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Capture of Fort Pillow.


March and April 1864

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, April 16, 1864.




The Bravery of the Negro Soldiers.

The Garrison Overpowered and the Troops Butchered.




Subsequent Occurrences.

Etc., Etc., Etc.

[Special Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]

CAIRO, April 14, 1864.

Before leaving Memphis Tuesday afternoon, we heard a report that Fort Pillow was captured, and at five P. M. we proceeded up the river in the Platte Valley, loaded down with passengers, and with the gunboat Silver cloud, No. 27, under Acting Master Ferguson, in tow. We designedly proceeded slowly, and arrived near the fort at eight A. M., where the gunboat cast off, and steamed up toward the fort. We were about three miles below the fort, and could see mounted pickets on the shore. After the gunboat got within reach she opened on the fort with shell, but met no reply. She continued slowly until she got near the fort and near the shore, where she fired a shot or two and then stopped. We had followed her at a distance, and now, about ten A. M., came up abreast and passed her and the fort. As we came up we saw fire and smoke proceeding from the shore, which proved to be some buildings and some hay on the levee. We also for the first time saw people moving about, some on foot and some on horseback, behind the smoke; and soon several persons came to the bank of the river with a white flag. The gunboat sent a skiff ashore, which returned in about twenty minutes, and then the gunboat landed. We at this time were a mile above, and being signaled by the gunboat, returned and landed by the boat. While returning near the shore we saw numerous dead bodies strewn along the river and on the sides of the bluff. We found, on landing, quite a number of Confederate officers; among them Brigadier-General Chalmers, with his staff, and Major C. W. Anderson, of General Smith’s staff, and others of the rebel officers whose names I did not learn. Arrangements were made to parole all the wounded, and men were detached to bring them in. Agreement for truce till five P. M. was agreed upon, and permission freely given to visit the fort and grounds. Escorted by Captain Lindsey, formerly of Natchez, now in the rebel army, your correspondent visited the fort and adjacent grounds – the scene of action the day proceeding. On the way up – about three miles below the fort – we were signaled by a flat-boat on the Missouri shore, and took on board a colored corporal and three wounded men, and received our first account from them of the fight.


We have gleaned the facts of the fight from authentic sources, and they may be relied upon as truthful. The rebels, under Forrest, appeared and drove in the pickets about sunrise on Tuesday morning. The garrison of the fort consisted of about two hundred of the 13th Tennessee volunteers and four hundred negro artillery, all under command of Major Booth; the gunboat No. 7 was also in the river. The rebels first attacked the two outer forts, and in several attempts to charge were repulsed. They were constantly reinforced, and extended their lines to the river on both sides of the fort. The garrison in the two outer forts were at length overpowered by superior numbers, and about noon evacuated them and retired to the fort on the river. Through the fight was maintained with great obstinacy, and continued till about four, P. M. The approach to the fort from the rear is over a gentle declivity, cleared and fully exposed to a raking fire from two sides of the fort. About thirty yards from the fort is a deep ravine, running all along the front, and so steep at the bottom as to be hidden from the fort, and not commanded by its guns. The rebels charged with great boldness down the declivity, and faced without blanching a murderous fire from the guns and small arms of the fort, and crowded into the ravine where they were sheltered from fire by the steep bank which had been thus left by some unaccountable neglect or ignorance. Here the rebels organized for a final charge upon the fort, after sending a flag of truce with the demand for surrender, which was refused. The approach from the ravine was up through a deep, narrow gully, and the steep embankments of the fort. The last charge was made about four, P. M., by the whole rebel force, and was successful after a most desperate and gallant defense. The rebel army was estimated at from 2,000 to 4,000, and succeeded by mere force of numbers. The gunboat had not been idle, but guided by signals from the fort, poured upon the rebels a constant stream of shot and shell. She fired 260 shells, and as testified to by those who could see, with marvelous precision and with fatal effect. Major Booth, who was killed near the close of the fight, conducted the defense with great coolness, skill, and gallantry. His last signal to the boat, was, “We are hard pressed and shall be overpowered.” He refused to surrender, however, and fought to the last. By the uniform and voluntary testimony of the rebel officers as well as the survivors of the fight, the negro artillery regiments fought with the bravery and coolness of veterans and served the guns with skill and precision. They did not falter nor flinch until at the last charge, when it was evident they would be overpowered, they broke and fled towards the river, and here commenced the most barbarous and cruel outrages that ever the fiendish and us of rebels have perpetrated during the war.


After the rebels were in undisputed possession of the fort and the survivors had surrendered, they commenced the indiscriminate butchery of all the federal soldiery. The colored soldiers threw down their guns and raise their arms in token of surrender, but not the least attention was paid to it. They continued to shoot down all they found. A number of them finding no quarter was given, ran over the bluff to the river, and tried to conceal themselves under the bank and in the bushes, were pursued by the rebel savages, and implored them to spare their lives. Their appeals were made in vain, and they were all shot down in cold blood and in full sight of the gunboat, chased and shot them down as they would dogs. I passed up the bank of the river and counted fifty dead strewed along. One had crawled into a hollow log and was killed in it, another had got over the bank in the river, and got on the board that run out into the water. He lay on it on his face, with his feet in the water. He laid there when exposed stark and stiff. Several had tried to hide in crevices made by the falling bank, and could not be seen without difficulty, but they were singled out and killed. From the best information I could get, the white soldiers were, to a very considerable extent, treated in the same way. One of the 13th Tennessee on board – D. W. Harrison – informs me that after the surrender he was below the bluff, and one of the rebels presented a pistol to shoot him. He told them he had surrendered, and requested him not to fire. He spared him, and directed him to go up the bluff to the fort. Harrison asked him to go before him, or he would be shot by the others, but he told him to go along. He started, and had not proceeded far before he met a rebel who presented his pistol. Harrison begged him not to fire, paying no attention to his request, he fired and shot him to the shoulder. Another shot him in the leg. He fell and while he lay unable to move, another came along and was about to fire again, when Harrison told him he was badly wounded twice and implored him not fire. He asked Harrison if he had any money. He said he had a little money and a watch. The rebel took from him his watch and ninety dollars in money, and left him. Harrison is probably fatally wounded. Several such cases have been related to me, and I think, to a great extent, the whites and negroes were indiscriminately murdered. The rebel Tennesseans have about the same bitterness against Tennesseans in the Federal Army, as against the negroes. I was told by a rebel officer the General Forrest shot one of his men and cut another with his saber who were shooting down prisoners. It may be so, but he is responsible for the conduct of his men, and General Chalmers stated publicly while on the Platte Valley, that though he did not encourage or countenance men in shooting down negro captives, yet that it was right and justifiable.


The negro corporal, Jacob Wilson, whom we picked up below Fort Pillow, had a narrow escape. He was down on the river bank, and seeing that no quarter was shown, stepped into the water so that he lay partly under it. A rebel coming along asked him what was the matter; he said he was badly wounded, and the rebel, after taking from his pocket all the money he had, left him. It happened to be nearby a flat boat tied to the bank, and about three o’clock in the morning. When all was quiet Wilson crawled into it and got three more wounded comrades also into it, and cut loose. The boat floated out into the channel, and we found it ashore some miles below,. The wounded negro soldiers we have aboard feigned themselves dead until we came along. Captain Young, 24th Missouri, Provost Marshal at the Fort, was captured, and was out on his parole. He was at the boat, and while there the Lady Pike, from St. Louis, came up with his wife board. He was allowed to go into the boat to see her, and then returned to his captors. Major Bradford was also captured, and at large on his parole. The rebel officers denounce him for breaking his parole, and say that during Tuesday night he escaped. It is believed that the rebels killed him, and that the charge of breaking his parole was a mere pretence to conceal his murder.

Capt. Lindsay, rebel officer, to whom I am indebted for courteous attention, admitted to me that General Forrest was slightly wounded, and had a horse killed under him, but another rebel officer informed a friend of his who was on the boat with us, that General F. was twice wounded, and badly, by the bursting of a shell.

The rebels claim to have but only ten killed and thirty wounded, but Captain Young, who had been to their camp, says that they have two hospitals well filled, and he thinks their killed and wounded exceed ours.

When I visited the fort, the guns had all been taken away. The huts scattered around had been mostly burned out. In one of these were bodies of colored soldiers partly burned, but whether or not by design I cannot state.

Dr. Fitch, surgeon of the fort, was taken prisoner and through the influence of some rebel surgeons was released on his parole and came up with us. He confirms, from his own personal observation, the butchery of our soldiers by the rebels. He informed me that after the fort was taken the soldiers ran down the bluff to the river, throwing away their arms, holding up their hands, and crying out that they surrendered, but the rebels continued to fire on them from the bluff without the least regard to their cries. Dr. Fitch says he saw twenty white soldiers paraded in line on the bank of the river, and when in line the rebels fired upon and killed all but one, who ran to the river and hid under a log, and in that condition was fired at a number of times and wounded. He says Major Bradford also ran down to the river, and after he told them he had surrendered more than fifty shots were fired at him. He then jumped into the river and swam out a little ways and whole volleys were fired at him there without hitting him. He returned to the shore, and meeting, as the doctor supposes, some officer, was protected, but he heard frequent threats from the rebels that they would kill him, and he believes that they have killed him. It was a subject of considerable remark that Captain Young was treated by the rebels with so much favor – and it was said that his brother, who has been in the rebel army, kept a grog shop at the fort, and was a rebel sympathizer.


Two or three federal band-box officers on board the Platte Valley, one of them with his young bride, made themselves conspicuous in fawning around the rebel officers. They brought General Chalmers and several subordinate cut-throat looking officers on board the Platte Valley, drank with them, introduced them to their wives, and invited them to dinner. They made room for them as at the ladies’ table, and they sat down to dinner, but it happened either by accident or from a just idea of the fitness of things on the part of our high-spirited Captain that at moment the signal bell for moving was heard, and the rebel officers, leaving their soup untouched, skedaddled. General Chalmers, soliloquising as he hurried past your correspondent that he had learned to run as well as to fight. In the conversation preceding the dinner, General Chalmers said he did not countenance nor encourage his soldiers in killing captive negro soldiers, but it was right and justifiable. A Federal officer who will so do disgrace himself and his country ought to be dismissed the service.

The rebel officers were generally well clad, but had very little to distinguish them from the privates. General Chalmers had simply a black feather in his hat and the other officers stripes on their collars. In this respect I think they show good sense and policy, which our officers might imitate with advantage to themselves in the service. Their horses also were in fine condition and much better than ours.


The officers of the Platte Valley, Capt. Riley, Mr. Block, the first, and Mr. Chas. M. Parsons, second clerk, and indeed all on the boat, are entitled to public commendation for their kindness and attention to the wounded into the crowd of passengers on board. At the fort they furnished cots for the wounded and spared no trouble or labor to provide for their ease and comfort. All along above the fort were men, women and children who had escaped from the fort destitute and famished. The boat was stopped, and they were all taken aboard, and those who had nothing, furnished and provided for without charge. The officers even gave up their own beds and rooms to those not provided, and in every way manifested the most liberal and generous spirit. Such conduct deserves a public testimonial, and what it will be sure to bring, abundance of public patronage.

Colonel Glover, of the 3rd Missouri, was also aboard and exerted himself efficiently to promote the comfort and care of the poor wounded sufferers.

Dr. O. B. Daman, surgeon of the gunboat Silver cloud, came with us, assisted by Dr. Fitch, of Fort Pillow, paid constant and unremitting attention to the wounded, and dressed their wounds tenderly and skilfully. I mention this fact the more readily because many army surgeons manifest indifference and neglect as well as a want of feeling.

It was stated by some of the rebel officers that they had only about twenty-five colored prisoners, and they were old servants of white officers, and that all colored soldiers were killed. This I believe to be true.


Justice to the soldiers, and to humanity, demands stern retributive vengeance for the horrible, cold-blooded butchery of Fort Pillow. Henceforth let it be the war slogan of all who encounter Forrest and his band of outlaws, “remember Fort Pillow.” Let not a prisoner be taken from the army, and whenever a prisoner asks for quarter let it be run in his ears, “remember Fort Pillow!” Especially let every colored soldier when going into battle remember that with him it is victory or death, and when called upon to surrender, let him “remember Fort Pillow.”


It is a blistering shame and disgrace to our army that Forrest, with such a rabble as he commands, is suffered to roam at pleasure through Kentucky and Tennessee, and attack and capture our posts in detail, unrebuked and unpunished. It is freely charged, and I fear justly, that it is the fault of the imbecility, if nothing worse, of the military command at Memphis. There is not, I believe, so much corruption and rascality at any other place occupied by our army as the city of Memphis. The generals in command have time for little else than listening to the compliments and granting favor to rebel ladies, or in harassing, and under various pretexts, extracting money from businessmen. I have unquestionable authority for saying that at least three times before the attack on Fort Pillow, military authorities in Memphis were notified that Forrest was within forty miles of the fort and preparing for an attack. Why were not reinforcements sent up? One thousand infantry would have rendered the post secure, and the fort is out seventy miles from Memphis, where is General Grierson? Since his celebrated raid through the rebel States to Baton Rouge, in which he managed to avoid any fight, he has never found the enemy. He went out in pursuit of Forrest, found him, and, under pretence of being too weak to attack him, retreated. Where is he now, and what is he about? The country would be glad to know.


The following are the names of the wounded of the 13th Tennessee, brought on board the Platte Valley, who were paroled under the flag of truce:

1st Lieutenant J. Porter, company B; Joseph Turpin, company C; David Taylor, company E; Woodford Cropser, company E; G. H. Ray, company B, since died; Jason Lonan, company B; Richard Heathcot, company A, since died; Jos. M. Green, company A; Richard Saunders, company E; Wm. L. McMichael, company C; F. B. Wise, company E; Jason Saunders, company E, since died; T. J. Thompson, company D; Wm. Jarvis, company B; J. A. Winn, company B; Sergeant W. F. Walker, company D; J. H. F. Stone, company B; Daniel Stamp, company E; Jos. Taylor, company B; F. A. Alexander, company C; Green L. Britt, company B; Jas. Walls, company E; M. M. Woodside, company E; Benjamin W. Lancaster, company C, since died; John W. Shelton, company C; Jas. C. Meadows, company A; J. W. Greene, company E; Jas. C. Goforth, company E; 1st Lieutenant M. G. Levering, adjutant; Jos. Parks, company A, dead; Thos. J. Cartwright, company A; Wiley Robinson, company A; Robt. McDonald, company B; Corporal Wm. A. Dickey, company B; John F. Ray, company B; W. J. Moyes, company B; David H. Taylor, company E; D. W. Harrison, company D, slightly; N. J. Foulks, company D.

Charles Fitch, assistant surgeon, U. S. A., slightly.

Lieutenant Leppett, heavy artillery, dead.

John Plemett, citizen.


Cyrus Rascott, Eli Carter, Arthur Edmonds, Sandy Cole, Alex. Nelson, Hoby Price, Wm. Jourdan, Thos. Gaddis, Aaron Scribness, Nathan Motley, Thos. Maynard, Cole Midburn, Thos. McWhare, Dad Raden, Henry Hauks, Henry Christian.

All of the officers of the negro regiment, and most of the Federal officers of the fort, were either killed or wounded. Among the killed known are Adjutant Hiel, Captain Bradford, of company A; Captain Porter, company B; Lieutenant Barr, company D; and Lieutenant Wilson, company C – all of the 13th Tennessee. Adjutant Deming was mortally wounded. Some seven of the white wounded died after they were brought aboard, and two of the colored.

Several of the ladies aboard devoted themselves to the comfort of the wounded and assisted in dressing their wounds. Among those most faithful in this work of charity and love was Mrs. M. Davis, of Lexington, Mo., and I would gladly name the others if I knew them.

The wounded had laid out on the cold ground from the close of the fight (five o’clock Tuesday evening) until ten the next day, without the least attention being paid to their sufferings or their wants.