Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

What They Saw at Fort Pillow

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on August 2, 2012

While doing research on something else, I came across a couple of accounts of the aftermath of the Confederate assault on Fort Pillow, written by naval officers of U.S.S Silver Cloud (above), the Union “tinclad” gunboat that was the first on the scene. I don’t recall encountering these descriptions before, and they really do strike a nerve with their raw descriptions of what these men witnessed, at first hand.

These accounts are particularly important because historians are always looking for “proximity” in historical accounts of major events. The description of an event by someone who was physically present is to be more valued than one by someone who simply heard about it from another person. The narrative committed to paper immediately is, generally, more to be valued than one written months or years after the events described, when memories have started to fade or become shaded by others’ differing recollections. Hopefully, too, the historian can find those things in a description of the event by someone who doesn’t have any particular axe to grind, who’s writing for his own purposes without the intention that his account will be widely and publicly known. These are all factors — somewhat subjective, to be sure — that the historian considers when deciding what historical accounts to rely on when trying to reconstruct historical events, and to understand how one or another document fits within the context of all the rest.

Which brings us back to the eyewitness accounts of Acting Master William Ferguson, commanding officer of U.S.S. Silver Cloud, and Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell of that same vessel.

Ferguson’s report was written April 14, 1864, the day after he was at the site. It was addressed to Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding officer of the Union’s XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee, then headquartered at Memphis. It appears in the Army OR, vol. 57, and the Navy OR, vol. 26.

Off Memphis, Tenn., April 14, 1864.
SIR: In compliance with your request that I would forward to you a written statement of what I witnessed and learned concerning the treatment of our troops by the rebels at the capture of Fort Pillow by their forces under General Forrest, I have the honor to submit the following report:
Our garrison at Fort Pillow, consisting of some 350 colored troops and 200 of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, refusing to surrender, the place was carried by assault about 3 p.m. of 12th instant.
I arrived off the fort at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 13th instant. Parties of rebel cavalry were picketing on the hills around the fort, and shelling those away I made a landing and took on-board some 20 of our troops (some of them badly wounded), who had concealed themselves along the bank and came out when they saw my vessel. While doing so I was fired upon by rebel sharpshooters posted on the hills, and 1 wounded man limping down to the vessel was shot.
About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed, and hailing the steamer Platte Valley, which vessel I had convoyed up from Memphis, I brought her alongside and had the wounded brought down from the fort and battle-field and placed on board of her. Details of rebel soldiers assisted us in this duty, and some soldiers and citizens on board the Platte Valley volunteered for the same purpose.
We found about 70 wounded men in the fort and around it, and buried, I should think, 150 bodies. All the buildings around the fort and the tents and huts in the fort had been burned by the rebels, and among the embers the charred remains of numbers of our soldiers who had suffered a terrible death in the flames could be seen.
All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops.
Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.
As near as I can learn, there were about 500 men in the fort when it was stormed. I received about 100 men, including the wounded and those I took on board before the flag of truce was sent in. The rebels, I learned, had few prisoners; so that at least 300 of our troops must have been killed in this affair.
I have the honor to forward a list(*) of the wounded officers and men received from the enemy under flag of truce.
I am, general, your obedient servant,
Acting Master, U.S. Navy, Comdg. U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud.

Ferguson’s report is valuable because it is detailed, proximate in time to the event, and was written specifically for reference within the military chain of command. It seems likely that Ferguson’s description is the first written description of the aftermath of the engagement within the Federal’s command structure. Certainly it was written before news of Fort Pillow became widely known across the country, and the event became a rallying cry for retribution and revenge. Ferguson’s account was, I believe, ultimately included in the evidence published by the subsequent congressional investigation of the incident, but he had no way of anticipating that when he sat down to write out his report just 24 hours after witnessing such horrors.

The second account is that of Acting Master’s Mate Robert S. Critchell (right), a 20-year-old junior officer aboard the gunboat. Critchell’s letter, addressed to U.S. Rep. Henry T. Blow of Missouri, was written a week after Ferguson’s report, after the enormity of events at the fort had begun to take hold. If Ferguson’s report reflected the shock of what he’d seen, Critchell’s gives voice to a growing anger about it.  Critchell’s revulsion comes through in this letter, along with his disdain for the explanations of the brutality offered by the Confederate officers he’d met, that they’d simply lost control of their men, which the Union naval officer calls “a flimsy excuse.” Crittchell admits to being “personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels,” but also stands by the accuracy of his description, offering to swear out an affidavit attesting to it.

Mississippi River, April 22nd, 1864.
SIR :-Since you did me the favor of recommending my appointment last year, I have been on duty aboard this boat. I now write you with reference to the Fort Pillow massacre, because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.
Our boat arrived at the fort about 7½ A. M. on Wednesday, the 13th, the day after the rebels captured the fort. After shelling them, whenever we could see them, for two hours, a flag of truce from the rebel General Chalmers, was received by us, and Captain Ferguson of this boat, made an arrangement with General Chalmers for the paroling of our wounded and the burial of our dead; the arrangement to last until 5 P. M.
We then landed at the fort, and I was sent out with a burial party to bury our dead. I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes and cavities along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayonetted also. All those along the bank of the river were colored. The number of the colored near the river was about seventy. Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, anyway, there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so. One of the wounded negroes told me that “he hadn’t done a thing,” and when the rebels drove our men out of the fort, they (our men) threw away their guns and cried out that they surrendered, but they kept on shooting them down until they had shot all but a few. This is what they all say.
I had some conversation with rebel officers and they claim that our men would not surrender and in some few cases they “could not control their men,” who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our colored troops had been driven from the fort, and they were surrounded by the rebels on all sides, it is apparent that they would do what all say they did,throw down their arms and beg for mercy.
I buried very few white men, the whole number buried by my party and the party from the gunboat “New Era” was about one hundred.
I can make affidavit to the above if necessary.
Hoping that the above may be of some service and that a desire to be of service will be considered sufficient excuse for writing to you, I remain very respectfully your obedient servant,
Acting Master’s Mate, U. S. N.

Critchell’s note about the explanation offered by Confederate officers, who argued that the black soldiers “would not surrender and in some few cases [the Confederate officers] ‘could not control their men,’ who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not,” is worth noting. That was the excuse offered at the time, and it remains so almost 150 years later, for those Fort Pillow apologists who acknowledge that unnecessary bloodshed took place at all. Critchell observed at the time that “this is a flimsy excuse,” and so it remains today.

Critchell’s letter also seems to endorse retaliation-in-kind, “because some of our crew are colored and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established.” This urge is, unfortunately, entirely understandable, and we’ve seen that within weeks the atrocity at Fort Pillow was being used as a rallying cry to spur Union soldiers on to commit their own acts of wanton violence. Vengrance begets retaliation begets vengeance begets retaliation. It never ends, and it’s always rationalized by pointing to the other side having done it before.

It never ends, but it often does have identifiable beginnings. Bill Ferguson and Bob Critchell saw one of those beginnings first-hand.

Critchell letter and images from Robert S. Critchell, Recollections of a Fire Insurance Man (Chicago: McClurg & Co., 1909).

46 Responses

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  1. theravenspoke said, on August 2, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    A most excellent post.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 2, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Thanks. I was looking into Silver Cloud because that boat and another former Union “tinclad,” St. Clair, were among the first new boats brought to Texas after the war, and so helped re-inaugurate the steamboat trade in this area. They were heavily promoted and advertised, but their owners did not mention that they’d been Union gunboats during the conflict. Silver Cloud was snagged and wrecked on Buffalo Bayou, east of Houston, in October 1866.

      Funny how there are sometimes local connections like that.

      • Scott W. Owens said, on May 23, 2015 at 11:13 pm

        Acting Master Ferguson seems to be most knowledgeable of bayonet wounds, which he describes with some frequentcly; however, the assaulting force was entirely cavalry. Bayonets are not weapons carried by cavalrymen. By whom were the bayonet wounds inflicted?

        • Andy Hall said, on May 23, 2015 at 11:34 pm

          Ferguson’s report should be read like any other; he reported what he saw, as he understood it. He mentions bayonets twice.

  2. Donald R. Shaffer said, on August 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    Reblogged this on Civil War Emancipation and commented:
    Another terrific post from Andy Hall over at Dead Confederates. He deals with firsthand accounts of the aftermath of the Fort Pillow Massacre from two Union naval officers who helped to remove wounded black soldiers from Fort Pillow under flag of truce.

  3. Brad said, on August 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    I thought your analysis of the two letters was very good. However, I might have given the second letter a little less weight as it seemed to show less disinterest than the first.

  4. jfepperson said, on August 3, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Are these letters in John Cimprich’s studies of Fort Pillow?

    • Andy Hall said, on August 3, 2012 at 7:57 am

      Don’t know.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 21, 2012 at 12:19 am

      Got Cimprich’s book today, and he does list Critchell as a source. The actual letters are not reproduced.

  5. BorderRuffian said, on August 3, 2012 at 11:49 am

    If -No Quarter- was the rule at Fort Pillow, who initiated that rule?

    “The enemy announced their determination not to surrender, and were accordingly defiant and insolent in their demeanor. They ridiculed the idea of taking the fort, and intimated that the last man would die before surrendering….
    General Forrest begged them to surrender, but he was told with an air of insulting defiance that he could not take the place, and that they asked for no quarter. Not the first sign of surrender was ever given. Gen. Forrest expected a surrender after entering the fort, and anxiously looked for it, as he witnessed the carnage; but no token was given.”

    Memphis Appeal (Atlanta), May 2, 1864 (report dated Jackson, TN, April 18)

    • Andy Hall said, on August 3, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Yes, being from Texas I know the story of the Alamo well — how Colonel Travis had the buglers line up on the wall and play the Deguello, to show that no quarter would be given to Santa Ana’s troops. And sure enough, the Texians slaughtered them all, to a man. (I think I’ve got that right.)

      Snark aside, I’ve seen that claim before about Fort Pillow, and it makes no sense — none. I can’t recall a single instance where the besieged, outnumbered defenders of a fixed fortification initiated the whole “no quarter” thing. That’s just not how it works, you know?

      • corkingiron said, on August 4, 2012 at 9:24 am

        The claim itself is belied by the physical evidence. The extensive accounts of the desecration of the bodies speaks to a deeper, more primal rage, and the tacit admission that the officers “lost control” of their men. This is quite a find Andy.

      • BorderRuffian said, on August 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

        “…it makes no sense…”
        Right. The folks inside Fort Pillow didn’t show much sense that day.

        “Major Bradford [13th TN Cav.] brought in a black flag, which meant no quarter.”
        -testimony of Pvt. Major Williams, 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery

        “There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter.”
        -report of Lt. Daniel Van Horn, 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, April 14, 1864

  6. Craig L said, on August 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Your post has got me reviewing the correspondence of Charles Waldo of the 12th Wisconsin with the West Bend Post. Waldo was an experienced reporter for the Post when he enlisted and he had sent regular dispatches to his hometown newspaper about once a month for the first two and a half years of his enlistment.

    The unit was ‘veteranized’ in the first three months of 1864. Those who reenlisted, more than half of the unit, were given transport home from Vicksburg to Wisconsin for a month of furlough that presumably included intensive recruiting efforts. Those who declined that incentive were considered ‘copperheads’ and remained on duty in and around Vicksburg until such time as the unit was to be reformed at Cairo in mid April with a large contingent of new recruits, including my great great grandmother’s younger brother.

    Waldo’s correspondence abruptly ends on April 30th with precious little explanation beyond a note that indicates he was given a two week furlough, coinciding apparently with his unexpected arrival in West Bend. His penultimate post was published on April 18th, describing a departure by boat from Memphis for Cairo on the 6th of April.

    His final post was dated April 18th and published on April 30th. It describes a change of plans. The unit had been directed to proceed to Cairo where it would await the arrival of those veterans returning from furlough along with the new recruits. Instead of awaiting that arrival, however, the unit was sent by boat from Cairo to Paducah on about the 13th on a rumor that a fort there was under threat of an imminent attack by the cavalry of Nathan Forrest. The post describes attempts to engage Forrest at Paducah between the 13th and the 18th of April, a time when most accounts seem to concur that Forrest was otherwise occupied at Fort Pillow, north of Memphis.

    It seems a bit odd to me that Waldo’s newspaper correspondence ends so abruptly at precisely the point of the Fort Pillow massacre. There is no indication that he ever rejoined his unit after his two week furlough. He was officially mustered out six months later during Sherman’s March to the Sea when the three years of his enlistment ended, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that he was with his unit at the time. His newspaper career appears to have ended with his unplanned two week furlough.

  7. T Connerley said, on August 4, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Bravo, Mr. Hall, for bringing forth these two splendid, completely impartial and dispassionate accounts of the action at Ft. Pillow by the expert forensic officers of the agressing military force.

    Nearly 150 years has passed since the Union debacle at Ft. Pillow, and people are continuing to prop up the characterization of the criminally bungled “defense” of the works by inept junior officers leading a force of “Tennesse Tories” and former slaves (who had been depredating against the civilian population of Western Tennesse) as due to their “massacre” by legions of evil, sadistic Confederates under the direct leadership of “that devil Forrest” who refused their surrender request and pleas for mercy. Most recently, on GBTV, talk show personality Glenn Beck and Rev. David Barton even advanced the new and outrageous claim that General Forrest had used his sword to “skin alive” survivors of ther battle.

    It is beyond tiresome, let alone terribly unjust to dismiss Southern accounts of the action as biased, while upholding all of the antagonists accounts of the action as gospel. Beyond that single most important point, none of the observations of these two particular officers, late to the scene were inconcistent with official accounts of the action by General Forrest and his officers, including the dead bodies found in some of the burned shelters, men shot down fleeing for the protection of the approaching gunboat ‘New Era’ while the garrison flag continued to fly above the fort, and more. Neither do the after action reports of the number of wounded and men taken as prisoners square with the “massacre” depiction of the events, any more than it makes sense that Forrest had raised the black flag on the fort’s defenders, and then arrange a truce for the Union gunboats to remove the wounded and bury their dead. (This brings up another sensational claim made at the time, that Confederates buried men alive, while it is clear from official accounts that the Federals buried their own dead.)

    It is also clear that there was an urge to punish the depredators of the 6th TN (Union) regiment inside the fort that motivated the attackers, and that manifested in the manner in which the assault was pressed on the fort’s occupants, many of whom broke and ran, threw down their weapons in surrender, only to pick them up again to fire on their pursuers. That the hand-to-hand, point blank combat that followed left the inside of the fort and the riverbank littered with grisly corpses that bore witnesses to the brutality that accompanied their deaths would have been appalling to any unaccustomed to such a scene.

    FOrrest was called on of the two greatest geniuses produced by the War by Shelby Foote, yet this is the action, along with his post-war link to the Ku Klux Klan, by which he is know today. It fits nicely with the politically correct, Sesam Street version of the War, that it was all abount slavery. Karl Marx and Frederick Douglass would certainly agree. You might get an argument from the hundreds of thousands of men who fought a war for Independence, and a right to govern themselves according to the Constitution handed down from their grandfathers, not to mention a growing body of historians willing to probe through the exculpatory “victor’s history” of the War For Southern Independence.

    • T Connerley said, on August 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      I regret there are a few typos in my post. (ex. “F(O)rrest was on(e) of the two greatest geniuses…”, “Sesam(e) Street”, etc.). While typing, the text would sometimes disappear or become obscured by the boxes popping up requesting e-mail address, name, etc. which made proofing while typing difficult. Perhaps this is a problem with the site that can be corrected.

      • Andy Hall said, on August 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm

        Your typos (or mine, of which there are plenty) are not “a problem with the site.” They’re typos.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 4, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      Reference to “political correctness”? Check. Reference to Karl Marx? Check. Reference to “victor’s history”? Check. You guys need to get some new talking points. Talk about “beyond tiresome. . . .”

      You’ll note that in this post I made no mention of Forrest, nor to the word “massacre.” Those appear in the writing of the two officers who were actually present in the immediate aftermath of the fight. Neither claims that Forrest flew a “black flag,” or personally issued an order of “no quarter.” Nonetheless, the physical evidence they noted makes it clear that, in Feguson’s words, “little quarter was shown to our troops.” Even the Confederate officers Critchell met admitted as much, claiming that had lost control of their troops. You describe the defense of Fort Pillow as “criminally bungled,” but that seems like a pretty good term for the leadership shown by Confederate officers in the event, by their own admission.

      You snidely refer to the naval officers I quoted as “expert forensic officers,” but they reported what they saw, and the obvious conclusions they drew from them. The other day I was driving and came upon two smashed-up cars in an intersection. Glass all over the street, people standing around talking on cell phones, fortunately no one apparently seriously hurt. Now, I didn’t see the actual collision, right? But I’m confident in saying that there was an accident, and since that intersection is a four-way stop, I’m also pretty confident that one (or both) of those vehicles ran a stop sign. I’m not certified by the state in traffic accident reconstruction, but there are times when it’s pretty obvious what happened.

      Those naval officers likewise had no doubt about what they saw, and saw a distinction between what they witnessed and the aftermath of conventional warfare. As Ferguson said, “When a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.”

      You chide me for supposedly taking these accounts as “gospel,” and argue that I’m biased in my understanding of these events. But I see not a hint of doubt on your part that no indiscriminate or unjustified killing took place at Fort Pillow. Believe what you want about that event, but please look in the mirror before you accuse others of being unduly biased.

      Your reference to the USCTs at Fort Pillow as merely as “former slaves,” rather than as U.S. soldiers (regardless of their former status), is both insulting and perhaps unintentionally revealing. It reflects a real undercurrent that was expressed much more openly among Confederates during the war, that black Union troops were nothing more than slaves in organized insurrection, and liable to be treated as such. That was a widespread belief (and semi-official Confederate policy) at the time, but it’s still jarring to hear it now. You might want to reconsider describing black U.S. troops that way.

      You seem to think that I might have some sympathy with Beck and Barton’s recent statements about Fort Pillow; I don’t, and consider them both to be fools. But then, I’ve thought that for a long time, irrespective of their claims in that segment.

      As for Shelby Foote, he was a gifted storyteller and a wonderful raconteur, but he never considered himself an historian. He told stories in his interviews that seem profound, but some of them simply aren’t true. His tale about the use of language — “the United States are” v. “the United States is” — is a wonderful, illustrative story that also happens to be demonstrably false.

      • Richard said, on August 5, 2012 at 9:19 am

        “The enemy carried our works at about 4 p.m., ” one of the few surviving officers of the Thirteenth Tennessee remembered, “and from that time until dark, and at intervals throughtout the night, our men were shot down without mercy and almost without regard for color.” There was a wholesale butchery of brave men, white as well as black.” “The rebels were very bitter against these loyal Tennesseeans, terming them “home-grown Yankees,” and declaring they would give them no better treatment than they dealt out to the negro troops [along] with whom they were fighting.” Lincoln’s Loyalists page 140

    • Michael Lynch said, on August 4, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      So not only is it the defenders’ fault for getting massacred, it’s also Andy’s fault that commenters leave typos on his blog? I’m learning all kinds of things.


    • cliff said, on February 9, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Great post. Thank you.

  8. T Connerley said, on August 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Of course I made them, but with the text not visible, it is difficult to monitor errors. I suppose the window is just so large, and it doesn’t scroll as well as it might. Thanks for posting.

  9. Margaret D. Blough said, on August 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    Mr. Connerly-You leave out the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that these self-proclaimed lovers of liberty denied to millions of men, women, and children because of the color of their skin, or, as the British philosopher Samuel Johnson said during the American Revolution, “”How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”.

  10. Margaret D. Blough said, on August 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    The fact is that Ft. Pillow, Saltville, etc. were entirely consistent with Confederate policy in response to the Union allowing Blacks to enlist as soldiers and fight. This is not based on any presentist beliefs but on the accounts of Confederate officers.

    Almost a year before Ft. Pillow, there was this correspondence between CSA Lt. Gen. Kirby Smith and his subordinate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, transmitted to Gen. Samuel Cooper by Smith:

    >>O.R.–SERIES II–VOLUME VI [S# 119]

    Shreveport, La., June 16, 1863.
    General S. COOPER,
    Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
    GENERAL: I have the honor to inclose you two letters, addressed to Major-General Taylor, in regard to the disposition to be made of negroes and their officers captured in arms. Unfortunately such captures were made by some of Major-General Taylor’s subordinates. I have heard unofficially that the last Congress did not adopt any retaliatory legislation on the subject of armed negroes and their officers, but left the President to dispose of this delicate and important question. In the absence of any legislation and of any orders except those referred to in the inclosed letters, I saw no other proper and legal course for me to pursue except the one which I adopted.
    I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
    [Inclosure No. 1.]
    Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
    Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR, Commanding District of Louisiana:
    GENERAL: I have been unofficially informed that some of your troops have captured negroes in arms. I hope this may not be so, and that your subordinates who may have been in command of capturing parties may have recognized the propriety of giving no quarter to armed negroes and their officers. In this way we may be relieved from a disagreeable dilemma. If they are taken, however, you will turn them over to the State authorities to be tried for crimes against the State, and you will afford such facilities in obtaining witnesses as the interests of the public service will permit. I am told that negroes found in a state of insurrection may be tried by a court of the parish in which the crime is committed, composed of two justices of the peace and a certain number of slave-holders. Governor Moore has called on me and stated that if the report is true that any armed negroes have been captured he will send the attorney-general to conduct the prosecution as soon as you notify him of the capture.
    I have the honor to be, general, your obedient servant,
    Lieutenant-General, Commanding.
    [Inclosure No. 2. ]
    Shreveport, La., June 13, 1863.
    Maj. Gen. R. TAYLOR,
    Commanding District of Louisiana:
    GENERAL: In answer to the communication of Brigadier-General Hébert, of the 6th instant, asking what disposition should be made of negro slaves taken in arms, I am directed by Lieutenant-General Smith to say no quarter should be shown them. If taken prisoners, however, they should be turned over to the executive authorities of the States in which they may be captured, in obedience to the proclamation of the President of the Confederate States, sections 3 and 4, published to the Army in General Orders, No. 111, Adjutant and Inspector General’s Office, series of 1862. Should negroes thus taken be executed by the military authorities capturing them it would certainly provoke retaliation. By turning them over to the civil authorities to be tried by the laws of the State no exception can be taken.
    I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
    Assistant Adjutant-General.<>In fact there were, comparatively, very few Negro prisoners taken that day. It was the first occasion on which of the Army of Northern Virginia came in contact with Negro troops, & the general feeling of the men toward their employment was very bitter. The sympathy of the North for John Brown’s memory was taken for proof of a desire that our slaves should arise in a servile insurrection & massacre throughout the South, & the enlistment of Negro troops was regarded as advertisement of that desire & encouragement of that idea to the Negro.

    That made the the fighting on this occasion exceedingly fierce & bitter on the part of our men, not only toward the Negroes themselves but sometimes even to the whites along with them. Note Maj. Powell’s remarks about the use of the bayonet on the charge upon the Crater.

    Some of the Negro prisoners, who were originally allowed to surrender by some soldiers, were afterward shot by others, & there was, without doubt, a great deal of unnecessary killing of them.<<

  11. Craig L said, on August 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    I’m acquainted with Andrew Ward, author of River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre, and I think it is interesting to note that Forrest did take quite a number of prisoners in the battle, both white and black, and that on the whole the white prisoners fared worse than the black. Most of the white prisoners were eventually delivered to Andersonville where more than three quarters of them died, an unusually high percentage, considering that two thirds of the prisoners incarcerated at Andersonville survived the ordeal. While white prisoners from Fort Pillow outnumbered black prisoners by a three to one margin, three out of four of the black prisoners later escaped and rejoined USCT units. They may have survived because they could be sold, legally or not, as slaves.

    Ward’s book describes Ferguson’s role in the massacre’s aftermath in some detail in three or four passages two or more pages in length. Critchell, on the other hand, can’t be found in the index. The book runs nearly six hundred pages and draws extensively from NARA pension documents in accounting for the fate of nearly all of the battle’s Union survivors, so it surprises me that Critchell’s account would have escaped Ward’s notice.

    Ward points out that Sherman had given orders to Hurlbut to evacuate Fort Pillow as he considered the position difficult to defend and quite limited in strategic value. If Hurlbut had followed orders there would have been no massacre, but he defied Sherman as the location was optimal for moving contraband cotton and for recruiting former slaves from the delta into the Union fold. Ward also observes that Forrest was not really in the business of gratuitously killing and/or maiming soldiers who he tended to regard as escaped slaves, property of considerable value to their former owners if returned in reasonably good condition.

    The embedded newspaperman I mentioned in my earlier comment, Charles Waldo, was not just a reporter, but an editor and part owner of the West Bend Post, a paper that had been called the West Bend Democrat when he and two partners purchased it in 1861. Waldo sold his share of the paper in 1866. While it’s not clear exactly why his narrative of the war broke off where and when it did, it does appear to have coincided with the Fort Pillow massacre. He served as a quartermaster’s sergeant with the 12th Wisconsin and was familiar with many of the more prominent citizens of the community from which his regiment was drawn. While most units involved in the Siege of Vicksburg took part in the siege and then moved on to duty elsewhere, his unit remained in that vicinity for the next nine months.

    Waldo’s account is interesting and illuminating in large measure because he had readers depending on him to make sense of the war firsthand as it was taking place. I’m left wondering if he ever did rejoin his unit and resume his correspondence. Did the remainder of his account disappear because it may have contradicted the official narrative? What would he have made of the Fort Pillow massacre? And how would he have handled the Battle of Atlanta and The March To The Sea a few months later? His description of the march from Jackson to Meridian and back, leading to the fall of Vicksburg, is probably a good indication. He seemed to have a good grasp at times of what was going on around him. He was particularly cognizant of the number of newspaper offices between Jackson and Meridian that were torched while the rail lines were being dismantled.

    • Richard said, on August 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm

      There is a monument to the men from Tennessee at Andersonville.

  12. Pat Hines said, on August 7, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    All one really needs to know is that the United States army illegally invaded the seceded southern states. What was done to them, considering that they were involved in treason and other crimes, is entirely moot. The Confederate soldiers were entirely too nice to the invaders, regardless of color.

    Every United States soldier and sailor who dies, from whatever cause, was entirely just and fitting.

    Lincoln’s death was entirely lawful and justified, for example, he was, after all, a traitor and war criminal.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 7, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      You’re welcome to believe anything you want.

    • Corey Meyer said, on August 7, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Pat, are you still trying to sell that treason thing? It has been shown to not work based on the defn. of treason. So why do you continue to try and sell it?

      So let me ask you a question, what gave the southern states the right to refuse the outcome of the 1860 election?

  13. Pat Hines said, on August 7, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    The seceded states exercised their lawful power to secede. End of story. Their rationale was their business, nothing in the US Constitution required them to remain in the United States, nor to give a reason why they seceded.

    The US constitution was wantonly violated by the Lincoln junta, Lincoln committed treason as defined by the US Constitution, Article III, Section III.

    The problem you apologists for the Lincoln Junta have is that you must show what law was broken, that is to say, what part of the Constitution prohibited secession by a state.

    You cannot do that, not one has been able to do that for the past 150 years. Drone on about the usual; slavery, “they dun fired fust”, and the like; but no one has EVER shown that the southern states broke any law when they seceded.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 7, 2012 at 10:41 pm

      If you want to argue about the legality of secession, or Lincoln’s supposed treason, you’re welcome to do so elsewhere. I’m really not interested in going down either of those interminable rabbit holes.

      • Jeff Bell said, on August 8, 2012 at 1:37 am

        That’s the whole idea Andy – whenever someone such as yourself brings first-hand accounts such as these to light, these modern day “seceders” blow smoke such as “the legality of secession” and the like to either legitimize atrocities or explain them away. Unlike those who are truly interested in the search for historical fact, P.H. and his ilk want to have a debate about the Constitution. I’m convinced that the Seceders would be better off frequenting the many Re-enactor blogsites where they could mix fact and fiction to fit their purpose.

        • Andy Hall said, on August 8, 2012 at 10:08 am

          Just tryin’ to keep things on track. There are plenty of threads to discuss the legality of secession, but this is not one of them.

          It’s never been clear to me why I’m expected to “justify” that actions of long-dead people who are supposedly on my “side.” It’s important to try to understand *why* people in the past did what the did and said what they said, but that’s entirely different than *advocating* for them, or taking up their cause as my own.

          • Bill Ferguson said, on October 18, 2012 at 9:10 pm

            Hey Andy
            I am the great grandson of William Ferguson of Silver Cloud fame. Your blog was most interesting and I wish I had family anecdotal information to offer regarding Fort Pillow, but alas do not. The only story I remember hearing as a child many years ago was about the derringer that he reportedly took from a
            female confederate spy. I have to say that the discussions in your blog have inspired me to learn more about the Civil War, and my great grandfather’s involvement. Thanks,
            Bill Ferguson

            • Andy Hall said, on October 18, 2012 at 11:02 pm

              Mr. Ferguson:

              Thanks for your comment. I’m pleased and honored to make you acquaintance. Your g-grandfather was witness to the aftermath of one of the most infamous incidents of that conflict. It may be understandable that he didn’t pass those particular stories along.

              Would you happen to have an image of him? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one.


              Andy Hall

  14. Marilyn said, on October 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Mr. Hall,
    Thank you for this blog entry. It makes me want to read more of your entries. I applaud your sensibilities. My family is in large part from Blandville, Ky., a town no longer in official existence, but which still holds buried many ancestral bones and is, therefore, important to me. Blandville lies approximately 26 miles from Paducah and about 160 miles from Fort Pillow. My interest in Fort Pillow stems from my learning that this battle occurred in such close proximity to my ancestral home and involved at least one black soldier from Ballard county, at a time when Blandville was the county seat and Paducah was noteworthy as the 2nd battlefield under General Forrest during that campaign of war. Since some of my ancestors were present in the region during that time, I can only guess at their experiences through historical accounts such as these. All best to you. Thanks again.

    • Andy Hall said, on October 27, 2012 at 5:05 pm

      Thanks. I hope you’ll find more here that makes for interesting reading.

  15. KP said, on January 16, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Interesting article, it gives some on scene opinions of the action that took place at Fort Pillow. Having recently become interested in Ft Pillow and N.B. Forrest I’ve come to realize it is difficult to find unbiased or factual information. I have read a report by a Daniel Van Horn 2d Lt Co D Sixth U S Heavy Artillery (colored) dated 14 April 1864 that sheds light on this battle. He was captured and escaped, references Union soldiers burning buildings to deny them to the enemy and fails to mention atrocities. I could find no record or mention of his report or if he called upon in investigations both during and after the war. I’ve also located several Official Reports both Union and Confederate that mention units of Tenn Calvary U S carrying out extremely brutal tactics against civilians and captured Confederates. I believe the attacking force had one opinion of the colored troops and a extremely more aggressive one towards the Tenn Calvary. It has been suggested that the reputation of the Calvary troops is the reason the acting commander of the fort (Tenn Calvary) forged the dead commanders name and refused surrender because understood what his fate would be. It’s always been interesting to me to learn of stories and events leading up to many of the battle of this war.
    I agree with your closing statements about vengeance, retaliation and identifiable beginnings.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 16, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      These two accounts are important parts of the story because (1) they were written immediately after the events, and (2) they were not intended for public distribution, and so are less likely to be deliberately intending to sway public opinion.

  16. Gary Lee Bradford said, on February 4, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    My Bradford family comes from White County, TN. The following is what I have learned in trying to find out if we are related to Major Bradford. So far, I have had very little success in finding anything about his ancestry.
    From what I have been able to gather, and hopefully my memory serves, Major William F. Bradford and Gen. N B Forrest were both from Bedford County, TN. Bradford was a lawyer and Forrest knew him or at least, knew of him, before the war. When Bradford formed and commanded his own cavalry of TN Unionists, it’s said he abused that power for personal revenge and profit. It enraged Forrest that “home grown yanks”, traitors to their own state, would then stoop to prey on their own neighbors. So Bradford had a very good reason to not negotiate under his own name, and to stall, hoping for a river rescue. Bradford’s older brother, Capt. Theo Bradford, was killed at Fort Pillow while trying to signal The New Era for help.
    After Bradford was captured, he begged Forrest to allow him to bury his brother. Forrest was sympathetic, having recently lost a brother of his own, and permission was granted. Bradford removed his uniform coat to dig the grave and when he was done, he slipped on a civilian coat and was able to escape by telling the sentry he was a sutler, not a soldier. When it was later determined that the sentry was fooled into letting the senior officer escape, he suffered many insults, jibes and teasing from others in his ranks. Bradford was later recaptured about 20 miles away, and the man in charge of marching the prisoners along was, of course, that same sentry that had been so humiliated. When Bradford asked permission to relieve himself, the sentry nodded and pointed to a tree. As Bradford approached the tree, he was shot “trying to escape.”.

  17. Billy said, on April 26, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Was Fort Pillow ever also known as Fort Wright? Because I’m trying to make sense out of some accounts that refer to Fort Randolph and Fort Wright as the same fort, others that say that they were separate forts but that Fort Pillow was sometimes called Fort Wright etc. Some accounts put Fort Wright about 1 mile from Fort Randolph, others say 12 miles away and that Fort Wright was really Fort Pillow. The lady at the Tipton County Historical Society says Wright and Randolph were the same fort, located at Randolph, Tennessee. Then I’ve read contemporary newspaper stories saying rebels fell back from Fort Wright to Fort Randolph, meaning they were two different forts. Confusing as all hell.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 26, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      I don’t have personal knowledge of the area, but Wiki gives three different sites as Wright, Randolph and Pillow. Pillow is in SW Lauderdale County, and Wright and Randolph are in NW Tipton County. Wright and Randolph are about 27 miles NNE of Memphis as the crow flies, and Pillow is maybe eight miles beyond that.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 26, 2016 at 6:38 pm

      Then there’s this from the OR Atlas:

      I’m beginning to see the confusion.

  18. Tom Crane said, on December 3, 2017 at 9:52 am

    Interesting post. I think its hard for us to appreciate 150 years after the fact the impetus of simple adrenalin. I was in the Reserves for many years and so had occasion to meet folks from other civilian jobs. After reading about a beating of a suspect by law enforcement officer, I asked a Reservist who was also a DEA agent. Asked him why so many beatings of suspects seemed to occur. He said more or less, that when you chase someone a long way, up and down, through city blocks, etc., it is hard to turn off that adrenalin. I think he was saying you are scared and you just get pissed when you finally catch the guy. As I read these two accounts above, I recall a book about Beast Butler and how reluctant he was for weeks to arm the many “fugitive” slaves who poured into Yankee occupied New Orleans. His fear was of a slave insurrection. Eventually, he not only armed them, he raised regiments of former slaves and freed “colored” troops.

    I think we forget now how persistent that fear was among the minority white population, especially in rural areas of the South. If even a white Northerner (Beast Butler was a Democrat pre-war, but his politics were slippery) feared a slave insurrection simply from arming the slaves within his control, we can understand how pervasive that fear was. So, it does not surprise me that Tennessee soldiers would go nuts when they encounter armed former slaves or Colored troops. I expect that in the minds of the Tennessee soldiers, there was little difference between former slaves and freed slaves from parts unknown. That, plus adrenaline could well result in a massacre. It would be up the officers to stop bad behavior by soldiers. But, if the officers themselves held the same fears of slave insurrection, there would be little self-control.

    I agree that military men of the time likely had a good understanding of the effects of various weapons on the human body. In any event, the view of the two naval officers have as much value as anyone present.

    It is not well known, but in every major conflict, there are some incidents of violations of the rules of war. It is not pretty, but it is reality. The GI’s of WW II did their violations, too. The difference is in the disciplined armies, there is some measure of training and officer control to minimize these incidents.

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