The Ft. Pillow Massacre.



Editors Illinois State Journal:

Having been an eye-witness of the terrible scene at Fort Pillow, after the late massacre, I will endeavor to give as nearly as possible facts which came within my own knowledge. The steamer Platte Valley left Memphis Tuesday evening (April 12th) accompanied by a gunboat. About ten o'clock in the evening another gunboat passed us, going down, with holes through her cabin and chimney, and her officers informed us that Fort Pillow was in the possession of the rebels. At nine o'clock next morning we were in sight of the fort, and our gunboat went ahead to reconnoiter while we anchored in the middle of the river not daring to land. Presently our gunboat began throwing shells but no answer came from the fort. Again and again our guns boomed out and after several shots we could distinctly hear volleys of musketry on shore, but not directed toward the river. This we learned afterwards was the firing upon our remnant of soldiers, from their brutal captors. Suddenly we saw the gunboat cross the river and approach the shore under the fort, at the same time signalling us to come on. Approaching nearer we saw a flag of truce on shore. The gunboat run up a white flag and landed.

Slowly we came to the scene of desolation and murder. All hearts were appalled with horror as the bloody panorama unfolded itself to new. The fort presented a mass of flame and smoke — the storehouses, sheds and other buildings were in flames, and the heaps of cotton burning with a peculiar lurid glare, lent a bloody glow to all around. Up and down the shore were scattered the dead. Blue uniforms to the number of forty were counted shrouding the dead bodies of the slain martyrs. In all positions they lay — many were lying head downward on the bank at the edge of the water, having been driven backward to the river and then shot or stabbed till they fell. About three hundred blacks had been driven into the river and drowned.

In the background, amongst the hills, were seen groups of guerrillas and horses. In the foreground stood Gen. Chalmers in consultation with the commander of our gunboat, while apart, on one side were several rebel officers, some on foot and others mounted. We noticed the bandit aspect of these men particularly — well dressed in gray uniforms and thoroughly armed, their attitude and manner betrayed the ease and nonchalance of men accustomed to robbery and murder; and every moment revealed a callousness to suffering and familiarity with blood and outrage. The interview being ended between the two commanders, our officer came on board and announced that the enemy would only allow an armistice until 5 o'clock, (it was now about eleven A. M.) and that meantime we would be granted the poor privilege of bringing off our wounded and burying the remainder of our dead. In a moment all was ready and the work began. Carefully and tenderly our butchered soldiers, barely alive, were brought on board and placed on the cots provided by the humane officers of the boat; and those who witnessed the sufferings and looked upon the wounds of our brave men that day were thrilled with a horror and aroused to a thirst for vengeance unknown before and not to be imagined.

While the sad work progressed Gen. Chalmers came on board to drink at the bar, and seeing him closely, I discovered that "chivalry" consists in a handsome suit of gray, ornamented with silver stars and gracefully worn, a drab cavalier hat and long black plumes, with gay sash and glittering arms. This stylish looking villain raised his eyes as he passed me with as much courtier-like ease and grace as if he had been in a ball room, and bowed until the plumes of the hat he held in his hand trailed on the floor. With a look that would have murdered him where he stood, if a look had power to kill, I met his glance. It was apparent to all that he was fully conscious his courtesy was resented as an insult, for he changed countenance, dropped his eyes and quietly passed on. At noon he came on board again, accompanied by his staff and was invited to dine by some Union officers, passengers on the boat. I regret that I cannot give the names of these men who disgraced their uniforms so wantonly while our murdered men were lying bathed in blood before their eyes. These Union friends of their country's foes, had rebel wives who received the illustrious butcher with cordiality and delight; and I heard Chalmers exclaim that it did him good "to shake hands with thorough rebel ladies once more." He showed his sword declaring he took it from Gen. Grant's Inspector General, and said he came near capturing Grant himself at Collierville, betraying by his remarks how little he was aware of General Grant's whereabouts at that time. He announced carlessly his intention of "taking Memphis next" as if it were a mere matter of taste when he would occupy that city, and expressed his graitfication that his rebel friends had escaped in time. He is in every respect a specimen of the "chivalry" — all words and braggadocia and full of admiration for himself.

Once I was compelled to speak to him and I consider it the best proof I have ever given of my loyalty. The wife of an officer commanding colored troops at Fort Pillow was amongst our passengers. Her agony was great, as her husband could not be found, and was not among the wounded. I demanded of the rebel chief that this lady should be allowed to communicate with her husband if he were amongst the prisoners. To my surprise he was polite, and said the prisoners were already on the way to Jackson. I asked the number — he replied, "100 whites and 20 blacks." This was chivalric again, as he had only one-third of that number and no blacks. He finally consented to take a letter to Jackson to Lieut. McClure, and send a reply to Memphis to my address, "But," said he, " I do not think any artillery officers are alive." With his staff, he sat down to dine, but before the soup was brought our bell rang and the whole party rushed ashore, Chalmers exclaiming, in adieu to his lady friends, "I have learned to run as well as fight during this war."

The wounded being now so disposed that we could administer to their wants, their wounds were dressed, food and drink given them, (they had eaten nothing for two days,) and everything possible done for their comfort. Thirty-six white men and twenty-one colored, were the remnant left from six hundred troops, saving the forty prisoners taken away. The attack was made just before sunrise — the fort [unknown line] white men (13th Tennessee cavalry) and the rest black (6th U. S. Artillery). The fight lasted until 5 o'clock P. M., the garrison refusing to surrender, when treacherously and in true chivalric style, the enemy, under flag of truce, moved up the defiles in the rear of the fort and stormed it. Up to this time, only eight or ten had been hurt, but now the massacre begun, our men having thrown down their arms and given themselves up. They pleaded to be treated as prisoners of war, but their murderers reviled and cursed them, pursuing their bloody work, robbing our men of money and valuables, and thrusting their hands into the pockets and breasts of our soldiers to be sure they had given up all. After all the white men except those on board our boat were killed, the few negroes left were ordered to bury the dead in the trenches — they were then made to dig a ditch for themselves, and were shot and thrown into it. The following morning the shooting of negroes was resumed, and many who had escaped the night before were now discovered and met their fate.

The rebel surgeons offered to do something for our wounded but their officers came and forbade it, at the same time shooting down some negroes who had ventured into the quarters. It is beyond question that the few suffered to live, were spared as a show of humanity and these were so mutilated that nearly all the wounds will prove mortal. Eight died before we reached Cairo, and not more than ten will probably survive of the remainder. Lieut. Libbeth is already dead. We left Capt. Porter and the Adjutant almost dying. The wounds are all of the most terrible and fatal character. Some of the sabre gashes were frightful. Eyes were shot out, heads laid open till the brains oozed out, and many were shot through both lungs. Most of the wounds were in the bowels and lungs, and some of the men had from five to nine wounds. The legs of one man were both crushed, and one boy, not yet fifteen, had both legs and his back broken. Scarcely any had less than two and three severe wounds.

There is no doubt that the murderers intended every one should die. Nearly all the wounded could talk when first brought on board, and they all told the same story. There were no contradictions in their statements, and every one assured me he was unwounded when he gave himself up a prisoner. The hospital was fired and the sick and wounded burned without mercy, and one sick man brought on the boat, who had escaped, told me himself that the rebels came to his tent and deliberately set fire to it. The men all assured us that Chalmers did not take more than forty prisoners — some thought there were not more than twenty. The prisoners were drawn up in line and marched off under the eyes of the wounded, who say that no artillery officer was amongst them. Captain Young (Provost Marshal) had not yet been sent away when we landed — he came on board on parole, and was much affected on seeing the condition of the men with whom he had so gallantly fought. The officers of the Platte Valley placed the boat at the disposal of the suffering soldiers, and Major Damon (naval surgeon) is entitled to much respect and gratitude for the skill and tenderness shown the wounded. He is a very noble man, and devoted himself, day and night, to his sad but humane work, assisted by many of the passengers. The wounded men bore up bravely and cheerfully, constantly expressing their gratitude for every kindness and attention, and enduring without complaint the most fearful agonies. They assured me they did not dare to surrender until compelled, as the rebels would not agree to spare the colored troops, and the white soldiers were nearly all deserters from the Southern army.

I have given you simply a statement of reliable facts, gathered carefully from those in the fight, and which may be depended upon. Many persons can testify to the burning bodies seen in the fort, and other evidences of the brutality and fiendish barbarities perpetrated by the murderers of Fort Pillow. Chalmers told us that Forrest was back on the hill — if so, he was probably wounded, as he did not show himself. Gen. Lee and Gen. Faulkner were with Chalmers.

The massacre stands without a parallel — words can give no adequate idea of the blood and destruction. Evermore the place will be held in horror and known as the spot where the blackest dead of the war recorded itself.

E. G. P.