Wed Jul 25 16:22:34 2001
Meanwhile the troop-laden steamers-the Liberty from above and the Olive Branch from below, as appears from subsequent Union testimony continued to approach in apparent violation of the truce, with no signal of any sort being made to them from either fort or gunboat to turn back or stand away toward the Arkansas shore.
In this state of affairs, believing that the defenders were playing for time for the arrival of reinforcements and seeing the approach of what might well have been reinforcements, with no effort being made to warn them of the existing truce, Forrest ordered his adjutant, Anderson, to move 200 men of McCulloch's command down the ravine in which they already were safely ensconced, to the steamboat landing below the bluff on which the ford stood, and sent Barteau with another 200 down the Coal Creek ravine to prevent landing of reinforcements at either point.
It was this movement, plainly observed by those in the fort and on the gunboat, which became the basis for the later charge that Forrest violated the truce to put his men in position to storm the fort-"the very position," Lieutenant Leaming reported, "which he had been fighting to obtain throughout the entire engagement."Actually, so far as the storming of the fort was concerned, the move down the ravines put 400 men, one fourth of the entire force out of the assaulting columns. The move was purely one of precaution against what seemed to be an attempt to land reinforcements, although, as will appear, the detachments in these positions did play a part in the final act of the impending tragedy in preventing the escape of those who sought to flee along the riverbank beneath the bluffs.
While this was transpiring, Bradford sent out another note signed "Booth," to the effect that "negotiations will not attain the desired object." General Forrest, who had ridden forward to the point where the flags-of-truce transactions were taking place in order to convince the Union negotiators that be was indeed there in person, received the evasive answer and sent back a peremptory demand for "an answer in plain, unmistakable English. Will he fight or surrender?"
Having no real hope of holding the fort, apparently, but relying on an insane scheme of defense concocted with Captain Marshall of the gunboat, Bradford sent back the defiant message, "I will not surrender."
Forrest, without a word, rode rapidly back to his position a quartet of a mile from the line and ordered Gaus to sound the charge. As Jacob Caus brought from his battered bugle the notes of the charge, the assaulting line sprang forward, not pell-mell or helter-skelter but as if they had been rehearsed in detail in crossing ditches and scaling parapets. While the sharpshooters redoubled their already effective efforts to keep down the heads of the defenders, the assaulting troops crossed the few intervening yards to the twelve-foot-wide ditch, jumped down into the mud and water in the bottom, clambered and helped one another up its six-foot sides to the little ledge below the parapet, paused there for an instant-all without firing a shot-and then, with guns loaded, climbed and pushed one another over the eigbt-foot wall.
As the first assaulting wave, boosted from below by their fellows, came over the wall they emptied their guns at point-black range into the bodies of the garrison crowded on the fire step of the parapet. Before the garrison, which had fired at the first apparition of the charging line, could reload, the second wave was over, to empty another 600 guns into the mass below them. The "rebel charge," reported Lieutenant Leaming, was "as if rising from out the very earth.
"In the meantime," Leaming told the Congressional committee, nearly all the officers had been killed, especially of the, colored troops, and there was no one hardly to guide the men. They fought bravely, indeed, until that time," when with below the bluff, with apparent intent to continue resistance there, while the gunboat was "to give the rebels canister." But not a shot was fired from the gunboat. Instead, the prudent Captain Marshall, having found that be was nearly out of ammunition and fearing that the victorious rebels would turn the guns of the fort on him-as they actually did-closed his portholes and steamed away out of range.
When the fleeing garrison found that there was to be no blast of canister at their pursuers, panic seized them. Some continued their resistance; others thought only of safety in flight. As they rushed southward along the riverbank, they were met with a volley from the detachment under Anderson, which had come down to the steamboat landing to prevent reinforcements from coming ashore from the approaching transports, and which now fired their first sbots in the assault. Turning the other way, the demoralized troops of the garrison met the fire of Barteau's men, beneath the bank on the other side of the fort. Others rushed into the river where they were shot or drowned-and all the while the flag of the fort still flew from its staff, until Private Doak Carr of the Second Tennessee (Confederate) cut it down.
"For the survivors it was a fortunate occurrence that some of our men cut the halyards and pulled down their flag, floating from a high mast in the center of the fort," reports Anderson, who was under the bluff. "Until this was done our forces under the bluff bad no means of knowing or reason for believing that the fort was in our possession, as they could from their position see the flag but could not see the fort."
What happened under the bluffs was described by Lieutenant Learning as a "horrid work of butchery," which continued from the fall of the fort "until dark and at intervals throughout the night. Others who testified, including both those who were there and those who were not, were more profuse and harrowing in their detailed accounts of rebel savagery in the 128 pages of the report of the Congressional committee. And there can be no doubt, nor has it ever been denied, that some men -perhaps a considerable number-were shot after they, as individuals, were seeking to surrender. However, as Second Lieutenant Daniel Van Hom of the colored artillery regiment put it in his report, "there never was a surrender of the fort." Instead, as Colonel Barteau described the situation in an interview published in 1884, "they made a wild, crazy, scattering fight. They acted like a crowd of drunken men. They would at one moment yield and throw down their guns, and then would rush again to arms, seize their guns and renew the fire. If one squad was left as prisoners ... it was soon discovered that they could not be trusted as having surrendered, for taking the first opportunity they would break loose again and engage in the contest. Some of our men were killed by negroes who bad once surrendered.
As the Federal flag fell Forrest spurred his horse from the knoll a quarter of a mile away, from which he bad watched the fight, into the fort, promptly ordered all firing to cease and, with the help of Chalmers and other officers, began to restore order.
"The unwounded of the garrison were detailed, under the supervision of their own officers, to bury the dead and remove the wounded to the hospitals, tents and buildings," Anderson reports, while he and Captain John T. Young, of the Fort Pillow garrison, went up along the riverbank with a white flag, in an endeavor to open communication with the master of the gunboat New Era, and try to get him to send ashore for the wounded.3-1 The New Era, however, steamed away, being "fearful that they might bail in a steamboat from below, capture her, put on 400 or 500 men, and come after me,"32 and so the wounded were left unattended for the night and most of the dead unburied.
With the coming of night Forrest started back to Jackson but, by reason of the severe shaking-up he had received in the fall of his horse that day, he stoppe fort had been attacked. The gunboat shelled the fort and woods for about an hour until 8:00 A.M., when Captain Anderson, sent back by Forrest for the purpose, succeeded in making a truce for the day, under the terms of which the Federals would be put in full possession of the fort until 5:00 P.m. "for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded," as Acting Master William Ferguson of the gunboat reported. Wounded were "brought down from the fort and battlefield and placed on board the Platte Valley. Details of rebel soldiers assisted us in this duty."31 Another Union observer reported that 'the rebels rendered us efficient aid, facilitating as much as possible getting the wounded on board transport"Quite at variance with the report of Lieutenant Leaming that "while the U. S. gunboat No. 28 from Memphis was shelling the enemy, who at the same time was engaged in murdering our wounded, Forrest sent a flag of truce to the commander granting him time ... to bury our dead and remove the few surviving wounded, he having no means to attend to them." In the anxiety to make out a case of cold-blooded butchery against Forrest and his men, the inconsistency in the two attitudes ascribed to them in the same sentence seems to have escaped attention.
In one of the hearsay statements included in the Union reports it is said that the Confederates "took out from Fort Pillow about one hundred and some odd prisoners (white) and 40 negroes. They hung and shot the negroes as they passed along toward Brownsville until they were rid of them all."In fact, the prisoners captured, other than the wounded who were turned over to the boats on the day after the fall of the fort, were promptly removed to Mississippi and arrived in Okolona on the evening of April twentieth.
During the truce of the thirteenth, while the parties from the Federal steamers were removing the wounded with some Confederate assistance and burying the dead, Chalmers' men were removing the captured arms, ammunition and other supplies for which they had transportation. Ox teams were impressed to haul away the six pieces of artillery captured., while the muskets-269 of which were picked up below the bluff, where they had been carried as part of the scheme to continue resistance with the help of the gunboat-were loaded into the ordnance wagons along with captured ammunition.
By 4:00 P.m. the work of the day was completed, the landing parties returned to the steamers in the river, Chalmers and his men marched inland, the gunboat lowered her flag of truce, ran up the United States flag and steamed off, and Fort Pillow was left alone with its dead.
General Forrest, in a dispatch to Polk from Jackson, said that "the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. . . . The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards." With the Federal reports of the number in the garrison, however, and the fuller information which became available later, it is possible to arrive at the loss with reasonable accuracy. Of the 557 members of the garrison the names of 226-168 whites and 58 Negroes-appear upon the lists of prisoners carried away from the fort by the Confederates. Captain Ferguson took on board the Silver Cloud and the Platte Valley "some 20 of our troops" before the truce of April thirteenth began, and "found about 70 wounded men in the fort and around it," during the truce. Elsewhere, in the official reports of the navy there is a receipt from Ferguson to Anderson for 3 officers, 43 white privates and 14 Negroes, and also a nominal list of 58 wounded taken aboard during the truce. In addition to those taken off by Ferguson's boats "some 20 more" were placed on the Red Rover making a total of from 100 to 110 wounded taken off on that day. Two days later Captain LeRoy Fitch took off ten more wounded soldiers, bringing the total number of wounded iri Federal bands to from 110 to 120.
It appears then that of the garrison of 557 there wer the War, special efforts were made to show that, with the exception of about a score, all the loss of life occurred after organized resistance ceased. Lieutenant Leaming, for example, having previously testified that the commanding officer of the post and his adjutant and indeed "nearly all the officers" bad been killed during the fight, and having testified to the "murderous fire" and the "unerring aim of the rebel sharpshooters," was led by questioning to testify that of the eight officers of his regiment in the battle only two remained alive, all but one of the others having been killed after "we were driven from the fort." Sergeant Weaver of the colored troops, in response to a question from Senator Wade, "supposed" that before the fort was captured not "over a dozen" of the whites and "probably not more than fifteen or twenty of the negroes" were killed. He somewhat spoiled the answer, however, by addin
, Wed Jul 25 16:23
Anonymous, Wed Jul 25 16:24