication and was written before the controversy became public, it's difficult to see why this man would have lied so as to blame his own side. However, he may have been mistaken about who did what. On the other side there are Union eyewitness accounts that Forrest personally tried to stop the massacre. It's a confused mess of testimony.

My personal opinion after reading "River Ran Red" and as much else as I can find is that Forrest created an atmosphere where his men believed such a massacre was acceptable, he was too busy during the attack itself to be aware of what Chalmers was doing, and Chalmers ran amuck. Chalmers and Forrest had the exact same hair and beard, which was a deliberate thing on Chalmers' part since he worshipped Forrest, so I wonder if he wasn't mistaken for Forrest by the one man.

In addition, the recently freed black troops were unfamiliar with the rules of war and believed they would be killed if they surrendered, which led to some of them doing things such as firing while running away and shooting after surrendering. It only takes once of that for the opposing side to become really enraged and stop giving quarter.

If I had to summarize the evidence, it would go something like this.

1. It appears that by both contemporary and modern standards a massacre did take place.
2. Whether or not he was personally responsible, Forrest was ultimately responsible, both as the commander of his troops and as the man who declared that he would give no quarter in an attempt to convince the Fort to surrender.
3. Whether or not he was personally responsible is up for grabs but the balance of the evidence inclines the other way.
4. Given the prevailing attitude in the Confederacy towards black troops at the time, and the specific circumstances involving these men and these black troops - more than one had briefly been owned by Forrest as a slave dealer - it would not be surprising if feelings ran very high, leading to a massacre. On the other hand, Forrest was a practical man who elsewhere demonstrated that he felt killing captured negroes was a waste of resources when they could be re-enslaved. It's hard to say which he would have done.
 
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DSessom

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From what I've heard from family and read, Forrest was not a dishonorable man, nor a racist, even in war. I recently read an account that Forrest once shot a Union officer off his horse, wounding him but not killing him. Forrest personally took the man home, and paroled him to his wife, and even came back at a later date to check on the man. It is also known that Forrest had about 45 of his prior slaves fight with him during the war, all of which were freed before the war ended. That just doesn't sound to me like a man who would slaughter enemy soldiers who had surrendered, even if they were black soldiers. I do firmly believe that he would have killed any soldier, black, white, Union or Confederate who was shooting at him or disobeying orders. He did, no doubt, have a temper, but he also did his best to follow a moral code. Even though I have cause to be biased, I try to be as objective as possible. I just don't believe Forrest slaughtered Union troops who had surrendered.
 
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diane

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Strangely, I think the book that does the best job of sorting it out was Ft Pillow by Harry Turtledove. Sometimes a fiction writer does as well as an historian!
 

Allie

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From what I've heard from family and read, Forrest was not a dishonorable man, nor a racist, even in war. I recently read an account that Forrest once shot a Union officer off his horse, wounding him but not killing him. Forrest personally took the man home, and paroled him to his wife, and even came back at a later date to check on the man. It is also known that Forrest had about 45 of his prior slaves fight with him during the war, all of which were freed before the war ended. That just doesn't sound to me like a man who would slaughter enemy soldiers who had surrendered, even if they were black soldiers. I do firmly believe that he would have killed any soldier, black, white, Union or Confederate who was shooting at him or disobeying orders. He did, no doubt, have a temper, but he also did his best to follow a moral code. Even though I have cause to be biased, I try to be as objective as possible. I just don't believe Forrest slaughtered Union troops who had surrendered.
Fair enough. I do recommend reading more on the subject, which is complicated. Saying Forrest wasn't a racist is almost meaningless since attitudes have changed so much. By modern standards, almost every white person at that time would be considered a racist. But Forrest did clearly believe at one point that it was all right to enslave blacks.

I have asked around trying to find evidence of the 45 slaves being freed, or anything specific about them, and come up empty. Would like to know more about them, as Forrest did say this. Anyone out there have more info?

I'm an admirer of Forrest, not because I think he was a saint, but because I think he was a deeply flawed man - he seems to have had a terrible temper - who nevertheless accomplished great things, not just military but also in civilian life. Towards the end of his life he seems to have become a changed man in his attitudes towards blacks. On the other hand, his actions in using black convict labor to run his plantation contradict his words. I would love to meet him and talk to him.
 

diane

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In That Devil Forrest, Wyeth states that Forrest freed his slaves shortly before the surrender at Gainesville. His secretary, George W Cable, is the source as he drew up the manumission papers for all 45. Forrest had promised them to do this after the war but by then it was clear slavery was going to be abolished anyway. He didn't want it said that he had duped them and wanted to make sure they knew he had kept his word to them of his own volition.
 
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BillO

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Trying to surrender in such a chaotic situation is a dicey proposition at best. A bunch of guys throw their hands up and a couple throw their guns up and they are all in trouble. A lot of local boys on both sides in that fight as well and neither were in a forgiving mood by the final assault.
 

Nathanb1

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What they said. :smile: I highly recommend reading all of Dixie Rifles' research on the whole affair. To me he proves that it wasn't a planned massacre but rather a melee with blame accruing to both sides....just because the Confederates had the opportunity to kill almost every last one of the defenders and didn't. Too many men listed as KIA survived and he's found them in later records....

And Forrest, as commander, catches the blame, even if (as I believe) he eventually attempted to stop the slaughter. Allie made a good case above. He was a practical man. And I do think Chalmers was probably mistaken for him, because as active as he was, I don't think he could have been in four places at the same time :smile:

I distrust a lot of River Run Red--simply because as a graduate student I was trained to suspect any pre-disposed "research" that starts out like that does. Dixie Rifles is fair and a lot more accurate, IMO.
 
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