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Chapter 49: Fort Pillow, Ocean Pond, and Meridian.

Fort Pillow, situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, was established by the State of Tennessee in 1861. It was afterward fortified by the Confederate States, and effectually prevented the passage of the Federal fleet. When the Confederates abandoned Corinth, Fort Pillow was necessarily evacuated also, and was immediately occupied by an inconsiderable Federal force.

On April 12, 1864, an attack was made upon the fort by two brigades of General N. B. Forrest's force, under Mississippi's gallant general, J. R. Chalmers.

The Confederates gained the outer works and drove the garrison to their main fortifications. About this time General Forrest arrived and reconnoitred the whole position, in doing which he had two horses shot under him and another wounded. He discovered a ravine leading up in the near vicinity to the southern face of the fort, which, if seized, would afford complete shelter for an attacking column. [484]

Two ridges also gave the Confederate sharp-shooters complete command of the interior of the fort, and Forrest decided to send a formal demand for surrender. The command ing officer was notified that he was surrounded, and that, “if the demand was acceded to, the gallantry of the defence already made would entitle all its garrison to be treated as prisoners of war.”

An answer, after considerable delay, was brought from the fort, written in pencil on a soiled scrap of paper, without envelope. “Your demand does not produce the desired effect.” General Forrest read it and hastily exclaimed: “This will not do, send it back, and say to Major Booth that I must have an answer in plain English-yes or no.”

Shortly the messenger returned with “no.” Forrest immediately prepared to make the assault. The bugle sounded the “charge,” and the Confederates, with a rush, cleared the parapet and swept with their fire every face of the work. General Forrest drove the enemy toward the river, leaving their flag flying, but they turned and fired as they ran. The gun-boat failed them at the critical moment, and stood out of range of the guns of the captured fort. Disappointed, and now thoroughly panic-stricken, many of the enemy threw themselves into the river and were [485] drowned; others, with arms in their hands, endeavored to make good their escape in different directions, but were met by flanking parties of the Confederates and either killed or captured. Fortunately Forrest, riding into the fort, cut down the flag, and the firing instantly ceased.

On the Confederate side 14 officers and men were killed and 86 wounded. Under a flag of truce, a steamer came to the landing place, and parties were allowed to come ashore to look after their dead and wounded, to bury the former and remove the latter to the transport. Of the wounded, there were 61-34 whites and 27 colored, according to the reports of the Federal Surgeon at Mound City, Ill., Hospital. There were taken prisoners of war, 7 officers and 219 enlisted men (56 negroes, 163 whites) unwounded, which, with the wounded, make an aggregate of those who survived, exclusive of all who may have escaped, quite 300 souls, or fully fifty-five per cent. of all the garrison, while those who survived unhurt constituted forty per cent.1 This was the so-called massacre of Fort Pillow.

The year 1864 opened auspiciously for the Confederates, and their hopes rose high after each victory. [486]

On February 20th Generals Finnegan and Colquitt, near Ocean Pond, Fla., with 5,000 men, achieved a victory over General Seymour's 7,000 troops that had just arrived from Charleston Harbor. This battle expelled the enemy from Florida.

On February 3d General Sherman, with 30,000 men, without opposition crossed the State of Mississippi to Meridian. The Federal cavalry started from Corinth and Holly Springs, and laid waste that fertile district on their way to join Sherman. Our great cavalry, leader, General Forrest, with 2,500 cavalry encountered, attacked, and defeated Grierson's and Smith's cavalry forces near West Point, and sent them back to Memphis. By this success General Forrest forced General Sherman to make a hurried retreat through one hundred and fifty miles of country that his soldiers had desolated and plundered.

General Banks now attempted to penetrate Central Texas, and destroy the Confederate lines of supplies which Texas still furnished plentifully, the transportation of them being the only difficulty. He was completely routed.2

1 Campaign of Lieutenant-General N. B. Forrest.

2 General R. Taylor: Destruction and reconstruction.

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