Thursday, April 04, 2013

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 4: Again on the Fort Pillow massacre

In yesterday's post I discussed the Fort Pillow Massacre report of the Joint Select Committee on the Conduct of the War. Here I'm providing an excerpt from the report summary describing their findings. It was 1864 and three years into a civil war, and the report engages in a bit of purple prose. But by investigated the massacre immediately after it occurred, they were able to provide a critical record of the ugly event itself, which occurred in April 1864. I've added paragraph breaks here:

Then followed a scene of cruelty and murder without a parallel in civilized warfare, which needed but the tomahawk and scalping-knife to exceed the worst atrocities ever committed by savages. The rebels commenced an indiscriminate slaughter, sparing neither age nor sex, white or black, soldier or civilian. The officers and men seemed to vie with each other in the devilish work; men, women, and even children, wherever found, were deliberately shot down, beaten, and hacked with sabres; some of the children not more than ten years old were forced to stand up and face their murderers while being shot; the sick and the wounded were butchered without mercy, the rebels even entering the hospital building and dragging them out to be shot; or killing them as they lay there unable to offer the least resistance.

All over the hillside the work of murder was going on; numbers of our men were collected together in lines or groups and deliberately shot; some were shot while in the river, while others on the bank were shot and their bodies kicked into the water, many of them still living but unable to make any exertions to save themselves from drowning. Some of the rebels stood on the top of the hill or a short distance down its side, and called to our soldiers to come up to them, and as they approached, shot them down in cold blood; if their guns or pistols missed fire, forcing them to stand there until they were again prepared to fire. All around were heard cries of "No quarter!" "No quarter!" "Kill the damned niggers; shoot them down!" All who asked for mercy were answered by the most cruel taunts and sneers. Some were spared for a time, only to be murdered under circumstances of greater cruelty.

No cruelty which the most fiendish malignity could devise was omitted by these murderers. One white soldier who was wounded in one leg so as to be unable to walk, was made to stand up while his tormentors shot him; others who were wounded and unable to stand were held up and again shot. One negro who had been ordered by a rebel officer to hold his horse, was killed by him when he remounted; another, a mere child, whom an officer had taken up behind him on his horse, was seen by Chalmers, who at once ordered the officer to put him down and shoot him, which was done. The huts and tents in which many of the wounded had sought shelter were set on fire, both that night and the next morning, while the wounded were still in them — those only escaping who were able to get themselves out, or who could prevail on others less injured than themselves to help them out; and even some of those thus seeking to escape the flames were met by those ruffians and brutally shot down, or had their brains beaten out.

One man was deliberately fastened down to the floor of a tent, face upwards, by means of nails driven through his clothing and into the boards under him, so that he could not possibly escape, and then the tent set on fire; another was nailed to the side of a building outside of the fort, and then the building set on fire and burned. The charred remains of five or six bodies were afterwards found, all but one so much disfigured and consumed by the flames that they could not be identified, and the identification of that one is not absolutely certain, although there can hardly be a doubt that it was the body of Lieutenant Akerstrom, quartermaster of the 13th Tennessee cavalry, and a native Tennesseean; several witnesses who saw the remains, and who were personally acquainted with him while living, have testified that it is their firm belief that it was his body that was thus treated.

Here is the transcript of one of the witnesses quoted in the report:

Arthur Edwards, (colored,) private, company C, 6th United States heavy artillery, sworn and examined.

By the chairman :

Question. Where were yon raised?
Answer. In Mississippi.
Question. Were yon in Fort Pillow when it was taken?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Tell what you saw there.
Answer. I was shot after I surrendered.
Question. When?
Answer. About half past four o'clock.
Question. Where were you when yon were shot?
Answer. I was lying down behind a log.
Question. Were were you shot?
Answer. In the head first, then in the shoulder, then in my right wrist; and
then in the head again, about half an hour after that.
Question. How many men shot at you?
Answer. One shot at me three times, and then a lieutenant shot at me.
Question. Did they say anything when they shot you?
Answer. No, sir, only I asked them not to shoot me, and they said, "God damn you, you are fighting against your master."
Question. How near was the man to yon when he shot yon?
Answer. He squatted down, and held his pistol close to my head.
Question. How near was the officer to you when he shot you?
Answer. About five or ten feet off; he was sitting on his horse.
Question. Who said yon were fighting against your master?
Answer. The man that shot me.
Question. What did the officer my?
Answer. Nothing, but "you God damned nigger." A captain told him not to do it, but he did not mind him; he shot me, and run off on his horse.
Question. Did yon see the captain?
Answer. Yes, sir; he and the captain were side by side.
Question. Did yon know the captain?
Answer. No, sir.
Question. How long did yon stay there?
Answer. Until next morning about 9 o'clock.
Question. How did you get away?
Answer. When the gunboat commenced shelling I went down the hill, and staid there until they carried down a flag of truce. Then the gunboat came to the bank, and a secesh [Rebel] lieutenant made us go down to such a place, and told us to go no further, or we would get shot again. Then the gunboat men came along to bury the dead, and told us to go on the boat.
Question. Did you sec anybody shot after they had surrendered, besides yourself?
Answer. Yes, sir; they shot one right by me, and lots of the 13th Tennessee cavalry.
Quest ion. After they had surrendered?
Answer. Yes, sir.
Question. Do you know whether any were buried alive?
Answer. Not that I saw.
Question. Did you see anybody buried?
Answer. No, sir.
Question. Did you sec anybody shot the day after the fight?
Answer. No, sir. (pp. 22-3)
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