Wed Jul 25 16:24:39 2001
says that "they put some in the houses and shut them up, and then burned the houses," and that he knew they were there because he "went and looked in" and "heard them ballooing when the houses were burning."He places this on the night of the twelfth, however, while all other evidence is that the tents and huts were burned on the following day. Lieutenant Leaming, who was wounded, was in one of the buildings on the morning of the thirteenth. He testified that after the Silver Cloud, or No. 28, began to shell the place the Confederate officer in charge decided to burn the tents and buildings, but that he was "gotten out, and thinks that others got the rest out.
Except for Ransom Anderson's inherently improbable storv. which fits in with none of the other evidence, there is but one other piece of testimony of intentional burning. Eli A. Bangs, mate of the New Era, who accompanied the burial party sent ashore on the thirteenth, says that in one burned tent he found the body of a man through whose clothing and cartridge box nails had been driven into the floor. Three corroborating witnesses support his statement, agreeing that there were other bodies found in the same tent but that "this man in particular was nailed down .1172 In the absence of any direct evidence to the contrary, it may be taken as possible that some vicious person, whether a Confederate soldier or some skulker or prowler, may have perpetrated such an outrage. Beyond this, however, there is no real evidence of value to sustain the committee's conclusion.
The fifth and last of the principal points made by the committee was that the "rebels buried some of the living with the dead." If living men were buried with the dead it was not by the rebels, for the entire work of burying the dead was carried out by Union soldiers, first by prisoners of the garrison and on subsequent days by burial parties sent ashore from the gunboats and transports in the river.
The weight of the evidence-even the Union evidence, when sifted and analyzed-is that any excessive loss of life among the garrison was due to the character of the command and the plan of defense which permitted no definite, clean-cut and readily understood surrender or end to the fighting. This uncertainty gave full play to the tensions between defenders and assailants and the passions aroused in the day of battle. It is plain that there was no planned and ordered "massacre," and that there was no considerable loss of life after the fact of general surrender was well established. Tle loss was from the sharpshooting throughout the day, in the storming of the parapet and in the period of uncertainty between that time and the arrival of Forrest in the fort after the flag came down-a period which Anderson estimates as "not to exceed twenty minutes."73 Marshall of the New Era says that "the rebels kept firing on our men for at least twenty minutes after our flag was down"74-So that there is a fair degree of agreement as to the period of time involved.
The development of the "massacre" theory of the capture of Fort Pillow may be traced in the columns of the Memphis Bulletin, a newspaper of strong Union complexion. Its first story, in the issue of Wednesday, April thirteenth, reports the arrival the night before of the steamer Liberty No. 2, bringing down families and refugees from Fort Pillow, along with the report that the place was under attack but that "no apprehensions were felt for its safety." On the next day, the fourteenth, the Bulletin reported the capture of the place by Forrest's force of 4,000, with an estimate that 300 of the garrison had been killed or wounded in the early fighting and storming of the works which, it was said, "were carried with the national flag waving over them." On the fifteenth the Bulletin stated that the gallant defenders had been massacred but again declared that the "greater portion of the garrison had been killed or wound competent officer to investigate and report minutely, and as early as possible, the facts in relation to the alleged butchery of our troops at Fort Pillow." To this order, Sherman responded a -week later that the investigation was under way. He added:
"I know well the animus of the Southern soldiery, and the truth is they cannot be restrained. The effect will be, of course, to make the negroes desperate, and when in turn they commit horrid acts of retaliation we will be relieved of the responsibility.... The Southern army, which is the Southern people, cares no more for our clamor than for the idle wind, but they will heed the slaughter that will follow as the natural consequence of their inhuman acts."
The military investigation thus ordered was carried out by General Brayman, Union commander at Cairo, who on April twenty-eighth sent a copy direct to Secretary Stanton, as ordered, and gave another to the Congressional committee when it visited Cairo.
Sherman's judgment of the "massacre at Fort Pillow" as expressed in his Memoirs is that:
"No doubt Forrest's men acted like a set of barbarians, shooting down the helpless negro garrison after the fort was in their possession; but I am told that Forrest personally disclaims any active participation in the assault, and that he stopped the firing as soon as he could. I also take it for granted that Forrest did not lead the assault in person, and consequently that he was to the rear, out of sight if not of hearing at the time, and I was told by hundreds of our men, who were at various times prisoners in Forrest's possession, that be was usually very kind to them."
To this expression may be added his contemporary judgment expressed in action. "If our men have been murdered after capture," Grant telegraphed Sherman from Virginia, "retaliation must be resorted to promptly." Sherman made his own investigation, and had an opportunity to study that made by the Committee of Congress-but there was no retaliation, and General Sherman was not a man to shrink from ordering retaliation had he felt that it was justified.