previous next

[728] made either by yourself or your government, a course which would certainly recommend itself to every one desirous of hearing truth; but, on the contrary, you seem to have been perfectly willing to allow your soldiers to labor under false impressions upon a subject involving such terrible consequences. Even the formality of parades and oaths have been resorted to for the perpose of inciting your colored troops to the perpetration of deeds which, you say, “will lead to consequences too fearful to contemplate.”

As commanding officer of this Department I desire to make the following statement concerning the capture of Fort Pillow--a statement supported in a great measure by the evidence of one of your own officers captured at that place.

The version given by you and your government is untrue, and not sustained by the facts to the extent that you indicate.

The garrison was summoned in the usual manner, and its commanding officer assumed the responsibility of refusing to surrender after having been informed by General Forrest of his ability to take the fort, and of his fears as to what the result would be in case the demand was not complied with.

The assault was made under a heavy fire, and with considerable loss to the attacking party.

Your colors were never lowered, but retreated from the fort to the cover of the gunboats, with arms in their hands, and constantly using them.

This was true, particularly of your colored troops, who had been firmly convinced by your teachings of the certainty of their slaughter in case of capture. Even under these circumstances many of your men — white and black — were taken prisoners.

I respectfully refer you to history for numerous cases of indiscriminate slaughter, even under less aggravated circumstances.

It is generally conceded by all military precedents that where the issue has been fairly presented, and the ability displayed, fearful results are expected to follow a refusal to surrender.

The case under consideration is almost an extreme one.

You had a servile race armed against their masters, and in a country which had been desolated by almost unprecedented outrages.

I assert that our officers, with all these circumstances against them, endeavored to prevent the effusion of blood; and, as evidence of this, I refer you to the fact that both white and colored prisoners were taken, and are now in our hands.

As regards the battle of Tishemingo Creek, the statements of your negro witnesses are not to be relied on. In this panic they acted as might have been expected from their previous impressions. I do not think many of them were killed — they are yet wandering over the country, attempting to return to their masters.

With reference to the status of those captured at Tishemingo Creek and Fort Pillow, I will state that, unless otherwise ordered by my government, they will not be regarded as prisoners of war, but will be retained and humanely treated, subject to such future instructions as may be indicated.

Your letter contains many implied threats; these you can of course make, and you are fully entitled to any satisfaction that you may feel from having made them.

It is my intention, and that also of my subordinates, to conduct this war upon civilized principles, provided you permit us to do so; and I take this occasion to state that we will not shrink from any responsibilities that your actions may force upon us.

We are engaged in a struggle for the protection of our homes and firesides, for the maintenance of our national existence and liberty; we have counted the cost and are prepared to go to any extremes; and although it is far from our wish to fight under the “black flag,” still, if you drive us to it, we will accept the issue.

Your troops virtually fought under it at the battle of Tishemingo Creek, and the prisoners taken there state that they went into battle with the impression that they were to receive no quarter, and I suppose with the determination to give none.

I will further remark that if it is raised, so far as your soldiers are concerned, there can be no distinction, for the unfortunate people whom you pretend to be aiding are not considered entirely responsible for their acts, influenced as they are by the superior intellect of their white brothers.

I enclose for your consideration certain papers touching the Fort Pillow affair, which were procured from the writer after the exaggerated statements of your press were seen.

I am, General, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

S. D. Lee, Lieutenant-General, commanding.

Enclosure in the foregoing.

Cahaba, Albama, May 16, 1864.
I was one of the bearers of the flag of truce, on the part of the United States authorities, at Fort Pillow. A majority of the officers of the garrison doubted whether General Forrest was present, and had the impression that it was a ruse to induce the surrender of the fort. At the second meeting of the flag of truce, General Forrest announced himself as being General Forrest; but the officers who accompanied the flag, being unacquainted with the General, doubted his word, and it was the opinion of the garrison, at the time of the assault, that General Forrest was not in the vicinity of the fort. The commanding officer refused to surrender. When the final assault was made, I was captured at my post, inside the works, and have been treated as a prisoner of war.

John T. Young, Captain, Twenty-fourth Missouri Volunteers. F. W. Underhill, First Lieutenant Cavalry.

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 Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (3)
United States (United States) (1)
Cahawba (Alabama, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

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.
N. B. Forrest (5)
John T. Young (1)
F. W. Underhill (1)
S. D. Lee (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.
May 16th, 1864 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: