Thoughts on General Pillow?

major bill

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#1
Major General Gideon Johnson Pillow was thought to be a fairly aggressive leader. As a Major General of Volunteers he had did reasonable work during the Mexican American War. Was appointed Major General early in the Civil War and seemed to do Ok at the Battle of Belmont against Grant, admittedly both Grant and Pillow were leading very green troops. Next came Fort Donelson. I have never been so sure about Pillow's performance here.

So was Pillow's performances at Fort Donelson sub par? I am not sure if the fall of Fort Donelson should be blamed on Pillow. His original attack to breakout seemed to have went well, but was not taken advantage of.

After Fort Donelson Pillow's career seems to have taken a turn for the worse. He was a division commander in the Army of Central Kentucky, but then only a brigade commander at the Battle of Stone Mountain. After Stone Mountain he did not appear to play a major role in the War.
 

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Northern Light

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#2
From the American Battlefield Trust:

"According to Who Was Who in the Civil War, Gideon Johnson Pillow was “one of the most reprehensible men ever to wear the three stars and wreath of a Confederate general” (Sifakis 508). It was reported that during the January 2, 1863 Battle of Stones River, Pillow hid behind a tree instead of leading his men into the fray. His most famous action, however, is his roll in the loss of Fort Donelson.

At the war’s outbreak, Tennessee Governor Isham Harris made Pillow a major general in the Provisional Army of Tennessee. In July 1861 he became a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. He received the thanks of the Confederate Congress for his role in the December 1861 Battle of Belmont, MO (this was Ulysses S. Grant’s first battle). After Belmont, Pillow was briefly given command of Fort Donelson.

During the February 1862 assault at Fort Donelson, Pillow was initially successful in his attack on Grant’s forces. However, he decided to pull his men back into their trenches – losing all of the ground they had won that day. The commanding general, John B. Floyd, turned command over to Gideon Pillow. Pillow, in turn, gave command to Simon Bolivar Buckner. Buckner surrendered the fort to Grant.

Pillow commanded a brigade of Tennessee soldiers during the last day of Stones River. The division commander, Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, was infuriated when he found Pillow hiding behind a tree instead of leading his men.

After Stones River, Pillow headed the Army of Tennessee’s Volunteer and Conscription Bureau. He was then appointed commissary General of Prisoners (1865)."

https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/gideon-j-pillow

I would suggest he had a few problems with wielding authority.
 

luinrina

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#3
D.H. Hill didn't think too highly of Pillow during the American-Mexican War. In his war diary he kept calling him names, most often "fool" and "imbecile", and often complained that Pillow was giving "stupid orders". There also was an incident where a letter laudating Pillow was sent and Winfield Scott had Pillow arrested. He was released later on. Hill speculated that the letter was forged and sent by a Pillow-supporter to make him look better.

Grant mentioned the arrest and later release in Mexico in his memoirs too. Regarding Fort Donelson, Grant didn't seem to think Pillow to be a serious opponent. Here's the passage from his memoirs (volume 1):
Grant_Memoirs_Pillow p1.jpg

Grant_Memoirs_Pillow p2.jpg
 
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Northern Light

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#9
I thought that Poltroon pretty well described his, what the British once so quaintly described as Lack of Moral Fiber, character. Though on second coward works just as well.
Regards
David
Hiding behind a tree during a battle goes waaaaaaaaaaaayyy beyond lack of morale fibre, don't you think? Lack of moral fibre usually referred to symptoms of what we would now call PTSD.
 

Ole Miss

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#10
Having read several autobiographies of Battle of Britain pilots, the term of LMR was used quite often describing pilots who failed to engage the enemy on first or early missions in derogatory terms. I had no intention to refer those who suffered PTSD.
Regards
David
 
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Northern Light

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Having read several autobiographies of Battle of Britain pilots, the term of LMR was used quite often describing pilots who failed to engage the enemy on first or early missions in derogatory terms. I had no intention to refer those who suffered PTSD.
Regards
David

autobiographies
Oh dear, I didn't think you did for a minute. I am sorry!
 

jackt62

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#16
I read Pillow's biography by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes (The Life and Wars of Gideon Pillow). Pillow was a lawyer and political wannabe from a well off slave owning family. His connections got him a volunteer generalship during the Mexican War, in which he performed adequately but was known for undercutting his superiors, which eventually led to his court martial by order of General Winfield Scott. His political connections got that proceeding voided, and he ended up with a Confederate commission upon the outbreak of hostilities in 1861. His command at Belmont was considered satisfactory although there was little cause for celebration on either side in that battle. But Pillow's reputation for self aggrandizement continued, in addition to allegations about cowardice during the battle of Stones River. Pillow's historical reputation (besides constructing and naming Fort Pillow) seems to be centered on his role at Fort Donelson, where he effectively led the breakout attempt but halted in place, which set the stage for the withdrawal of the troops back to the fort and its surrender. Pillow (and John Floyd who was nominally the senior officer) both skedaddled after respectively turning over their commands to General Buckner. That action essentially ended his military career (although he had a smaller command at Stones River, the site of the alleged cowardice). He was later put in charge of confederate conscription efforts in which he is said to have done satisfactory service.

One of many CW persons with an interesting and unique story.
 

major bill

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#18
How much of the blame for the surrender of Fort Donelson be put on Pillow? Some of the blame must be put on John B. Floyd who was in charge at Fort Donelson. Should some of the blame go to Albert Sidney Johnston? Johnston did send Floyd to take command at Fort Donelson just days before it fell. Did Johnston believe that Floyd was up to such an important task? It would appear that Johnston was more worried about Columbus Kentucky than Fort Donelson and sent General Beauregard there instead of Fort Donelson. I do understand that evacuating Columbus was important, but Johnston had to guess Grant would move on Fort Donelson and still sent Floyd there instead of Beauregard.

Perhaps there is plenty of blame to go around for the surrender of Fort Donelson.
 
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#19
Well lets see where the blame for Fort Donelson lies...

Fort Donelson's the senior most officers:

General John Floyd- Politician masquerading as a soldier, terrified he'll be hung if captured for some actions while in office before the war, and no real experience to suggest he'd be effective in command of the Fort

General Gideon Pillow- Politician claiming to be a soldier because of questionable experience in the Mexican War and one success at Belmont, his other characteristics have been noted.

General Simon Bolivar Buckner- A real soldier of decent experience, and for some reason he wasn't the commander of the Fort

General Bushrod Johnson- Yeah I don't wanna get into that mess

Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest- Excellent officer, but not yet proven

No I say Gideon Pillow is off the hook as for who is to blame for the Fort's fall, and no blame should be laid at his notorious feet. I say the blame belongs too, (I agree with you @major bill), Albert Sidney Johnston. I'm not one to bash Johnston, heck I look favorably on his career overall, but even distracted someone with as much experience as him with General officers, (he had been the Adjutant General and senior most officer of the Republic of Texas Army and had to deal with politicians playing soldier, like Felix Huston), he should have known he was screwing up royally. Why he did it I don't know, (now I really want to read the biography written by his son), perhaps as Major Bill suggested he was distracted, but even distracted he should have known it was a bad idea to leave politicians in command over soldiers, he had shot by such a primo donna for Christ's Sake. Maybe he just underestimated the Union force marching on the Forts, but at the end of the day, he created probably the most dysfunctional quartet of officers in the Confederate Army ever at Fort Donelson , practically ensuring its fall.

Again for Johnston fans out there, I'm with y'all, I'm a fan of Johnston, but he screwed the pooch at Donelson. I suppose every General is entitled to some mistakes so they can grow, the War was still young, and perhaps he felt the troops sent there were top notch and would outweigh their officers, or that the Union troops would be just as encumbered, (now I really want to look into the why). but at the end of the day you gotta work with what you have, and he had Floyd, Pillow, Buckner, Bushrod, and Forrest.
 
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Robtweb1

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#20
Pillow was a politician and did that very well. He made great contributions in recruiting and acquiring arms even before Tennessee Seceded. Very involved in interacting with the Confederate government on the behalf of Tennessee.

As a field commander he sucked. My great-grandfather served under him during the battle of Belmont, Mo. Pillow placed the battle line in an open field within range of the woods where the yankees had cover, then separated the 13th Tennessee from the rest of the line. The ammunition was inadequate so he ordered a charge with the yankees still under cover in the woods. Failed to communicate that order to the 13th TN.

Late in the war he was put in command of a cavalry unit and somewhere around Lafayette, GA, he was in a battle where he had the superior force and lost.

The events at Ft. Donelson speak for themselves.

I believe Prima Donna is a good fit for him.
 



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