Friday, April 23, 2010
A group of Morgan’s Men photographed as prisoners on April 29, 1864. This photo was likely taken by D. F. Brandon.
Conditions were no better at Camp Douglas. Both long roll calls and escape attempts continued as the order of the day.
“April comes in wet and cold this morning. Had to get out to roll call at sun rise and stand for an hour or so more. It is bad enough to stand for that long but when we have to stand for 2, 3, or even 4 hours it is almost beyond human endurance and this is the case if any one of the men is missing. It is [hard] indeed to keep 4 or 5,000 men freezing because one or two is missing but we have to stand until the missing one is found. Many of the prisoners have escaped lately by tun[n]eling but that is about ‘played out’ now for they are raising all the [barracks] 4 feet off the ground.”
-Private William D. Huff[i]
“Sunday April 3d, 1864. Weather a little cool. We were kept out at roll call three hours and a quarter to find one missing man. When the bugle sounded to break ranks several of the regiment hollowed for joy and two of the guards threatened to shoot them. We have a mean set of guard with one exception, a little corporal by the name of Norton. WE nicknamed the four privates, viz: Old red, Jack Curd in disguise, Hessian Dutchman, and the Wild Irishman. Old red alias O’Hara is the most vindictive. He is always on alert, watching for a chance to shoot somebody. I often hear it whispered through the ranks, lookout, here come Old red. He bayoneted several of the men, and we have no particular love for him. A sergeant, two corporals, and five privates have charge of us, most of them I have named above, have to guard us at roll call, make details clean up in and around the barracks, and see that our rations and fuel are hauled to us. They also patrol the camp at night, and are independent of the regular guards on the parapet. Just at dark I took a walk through camp to see how the lamps at the foot of the fence threw their light. I found that the lamps were so close together and the light so brilliant that it would be almost impossible to get to the fence without being discovered by the guards on top. I was standing in the shade of one of the barracks arguing to myself the chances of dropping on the ground close to the fence in the darkest place and quietly digging under or cutting a plank, when Major Skinner and two other officers turned a corner near me with a lamp. The Major asked me where No. ten barrack was. I told him I did not know. He then said never mind, and passed on. I followed at some distance and passed them, halted at the door of one of the Chickamauga prisoners, where religious meeting was going on. I could see the officers I had just passed, in conversation with some reb. Another prisoner passed them and came to where I stood. He said the officers asked the reb if he (the reb) had not applied for the oath. I made up my mind that the reb was a treacherous scoundrel giving information to the Yankees, and returned to my quarters.”
-Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[ii]
Burke further recorded in his diary that on April 4, 1864 the prisoners sent a petition to Major Skinner asking to change the roll call so as to not cause the prisoners to stand outside for two or three hours in inclement weather. Major Skinner made no reply to their request.
In Washington, Abraham Lincoln was fielding complaints from fellow Kentuckians. Kentuckians with family, political, or business connects to Lincoln, felt it their right to attempt to sway his opinions.
A. G. Hodges, Esq. Executive Mansion,
Frankfort, Ky. Washington, April 4, 1864.
My dear Sir:
You ask me to put in writing the substance of what I verbally said the other day, in your presence, to Governor Bramlette and Senator Dixon. It was about as follows:
I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensable means, that government---that nation---of which that constitution was the organic law.
Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution all together. When, early in the war, Gen. Fremont attempted military emancipation, I forbade it, because I did not then think it an indispensable necessity. When a little later, Gen. Cameron, then Secretary of War, suggested the arming of the blacks, I objected, because I did not yet think it an indispensable necessity. When, still later, Gen. Hunter attempted military emancipation, I again forbade it, because I did not yet think the indispensable necessity had come. When, in March, and May, and July 1862 I made earnest, and successive appeals to the border states to favor compensated emancipation, I believed the indispensable necessity for military emancipation, and arming the blacks would come, unless averted by that measure. They declined the proposition; and I was, in my best judgment, driven to the alternative of either surrendering the Union, and with it, the Constitution, or of laying strong hand upon the colored element. I chose the latter. In choosing it, I hoped for greater gain than loss; but of this, I was not entirely confident. More than a year of trial now shows no loss by it in our foreign relations, none in our home popular sentiment, none in our white military force,---no loss by it any how or any where. On the contrary, it shows a gain of quite a hundred and thirty thousand soldiers, seamen, and laborers. These are palpable facts, about which, as facts, there can be no caviling. We have the men; and we could not have had them without the measure.
And now let any Union man who complains of the measure, test himself by writing down in one line that he is for subduing the rebellion by force of arms; and in the next, that he is for taking these hundred and thirty thousand men from the Union side, and placing them where they would be but for the measure he condemns. If he can not face his case so stated, it is only because he can not face the truth.
I add a word which was not in the verbal conversation. In telling this tale I attempt no compliment to my own sagacity. I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me. Now, at the end of three years struggle the nation's condition is not what either party, or any man devised, or expected. God alone can claim it. Whither it is tending seems plain. If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God. Yours truly
Lincoln also received letters from prisoner’s families, begging for their release. These letters did not fall on deaf ears. Amazing as it may seem, Lincoln pardoned a few Kentuckians imprisoned at Camp Douglas.
Much to the delight of the prisoners, the new sutler began to sell several newspapers.
“The Chicago morning and evening papers are kept for sale at the sutler’s at ten cents each. They are the Post, Tribune, and Journal. The Times is a copperhead paper and its sale forbidden in camp since the first of September last. It has been smuggled in on a good many occasions at some risk.”
-Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[iv]
A copperhead was the slang term used to refer to Northerner’s with Confederate sympathies.
(NOTE: The following letter is presented in the original format)
“Camp Douglas April 7th, 1864
Dear Sister rec’ your letter of the 23rd with the shirts aso one from Father of later date, answered Fathers several days ago delaying yours also Jo’s til now as the nature of his demanded a hasty reply. My health has not been so good lately owing to the cold I caught during the past winter in the delicate state of my health so I reluctunlly obtained my consent to come to the Hospital one week ago where I have been much pleased with my change. I found very clean comfortable bed quarters good medical attention kind and attentive nurses and a wholesome diet as I could ask, all to my surprise as I always had a horror of the Hospital especially since my last summer’s experience. Think I’ve improved wonderfully; beyond my most sanquine expectations. My bowels are checked, my digestion improving rapidly, sufer no pain, only (principal) complain is debility; feel my strength increasing every day in fact I’ve never been so week as to be confined to my bed. Hope I will not be long ere I recover my former vigor & health. With necessary prudence indeed and the blessing of a kind providence, I feel better and more cheerfull than I’ve felt for months. Tel Father to apply directly to his excellency the President which if he had done at first no doubt would have proved successful, as others have to my certain knowledge lately: be not hasty but use every precaution and advantage. All your acquaintances are well. Have a nice place, plenty of leisure to read: have written Cousin F for reading matter, can hear from him nearly every day or get any little thing I want from the city.
Love to All write frequently to your Devoted Brother George.”[v]
Alas, George Forbes Adams, my second great-grandfather’s fellow 3rd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment member, did not receive a Presidential pardon. Adams died in the camp hospital on July 1864.
Falling ill while incarcerated at Camp Douglas was an extremely dangerous affair. Estimates range as high as one in seven men who entered the camp succumbed to illness. However, with official documents missing or destroyed, there is no way to verify the death toll.
“April 6th, ‘64
Am so sick today that I had to make an application to go to the hospital again. I have had the [flu] for the last 3 days very bad…
I am in hospital again but can scar[c]ely tell what I am doing…My head is as big as a sugar hogshead…”
-Private William D. Huff[vi]
By April 10, 1864 the new prison hospital, located between White Oak Square and Prisoner’s, had been completed. While the new hospital proved to be both sanitary and efficient, the prisoners were much more concerned that day by two visiting ladies. Gawking at the prisoners had become sport for the leisure class.
“Sunday April 10th, 1864. Weather cloudy. Three or four rebs are standing on barrel heads at the gate as punishment for various offences. One of them for being caught with several canteens of the over joyful that he had bought secretly from some guard. Several of the reb workmen are at work at the carpenter shop framing some small buildings for the Yanks. The balance of the rations are being issued to the squads that did not finish yesterday. There is rumors afloat that Gen. Morgan and forces are near Bighill, Ky. There has been a low railing about 18 inches high put all around the camp about ten feet from the fence on the inside. It is called the dead line. Any person caught between the railing and the fence is liable to be shot without warning. If out hat blows over a guard must get it or we lose it. Two ladies escorted by an officer passed through the principal part of our camp. And as usual created some excitement among the rebs. One of the ladies actually of her own free will and accord deliberately kissed a reb. My stars how the rest of us envied him. When they came to the crowd near the gate to go out, some reb cried out, ‘Give way to the right and left, let the artillery pass.’”
-Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[vii]
Colonel Strong continued to display his lack of humanitarianism and over step his bounds as garrison commander. New, visually humiliating forms of punishment came into vogue at Strong’s caprice. These included the wearing of placards stating the often minor offense, wearing the ball and chain, and a being secluded within the new dungeon inside Prisoner’s Square. Colonel Strong’s tactics were not only repulsive to the prisoners; the methods were drawing examination by Northern officials.
“Sometimes our boys, for some trivial offense, would be punished by putting them in the white oak, as they called it. It was a guard house made of white oak logs twelve or fourteen inches in diameter, notched down close with one small window in the end. Inside, the wall was a dungeon eight or ten feet deep. It was entered by a trap door, a pair of steps led down into this dark foul hole. It was pitch dark in there; one could not see his hand before him when the door was closed. One who had not been is such a place cannot have the least conception of it. I was thrown in this place for a trivial offense, for attempting to get a bucket of water at a hospital well while our hydrant was out of fix. I spent four of the most wretched hours of my life in that terrible place. I was taken out by the same guard who put me in there, and the cursing he gave me when he let me out would be a sin for me to repeat. I opened not my mouth; I knew better. I received one more genteel cursing while wounded in the prisoner's hospital at Nashville, which I will speak of later on. There were some of our poor boys, for little infraction of the prison rules, riding what they called Morgan's mule every day. That was one mule that did the worst standing stock still. He was built after the pattern of those used by carpenters. He was about fifteen feet high; the legs were nailed to the scantling so one of the sharp edges was turned up, which made it very painful and uncomfortable to the poor fellow especially when he had to be ridden bareback, sometimes with heavy weights fastened to his feet and sometimes with a large beef bone in each hand. This performance was carried on under the eyes of a guard with a loaded gun, and was kept up for several days; each ride lasting two hours each day unless the fellow fainted and fell off from pain and exhaustion. Very few were able to walk after this hellish Yankee torture but had to be supported to their barracks. There was another diabolical device invented; that was the ball and chain route. However that was seldom used unless some of the prisoners attempted to escape and were caught. The chain was riveted around the ankle and the ball at the other end of the chain. It was almost as much as the poor fellow could carry. That was one thing that stuck closer than a brother. It went with him by day and by night, and even lay by his side in his cold naked bunk at night.”
- M. A. Ryan, Company B, Fourteenth Mississippi Regiment[viii]
“If this failed to cause them to tell who assisted them in escaping, they were then thrown into an iron-clad dungeon ten by ten square, with a single window ten inches by ten. Think of a man staying in this place forty or fifty days, when it was as full as it could be, their only privy being a little hole in the floor, from which all the odor arose in the room.
When this failed a sixty-four pound ball and chain was placed upon their leg, with chain so short as to compel its wearer to carry the ball in their hand, or get some one to pull it in a little wagon while they walked at the side, the chain about twenty-eight inches in length. Some of the balls were worn more than six months.”
-T. D. Henry, Company E, Duke's Regiment, Second Kentucky Cavalry, General J. H. Morgan's command[ix]
“One very common punishment inflicted upon the prisoners was by the ball-and-chain route. An iron ball weighing perhaps seventy-five pounds was strongly attached to one end of a chain, and the chain then riveted to the leg of the offender. To walk and carry the ball was almost a physical impossibility, and the possessors made little carts into which the balls were dumped and hauled around. These pieces of ‘jewelry,’ so called, would stick closer than a brother, and their owners were so much ‘attached’ to them that they always took them to bed with them. It was a most excellent idea – it prevented their tolling out of bunks or walking while sleeping.”
-R. T. Bean, Company I, Eighth Kentucky Cavalry [x]
“Tuesday April 12, 1864l Weather cool and cloudy. I wrote to Henry C. Metcalfe of Lexington, Ky. Three of Chenault’s men were caught trying to escape last night. Today they and another for some other offence were balled and chained and put to work at the dirt pile in the center of the square filling the carts that are hauling off dirt. The chain to each iron ball or block is four or five feet long and very stout with a clasp to lock and unlock to fit around the ankle at one end. The ball looks as if it will weight about fifty-six pounds. The men have leather straps tied to their balls to enable them to carry them about when they have to move more than the length of the chain. The men call their balls and chains their time pieces. One of them takes his off on the sly by means of a fiddle string which he doubles and twists in the key hole of the clasp, and unlocks it whenever the Yanks are not about. One of his friends wished to see how it fit on his own ankle, so he sprung the lock and after satisfying himself he proceeded with the assistance of the owner to unlock it with the fiddle string, and it was with some difficultly and a great deal of anxiety to the wearer that it yielded to their efforts. The string having broken three or four times. There is all kinds of rumors about an exchange being agreed upon. Some persons seem to take a delight in starting rumors, and if they hear anything no matter how unreasonable they never rest till they have spread it all over camp. My friend James D______ though a well meaning fellow is one of this class that I noticed particularly. A detail cleaned out the ditches leading from the hydrants, but a good many of the men as usual took the nearest cut to the hydrants jumping or walking across the ditches, which broke in the edges and checked up the free drainage of water. The Patrols getting out of patience telling the men to go around and cross the ditches at the wagon crossing commenced punishing all that they caught jumping by making them jump across the ditch thirty or forty times in quick succession, then making them cross at the wagon crossing.”
-Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry[xi]
In the Western Theater, raiding still remained a viable tactic for the Confederacy. From mid March 1864, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest had been conducting a cavalry raid into Tennessee and Kentucky. As Forrest’s men returned from Paducah, Kentucky, they made an infamous attach upon Fort Pillow, Jackson, Tennessee. The attack was particularly insidious and question remains as to whether it was intended as retaliation for support given to escaped slaves. White Union officers at Fort Pillow had openly recruited runaway slaves and mustered them into two regiments, the Sixth United States Colored Heavy and Light Cavalry, which served as part of the forts garrison of 292 African American soldiers and 285 white soldiers of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry.[xii]
At 3:30 P.M., on April 12, 1864, Forrest displayed a flag of truce and sent a forth a demand for unconditional surrender:
“The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such as to entitle them to being treated as prisoners of war. . . . Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.”[xiii]
Conflict and question surround reports as to exactly what happened during the attack. However, it is believed that Union African- American troops were grievously abused and massacred.
"There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter."
-Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn of the 6th U. S. Heavy Artillery (Colored)[xiv]
Van Horns statement may be correct as numerous Federal rifles were found on the bluffs near the river and theUnion flag remained flying over the fort.[xv] These would normally be indications that no formal surrender had been made. However, as historian and author Jack Hurst sagely notes, “Federals running for their lives had little time to concern themselves with a flag.”[xvi]
It is possible that Forrest tired to assuage the furry of his Raiders and stop them. In a letter written to his wife three days after the battle, Confederate soldier Samuel Caldwell stated:
“…if General Forrest had not run between our men & the Yanks with his pistol and saber drawn not a man would have been spared.”[xvii]
There were also statements made by Forrest's Raiders accerting that the fleeing Union troops kept their weapons and frequently stopped to turn and shoot at their persuers. [xviii] Thus the Raiders claimed any man killed, be his skin black or white, was killed in self defense.
A contemporary newspaper account from Jackson, Tennessee, states that ‘General Forrest begged them to surrender,’ but ‘not the first sign of surrender was ever given.’ Similar accounts were reported in both Southern and Northern newspapers at the time.”[xix]
“Our troops, maddened by the excitement, shot down the retreating Yankees, and not until they had attained the water’s edge and turned to beg for mercy, did any prisoners fall into our hands--Thus the whites received quarter, but the Negroes were shown no mercy.”
- A Southern reporter traveling with Forrest[xx]
Others saw the events in a far different light.
“Surviving members of the garrison said that most of their men surrendered and threw down their arms, only to be shot or bayoneted by the attackers, who repeatedly shouted, ‘No quarter! No quarter!’”[xxi]
"…the poor, deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hand scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet and then shot down."
- Letter said to be written by Confederate Sergeant shortly after the battle[xxii]
“I with several others tried to stop the butchery. . . , but Gen. Forrest ordered them [Negro and white Union troops] shot down like dogs, and the carnage continued.”
- Confederate Soldier Achilles Clark[xxiii]
“Northerners, however, saw only one side. They read headlines announcing ‘Attack on Fort Pillow -- Indiscriminate Slaughter of the Prisoners -- Shocking Scenes of Savagery;’ dispatches from Sherman's army declaring ‘there is a general gritting of teeth here’; reports from the Missouri Democrat detailing the ‘fiendishness’ of rebel behavior; and editorials like that in the Chicago Tribune condemning the ‘murder’ and ‘butchery’.”[xxiv]
Writing in his Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant recorded his horror upon hearing of the massacre.
“Forrest, however, fell back rapidly, and attacked the troops at Fort Pillow, a station for the protection of the navigation of the Mississippi River. The garrison consisted of a regiment of colored troops, infantry, and a detachment of Tennessee cavalry. These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered. I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them.”
"The river was dyed," he [Forrest] says, "with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners."
All of Washington was in outcry. Lincoln’s Cabinet cried for vengance. Secretary of State William Seward, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton demanded that an equal number of Confederate prisoners should be executed in an act of revenge. Grant himself was so outraged by the events at Fort Pillow he called for the end of prisoner exchanges. With the callousness that only a war hardened General would dare exhibit, Grant reasoned that Federal troops, with their superior manpower, could better withstand the loss of men than the Confederacy which had fewer men and more to lose. Bearing in mind the Confederates disregard for African-Americans, Stanton and Lincoln put the proper political spin on Grants’ barbaric observations. They knew Southern leadership considered black soldiers as mere runaway slaves and refused to afford they the rights of white prisoners of war. Further more, the Confederacy had issued an order calling for the summary execution or return to former owner of any former slave. Northern leadership would have the backing of vocal Abolitionist who were highly reluctant to continue prisoner exchanges under these conditions.
Thus, on April 17, 1864 Grant had political backing when he ordered General Benjamin F. Butler, negotiator of prisoner exchanges with the Confederacy, to demand equality in the the exchange and treatment of all prisoners.
“A failure to do so would ‘be regarded as a refusal on their part to agree to the further exchange of prisoners, and [would] be so treated by us.’”[xxv]
The demand was summarily refused. In regard to the matter, Confederate Secretary of War Seddon coldly stated:
“I doubt, however, whether the exchange of negroes at all for our soldiers would be tolerated. As to the white officers serving with negro troops, we ought never to be inconvenienced with such prisoners.”[xxvi]
In reply, Grant canceled all remaining talks regarding prisoner exchange. As a result, of these actions, both Northern and Southern prisoners continued to strave, endure physical abuse, and die from the uncontrolled spread of disease within the camps while the press continued to sell newspapers on the growing sensationalism surrounding the Fort Pillow massacre.
“On the 12th April, the rebel General [Nathan Bedford] Forrest appeared before Fort Pillow. . . attacking it with considerable vehemence. This was followed up by frequent demands for its surrender, which were refused by Major Booth, who commanded the fort. The fight was then continued up until 3 p.m., when Major Booth was killed, and the rebels, in large numbers, swarmed over the entrenchments. Up to that time comparatively few of our [i.e., Union] men had been killed; but immediately upon occupying the place the rebels commenced an indiscriminate butchery of the whites and blacks, including the wounded. Both white and black were bayoneted, shot, or sabred; even dead bodies were horribly mutilated, and children of seven and eight years, and several negro women killed in cold blood. Soldiers unable to speak from wounds were shot dead, and their bodies rolled down the banks into the river. The dead and wounded negroes were piled in heaps and burned, and several citizens, who had joined our forces for protection, were killed or wounded. Out of the garrison of six hundred only two hundred remained alive. Three hundred of those massacred were negroes; five were buried alive. Six guns were captured by the rebels, and carried off, including two 10-pound Parrotts, and two 12-pound howitzers. A large amount of stores was destroyed or carried away.”
- Harper’s Weekly, April 30, 1864
“The blacks and their officers were shot down, bayoneted and put to the sword in cold blood... . Out of four hundred negro soldiers only about twenty survive! At least three hundred of them were destroyed after the surrender! This is the statement of the rebel General Chalmers himself to our informant.”
- The New York Times, April 24, 1864 [xxvii]
“The Fort-Pillow wounded are doing much better than could be expected from the terrible nature of their wounds. But one, William Jones, had died, though Adjutant Learing and Lieut. John H. Porter cannot possibly long survive. Of the whole number, - fifty-two, - all except two were cut or shot after they had surrendered! They all tell the same story of the rebel barbarities; and listening to a recital of the terrible scenes at the fort makes one's blood run cold. They say they were able to keep the rebels at bay for several hours, notwithstanding the immense disparity of numbers and but for their treachery in creeping up under the walls of the fort while a truce pending, would have held out until "The Olive Branch" arrived with troops, with whose assistance they would have defeated Chalmers.
"So well were our men protected behind their works, that our loss was very trifling before the rebels scaled the walls, and obtained possession. As soon as they saw the Rebels inside the walls the Unionists ceased firing, knowing that further resistance was useless; but the Rebels continued firing, crying out, 'Shoot them, shoot them! Show them no quarter!'
"The Unionists, with one or two exceptions, had thrown down their arms in token of surrender, and therefore could offer no resistance. In vain they held up their hands, and begged their captors to spare their lives. But they were appealing to fiends; and the butchery continued until, out of near six hundred men who composed the garrison, but two hundred and thirty remained alive: and of this number, sixty-two were wounded, and nine died in a few hours after.”
- The Cairo News, April 16, 1864 [xxviii]
“A LETTER FROM A NAVAL OFFICER.
The following letter has just been received by Mr. BLOW, of Missouri, respecting the treatment of our soldiers after the surrender of Fort Pillow:
UNITED STATES STEAMER "SILVER CLOUD," MISSISSIPPI RIVER, April 22, 1864.
Since you did me the favor of recommending my appointment last August, I have been on duty aboard this boat.
I now write you with reference to the Fort Pillow massacre. I write, because most 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 7 1/2 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 Gen. CHALMERS was received by us, and Capt. FERGUSON, of this boat, made an arrangement with Gen. 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 bayoneted 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 their bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, any way 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 the rebels 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 but very few white men; the whole number buried by my party and the party from the gunboat New Era was about one hundred.
The rebels had burned some of the white dead.
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,
ROBERT S. CRITCHELL,
Acting-Master's Mate, U.S.N.
Hon. H.T. BLOW, member of Congress, Washington, D.C.”
- The New York Times, May 3, 1864[xxix]
On April 22, 1864 The Joint Committee On the Conduct of the War investigated the events of the battle and concluded that Forrest’s Raiders had shot most of the Union garrison after it had surrendered. [xxx] Further research into the events at Fort Pillow was conducted in the 1950’s and again in 2002.
Meanwhile, Camp Douglas had been inspected by John F. Marsh on April 16 1864.[xxxi] Mash showed open distain for Orme reporting:
“General Orme gives very little attention to his command at Camp Douglas.”[xxxii]
These remarks were the last blow Orme could stand to endure. No longer able to contain his distaste for his intolerable position he planned his resignation, affecting his own escape from Camp Douglas.
On April 27, 1864, General Orme fired Colonel Strong and replaced him with Colonel Benjamin J. Sweet whose right elbow had been crushed by a bullet during the Battle of Perryville.[xxxiii] In making this move, Orme chose his successor and got even with Strong. Two days later, Orme resigned as commander of of Camp Douglas, claiming that his health would not permit him to continue. Shortly there after Abraham Lincoln, Orme’s personal friend, urged him to accepted an appointment to the Treasury Department in Memphis, Tennessee. Orme acted as a as a supervising agent. However, his failing health continued to affect his ability to carry out his work and he resigned from the Treasury Department in November 1865. Despairing, Orme returned to his home in Bloomington, Illinois. There tuberculosis, which he had plagued him since serving in Mississippi, claimed his life on December 13, 1866.
[i] Excerpts from the Diary of William D. Huff Chicago Historical Society, History Lab activities http://www.chicagohistory.com/
[ii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[iii] Lincoln, Abraham. “Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln”. Volume 7.
[iv] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[v] Wartime Letters of William Henry Adams http://morgans_men.tripod.com/adams.htm
[vi] Excerpts from the Diary of William D. Huff Chicago Historical Society, History Lab activities http://www.chicagohistory.com/
[vii] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[viii] Ryan, Milton Asbury. “Experience of a Confederate Soldier in Camp and Prison in The Civil War 1861-1865.”
[ix] Deposition of T. D. Henry, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. I. Richmond, Va., March, 1876. No. 4. April - Pages 273 – 276.
[x] Excerpts From An Account of Prison Life at Camp Douglas By R. T. Bean.
[xi] Diary of Curtis R. Burke, Co. B 14th Kentucky Cavalry.
[xii] Cimprich, John and Mainfort, Robert C. Jr. “Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence about an Old
Controversy,” Civil War History 28 1982 pp.293-94.
[xiii] Wills, Brian Steel. “ A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest” 1992 p. 182.
[xiv] Official Report filed by Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn of the 6th U. S. Heavy Artillery (Colored).
[xv] Jordan, John L. "Was There a Massacre at Ft. Pillow?", Tennessee History Quarterly VI (June 1947), pp 99–133.
[xvi] Hurst, Jack. “Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography” 1993, p.174.
[xvii] Cimprich, John and Mainfort, Robert C. Jr. “Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence about an Old
Controversy,” Civil War History 28 1982 p. 300.
[xviii] Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, “Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East,” 1985, p.25.
[xix] Cimprich, John, and Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., eds. "Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence About An Old Controversy", Civil War History 4 Winter, 1982.
[xx] Cimprich, John, and Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence about an Old
Controversy,” Civil War History 28 1982 p.304.
[xxi] Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, “Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East,” 1985
[xxii] Foote, Shelby. “The Civil War, A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox” 1974.
[xxiii] Cimprich, John, and Mainfort, Robert C., Jr Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence about an Old
Controversy,” Civil War History 28 1982 p.299.
[xxiv] Nevins, Allan. “The War for the Union: The Organized War to Victory 1864-1865.” 1971.
[xxv] Fuchs, Richard L. “An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow.” 2002 pp. 143 -144
[xxvi] Fuchs, Richard L. “An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow” 2002 p.144
[xxvii] Fuchs, Richard L. “An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow.” 2002
[xxviii] William Wells Brown. “ The Negro In The American Rebellion- His Heroism and His Fidelity.” 1867.
[xxix] The New York Times Archive, http://www.nytimes.com/1864/05/03/news/the-fort-pillow-massacre.html?pagewanted=1
[xxx] U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, "Fort Pillow Massacre", House Report No. 65, 38th Congress, 1st Session.
[xxxi] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Ser. II, Vol. VII, 57
[xxxii] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion Ser. II, Vol. VII, 57
[xxxiii] Lossing, Benson J. “ Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America,” 2006, p. 449