NOTE: This is historical documentation of an interview with a Confederate cavalry officer shortly after the end of the American Civil War. Be aware that hateful terms like the “N” word are used, and bloody war events and murder are described. Nothing herein expresses the opinions of this blogger or of WordPress and this is posted here privately only for educational reasons in connection with this blog post.
FORREST ON FORT PILLOW
Meridian, Miss., May 13, 1865
Before the large chimney-place of a small cabin-room, surrounded by a group of confederate officers and men, the room dimly lighted by a small tallow candle, I first saw Lieutenant-General N. B. Forrest, commanding a corps of cavalry in the rebel army. Forrest is a man of fine appearances, about six feet in height, having dark, piercing hazel eyes, carefully trimmed moustache, and chin-whiskers, dark as night, finely cut features, and iron-gray hair. His form is lithe, plainly indicating great physical power and activity. He was neatly dressed in citizen’s clothes of some gray mixture, the only indication of military service being the usual number of small staff-buttons on his vest. I should have marked him as a prominent man had I seen him on Broadway; and when I was told that he was the “Forrest of Fort Pillow,” I devoted my whole attention to him, and give you the result of our conversation. My first impression of the man was rather favorable than otherwise. Except a guard of some hundred Federal soldiers, more than half a mile away, I was, with the exception of another person, the only Yankee in the room, and, being dressed in citizen’s clothes, was never suspected, expect by the landlord.
“General,” said I, “I little expected to be seated by this fire with you.”
“Well, because your name has been in the mouth of nearly every person for a long time.”
“Yes,” said he, displaying the finest set of teeth that I think I have ever seen; “I have waked up the Yankees everywhere, lately.”
“Now that you have time, General, do you think you will ever put upon paper the true account of the Fort Pillow affair?”
“Well,” said he, “the Yankees ought to know; they sent down their best men to investigate the affair.”
“But are we to believe their report, General?”
“Yes, if we are to believe any thing a nigger says. When I went into the war, I meant to fight. Fighting means killing. I have lost twenty-nine horses in the war, and have killed a man each time. The other day I was a horse ahead, but at Selma they surrounded me, and I killed two, jumped my horse over a one-horse wagon, and got away.” I began to think I had some idea of the man at last. He continued: “My Provost-Marshal’s book will show that I have taken thirty-one thousand prisoners during the war. At Fort Pillow I sent in a flag of truce, and demanded an unconditional surrender, or I would not answer for my men. This they refused. I sent them another note, giving them one hour to determine. This they refused. I could see on the river boats loaded with troops. They sent back, asking for an hour more. I gave them twenty minutes. I sat on my horse during the whole time.
“The fort was filled with niggers and deserters from our army; men who lived side by side with my men. I waited five minutes after the time, and then blew my bugle for the charge. In twenty minutes my men were over the works, and the firing had ceased. The citizens and Yankees had broken in the heads of whisky and lager-beer barrels, and were all drunk. They kept up firing all the time, as they went down the hill. Hundreds of them rushed to the river, and tried to swim to the gunboats, and my men shot them down. The Mississippi river was red with their blood for three hundred yards. During all this, their flag was still flying, and I rushed over the works and cut the halyards, and let it down, and stopped the fight. Many of the Yankees were in tents in front, and they were in their way, as they concealed my men, and some of them set them on fire. If any were burned to death, it was in those tents.
“They have a living witness in Captain Young, their Quartermaster, who is still alive; and I will leave it to any prisoner I have ever taken if I have not treated them well.” “You have made some rapid marches, General,” said I. “Yes,” said he, “I have five thousand men that can whip any ten thousand in the world. Sturgis came out to whip me once, and was ten thousand strong. I marched off as if I was going to Georgia, and fell upon the head of his column when he least expected me, and with two thousand three hundred men, killed over three thousand, captured as many more, with all the trains and mules, and drove him back. I meant to kill every man in Federal uniform, unless he gave up.” He spoke of capturing a fort from Colonel Crawford, in Athens, Alabama, garrisoned by one thousand five hundred men. Said he: “I took him out and showed him my forces – some brigades two or three times, and one battery I kept marching around all the time. Mty men dismounted, leaving every fourth man to hold the horses, and formed the rest in front as infantry, and the darn fool gave up without firing a shot.”
Speaking of Streight’s capture, he said it was almost a shame. “His men rode among them and shot them down like cattle. They were mounted on sharp-edged saddles, and were worn out, and he killed several of them himself. Didn’t hardly know what to do with them.” But the heart sickens at the infamous conduct of this butcher. He is one of the few men that are general “blowers,” and yet will fight. Forrest is a thorough bravo – a desperate man in every respect. He was a negro-trader before the war, and in “personal affairs,” as he calls them, had killed several men.
He had a body-guard of one hundred and fifty picked men. These he placed in the rear, with orders to shoot any one that turned back. I have spoken to numbers of confederate officers, and they speak of him with disgust, though all admit his bravery and fitness for the cavalry service. He has two brothers living, one of whom is spoken of as being a greater butcher than the Lieutenant-General. He is a man without education or refinement, married, I believe, to a very pretty wife. Any one would call him handsome.
Any one hearing him talk, would call him a braggadocio. As for myself, I would believe one half he said, and only dispute with him with my finger upon the trigger of my pistol. When I told him I was a Yankee, and late upon a prominent General’s staff, he looked about him, and among his staff, for corroborative proof. Volleys of this, ready prepared, poured forth upon his order. My not being a short-hand writer necessarily deprived me of the pleasure of a further contribution to this true story.
Two young Kentuckians were walking along the road when Forrest came up; he called them deserters, and deliberately shot them. It appears that these young men were upon legitimate duty, and one of them under military age. The fathers of these youths are upon Forrest’s track, sworn to kill him. Poetic justice requires that he should meet with a violent death. Probably one hundred men have fallen by his hand. He says “the war is played;” that, where he lives, there are plenty of fish; and that he is going to take a tent along, and don’t want to see any one for twelve months.
What a charming hero he would make for a sensational “King of the Cannibal Islands!”
Citation: The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc.,. Frank Moore, editor. New York. 1865. Reprint edition 1977 by Arno Press, ISBN 0-405-10877-X. Volume Eight, “Poetry” pp 55-56
Categories: Random thoughts