Wed Jul 25 16:23:36 2001
"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 adding that "there were a great many of the negroes wounded, because they would keep getting up to shoot, and were where they could be hit."
The Congressional committee arrived at Cairo, Illinois, on April twenty-second, took testimony there for two days, went down the river to visit Columbus, Memphis, Fort Pillow and the gunboat New Era, taking testimony at each place, and returned to Cairo on the twentyeighth. During their investigation the committee interrogated sixty-seven persons about Fort Pillow, of whom forty-two were in the fort on the day of the fight-seventeen colored soldiers, twenty-one white soldiers, one colored civilian and one white, one white officer and one surgeon. The remainder included four officers of the gunboat New Era, ten persons who came to the fort the next day, six surgeons of the Mound City, Illinois, hospital, and five army and navy officers of rank who gave general testimony. In addition to those interrogated, the committee was furnished by General Brayman, commanding at Cairo, with affidavits from five white soldiers and four civilians who were in the fort and four others who came there the next day.
From this mass of testimony the Congressional committee reported, in summary, that the rebels took advantage of a flag of truce to place themselves in "position from which the more readily to charge upon the fort!'; that after the fall of the fort "the rebels commenced an indiscriminate slaughter sparing neither age nor sex, white or black, soldier or civilian"; that this was "not the result of passions excited by the heat of conflict, but of a policy deliberately decided upon and unhesitatingly announced"; that several of the wounded were intentionally burned to death in buts and tents about the fort; and that "the rebels buried some of the living with the dead.
Long afterward Dr. Wyeth collected sworn testimony from half -a hundred Confederate survivors and eyewitnesses of the fight, indignantly denying these and like charges. Disregarding this and other Confederate evidence on the subject, however, and relying only on statements from Union sources, it is apparent that no one of the five principal points of the committee's report can be sustained upon critical examination of the record.
As to the first, that of advancing under flag of truce to a better position for assault, it is clear from the Federal statements that Forrest's man were in the ravines below reach of the guns of the fort, and as close as fifty yards, before noon and some four hours before the truce began. Marshall of the gunboat testified that he was signaled from the fort to shell them out and tried to do so, but failed. Leaming testifies to like effect, although at another point he does say that the Confederates advanced under flag of truce. The movement he referred to, obviously, was that to the riverbank, made for the purpose of preventing the possible landing of reinforcements from the approaching troop-laden transports. That these transports were approaching and that they were not signaled from fort or gunboat to keep away is confirmed by the testimony of Brigadier General George F. Shepley, of the Union Army, who was on the Olive Branch going up the river, and who mentions the Liberty, bound downstream .
The Confederate detachments which went to the riverbank, moreover, did not put themselves in better position for the assault. They put themselves entirely out of that part of the action.
The description of the slaughter in the second principal point of the committee's report is rhetoric. The aged, the women and children, and the civilians in the fort who did not wish to join in the fight, were placed in a coal barge early in the morning and towed by the New Era "to a big island up the river," as testi does not stand up under examination of the Union record. Without doubt men were killed and wounded who should not have been, and the loss of life was greater than it would have been but for the attempt to prolong resistance beneath the bluff while the gunboat was supposed to be shelling the Confederates in the fort.
Undoubtedly, too, this was intensified by the bitter animosities, many of them personal, existing between the Tennessee white Unionist defenders of the fort and the assailants, and by the feeling of many Confederate soldiers toward those whom they looked upon as slaves in blue uniforms. In all the circumstances it would have been a strange and wonderful thing bad there been no cases of individual assault in the closing portions of a fight which came to a ragged, scattering and indefinite end.
The finding of the committee as to a deliberate policy of destruction of the garrison rests partly upon Forrest's note demanding surrender and partly upon testimony of wounded survivors that "officers," or "Chalmers" or "Forrest" had ordered a slaughter of the defenders. As to the note demanding surrender, Forrest was probably correct in saying that he could not be responsible for the consequences if the demand was refused, but this was by no means the same as saying that he was ordering a slaughter. As a matter of fact, it was no more than a repeti tion of the device which he had used before and was to use again with success in securing surrender of places with minimum loss of life to his own command and, for that matter, to the defenders.
The testimony of survivors on the point of the attitude of officers is mixed. The very first survivor examined-Elias, a colored soldier-said that the rebels "killed all the men after they surrendered, until orders were given to stop. . . ."
"Till who gave orders?"
"They told me his name was Forrest."
The same witness told of seeing a soldier shoot one of the wounded men in the hand, when "an officer told the secesh soldier if be did that again he would arrest him."115 Lieutenant Leaming testified that when there were shots outside the hut to which he had been carried after being wounded he heard an officer ride up and say: "Stop that firing; arrest that man," and that another officer-prisoner told him "that they had been shooting them, but the general had had it stopped."
One witness, Frank Hogan, colored, testified that a "secesh first lieutenant" shot a captain of the Negro regiment, while others testified that they were told that the shootings were ordered by General Forrest. One imaginative witness, however, declared that "towards evening, General Forrest issued an order not to kill any more negroes, because they wanted them to help haul the artillery out."
"Were colored men used for that purpose?"
"Yes sir. I saw them pulling the artillery, and I saw the secesh whip them as they were going out, just like they were horses."
The only witness in the whole record who professed to have- seen Forrest ordering, or otherwise participating, in the shootings was Jacob Thompson, colored civilian, who told the committee that he fought with the garrison:
"When were you shot?" be was asked. "After I surrendered."
"Who shot you?"
"What did he say?"
"He said, 'God damn you, I will shoot you, old friend."'
"Did you see anybody else shot?"
"Yes, sir; they just called them out like dogs, and shot them down. I reckon they shot about fifty, white and black, right there. They nailed some black sergeants to the logs, and set the logs on fire."
"When did you see that?"
"When I went there in the morning I saw them; they were burning all together."
"Did they kill them before they burned them?"
"No sir, they nailed them to the logs; drove the nails right through their hands."
"How many did you see in that condition?"
"Some four or five; I saw two white men burned.
"Did you notice bow they were nailed?"
"I saw one nailed witness who knew him as "a little bit of a man," there is the statement of Sergeant Benjamin Robinson, colored, that "General Forrest rode his horse over me three or four times. I did not know him until I heard his men call his name. He said to some negro men there that he knew them; that they had been in his nigger yard in Memphis. He said he was not worth five dollars when he started, and had got rich trading in negroes." Other references to Forrest in the testimony are to the effect that soldiers hallooed "Forrest says, no quarter! no quarter!" and the next one hallooed, "Black flag! black flag!"or that the "general cry from the time they charged the fort until an hour afterwards was, 'Kill 'em, kill 'em; God damn 'em; that's Forrest's orders, not to leave one alive."
That some of Forrest's men believed that he had made some such order is indicated in the letter of Sergeant Achilles V. Clark, of the Twentieth Tennessee, written from Brownsville to his sisters on the nineteenth:
"The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. The white men fared but little better.... I with several others tried to stop the butchery and at one time had partially succeeded but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued."
That Sergeant Clark was mistaken in his belief as to Forrest's orders is shown by the mass of sworn testimony subsequently assembled by Dr. Wyeth from staff officers of Forrest and Chalmers, from brigade and regimental commanders, and from surviving Confederate officers and soldiers of all ranks.
None of them denies that there was firing after the garrison broke from the fort to the prepared positions under the bluff where, in addition to the arrangements with the gunboats, "six cases of rifle ammunition were found ... with tops removed and ready for immediate distribution and use," and where "about 275 serviceable rifles and carbines were gathered up between the water's edge and the brow of the bluff, where they had been thrown down by the garrison when they found the gunboat New Era had deserted them and escape impossible. Several Confederate survivors testify to the effect that Forrest, as soon as he reached the scene, "rode down the line and commanded and caused the firing to cease." After this order was given, according to the testimony of Dr. W. J. Robinson, there was but one shooting and the guilty soldier was at once arrested and placed under guard by General Chalmers.
That Chalmers protected another of the garrison is attested, also, in a letter from Dr. C. Fitch of Chariton, Iowa, written to the General in 1879, after he had become a member of Congress and had been assailed on the floor for his participation in the "Fort Pillow Massacre." Dr. Fitch, who was the surgeon of the post, said that when his captors were about to strip him of his boots he appealed to the General, "who cursed them, and put a guard over me, giving orders to the guard to shoot down the first one that molested me.
"I am not aware that there was any formal surrender of Fort Pillow to Forrest's command," he added. "I looked upon many things that were done as the result of whiskey and a bitter personal bate, especially as regards the Thirteenth regiment. There was considerable alcohol outside 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.
There is abundant testimony from Confederate sources that wide spread and almost general intoxication among the garrison contributed to the frenzy of the scattered resistance offered between the time the parapet was stormed and the time Forrest could restore order below the bluffs. Most of the fifty men who furnished affidavits to Dr. Chalmers' adjutant, is that when the Silver Cloud began to shell the position that morning, the officer in charge "ordered the tents which were still standing . . . to be burned, intending to abandon the place. In doing this, the bodies of some negroes who had been killed in the tents, on the day before, were somewhat burned; and this probably gave rise to the horrible stories about burning wounded prisoners which were afterward invented and circulated."
The greater part of the testimony before the Congressional committee is not inconsistent with this explanation, being simply statements to the effect that charred bodies were seen in the tents, or that the witness had been told that someone else had seen them. One witness, Ransom Anderson, colored soldier, says that "they put some in the houses an
Anonymous, Wed Jul 25 16:24