119[civilwarwest] Was Gideon Pillow REALLY all wrong????
- Oct 9, 1999The following material is presented for your consideration and comment.
Was Pillow really such a jerk or was Buckner the first "spin doctor"?
Hopefully just some food for thought.
Portions of General Floyd's Ft. Donelson Report
<BR><font size=2>The enemy had been landing re-enforcements throughout
the day. His numbers had been augmented to eighty-three regiments. Our
troops were completely exhausted by four days and nights of continued
conflict. To renew it, with any hope of successful result was obviously
vain, and such I understand to be the unanimous opinion of all the
officers present at the council called to consider what was best to be
done. I thought, and so announced, that a desperate onset upon the
right of the enemy's forces, on the ground where we had attacked them
in the morning, might result in the extricating of a considerable
proportion of the command from the position we were in, and this
opinion I understood to be concurred in by all who were present; but it
was likewise agreed, with the same unanimity, that it would result in
the slaughter of nearly all who did not succeed in effecting their
escape. The question then a rose whether, in point of humanity and a
sound military policy, a course should be adopted from which the
probabilities were that the larger proportion of the command would be
cut to pieces in an unavailing fight against overwhelming numbers. I
understood the general sentiment to be averse to the proposition, I
felt that in this contingency, while it might be questioned whether I
should, as commander of the army, lead it to certain destruction in an
unavailing fight, I had a right individually to determine that I would
not survive a surrender there. To satisfy both propositions, I agreed
to hand over the command to Brigadier-General Buckner through
Brigadier-General Pillow, and to make an effort for my own extrication
by any and every means that might present themselves to me. ....
The consultation which took place among the officers on the night of
the 15th was to ascertain whether a further struggle could be
maintained, and it was resolved in the negative unconditionally and
emphatically. General Buckner, whose immediate command was the largest
in the fort, was positive and unequivocal in his opinion that the fight
could not be renewed. I confess I was myself strongly influenced by
this opinion of General Buckner; for I have not yet seen an officer in
whose superior military ability, clear, discriminating judgment, in
whose calm, unflinching courage and unselfish patriotism I more fully
confide than in his. The loss to the Confederacy of so able, brave, and
accomplished a soldier is irreparable.</font size>
Portions of General Pillows Report and resulting correspondence:
<font size=2> <br>We had fought the battle to open the way for our army
and to relieve us from an investment which would necessarily reduce us
and the position we occupied by famine. We had accomplished our object,
but it occupied the whole day, and before we could prepare to leave,
after taking in the wounded and dead, the enemy had thrown around us
again in the night an immense force of fresh troop and reoccupied his
original position in the line of investment, thus again cutting off our
retreat. .... The command had been in the trenches night and day for
five days, exposed to the snow, sleet, mud, and ice-water, without
shelter and without adequate covering and without sleep. In this
condition the general officers held a consultation, to determine what
we should do. General Buckner gave it's his decided opinion that he
could not hold his position a half hour against an assault of the
enemy, and said he was satisfied the enemy would attack him at daylight
the next morning. The proposition was then made by the undersigned to
again fight our way through the enemy's line and cut our way out.
General Buckner said his command was so worn-out and cut to pieces and
demoralized that he could not make another fight; that it would cost
the command three-fourths its present numbers to cut its way out; that
it was wrong to sacrifice three-fourths of a command to save
one-fourth, and that no officer had a right to cause such a sacrifice.
General Floyd and Major Gilmer I understood to concur in this opinion.
I then expressed the opinion that we could hold out another day, and in
that time we could get steamboats and set the command over the river
and probably save a large portion of it. To this General Buckner
replied that the enemy would certainly attack him in the morning and
that he could not hold his position a half hour.
<br>.....The alternative of these propositions was a surrender of the
position and command. General Floyd said he would not surrender the
command nor would he surrender himself a prisoner. I had taken the same
position. General Buckner said he was satisfied nothing else could be
done, and that therefore he would surrender the command, if placed in
command. General Floyd said he would turn over the command to him, if
he could be allowed to withdraw his command. To this General Buckner
consented. Thereupon the command was turned over to me, I passing it
instantly to General Buckner, saying I would neither surrender the
command nor myself. I directed Colonel Forrest to cut his way out.
<br>Under these circumstances General Buckner accepted the command and
sent a flag of truce to the enemy for an armistice of six hours, to
negotiate for terms of capitulation. Before this flag and communication
were delivered I retired from the garrison........
<br>With these facts all before Generals Floyd, Buckner, and myself
(the two former having remained at my quarters all the intervening
while), General Floyd said: "Well, gentlemen, what is best now to be
done?" Neither General Buckner nor myself having answered promptly,
General Floyd repeated his inquiry, addressing himself to me by name.
My reply was that it was difficult to determine what was best to be
done, but that I was in favor of cutting our way out. He then asked
General Buckner .... that the army had done all it was possible to do,
and that duty and honor required no more. General Floyd then remarked
that his opinion coincided with General Buckner's.............
Again, I believe we could have maintained our position another day, and
have saved the army by getting back our boats and setting the command
across the river; but, inasmuch as General Buckner was of opinion that
he could not hold his position half an hour and I could not possibly do
more than hold my own portion of the line, I had no alternative but to
submit to the decision of a majority of my brother general
Accompanying Pillows reports where the following reports:
<font size=2>Statement of Col. John C. Burch.
DECATUR, ALA., March 15, 1862.
On Saturday evening, February 15, .... After supper a council of
officers was held at Brigadier-General Pillow's headquarters. I was not
present at this council, but during its session, being in an adjoining
room, I learned from some officers that intelligence had been received
from scouts on the east side of the river that fourteen of the enemy's
transports were landing re-enforcements 1½ or 2 miles below us, at
their usual place of landing.
<BR>After I learned this, and during the session of the same council,
two couriers came to Brigadier-General Buckner, ...-one stating that a
large force was forming in front of our right (General Buckner's) wing,
the second stating that large bodies of the enemy were seen moving in
front of our right around towards our left.
<br>After the adjournment of this council, about 11 or 12 o'clock, I
learned that it had been determined to evacuate the post, cut our way
through the right wing of the enemy's investing force, ...
<br> in General Pillow's private room, where Generals Floyd, Pillow,
and Buckner all were, two scouts came in, stating that the enemy's
campfires could be seen at the same places in front of our left that
they had occupied Friday. ....
Major Rice, ... and interrogated as to the character of the road to
Charlotte. His account of it was decidedly unfavorable. In the course
of the conversation which then followed among the generals--<b>General
Pillow insisting upon carrying out the previous determination of the
council--to cut our way out </b>Brigadier-General Buckner said that
such was the exhausted condition of the men that if they should succeed
in cutting their way out it would be at a heavy sacrifice; and if
pursued by the large cavalry force of the enemy they would be almost
entirely cut to pieces. General Floyd concurred with General Buckner.
General Pillow said: "Then we can fight them another day in our
trenches, and by to-morrow night we can have boats enough here to
transport our troops across the river and let them make their escape to
Clarksville." General Buckner said that such was the position of the
enemy on his right, and the demoralization of his forces from exposure
and exhaustion that he could not hold his trenches half an hour....
General Floyd concurred with General Buckner in his opinion as to the
impossibility of holding the trenches longer, .... General Pillow said
that he never would surrender. General Floyd said that he would suffer
any fate before he would surrender or fall into the hands of the enemy
alive.....Colonel Forrest, of the cavalry, who was present, said he
would die before he would surrender; that such of his men as would
follow him he would take out. General Floyd said he would take his
chances with Forrest, and asked General Buckner if he would make the
surrender. General Buckner asked him if he (General Floyd) would pass
the command to him. General Floyd replied in the affirmative. I
understood General Pillow as doing the same. "Then," said General
Buckner, "I shall propose terms of capitulation ;" and asked for ink
and paper, and directed one of his staff to send for a bugler and
prepare white flags to plant at various points on our works....
. Thus ended the conference.
... JNO. C. BURCH,
Aide to General Pillow.
Sworn to and subscribed before me this 15th day of March, 1862.
Intendant of the Town of Decatur, Ala.,
and ex-officio Justice of the Peace.</font size>
<font size=2>Statement of Col. N. B. Forrest.<BR>
<BR>MARCH 15, 1862.
<BR>Between 1 and 2 o'clock on Sunday morning, February 16, being sent
for, I arrived at General Pillow's headquarters, and found him, General
Floyd, and General Buckner in conversation. General Pillow told me that
they had received information that the enemy were again occupying the
same ground they had occupied the morning before. .... He instructed me
to go immediately and send two reliable men to ascertain the condition
of a road running near the river bank and between the enemy's right and
the river, and also to ascertain the position of the enemy. I obeyed
his instructions and awaited the return of the scouts. They stated that
they saw no enemy, but could see their fires in the same place where
they were Friday night; that from their examination and information
obtained from a citizen living on the river road the water was about to
the saddle skirts, and the mud about half-leg deep in the bottom where
it had been overflowed. The bottom was about a quarter of a mile wide
and the water then about 100 yards wide.
<BR>During the conversation that then ensued among the general officers
<B><font color=red>General Pillow was in favor of trying to cut our way
out.General Buckner said that he could not hold his position over half
an hour in the morning, and that if he attempted to take his force out
it would be seen by the enemy (who held part of his intrenchments), and
be followed and cut to pieces. I told him that I would take my cavalry
around there and he could draw out under cover of them. He said that an
attempt to cut our way out would involve the loss of three-fourths of
the men.</b> </font color>General Floyd said our force was so
demoralized as to cause him to agree with General Buckner as to our
probable loss in attempting to cut our way out. .... I went out of the
room, and when I returned General Floyd said he could not and would not
surrender himself. I then asked if they were going to surrender the
command. General Buckner remarked that they were. I then slated that I
had not come out for the purpose of surrendering my command, and would
not do it if they would follow me out; that I intended to go out if I
saved but one man; and then turning to General Pillow I asked him what
I should do. He replied, "Cut your way out." I immediately left the
house and sent for all the officers under my command, and stated to
them the facts that had occurred and stated my determination to leave,
and remarked that all who wanted to go could follow me,.... The weather
was intensely cold; a great many of the men were already frost-bitten,
and it was the opinion of the generals that the infantry could not have
passed through the water and have survived it.
<BR> N. B. FORREST,
Colonel, Commanding Forrest's Regiment of Cavalry.
<br>Sworn to and subscribed before me on the 15th day of March, 1862.
LEVI SUGARS, </font size>
Hunter Nioholson's statement.
I was present at the council of war, held at Brigadier-General Pillow's
headquarters, in Dover, on Saturday night, February 15, 1862. I came
into the room about 2 o'clock. There were present Generals Floyd,
Pillow, and Buckner, Major Gilmer, Colonel Forrest, and several staff
officers, among whom I distinctly remember Major Henry and Colonel
Burch, of General Pillow's staff.
The generals were discussing the necessity and practicability of
marching the forces out of the intrenchments and evacuating the place.
...In a little while, or perhaps during the conversation of Major Rice,
the gentleman referred to was announced. He gave a description of the
roads which, from my ignorance of the locality, I am unable to repeat.
The substance was, however, that,<b> though exceedingly difficult, it
was possible to pass the roads with light baggage trains. </b>General
Pillow asked most of the questions propounded to this gentleman, as
also those to Major Rice.
<br>At this point I was called into an adjoining room, where I remained
but a few minutes. ....
About this time a scout was ushered in, who answered that the enemy had
reoccupied the lines from which they had been driven during the fight
on Saturday. General Pillow doubted if the scout was not mistaken; so
another was sent out. ....General Buckner remarked, "I am confident
that the enemy will attack my lines by light, and I cannot hold them
for half an hour." General Pillow replied quickly, "Why so; why so,
general?" General Buckner replied, "Because I can bring into action not
over 4,000 men, and they demoralized by long and uninterrupted exposure
and fighting, while they can bring any number of fresh troops to the
attack." General Pillow replied, "I differ with you. I think you can
hold your lines; I think you can, sir." General Buckner replied, "I
know my position, and I know that the lines cannot be held with my
troops in the present condition." General Floyd, it was, I think, who
then remarked, "Then, gentlemen, a capitulation is all that is left
us." <b>To which General Pillow replied, "I do not think so; at any
rate, we can cut our way out."</B> General Buckner replied, "To cut our
way out would cost three-fourths of our men, and I do not think any
commander has a right to sacrifice three-fourths of his command to save
one-fourth." To which General Floyd replied, "Certainly not."
<br>About this time the second scout sent out returned, and reported
the enemy in force occupying the position from which they had been
driven. Thereupon two of Colonel Forrest's cavalry were sent to examine
the backwater and report if it could be crossed by the army. These
scouts returned in a short time and reported that cavalry could pass,
but infantry could not. General Buckner then asked, "Well, gentlemen,
what are we to do?" <b>General Pillow replied, "You understand me,
gentlemen; I am for holding out at least to-day, getting boats, and
crossing the command over the river. </B>As for myself, I will never
surrender the command or myself; I will die first." General Floyd
replied, "Nor will I; I cannot and will not surrender, but I must
confess personal reasons control me." General Buckner replied, "But
such considerations should not control a general's actions." General
Floyd replied, "Certainly not; nor would I permit it to cause me to
sacrifice the command." General Buckner replied, "Then I suppose the
duty of surrendering the command will devolve on me." ....A pause here
ensued. Then General Buckner asked, "Am I to consider the command as
turned over to me?" General Floyd replied, "Certainly, I turn over the
command." General Pillow replied quickly, "I pass it; I will not
surrender." General Buckner then called for pen, ink, and paper, and a
bugler. ...Colonel Forrest then asked, "Gentlemen, have I leave to cut
my way out with my command?" General Pillow replied, "Yes, sir; cut
your way out;" and, continuing, "Gentlemen, is there anything wrong in
my leaving?" General Floyd replied, "Every man must judge for himself
of that." General Pillow replied, "Then I shall leave this place." Here
General Pillow left the room, but returned in a short time, and, taking
a seat between Generals Floyd and Buckner, said, "Gentlemen, in order
that we may understand each other, let me state what is my position; I
differ with you as to the cost of cutting our way out, but if it were
ascertained that it would cost three-fourths of the command, I agree
that it would be wrong to sacrifice them for the remaining fourth."
Generals Floyd and Buckner replied, "We understand you, general, and
you understand us." After this I left the room, and soon after the
<br> HUNTER NICHOLSON.
Sworn to and subscribed before me on this 18th day of March, 1862.
<br> LEVI SUGARS,
Intendant of the Town of Decatur, Ala.,
and ex-officio Justice of the Peace.</font size>
Portions of General Buckner's Report
<font size=2>In a council of general and field officers, held after
night, it was unanimously resolved that if the enemy had not reoccupied
in strength the position in front of General Pillow the army should
effect its retreat, and orders to assemble the regiments for that
purpose were given by General Floyd; but as the enemy had late in the
afternoon appeared in considerable force on the battle-field of the
morning, a reconnaissance was ordered, I think by General Pillow, under
the instructions of General Floyd. The report of this reconnaissance,
made by Colonel Forrest, has been fully stated by Generals Floyd and
Pillow, and, from what I have been able to learn since, I am satisfied
the information reported was correct.
<BR>Among other incidents showing that the enemy had not only
reoccupied their former ground, but extended their lines still farther
to our left, is the fact that Overton's cavalry following after
Forrest's, was cut off from retreat by an infantry force of the enemy
at the point where Format had crossed the stream on the river road.
When the information of our reinvestment was reported, General Floyd,
General Pillow, and myself were the only members of the council
present. Both of these officers have stated the views of the council,
but my recollection of some of the incidents narrated differ so
materially from that of General Pillow, that, without intending any
reflection upon either of those officers, I feel called upon to notice
some of the differences of opinion between us.
<BR>Both officers have correctly stated that I regarded the position of
the army as desperate, and that an attempt to extricate it by another
battle, in the suffering and exhausted condition of the troops, was
almost hopeless. The troops had been worn down with watching, with
labor, with fighting. Many of them were frosted by the intensity of the
cold; all of them were suffering and exhausted by their incessant
labors. There had been no regular issue of rations for a number of days
and scarcely any means of cooking. Their ammunition was nearly
expended. We were completely invested by a force fully four times the
strength of our own. In their exhausted condition they could not have
made a march. An attempt to make a sortie would have been resisted by a
superior force of fresh troops, and that attempt would have been the
signal for the fall of the water batteries and the presence of the
enemy's gunboats sweeping with the fire at close range the positions of
our troops, who would thus have been assailed on their front, rear, and
right flank at the same instant. The result would have been a virtual
massacre of the troops, more disheartening in its effects than a
<br><b>In this opinion General Floyd coincided, and I am certain that
both he and I were convinced that General Pillow agreed with us in
opinion. </B>General Pillow then asked our opinion as to the
practicability of holding our position another day. I replied that my
right was already turned, a portion of my intrenchments in the enemy's
possession--they were in position successfully to assail my position
and the water batteries--and that, with my weakened and exhausted
force, I could not successfully resist the assault which would be made
at daylight by a vastly superior force. I further remarked that I
understood the principal object of the defense of Donelson to be to
cover the movement of General A. S. Johnston's army from Bowling Green
to Nashville, and that if that movement was not completed it was my
opinion that we should attempt a further defense, even at the risk of
the destruction of our entire force, as the delay even of a few hours
might gain the safety of General Johnston's force. General Floyd
remarked that General Johnston's army had already reached Nashville. I
then expressed the opinion that it would be wrong to subject the army
to a virtual massacre when no good could result from the sacrifice,...
General Floyd expressed himself in similar terms, and in his opinion
<b>I understood General Pillow to acquiesce. </B>For reasons which he
has stated General Floyd then announced his purpose to leave, with such
portions of his division as could be transported in two small steamers,
which were expected about daylight.... General Pillow, however,
announced his purpose to leave; when General Floyd directed me to
consider myself in command. I remarked that a capitulation would be as
bitter to me as it could be to any one, but I regarded it as a
necessity of our position, and I could not reconcile it with my sense
of duty to separate my fortune from those of my command..... </font
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