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Doc. 139.-the Fort Pillow massacre.


Report of General Forrest.1

headquarters Forrest's cavalry Department, Jackson, Tenn., April 26, 1864.
Colonel: I have the honor respectfully to forward you the following report of my engagement with the enemy on the twelfth instant, at Fort Pillow:

My command consisted of McCullock's brigade of Chalmers's division, and Bell's brigade of Buford's division, both placed, for the expedition, under command of Brigadier-General James A. Chalmers, who, by a forced march, drove in the enemy's pickets, gained possession of the outer works, and by the time I reached the field, at ten o'clock, A. M., had forced the enemy to their main fortifications, situated on the bluff or bank of the Mississippi River, at the mouth of Coal Creek.

The fort is an earthwork, crescent-shaped; is eight feet in height and four feet across the top, surrounded by a ditch six feet deep and twelve feet in width; walls sloping to the ditch, but perpendicular inside; it was garrisoned by four hundred troops, with six pieces of field-artillery. A deep ravine surrounds the Fort, and from the Fort to the ravine the ground descends rapidly.

Assuming command, I ordered General Chalmers to advance his line, and gain position on the slope, when our men would be perfectly protected from the heavy fire of artillery and musketry, as the enemy could not depress their pieces so as to rake the slope, nor could they fire on them with small arms, except by mounting the breastworks and exposing themselves to the fire of our sharp-shooters, who, under cover of stumps and logs, forced them to keep down inside the works.

After several hours' hard fighting, the desired position was gained, not, however, without considerable loss. Our main line was now within an average distance of one hundred yards from the Fort, and extended from Coal Creek, on the right, to the bluff or bank of the Mississippi River, on the left.

During the entire morning the gunboat kept up a continuous fire in all directions, but without effect, and, being confident of my ability to take the Fort by assault, and desiring to prevent further loss of life, I sent, under flag of truce, a demand for the unconditional surrender of the garrison, a copy of which is hereto appended, marked No. 1, to which I received a reply, marked No. 2.

The gunboat had ceased firing, but the smoke of three other boats ascending the river was in view, the foremost boat apparently crowded with troops, and believing the request for an hour was to gain time for reinforcements to arrive, and that the desire to consult the officers of the gunboat was a pretext by which they desired improperly to communicate with her, I at once sent the reply, copy of which is numbered 3, directing Captain Goodwin, Assistant Adjutant-General of Brigadier-General Chalmers, to remain until he received a reply, or until the expiration of the time proposed.

My dispositions had all been made, and my troops were in a position that would enable me to take the Fort with less loss than to have with-drawn under fire, and it seemed to me so perfectly apparent to the garrison that such was the case, that I deemed their surrender without further bloodshed a certainty.

After some little delay, seeing a message delivered to Captain Goodwin, I rode up myself to where the notes were received and delivered. The answer was handed me, written in pencil, on a slip of paper without envelope, and was, as [599] well as I remember, in these words: “Negotiations will not attain the desired object.” As the officers who were in charge of the Federal flag of truce had expressed a doubt as to my presence, and had pronounced the demand a trick, I handed them back a note, saying: “I am General Forrest. Go back and say to Major Booth that I demand an answer in plain, unmistakable English: Will he fight or surrender?” Returning to my original position, before the expiration of twenty minutes I received a reply, copy of which is marked No. 4.

While these negotiations were pending, the steamers from below were rapidly approaching the Fort; the foremost was the Olive Branch, whose position and movements indicated her intention to land. A few shots fired into her caused her to leave the shore and make for the opposite one. Other boats passed up on the bar side of the river; the third one turned back.

The time having expired, I directed Brigadier-General Chalmers to prepare for the assault. Bell's brigade occupied the right, with his extreme right resting on Coal Creek. McCullock's brigade occupied the left, extending from the centre to the river. Three companies of his left regiment were placed in an old rifle-pit on the left and almost in the rear of the Fort, which had evidently been thrown up for the protection of sharp-shooters or riflemen in supporting the water-batteries below. On the right, a portion of Barton's regiment of Bell's brigade, was also under the bluff and in the rear of the Fort.

I despatched staff-officers to Colonels Ball and McCullock, commanding brigades, to say to them that I should watch with interest the conduct of the troops; that Missourians, Mississippians, and Tennesseans surrounded the works, and I desired to see who would first scathe the Fort. Fearing the gunboat and transport might attempt a landing, I directed my aid-de-camp, Captain Charles W. Anderson, to assume command of the three companies on the left and rear of the Fort, and hold the position against any thing that might come by land or water, but to take no part in the assault on the Fort.

Every thing being ready, the bugle sounded the charge, which was made with a yell, and the works carried, without a perceptible halt in any part of the line, As our troops mounted and poured into the fortifications, the enemy retreated toward the river, arms in hand, and firing back, and their colors flying — no doubt expecting the gunboats to shell us away from the bluff and protect them, until they could be taken off or reenforced.

As they descended the bank an enfilading and deadly fire was poured into them, by the troops under Captain Anderson on the left, and Barton's detachment on the right. Until this fire was opened upon them, at a distance varying from thirty to one hundred yards, they were evidently ignorant of any force having gained their rear. The regiments which had stormed and carried the Fort, also poured a destructive fire into the rear of the retreating and now panic-stricken and almost decimated garrison. Fortunately for those who survived this short but desperate struggle, some of our men cut off the halyards, and the United States flag floating from a tall mast in the centre of the Fort, came down; the forces stationed in the rear of the fort could see the flag, but were too far under the bluff to see the Fort, and when the flag descended they ceased firing; but for this, so near were they to the enemy, that few, if any, would have survived unhurt another volley. As it was, many rushed into the river and were drowned, and the actual loss of life will, perhaps, never be known, as there were quite a number of refugee citizens in the Fort, many of whom were drowned and several killed in the retreat from the Fort.

In less than twenty minutes from the time the bugles sounded the charge, firing had ceased, and the work was done.

One of the Parrott guns was turned on the gunboat. She steamed off without replying. She had, as I afterward understood, expended all her ammunition, and was, therefore, powerless in affording the Federal garrison the aid and protection they doubtless expected of her, when they retreated toward the river.

Details were made, consisting of the captured Federals and negroes in charge of their own officers, to collect together and bury their dead, which work continued until dark.

I also directed Captain Anderson to procure a skiff and take with him Captain Young, a captured Federal officer, and deliver to Captain Marshall, of the gunboat, the message — copy of which is appended, and numbered 5.

All the boats and skiffs having been taken off by citizens escaping from the Fort during the engagement, the message could not be delivered, although every effort was made to induce Captain Marshall to send his boat ashore by raising a white flag, with which Captain Young walked up and down the river, in vain, signalling her to come in, or send out a boat. She finally moved off, and disappeared around the bend above the Fort.

General Gilmore withdrew his forces from the Fort before dark, and camped a few miles east of it. On the morning of the thirteenth, I again despatched Captain Anderson to Fort Pillow, for the purpose of placing, if possible, the Federal wounded on board their transports, and report to me, on his return, the condition of affairs at the river. I respectfully refer you to his report, numbered 6.

My loss in the engagement was twenty killed and sixty wounded. That of the enemy unknown; two hundred and twenty-eight were buried on the evening of the battle, and quite a number were buried the next day by detail from the gunboat fleet. We captured six pieces of artillery, namely, two ten-pounder Parrott guns, two twelve-pounder howitzers, and two brass six-pounder guns, and about three hundred and fifty stand of small-arms. The balance of the small-arms had been thrown into the river. All the small-arms were picked up where the enemy [600] threw them down — a few in the Fort, the balance scattered from the top of the hill to the water's edge.

We captured one hundred and sixty-four Federals, seventy-three negro troops and about forty negro women and children, and after removing every thing of value, as far as able to do so, the warehouses, tents, etc., were destroyed by fire.

Among our severely wounded is Lieutenant-Colonel Wiley M. Reid, assigned temporarily to the command of the Fifth Mississippi regiment, who fell, severely wounded, while leading his regiment. When carried from the field he was supposed to be mortally wounded, but hopes are entertained of his ultimate recovery. He is a brave and gallant officer, a courteous gentleman, and a consistent Christian minister.

I cannot compliment too highly the conduct of Colonels Bell and McCullock and the officers and men of their brigades, which composed the forces of Brigadier-General Chahners. They fought with courage and intrepidity, and, without bayonets, assaulted and carried one of the strongest fortifications in the country.

On the fifteenth, at Brownsville, I received orders which rendered it necessary to send General Chalmers, in command of his own division and Bell's brigade, southward. Hence, I have no official report from him, but will, as soon as it can be obtained, forward a complete list of our killed and wounded, which has been ordered to be made out and forwarded at the earliest possible moment.

In closing my report I desire to acknowledge the prompt and energetic action of Brigadier-General Chalmers, commanding the forces around Fort Pillow. His faithful execution of all movements necessary to the successful accomplishment of the objects of the expedition, entitles him to special mention. He has reason to be proud of the conduct of the officers and men of his command, for their gallantry and courage in assaulting and carrying the enemy's works, without the assistance of artillery or bayonets.

To my staff, as heretofore, my acknowledgments are due, for their prompt and faithful delivery of all orders.

I am, Colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

N. B. Forrest, Major-General Commanding.

1 see document 1, page 1, ante.

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Sand Creek, Larimer county (Colorado, United States) (3)
Fort Pillow (Tennessee, United States) (3)
Mississippi (United States) (2)
United States (United States) (1)
Jackson (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Brownsville, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)

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James A. Chalmers (7)
Caspar W. Bell (5)
Adam McCullock (4)
N. B. Forrest (4)
Charles W. Anderson (4)
J. R. Young (2)
James Marshall (2)
E. Goodwin (2)
Barton (2)
Wiley M. Reid (1)
Gilmore (1)
Michael English (1)
Doc (1)
Chahners (1)
A. Buford (1)
L. F. Booth (1)
Ball (1)
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April 26th, 1864 AD (1)
15th (1)
13th (1)
12th (1)
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