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Capture of Fort Pillow--vindication of General Chalmers by a Federal officer.

The charges in reference to the “Fort Pillow massacre” have been several times fully met and refuted, but they are reiterated again as often as they can serve a purpose. General Chalmers recently made on the floor of the House of Representatives a triumphant vindication of General Forrest and his command, which we would publish in full but that we expect to get the facts in another form. In the meantime, the following letter from Dr. C. Fitch, who was surgeon in charge of Fort Pillow at the time of its capture, ought to settle the question, even with the most ultra partisans: [440]

Chariton, Iowa, May 13, 1879.
General Chalmers, M. C. from Mississippi:
Sir — I have seen at different times and in various papers the charge made against you that you murdered a babe and had been engaged also in murdering several whites and negroes at Fort Pillow, on the 12th of April, 1864.

I have no especial acquaintance with you; have only seen you twice in my life — once on the 12th and again on the 13th of April, 1864, but I desire to give you my recollection of that battle.

I was acting surgeon of the post at the time — the only surgeon there. I first saw you on the 12th, on the bluffs above, where the greatest number was killed — the greatest slaughter having occurred under the bluffs next to the river. I was under the bluffs most of the time. The greater portion of the officers that commanded the two negro regiments were killed in the fort before there was a charge made. They were picked off by sharpshooters — there being several points much higher than the miserable earthworks, from which it was quite easy for sharpshooters to pick out almost any man they wished. Booth, his Adjutant, and several other officers were killed early in the afternoon. I had my field hospital under the bluffs next to the river.

When Forrest's forces charged into the miserable fort, the two negro regiments and the men of the Thirteenth Tennessee cavalry came down under the bluff where I was, followed by quite a number of the soldiers of Forrest's command. I did not see but few officers among Forrest's soldiers under the bluffs — none above the ranks of lieutenant and captain. I was taken up the bluffs by a lieutenant of Mississippi Rebel cavalry, and when I arrived on the bluff within the fort, there were but a few Rebel soldiers there. Forrest was up there, sighting a piece of artillery on the little gunboat up the river. I saw him sight it several times and fire on the gunboat, after which I passed outside the earthworks. I do not think Forrest knew what was going on under the bluffs. After I had passed out of the earthworks, I met a few ambulances, with their drunken, cowardly crew, who were about to take off my boots, when you came riding near by. Seeing you had on the evidences of being a General, I called to you. You rode up to me and asked me what was wanted. I asked you if you would allow those fellows to strip a prisoner of his boots. You cursed them, and put a guard over me, giving orders to the guard to shoot down the first one that molested me.

I again saw you on the 13th; rode part of the way from the camp to the river and went aboard Platte Valley steamboat with you, and saw you several times on the boat. I had the wounded taken on board the boat. I do not believe that there was a babe there for any one to kill, as early in the morning all of the women and all of the non-combatants were ordered on to some barges, and were towed up the river to an island. by a gunboat before anyone was hurt. I fail to see how you could have gotten on that island [441] to kill that babe. I do not believe you knew what was going on under the bluffs, as I did not see you under there while I was there, but saw you ride up, as I have stated, from an opposite direction, after I had gotten upon the bluffs, and the most of the work was over before 1 left, next the river.

The most of the men of the Thirteenth regiment were deserters from Forrest's command. I have examined a great many of them myself who told me they were. There seemed to be a great hatred on the part of Forrest's men towards many of them — personal feeling — as I heard many of Forrest's men charge the soldiers of the Thirteenth regiment with doing many things that were mean towards their friends since they had deserted Forrest and joined the Thirteenth Federal regiment.

I am not aware that there was any formal surrender of Fort Pillow to Forrest's command. I looked upon many things that were done as the result of whiskey and a bitter personal hate, especially as regards the Thirteenth regiment. There was considerable alcohol outside of the fort, which Forrest's men must have got hold of long before the charge was made. I have always thought that neither you nor Forrest knew anything that was going on at the time under the bluffs. What was done was done very quickly.

I know that you treated me kindly on the 12th and 13th. I could tell you many things about Fort Pillow, doubtless, if I had time. If I believed what is published about your being such an inhuman creature on that occasion, I should so tell you.

If you wish to learn about me further, talk with General Weaver, M. C. from Iowa; Hon. A. C. Dodge, Henry Clay Dean, of Iowa; Belknap, ex-Secretary of War; George W. McCrary, and Hon. R. B. Hayes. The latter and myself were young men living in Fremont while it was called Lower Sandusky. Call on him and ask him if he knew one C. Fitch, who read medicine with Dr. L. Q. Ranson, of Fremont? I have not seen President Hayes for twenty-eight years. I have been living here in Chariton since 1852, and most of the time practicing surgery and medicine. I was acting surgeon at Fort Pillow on the 12th of April, 1864; was not before the Wade Committee.

If you wish to write to me asking any questions, I will try to answer them honestly and fairly.

I looked upon you on the 12th and 13th of April, 1864, as far as I could see, as anything but a cold-blooded murderer. I took you to be rather a good-feeling man. Your conduct towards me was that of a gentleman. I do not believe what is charged against you on that occasion.

General, call on President Hayes and give him my respects, if you feel at liberty to do so. I have not had any correspondence with him nor seen him for twenty-eight years. I am not a politician. General Weaver knows me well, I think. Give him my respects.

Yours, truly,

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