Wednesday, March 26, 2014

3.26.2014 Tennessee Civil War Notes

        26, Confederate Newspaper Report on Gideon J. Pillow

General Gideon J. Pillow

This brave and distinguished officer, who during he was, has passed unscathed through two of the bloodiest almost hotly contested battles ever fought on this continent, arrived in this city[1]  on Saturday morning last [22nd], and stopped at the Yarborough House. In the afternoon of Saturday, a large number of our citizens being exceedingly anxious to see, and hear the distinguished gentleman speak, assembled in from of the Court House and appointed a Committee, consisting of the Mayor and two or three other citizens, to wait upon General P. and request him to address them, with which request the gallant officer very obligingly complied. Upon being conducted to the Court House, the Court room was in a few minutes crowed to its utmost capacity by a large and intelligent audience. Gen. P. was introduced by Mayor Root, and arose and addressed the audience for about an hour, in one of the most interesting speeches which we have ever listened. We do the speaker injustice to attempt to report his remarks, as we took no noted but we will attempt to give briefly, though incoherently the substance of his speech.

General Pillow said that from the first he was confident that the attempt of the S struggle. He did not from the first believe that secession could b accomplished peaceably; yet, he had advocated it and urged it upon the people of the South as the lesser of two evils. He believed that it would be better for the South to withdraw from the North, even though that step might involve the two sections in a prolonged and bloody was. While he felt confident, however, that the North would resist the bitter end the attempts of the Southern States to secede, he had no idea of the gigantic proportions which the struggle would assume. When Fort Sumter fell, he hastened to Montgomery, and offered his services to President Davis, and offered also to bring 10,000 Tennesseeans to the aid of the Confederate States if he should desire it. He thought that his experience and former rank in the U. S. Army, entitled him to some consideration at the hands of the President, for he outranked very officer in the armies of either the Confederate or United States. He was a Major General in the old U. S. Army, and when he tendered is services to the President, bore the commission of Major General of the forces of his own State, Tennessee. Notwithstanding these facts, when President Davis did tender him a commission, he placed him at the tail end of the Brigadiers. If it had been Jefferson Davis whom he wanted to serve he would have hurled the commission in his face. But he was not serving Jefferson Davis, but he was serving the country, and felt willing, therefore, to serve that country in any capacity to which he might be assigned.

General P. then went on to refer to the battle of Fort Donelson. He said that leaving Columbus about the first of January, he returned to his home quite sick. When he had yet hardly recovered from his illness he was ordered to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston to report to him at Bowling Green, to which place he forthwith repaired. When arrived there, Gen. Johnson told him that he desired him (Gen. P.) to go to Fort Donelson and take command of the forces there assembled. Gen. P. demurred at taking command of this fort, for he said Gen. Johnston must have known that the Fort could not be held; and besides, he had no command there-his command was at Columbus, where, he stated toe Gen. J., he would prefer going. Gen. Johnston replied that Fort Donelson must be held-, and that he must do so.- Gen. P. then urged no further objection, but proceeded to obey the orders of his superior officer. Arriving at Fort Donelson on the 11th of February, he found that but little progress had been made in strengthening the fortifications,[2] and that the soldiers were greatly demoralized and disheartened because of the recent reverses they has sustained at Fort Henry. He found that the defenses of the Fort against the enemy's gunboats consisted of eleven small guns, one rifled 32-pounder, and one 8 inch columbiad, the latter not being mounted. He proceeded forthwith to mount this gun, and put the men to work with all their might night and day strengthening their works. On the morning of the13th of February the attack commenced. Here Gen. P. graphically described the fierce attack of the enemy's gunboats and their signal repulse; the successful repulse of the enemy in his charge upon the trenches; and gave a thrilling description of the terrible battle of the 16th, when our gallant soldiers made a desperate attempt to cut their way through the investing lines of the enemy. The next part of his speech, though of thrilling interest, was necessarily a repetition  of his Official Report , which we have already published.- After nine hours of as hard fighting as was ever witnessed on this continent, our forces finally succeed in opening a passage through which or army intended retreating on the next morning. All or forces were under arms and prepared  to retreat from the works, when at three o'clock  on the morning of the 16th information was received that the enemy had been largely reinforced; and had reoccupied the ground from which they had been driven the day before. This information instantly changed the aspect of affairs. A consultation of the chief officers, consisting of Gens. Floyd, Pillow and Buckner was held to decide what should be done. Gen. P. proposed that should again attempt to cut their way out, and that they forced a passage, they should go on, leaving their dead and wounded on the battlefield. Gen. Buckner replied to this proposition that the men were completely exhausted, that they had been with rest or shelter, in the rain snow and sleet for five days and nights, and without food, with the exception of raw beef-that it would cost the lives of three-fourths of an army to save one-fourth of their present number to cut their way out, and that no officer had a right to sacrifice three-fourths of an army to leave one-fourth Gen. Pillow did not believe that the sacrifice of life would be so great, but Gen. Floyd, who was chief in command, being the senior officer, concurred with Buckner, and consequently this proposition was dropped. Gen. Pillow then proposed that they should endeavor to hold out one day longer, saying that by night the boats which had up the river with the wounded and prisoners would return, when the whole fore could be on the other side of the river., and thus escape through the country–in reply to this Gen. Buckner said that the enemy already had possession of the right wing of his line of defences-that-that he was confident he would be attacked to daybreak, and that is the then demoralized and exhausted sate of his troops he would not possibly repulse them, and consequently it was physically impossible to hold out another day,-Gen. Floyd consented with Ben Buckner in this view of the case, and Gen. Pillow's opinion being overruled by the opinion of both his senior and junior in command, no alternative was left but to surrender. General Pillow then said, I, for one, will not surrender-I will die first." Gen. Floyd said the same thing. Gen Buckner told them that they were placing the matter upon personal grounds-that they had no right to do so, and that if he was placed in command he would surrender. Gen Floyd replied that he did act from personal motives, and that if Gen Buckner would assume the command he would transfer it to him, provided he would allow him to withdraw his brigade. Gen. Buckner consented, provided he would withdraw his Brigade before the surrender was made. Gen. Floyd then turned to Gen. Floyd and said: "Gen Pillow I turn over the command to you." Gen. Pillow replied, "I will not accept it." Gen. Floyd then transferred the command to Gen. Buckner, when Gens. Floyd and Pillow, the former unaccompanied by his Brigade, mostly Virginians, left and crossed the river, thereby effecting their escape

Gen. Pillow, to show that he was determined never to surrender to the Yankees, incidentally referred to the battle of Belmont, where he was Chief in command- at onetime during the progress of this battle, when our men were forced back by the overwhelming odds against them, General P. was hemmed in on three sides by the Yankee forces, and the fourth side was blocked up by almost impenetrable trees, which had be felled by our troops to impede the progress of the Yankees. Gen P. was the only officer who was mounted, his staff and all other officer having dismounted by the enemy's fire. If he had ever thought of surrendering he must have done so here, but he; but he had had no idea of doing so here, or elsewhere. He was mounted on a beautiful mare, which he called "Fannie Belmont" and saying to her, "Fannie, you must take me out of this difficulty," he turned her head to the open space, when she darted through the tops of the felled trees like lighting, splitting through those which he could not leap over. The Yankees seeing their prey escaping from their clutches, sent a shower of Minnie balls whistling by his ears, but "Fannie" took him out safely.[3]

In the face of the facts detailed the President had thought proper to suspend him from command, and he was on his way to Richmond in obedience to the order of the Secretary of War. Though the president was a man of strong convictions and somewhat mulish, he did not believe that he would do any one intentional wrong. He believed that the President was a sincere man, and a true patriot, and he was willing to abide any decision that might be the result of the investigation of his conduct.

In conclusion Gen. Pillow stated that Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston was now hastening to the West to form a junction of his forces with those under Gen. Beauregard – that the enemy already landed some 60,000 or 70,000 troops on the East Bank of the Tennessee River, and that in two weeks a great battle would be fought on the borders of the State of Mississippi, which would have much influence in deciding the fate of our Confederacy.[4] He stated that he was now hastening to Richmond with dispatches from Gen. Johnston. If we were whipped in this battle, the enemy would take possession of all the lines of railroad leading into the Cotton States, and Texas, Arkansas and Missouri would be subjugated. But if we should gain the victory the enemy will be driven, dispirited and routed, out of the Mississippi Valley, and the success of our cause will be insured. Gen. P. urged our people as one man to put forth their whole strength in this great struggle, and to cease speculating and trying to make money when no man know how long he will be allowed to retain what he already has. He gave a vivid picture of what our fate will be if we should be subjugated, saying that the Yankee Government will tax this State $40,000,000 a year, and they will reduce our State to the condition of a territory, and will perform other acts revolting to the feelings of every Southerner. He urged our people, if they would escape this condition of affairs, to come up manfully to the work. He amused the audience very much by saying that if we had an "Andy Johnson" among us, old Lincoln would make him our Governor."

Gen. P. was frequently applauded during his interesting address, and was given three cheers at the conclusion of his speech.

He left this city on Sunday morning for Richmond.

Raleigh Semi Weekly Raleigh Register, March 27, 1862.[5]



        26, Pressing slaves to work on Fort Negley; an excerpt from the diary of John Hill Fergusson, 10th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Nashville Tennessee March 26th 1863

The morning cold the day pleasent [sic]….had dress puraid [sic] and battalion drill at ½ past 4 P.M…part of our company and company F volunteered to go with the sergeant Major of the contraband camp to gather up a squad of negros [sic] they went up town had some brandy pressed some city stage cotches [sic] road [sic] out some 3 miles pressed an Irish mans [sic]  the Irish man was mad struck at the Sergt Major the Sergt Major hit him a few times with the but of his whip cutting his head up pritty [sic] badly 3 or fore [sic] of the boys leveled there [sic] guns and would a [sic] shot him only for the Sergt they had to use the baynet [sic] to force the negros [sic] along the Sergt Magor [sic] treated the boys to the amount of 7 dollars in some thing to drink tobacco Secegars [sic] & c [sic] and gave them a 5 dollar green back to treet [sic] them selves [sic] at another time they brought into camp about 30 darkies to work on our fortifications & c.

John Hill Fergusson Diary, Book 3.



        26, 1864 - U. S. C. T. in Sparta

....The Yankees are still in Sparta, not only there but have some negro soldiers there too. They were bad enough but when it comes to negroes [sic], Heaven defend us! It is indeed humiliating, but the country deserves to be humiliated. Even to the very dust....

Diary of Amanda McDowell.



        26, 1864, Education of the freedman; an entry in Alice Williamson's Diary, Sumner County

Weather beautiful. Yanks behaving like human beings [sic] with a few exceptions. Today a Yankee officer made his appearance in the school room accompanied by a Northern being whom I supposed to be a man, as he was not a gentleman; he came to look at the church saying that he was president of a school and six of his assistants had just arrived and was going to teach the "freedmen." He says he will have 3 or 400 scholars and will need the largest house in town. What a learned city-or rather yankee nest-this will be. I suppose some of us citizens will get a situation as assistant teacher in the "Freedmens [sic] University."

Williamson Diary.

[1] Raleigh, N, C.

[2] This is amusing, given Pillow was the"ditch digger" at Camargo, during the American war with Mexico. 

[3] What happened to the soldiers of his command?

[4] Pillow must have been clairvoyant, as the battle of Shiloh would take place in about two weeks.

[5] TSL&A, 19th CN

James B. Jones, Jr.

Public Historian

Tennessee Historical Commission

2941 Lebanon Road

Nashville, TN  37214

(615)-532-1550  x115

(615)-532-1549  FAX


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