Report of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers, C. S.
Army, commanding First Division Cavalry, of the capture of Fort Pillow.
MARCH 16-APRIL 14, 1864.--Forrest's Expedition into West Tennessee and Kentucky.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXXII/1 [S# 57]
HDQRS. FIRST DIVISION, FORREST'S CAV. DEPARTMENT,
Verona, May 7, 1864.
Maj. J.P. STRANGE,
MAJOR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the actions of the troops under my command in the recent capture of Fort Pillow, Tenn.:
In obedience to orders from Major-General Forrest, I directed Col. J. J. Neely, commanding First Brigade of this division, to move his command, on the morning of the 10th April, from Whiteville southward in the direction of Memphis, instructing him to produce the impression that he was the advance of General Forrest's command, and that our whole force was in his rear, and to make preparations for constructing pontoon bridges across Wolf River at Raleigh and one or two other points, and to make such demonstrations as would induce the enemy to believe that our whole force was about to attack Memphis. At the same time I ordered Col. John McGuirk, Third Regiment Mississippi State Cavalry, to move with his own regiment and the First Mississippi Partisans, under Major Park, northward from the Tallahatchie River toward Memphis, and to report that Major-General Lee was advancing from the south of that place. It gives me pleasure to report that both of these officers executed these orders with promptness and success.
I then assumed command of a division composed of McCulloch's brigade of my division and Col. T. H. Bell's brigade of Buford's division.
On the morning of the 11th instant, I moved this division from Sharon's Ferry, on Forked Deer, in the direction of Brownsville, and on the same morning moved Lieutenant-Colonel Chalmers' battalion through Brownsville on the Memphis road, and thence by a circuitous route back again to the Fort Pillow road. I moved from Brownsville in person, at 3.30 p.m., on the 11th and reached Fort Pillow, a distance of 40 miles, at daylight next morning. Colonel McCulloch, commanding advance, surprised the enemy's pickets and captured 4 of them. My orders from General Forrest were to invest the place, and I proceeded to do so as follows: McCulloch's brigade moved down the Fulton road to Gaines' farm; thence north to the fort on a road running parallel with the Mississippi River; Wilson's regiment, of Bell's brigade, moved on the direct road from Brownsville to Fort Pillow, and Colonel Bell with Barteau's and Russell's regiments moved down Coal Creek to attack the fort in the rear.
The works at Fort Pillow consisted of a strong line of fortifications, originally constructed by Brigadier-General Pillow, of the C. S. Army, stretching from Coal Creek bottom, on the left, to the Mississippi River on the right, in length about 2 miles and at an average distance of about 600 yards from the river. Inside of this outer line and about 600 yards from it stood an interior work on the crest of a commanding hill, originally commenced by Brigadier-General Villepigue, C. S. Army, which covered about 2 acres of ground. About 300 yards in rear of this, above the junction of Coal Creek and the Mississippi River, stood the last fortification, which was a strong dirt fort in semicircular form, with a ditch in front of it 12 feet wide and 8 feet deep.
The enemy did not attempt to hold the outer line, but trained their artillery so as to play upon the only roads leading through it.
The fight was opened at daylight by McCulloch. He moved cautiously through the ravines and short hills which encompassed the place, protecting the men as much as possible from the enemy's artillery, five pieces of which from the fort, aided by two gun-boats on the river, played furiously upon him. Moving in this manner he succeeded about 11 o'clock in taking the work, which I have spoken of as having been commenced by General Villepigue, and the flag of the Eighteenth Mississippi Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Chalmers commanding, which had been the first regiment to enter the fort, was quickly flying above it.
While Colonel McCulloch had been moving up on the left, Colonel Bell moved up on the right and rear, and Colonel Wilson moved up on the center, taking advantage of the ground as much as possible to shelter their men. Affairs were in this condition, with the main fort completely invested, when Major-General Forrest arrived with Colonel Wisdom's regiment of Buford's division. After carefully examining the position he ordered a general charge to be made. The troops responded with alacrity and enthusiasm, and in a short time took possession of all the rifle-pits around the fort, and closed up on all sides within 25 or 30 yards of the outer ditch. Here a considerable delay occurred from the ammunition being exhausted. A supply, however, was obtained as quickly as possible from the ordnance train and everything was made ready for another advance. To prevent the unnecessary effusion of blood Major-General Forrest now demanded, under flag of truce, the surrender of the place, which after a parley of about thirty minutes was refused. The bugle then sounded the charge, a general rush was made along the whole line, and in five minutes the ditch was crossed, the parapet scaled, and our troops were in possession of the fort.
The enemy made no attempt to surrender, no white flag was elevated, nor was the U.S. flag lowered until pulled down by our men. Many of them were killed while fighting, and many more in the attempt to escape. The strength of the enemy's force cannot be correctly ascertained, though it was probably about 650 or 700. Of these, 69 wounded were delivered to the enemy's gun-boats next day, after having been paroled. One hundred and sixty-four white men and 40 negroes were taken prisoners, making an aggregate of 273 prisoners. It is probable as many as half a dozen may have escaped. The remainder of the garrison were killed.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the troops under my command. Colonels McCulloch and Bell deserve especial mention for the gallantry with which they led their respective brigades, and the troops emulated the conduct of their leaders. Lieutenant-Colo-nel Reed, temporarily commanding the Fifth Mississippi Cavalry, was pre-eminently daring, and fell mortally wounded while standing on the rifle-pits and encouraging his men to the charge, and Lieutenant Burton was killed at his side. Lieutenant Ryan, of Willis' Texas Battalion; who had won for himself the character of being the best soldier in his regiment, was killed by a shell, and Captain Sullivan, commanding the same battalion, was mortally wounded while most gallantly leading his command. Lieutenant Hubbard, of the Eighteenth Mississippi Battalion, a young but promising officer, was also mortally wounded and has since died.
I cannot conclude this report without mentioning in an especial manner the gallant conduct of Capt. C. T. Smith, commanding my escort company, who led the charge as we moved from the first to the second fort, or without paying a tribute to Private Samuel Allen, of my escort, who was killed in the charge.
I have already furnished a detailed report of the killed and wounded of my command, amounting to 14 killed and 86 wounded. A report of captured property has been called for from the two brigades, and will be forwarded as soon as received.
I herewith submit reports of subordinate commanders.
I have the honor to be, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JAS. R. CHALMERS,
HDQRS. FIRST DIV., FORREST'S CAV. DEPT.,
Oxford, Miss., April 20, 1864.
SOLDIERS: I congratulate you upon your success in the brilliant campaign recently conducted in West Tennessee under the guidance of Major-General Forrest, whose star never shone brighter, and whose restless activity, untiring energy, and courage baffled the calculations and paralyzed the arms of our enemies.
In a brief space of time we have killed 4,000 of the enemy, captured over 1,200 prisoners, 800 horses, 5 pieces of artillery, thousands of small-arms, and many stand of colors, destroyed millions of dollars' worth of property, and relieved the patriots of West Tennessee from the hourly dread in which they have been accustomed to live. West Tennessee is redeemed, and our friends who have heretofore been compelled to speak with bated breath now boldly proclaim their sentiments.
It is with pride and pleasure that I review the part taken by the soldiers of this division in this decisive campaign.
Colonel Duckworth, of the Seventh Tennessee, by a successful ruse at Union City made the enemy believe that Major-General Forrest was present, and compelled the surrender of the place by Hawkins and his regiment of renegade Tennesseeans, with all their arms, horses, and equipments.
Colonel Neely, of the Thirteenth Tennessee, met the traitor Hurst at Bolivar, and after a short conflict, in which we killed and captured 75 prisoners of the enemy, drove Hurst hatless into Memphis, leaving in our hands all his wagons, ambulances, papers, and his mistresses, both black and white.
The once arrogant Grierson, who has never recovered his equanimity since his flight from Okolona, ventured out with two brigades to look after us, when Lieutenant-Colonel Crews, with his dashing battalion, defeated his advance guard, and sent him hurriedly back to Memphis, where he remained trembling behind his fortifications and frightened at every mention of the name of Forrest.
Colonel Neely on the north and Colonel McGuirk on the south, by well-executed demonstrations, alarmed the enemy for the safety of Memphis, while the lion-hearted McCulloch, with his "fighting brigade" of Missourians, Texans, and Mississippians, nobly assisted by Colonel Bell, with his gallant brigade of Tennesseeans, from Buford's division, temporarily attached to my command, stormed the works at Fort Pillow, in the face of the incessant fire from two gun-boats and five pieces of artillery from the fort, and taught the mongrel garrison of blacks and renegades a lesson long to be remembered.
While we rejoice over our victories, let us not forget the few gallant spirits who yielded up their lives to their country, and fell as brave men love to fall, "with their backs to the field and their feet to the foe."
JAMES R. CHALMERS,
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