previous next


There is a matter also to which I desire to call your attention, which, until now, I have not thought proper to make the subject of a communication. Recent events render it necessary — in fact, demand it.

It has been reported to me that all the negro troops stationed in Memphis took an oath on their knees, in the presence of Major-General Hurlbut and other officers of your army, to avenge Fort Pillow, and that they would show my troops no quarter.

Again, I have it from indisputable authority that the troops under Brigadier-General Sturgis, on their recent march from Memphis, publicly and in various places proclaimed that no quarter would be shown my men. As his troops were moved into action on the eleventh, the officers commanding exhorted their men to remember Fort Pillow, and a large majority of the prisoners we have captured from that command have voluntarily stated that they expected us to murder them, otherwise they would have surrendered in a body rather than taken to the bushes after being run down and exhausted. The recent battle of Tishemingo Creek was far more bloody than it otherwise would have been but for the fact that your men evidently expected to be slaughtered when captured, and both sides acted as though neither felt safe in surrendering even when further resistance was useless. The prisoners captured by us say they felt condemned by the announcements, etc., of their own commanders, and expected no quarter. In all my operations since the war begun, I have conducted the war on civilized principles, and desire still to do so, but it is due to my command that they should know the position you occupy and the policy you intend to pursue. I therefore respectfully ask whether my men in your hands are treated as other Confederate prisoners, also the course intended to be pursued in regard to those who may hereafter fall into your hands.

I have in my possession quite a number of wounded officers and men of General Sturgis' command, all of whom have been treated as well as we were able to treat them, and are mostly in charge of a Surgeon left at Ripley by General Sturgis to look after the wounded. Some of them are too severely wounded to be removed at present. I am willing to exchange them for any men of my command you may have, and as soon as they are able to be removed will give them safe escort through my lines in charge of the Surgeon left with them.

I made such an arrangement with Major-General Hurlbut when he was in command of Memphis, and am willing to renew it, provided it is desired, as it would be better than to subject them to the long and fatiguing delay necessary to a regular exchange at City Point, Virginia.

I am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

N. B. Forrest, Major-General

General Washburn to General Lee.

headquarters District of West Tennessee, Memphis, Tenn., June 17, 1864.
Major-General S. D. Lee, commanding Confederate Forces near Tupelo, Miss.:
General: When I heard that the forces of Brigadier-General Sturgis had been driven back, and a portion of them probably captured, I felt considerable solicitude for the fate of the two colored regiments that formed a part of the command, until I was informed that the Confederate forces were commanded by you. When I learned that, I became satisfied that no atrocities would be committed upon those troops, but that they would receive the treatment which humanity as well as their gallant conduct demanded.

I regret to say that the hope that I entertained has been dispelled by facts which have recently come to my knowledge.

From statements that have been made to me by colored soldiers who were eye-witnesses, it would seem that the massacre of Fort Pillow had been reproduced at the late affair at Bryce's Cross-roads. The detail of the atrocities there committed I will not trouble you with. If true, and not disavowed, they must lead to consequences too fearful to contemplate. It is best that we should now have a fair understanding upon this question, of the treatment of this class of soldiers. If it is contemplated by the Confederate government to murder all colored troops that may by the chance of war fall into their hands, as was the case at Fort Pillow, it is but fair that it should be freely and frankly avowed. Within the last six weeks I have, on two occasions, sent colored troops into the field from this point. In the expectation that the Confederate government would disavow the action of their commanding General at the Fort Pillow massacre, I have forborne to issue any instructions to the colored troops as to the course they should pursue towards Confederate soldiers that might fall into their hands; but seeing no disavowal on the part of the Confederate government, but, on the contrary, laudations from the entire Southern press of the perpetrators of the massacre, I may safely presume that indiscriminate slaughter is to be the fate of colored troops that fall into your hands. But I am not willing to leave a matter of such grave import, and involving consequences so fearful, to inference, and I have therefore thought it proper to address you this, believing that you would be able to indicate the policy that the Confederate government intend to pursue hereafter on this question.

If it is intended to raise the black flag against that unfortunate race, they will cheerfully accept the issue. Up to this time no troops have fought more gallantly, and none have conducted themselves with greater propriety. They have fully vindicated their right (so long denied) to be treated as men.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Sturgis (4)
S. D. Lee (2)
Hurlbut (2)
C. C. Washburn (1)
N. B. Forrest (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
June 17th, 1864 AD (1)
11th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: