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[78] of the coal-barges, another boat, better for the purpose, (The Cheek,) hove in sight. Finding I could get her ready quicker than the other, I had her brought alongside, and went aboard myself with Captain Thornton, of my staff, and Captain Williams, the ranking officer of the batteries.

Before we could get the guns on board, a steamer, with troops hove in sight, coming down the river from Fort Pillow.

We could not distinguish at first whether they were Union or rebel soldiers.

I asked Captain Pegram, of the Olive Branch, if the story of the women turned out to be true, and the rebels had the steamer, could his boat sink her. Captain Pegram replied: “Yes, my boat can run right over her.” I ordered him to swing out into the stream to be ready for her. When she approached, we saw United States infantry soldiers on board that had just passed the Fort. She kept on going rapidly down with the current, only hailing the Olive Branch: “All right up there; you can go by. The gunboat is lying off the Fort.”

This steamer was the Liberty. We then proceeded up the river in the Olive Branch. Near Fort Pillow some stragglers or guerrillas fired from the shore with musketry, aiming at the pilot-house.

I was then in the pilot-house, and, as we kept on, I observed that one of the two other boats I have mentioned, which followed us at some distance, was compelled to put back. The Olive Branch kept on to report to the gunboat on the station.

An officer came off from the gunboat, in a small boat, and said he did not want any boat to stop; ordered us to go on to Cairo, and tell Captain (name not recollected) to send him immediately four hundred (400) rounds of ammunition. There was no firing at the Fort at this time.

The Union flag was flying, and after we had passed the Fort we could see a “flag of truce” outside the fortifications.

No signal of any kind was made to the boat from the Fort, or from the shore.

No intimation was given us from the gunboat, which had the right to order a steamer of this description, other than the order to proceed to Cairo, to send down the ammunition.

From the fact that the Liberty had just passed down the river from the Fort with troops on board; from her hailing us to go by, and continuing her course down the river without stopping; that no signal was made the Olive Branch from the Fort on the shore, and no attack was being made on the Fort at the time; that the officer of the gunboat said he did not want any boats to stop, and ordered the captain of the Olive Branch to go on, and have ammunition sent down to him by first boat, I considered and now consider that the captain of the Olive Branch was not only justified in going on, but bound to proceed.

The Olive Branch was incapable of rendering any assistance, being entirely defenseless. If any guns could have been placed in position on the boat, they could not have been elevated to reach sharp-shooters on the high steep bluff outside the Fort.

A very few sharp-shooters from the shore near the Fort could have prevented any landing, and have taken the boat. We supposed the object of the rebels was rather to seize a boat, to effect a crossing into Arkansas, than to capture the Fort. We had no means of knowing or suspecting that so strong a position as Fort Pillow had not been properly garrisoned for defence, when it was in constant communication with General Hurlbut at Memphis.

The Olive Branch had just left Memphis, General Hurlbut's headquarters, where it had been during the previous night. If it had not been for the appearance of the Liberty, I should have attempted a landing at Fort Pillow in the small steamer. If any intimation had been given from the gunboat or the shore, I should have landed personally from the Olive Branch. The order given to the contrary prevented it.

Coming from New-Orleans, and having no knowledge of affairs in that military district, I could not presume that a fort, with uninterrupted water communication above and below, could possibly be without a garrison strong enough to hold it for a few hours.

I write hastily, and omit, from want of time, to state subsequent occurrences at Fort Columbus and Cairo, except to say that, at Fort Columbus, in front of which Buford then was demanding a surrender, I stopped, started to ride out to the lines, met Colonel Lawrence, the commanding officer, coming in from the front of his headquarters. Offered to remain, with the men on board.

Colonel Lawrence said he was in good condition to stand any attack; could communicate with General Brayman; had already taken four hundred (400) infantry and one battery from the L. M. Kennett, which had just preceded us, and left six hundred (600) men, and another, or other batteries, on board, which he did not need. He declined the proffered assistance as not needed, and immediately on arrival at Cairo I reported all the information in my possession to General Brayman, in command, who was about leaving for Columbus.

Captain Thornton, Twelfth Maine volunteers, a gallant officer, distinguished for his bravery at Ponchitoula, where he was wounded and left in the hands of the enemy, was on board the Olive Branch, and will take this communication to the committee.

I respectfully ask that he may be thoroughly examined as to all the circumstances.

I am conscious that a full examination will show that I rather exceeded than neglected my duty.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,

G. F. Shepley, Brigadier-General Commanding, Hon. D. W. Gooch, Of Committee on Conduct of the War

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