Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

What They Saw at Fort Pillow

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 13, 2014

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).

51 Responses

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  1. M.D. Blough said, on April 13, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I’ve read that an aggravating factor that intensified the already intense rage among Confederates about the Union arming blacks, including former slaves, was the fact that there were also white East Tennessee Unionists in the Ft. Pillow garrison. The 1862 suppression of resistance in East Tennessee was an exercise in brutality in its own right and the Ft. Pillow garrison would involve them fighting alongside blacks. I don’t mean this as any excuse, even a flimsy one. The makeup of the Ft. Pillow garrison would not have been any surprise to Forrest and the need to take special precautions not to lose control, if that were what happened, would have been foreseeable. The problem in accepting the “losing control” argument is that when one reads correspondence like Sterling Price’s and Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress’s response to the Emancipation Proclamation, it’s very clear that Confederate policy towards black men fighting in the Union ranks offered them no protection and sanctioned reprisals against them.

  2. Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 11:46 am

    The letters directly contradict one another in several important respects, and they are therefore, basically worthless. One “witness”, dramatically writes that some Union soldiers died in the flames, the other “witness” writes he couldn’t possibly determine whether the bodies suffered the burns before or after death. One “witness” clearly mentions being told that the Union soldiers simply refused to surrender, the other “witness” deliberately excludes this fact from his account. And so on. In the final analysis, even assuming the most awful and ruthless Union account of the events is true, I still don’t see the cause for complaint by neo-Unionists. After all, that would simply mean that the Confedertes were practicing “Total War”, just like “Uncle Billy”. And we all know what sheer genius the concept of “Total War” is.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      One can always find discrepancies and differences in first-person accounts of historical events. Historians who work with primary sources know this.

      • H. E. Parmer said, on April 14, 2014 at 6:01 pm

        It’s not even a contradiction, since neither claimed to be an eyewitness to the alleged atrocity.

        Ferguson appears to be stating a personal opinion without backing it up with any evidence, while Critchell — although obviously just as revolted by what he saw — is a bit more cautious about leaping to conclusions, admitting he couldn’t tell whether the soldiers were burned alive or not.

        But there’s more than enough here that’s damning without dragging the “alive or dead while burnt” controversy into it. And in the chaos after a position held by (mostly) green troops gets overrun, it’s completely absurd to believe they’ll act as a cohesive unit. Some of them may well have refused to surrender — especially if they saw comrades who *were* trying to surrender being cut down without mercy.

        Of course, if you’re going to deny or downplay a massacre, it’s SOP to focus on perceived “gotchas” while ignoring the striking similarities. As if every witness to an event sees the same thing, or remembers it the same way in every detail.

        • Andy Hall said, on April 15, 2014 at 8:38 am

          “Coleman” was trolling, as he/she has for a long time, under a long list of screen names. Notice how, after raising the issue of discrepancies or differences between the two accounts, “Coleman” quickly dropped that issue when challenged to address it him/herself.

    • OhioGuy said, on April 13, 2014 at 1:12 pm

      Uncle Billy’s boys did nothing even remotely comparable, even in South Carolina where there was wanton property destruction of non-military assets, unlike in Georgia, Southern mythology not withstanding. See:

  3. Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Anyway, the Confederates generously offered a full opportunity for a peaceful surrender, but the Union forces flatly rejected it. With that fact in mind, the idea that there was a “massacre” becomes absolutely ludicrous. A more accurate description is that the Unionists fought bitterly, desperately, viciously, and violently to the very end.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 4:32 pm

      Please give some examples of how you’ve dealt with conflicting first-person accounts in your own writing.

      • Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 4:49 pm

        To that end, why didn’t you include the first-person accounts of Forrest and Chalmers? They tell a very different story, and thoroughly debunk this myth of a “massacre”.

        • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm

          Those accounts are well known. The ones I offered are not, and I found them worthwhile.

          Now, give some examples of how you’ve dealt with conflicting first-person accounts in your own writing.

    • Bob Huddleston said, on April 13, 2014 at 8:34 pm

      The idea that the refusal of a commander to surrender his post places the blame on him for any subsequent atrocities of the attackers is ludicrous. Bradford had an obligation to resist an enemy attack, even if it was helpless and to meekly surrender just because Forrest says to would make Bradford subject to a court martial after his exchange. After all, helpless resistances often turn out to be successful and any resistance will delay the attacking force and possibly lead to its demise later on. The United States Army calls this an “Alamo Defense,” and teaches the concept to its officers.

  4. Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    You seem to be suggesting that obscure or lesser known sources are somehow inherently more valuable and more informative than well known sources. I find that very odd.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      No, I’m not. I’m saying that these are lesser known accounts that I thought interesting and valuable, that I thought worth sharing. Nothing odd about that.

      Now, give some examples of how you’ve dealt with conflicting first-person accounts in your own writing.

  5. Will Hickox said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    The accounts of witnesses on *both* sides written in the aftermath of the incident show that the Confederates committed a massacre. It was only once Northerners started to cry foul that Forrest and other Confederates began to change their tune.

    In my opinion, the fact that we’re still having this debate 150 years later–with all of the evidence available to us–is ridiculous.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Forrest reported his own dead as numbering 20, and that his troops buried 228 of the enemy that evening. Ferguson reported burying about 150 more the next day, which brings the total Union dead to in the neighborhood of 400 — not including those lost in the river.

      A fatality ratio of 1:20 is not a straight-up fight, no matter what you choose to call it.

    • Michael Rodgers said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      There is no debate. There is historical consensus. What you’re thinking is a debate (and correctly calling it ridiculous) is the following: Specious criticism from politically-motivated and usually anonymous interlopers who pretend that they are engaged in a debate is countered by polite fool-suffering from serious professional and amateur historians who naively and gamely try to take such interlopers seriously.

      • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:37 pm

        I’ve asked Coleman four times now to provide an example of how he’s dealt with primary sources that differ in specific details — which, recall, was his original complaint.

        • Michael Rodgers said, on April 13, 2014 at 7:03 pm

          Quite so. And I no longer have any patience at all to indulge the Colemans of the internet. Especially when this Coleman has already explained what he does: If the primary sources don’t buttress his beliefs then he discounts them in their entirety and calls them “basically worthless.”

  6. Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    No, nothing odd about that, except that they present an extremely biased view. Which is why the Forrest and Chalmers first-person accounts are necessary. When one realizes that not only was an offer of peaceful surrender extended, but that it was the Confederates themselves who struck the Union Flag and halted the battle, and the fighting, one realizes the the idea of a “massacre” is pure propaganda.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      All participants have their own biases, including Forrest and Chalmers.

      Now, give some examples of how you’ve dealt with conflicting first-person accounts in your own writing.

    • Craig Swain said, on April 14, 2014 at 9:40 am

      If one studies the campaign (and many will overlook the campaign context as if Fort Pillow were a singular event), there are ample demonstrations of how Forrest’s attitude towards the Federal defenders (black or white, northern or southern unionist). Union City, Paducah, Columbus, Fort Pillow, and others, …. all places where elements of Forrest’s command showed up and issued a “surrender or die” demand. At Union City, the garrison surrendered, but the handling was less peaceful. At Columbus (a day after Fort Pillow) the demand included the stipulation “Should you surrender, the negroes now in arms will be returned to their masters.” Does that sound like a “peaceful” surrender demand? Does it recognize the conventions of war afforded to prisoners of war?

      In the context of these other events in the campaign, clearly Forrest had set a policy, a standard method of dealing with Federal garrisons, if you will. And sadly his men enacted that policy at Fort Pillow. That is clear from the primary sources – both Federal and Confederate. I don’t see how one can ignore those facts and call it “propaganda.”

  7. Coleman said, on April 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm


    Some of my readers are sharper than I am, and correctly suggested that “Coleman” is our old friend of a thousand usernames (or there about) from Springfield, Virginia. Say hello to Reed, Austin, Carmichael, Jennifer Cotton, Clarissa, and all the gang!

    — AH

  8. n8vz said, on April 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Forrest and Chalmers were objective? One has to weigh any historical statement to look at the context in which it was made and try to ferret out any biases that may have been present. For instance, have you ever taken a look at what Jefferson Davis said before the insurrection of 1861 and then compared it with what he said afterwards? Before the war preserving the institution of slavery was all important and was discussed specifically. After the war he talked in much vaguer terms about “states’ rights” without much specificity about the exact right he went to war to prevent the destruction of. Now, do you think historians should put more weight on his post-war reminiscences or what he said in the days leading up the war. Which gives better insight into the causes of the war? (And Jefferson Davis was not alone in these discrepancies between pre-war and post-war rhetoric. The book Apostles of Disunion gives another interesting account. See:

  9. Foxessa said, on April 13, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    The NY Times Disunion Column commemorated the Fort Pillow massacre anniversary.

    Since so many of us are well versed in that terrible event, what was more interesting than the column, was plugging in Fort Pillow into the New York Times search window — and reading the many articles by so many, so early, filed to the NY Times about it in the days right after it took place.

  10. Rob Baker said, on April 13, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    Great find Andy. I’ve never seen nor heard of these accounts before. Ferguson’s account is interesting for its vividness and its date.

  11. Michael Williams said, on April 15, 2014 at 1:00 am

    I think we’ll let General Forrest speak for himself.
    BTW this is his official report regarding the BATTLE of Fort Pillow.
    Anyone that says that it was a “massacre” is uneducated and ignorant.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 15, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Save the insults, friend. No one ever suggested that people shouldn’t read a whole range of official reports on the incident, including Forrest’s. You can find them here:

      • Michael Williams said, on April 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm

        I’m not trying to insult anyone Mr. Hall.
        It appears to me that you took a different meaning as to why I posted General Forrest’s official report about the engagement at Fort Pillow.
        When one thinks about Fort Pillow you must consider the factors that led to alot of the defenders to be killed during the fighting.

        1.The defenders where outnumbered by Forrest’s men.
        2.The defenders where armed with mostly single shot muskets and could not reload before being shot.
        3.The fort’s US flag was still on the pole signalling that the fort didn’t surerender.
        4. “the enemy retreated toward the river, arms in hand and firing back, and their colors flying, no doubt expecting the gun-boat to shell us away from the bluff and protect them until they could be taken off or reenforced”

        Any combat veteran would know that in times like these even the most experienced officers can lose control of their men.
        This is exactly what happened at fort Pillow.
        I remember reading something some where about the dead inside the fort having powder burns on them this is because of the close fighting.

        • Craig Swain said, on April 16, 2014 at 10:19 am

          Mr. Williams, it was the responsibility of the officers in charge to control their men and ensure order was maintained throughout the fighting. Furthermore, a combat leader is responsible for everything his men do or fail to do, regardless of the situation. To brush that aside by saying the garrison was outnumbered, the garrison had single shot weapons, or the flag was still flying, just seems to be preposterous.

          I am reminded of a similar tactical setting from just over a year prior to Fort Pillow – Arkansas Post. As I expounded on it at length for the 150th anniversary of the battle (, I will not take up the limited space our host has allotted me for a reply here. The important portion, in reference to this discussion of today, is that the “white flag” at Arkansas Post was not a formal, command sanctioned act, but rather something spontaneous. And when it occurred, at other sections of the line, fighting continued (and the Confederate flag was not hauled down until the Federals had full possession of the works). However, there are no documented or even disputed cases from Arkansas Post where Federal troops “lost control” or otherwise treated their enemies with anything but what was required under the conventions of war.

          So if we follow your logic, then we must conclude that Federal soldiers benefited from better leadership and displayed stronger discipline. Right?

          BTW, I *am* a combat veteran and an experienced officer. Thanks.

          • Michael Williams said, on April 19, 2014 at 12:33 am

            Let me put it this way,the defenders where armed with muskets whereas Forrest’s men where armed with repeating rifles get the picture?
            If you attack a fort thats armed with muskets with repeating rifles your going to kill alot of them.
            Its just comon sense.

            • Andy Hall said, on April 19, 2014 at 10:16 am

              Uh, okay.

            • Craig Swain said, on April 19, 2014 at 10:30 am

              What *were* Forrest’s men armed with? Can you state the model of weapon?

              But can you please address the questions I asked above? Since Forrest was in command, was he not responsible for all that happened? To include the massacre?

              • Craig Swain said, on April 24, 2014 at 8:25 am

                We continue to await Michael William’s source that “Forrest’s men were armed with repeating rifles.” I’m anxious to see the details of what rifles the Confederates were armed with. From there I will follow the logistic trail and determine what Confederate factory produced these wonder weapons. Likewise, given the make and model, I will trace down the factory which mass produced the ammunition for these repeating rifles. I say “mass produced” because in order to fire as many bullets so as to overwhelm and massacre the garrison at Fort Pillow, each of Forrest’s men must have carried 200 to 300 rounds. Considering the number of men in Forrest’s command, this factory (long lost to history) must have turned out tens of thousands of cartridges a week!

                Another point which needs to be considered with these Confederate repeaters, which might be lost on the non-technical folks in the audience, is that these Confederate rifles had attachments for bayonets. Indeed! We know that because of the number of bayonet wounds reported among the Federal casualties. Since the Confederates inflicted those wounds, goes without saying that the Confederate repeating rifles held by Forrest’s men must have had bayonets, and were thus not simply captured Yankee Henry or Spencer rifles. And certainly not carbines..

                But if we can just get that little bit of information, Michael, we might open a vast new chapter on the Confederacy. Perhaps the famous Brigade of Confederate Cooks were also armed with these repeaters? I’m, as you might imagine, anxious to hear back on this long forgotten bit of Confederate military history!

  12. M.D. Blough said, on April 15, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I think this official correspondence gives an excellent idea of what policy was and makes mockery of the idea that Confederate troops simply “lost control” at Ft. Pillow. BTW, turning any “negroes in arms” (a preferred phrase, lest a Confederate officer make the horrid mistake of implying that the blacks could be considered soldiers) who were captured to state authorities simply meant that they would be tried for servile insurrection.

    >>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.<<

  13. Eugene Watson said, on April 15, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Hello, I find your work very interesting. My ancestor, Ben Franklin Arthur was POW at Ft Douglas a few months before the end of the war. Do you have anything on Ft Douglas? I’ve found the memorial to all those who died there. Just wondering how the releases occurred.

    Eugene Wats

  14. msb said, on April 16, 2014 at 2:55 am

    Thanks for doing this work, Andy (and M.D.) – it’s really important.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 16, 2014 at 8:43 am

      Margaret keeps us honest.

      • M.D. Blough said, on April 16, 2014 at 3:33 pm

        You flatter me, Andy and msb. Thank you. For anyone who doesn’t have it already, I highly recommend Guild Press’s The Civil CD-ROM: The War of the Rebellion, A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. It vastly improves one’s ability to research the OR.

        • Andy Hall said, on April 16, 2014 at 3:42 pm

          I’ll second that recommendation. There is an expanded version that includes the naval OR, the OR Atlas, Southern Hist Soc papers and other material, as well. The interface is clunky, straight out of 1995, but the ease of accessing the content can’t be beat.

          • n8vz said, on April 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

            Is this an improved version over the old CD-ROM of the OR that I purchased circa 1995? It was clunky beyond belief. It must be, because the ease of accessing the content on this CD-ROM certainly could be beat with a stick! 🙂 I do remember though once when I was reading through the dispatches on the Battle of Buffington Island (only CW battle fought in Ohio) how thrilling it was to read the “real time” telegraph communication and then to see one dispatch signed “A. Lincoln” from the White House as the president was obviously in the telegraph room following the battle. He was very concerned that JH Morgan be captured, which he eventually was near Salineville, Ohio, not far from what is now the tip of the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.

            • M.D. Blough said, on April 17, 2014 at 9:08 am

              I don’t know how much it’s improved but the Guild Press was, by far, the best of several versions that came out at the same time (Broadfoot’s was another). It was also, by far, the least expensive. Almost anything would be an improvement in terms of searchability and expense over the hardcover version (even the reprint) which also requires, pretty much, it’s own room. There’s also the benefit of being able to copy and paste material from it into a word document.

              • n8vz said, on April 17, 2014 at 10:16 am

                Just pulled mine off the shelf. It’s the Guild Press version 1.55 and with a date of 1996. I’m curious if that’s the one you have, or if you have an earlier of later version. As a supplement I just ordered a new disk that is comprised of PDFs of each page. It’s not as easily searchable but contains none of the OCR errors that are very prevalent on other OR disks . This new one is on two DVDs. You can read more about it here:

              • Andy Hall said, on April 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

                My current version is “The Complete Civil War” that I bought a couple of years ago, when my old CD-ROMs got too scratched to use, but it’s indistinguishable from the old Guild Press version from way back in the 20th century.

                I personally think they’re charging way too much for this, given that the unit cost to produce is negligible, but it’s still worth having.

              • n8vz said, on April 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm

                Thanks, Andy, for the reply. Have you ever figured out a good way to copy the CD-ROM to your HD so that you don’t have to put the CD in the optical drive each time you want to search? I know that you can set up virtual CD drives, but I’m not sure if the search software that comes with the Guild Press CD is compatible with that approach. I didn’t find an ini file where I could change the drive letter it looks for. Also, of course, this approach would lead to less scratches on the CD itself! 🙂

              • Andy Hall said, on April 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

                Depends on the OS. I know of purchasers who copied the entire CD-ROM to the hard drive, then installed it as usual from there. No special configuring required, and the application looked to the HD for the data files rather than the CD-ROM. I’ve heard that doesn’t seem to work in later operating systems.

            • n8vz said, on May 7, 2014 at 9:56 am

              Well, I figured out how to put the Guild Press CD on my HD in Win8-64. I used a program called PowerISO (there are others that will do this as well, but I found this one very slick) to create a virtual CD-ROM on my HD and I was able then to copy all of the files from the Guild Press CD to that virtual CD-ROM and then install the program from there. Works great!

        • H. E. Parmer said, on April 17, 2014 at 12:18 am

          That just went on my birthday wish list. Thanks!

  15. mcharmon1 said, on September 9, 2016 at 10:08 am

    This was a terrible event. My great grandfather, William F. Cline, was “forced to pick sides” in early 1864. He was conscripted by Gen. Bedford Forrest April 1, 1864, in Hickman, Kentucky. I am saddened to learn he took part in the Fort Pillow Massacre. Family tradition tells that he was never the same when he returned after the Civil War. He had mental health issues and was often sad. After reading these letters, it is easy to see why he never recovered. How very, very sad. Thank you for sharing these letters with the public.

    Margaret Cline Harmon, Zachary, Louisiana

    • Andy Hall said, on September 9, 2016 at 10:36 am

      Many soldiers on both sides came home traumatized by the war, even without having witnessed something like Fort Pillow. Dealing with things like PTSD is difficult enough now; 150 years ago no one had any idea what was happening, much less how to address it. Brian Matthew Jordan’s Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War may be of interest to you, although it deals with Union veterans; their issues were much the same. It was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year.

  16. Chopper Driver said, on November 21, 2019 at 1:39 am

    I reckon this is an old discourse, but it is littered badly with black/white opinions, with no Gray, and those never work.
    1) A number of Forrest’s Troops were local boys, whose Families had suffered many insults & crimes by the yanks in this fort. SOME, not All.
    2) ~800-1,000 Rebs surged over the parapet with unfired, loaded rifles, per their orders. Many, not all, inside the fort’s wall were shot in this first dash. Wounded yanks with unloaded muskets would have run for the River, Per the YANK Plan.
    3) no one mentions the number of cartridge boxes, down slope from the fort, with tops removes. SOME, not all, yanks continued to fire at Rebs. & truthful accounts in Wythe, indicate that SOME would drop weapons to surrender, then recover them to fire on the Rebs; Per the overall yankee plan.
    4) None of you know Forrest, the Man. No One saved more lives by bluff in the entire war. NO Former slave trader would destroy property worth $40,000 (today’s dollars) each. That just was not Forrest, the most efficient and effective commander or either side. He would NOT Tolerate Cruelty to horses, POWs, or any others. His Brain worked toward EFFICIENCY. His men loved him because he would not squander their lives, and resented the few who outranking him, so did.
    5) Black Powder rounds are lower velocity; wounded took longer to die.
    6) All ignore the kegs of whiskey that Booth set out for the USCTs.
    7) You can stain a river Red for 200 yards was self promotion a bit, but truly takes relatively little blood. NBF’s use of the word “massacre” was as a reference to a football game. He did not mean it as murder of unarmed surrendering yanks.
    8) MOSTLY, the numbers fail to amount to the fraudulent yankee claim. Say 900 Pop Over the wall & fire into the yanks, mostly black on the front wall. Flag stayed up, both sides kept shooting. YOU FORGET Black Powder SMOKE. You forget that every soldier sees only that to his immediate front. You forget the MANY POW’s Forrest removed from the fort, Black and White, with only one killed,; BOOTH, the incompetent. Why does no one cite Forrest’s words: “negroes will be returned to their masters, per the Policy from’ his Country’s Govt in Richmond.

    9) No mention of the ~55 blacks that rode faithfully with Forrest, his slaves, ~54 he freed in late 63? They Stayed with him, even after the war.

    10) When Younger, as a slave trader, NBF was very well respected, with negro slaves anxious to be purchased by him; his butler, Jerry, would clean them well, & Forrest, strong on families, often united Families and would not sell them separately.
    11) From 20+ Books, never have I seen any mention of NBF “hating” or abusing any slave or animal.

    12) IF anyone cares about TRUTH, from the credible Evidence, SOME/A FEW Rebs settled personal scores in this 20 minute fight. SOME, maybe the same, may have mutilated bodies. NONE were buried alive unless by fellow yanks. Forrest was 400 yards away on a hill watching. Two units of ~200 Rebs each had descended the banks, to stop the offloading of reinforcements by Booth, during the Flag of Truce/surrender demand. The stumpy ground cost him time to get to the scene, post over wall rush.

    13) So, you have ~400 snipers on the high ground, shooting to keep heads down, so the two units could man the ravine and Cabins (enfilading the garrison). 400 sharpshooters, REBS, killed Bradford + hit how many more? 70? Then the Cabin shooters had open shots into the fort, nailing how many? 40? Then 900 go in a flash up onto the wall, & shoot down into the front rank, hitting at least 100-150. Then the yanks made for the river, choke pointed into a mass at the colored tents, getting popped all the while. Another 40 down? Then the below the bankers ran to one side, took a full volley from 200 Rebs, and thence to the other side, for another volley, SO, 400 shots into mobbed up masses, must have clipped 80, then the ones drowned & shot in the River; all legit shoots. 20? Total: 70+40+125+40+80+20= 385. Chalmers? marched off ~240 POWs; taking names of all for Exchange..

    14) Common Sense Instructs, This was no Massacre; That is yank propaganda to bring down the most cherished, successful, & popular General in the West. Sherman feared him.NO ONE Could get him, so yank papers resorted to slander/libel; to enrage their base people. Ye who lie several times are entitled to no credibility on lies not uncovered….

    15) Inappropriate kills? 15? 25? No Massacre, just some random acts of retaliation by a similar number of Rebs out of ~2,000 or so (need to read it again). We KNOW the Cong Committee report was FULL of false statements.

    16) Think SMOKE, Confusion, Drunkenness, Incompetent Booth, the well circulated plan to retreat below the bank so the gun boat could “sweep the Rebs” with canister; the choke point on retreat, the two side ambushes below the bank, the yank cartridge boxes pre-positioned below the Bank, the leaving up the US Flag; & a FEW PISSED off LOCALS seeking Payback; & a few witnesses that saw Bad Acts. THE NEED, Desperate Need, from Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, & Thomas, to hurt Forrest. THEN NUMBERS, how many should be hit by 900 at close range? Stir it up, you get something akin to Truth. And Truth is NOT Some Organized Murder at the fort.

    17) And why no mention of Forrest’s treatment of USCTs under Bolton, a bit later; at the Magnificent Brices Crossroads? They were all POWs, to be dealt with Per CS Govt Policy.

    18) AND WHY NO MENTION of the KILLING OF USCTs, Hundreds by White Yanks, at Petersburg; disgusted at seeing Black in Blue? Or the NYC Draft Riots? Or the drownings via pontoon bridge cut away by Yank Gen Jefferson Davis, under Sherman?

    19) Get over the PC horse crap and Study The Genius Forrest. That is a lot more FUN. Numbers being FAR Less than the NYC Draft Riots,the Blue on BlueBlack at Petersburg, & the drowning of contrabands in a River in GA, put FP in Perspective. THERE is NO THERE, THERE. Forrest was a truly GREAT American Commander who would never tolerate murders. Time to stand up for him. Oh yeah, blaks kill ~500 blaks in Chicago/Detroit each year.

    20) Its like WW2; Nazis get all the Blame, but Jap atrocities at Nanking, In Korea, & etc; , eating our pilot’s Livers.using live chinamen forBayo Practice, etc; Just fell to war weariness. But those Japs gave Adolph a Good Run for his Money.

    FP? a gnat on an Elephant’s Butt. Nothing Burger. Get to know the man, if you care about CW history. You REALLY trust the NYTimes??? God help you.

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