Buckner's command been equally successful we would have destroyed the enemy's army of 30,000 men. But unfortunately, by his failure in the assault on the Wynn's Ferry road battery, and permitting the enemy after the main battle had been won to take possession of a portion of his rifle pits, the position we occupied became untenable, and having reinvested us with 40,000 troops, half of which were fresh, Generals Floyd and Buckner were of opinion that the army could not be saved, and that capitulation was all that was left us. In this opinion I differed with them. I believed we could cut our way trough the enemy's new line and insisted that it was our duty to do so. But not being sustained in these views, and regarding their decision, approved as it was by General Floyd (the senior general present), as equivalent to a military order of that commander, I felt constrained to acquiesce in what I could not prevent.
In pursuance of this decision General Floyd devolved the command upon General Buckner, who surrendered it accordingly. It is proper here to state that I refused to receive the command for the purpose of capitulation. It appeared afterwards, from the President's special message to Congress, that he was surprised and offended at the surrender, and by his orders General Floyd and myself were suspended from command. Believing the President had acted under a misapprehension of my position, I took the sworn testimonials of five officers present, all of whom proved that I oppose the surrender, and early in April I lad it before the Government, and asked to be relieved from the order of suspension. This was not done. On the contrary, I was held suspended for nearly six months and until General Buckner's release. When his report [was] received by the Government the order of suspension was removed, but in the order relieving me from suspension it is recited:
It is impossible to acquit Major General G. J. Pillow of grave errors of judgment in the military operations which resulted in the surrender of the army at Donelson, but there being no reason to question his courage or loyalty, the order of suspension is removed, and he will report to General Brag for orders.
From this order it appears that the President was of opinion that the surrender of the army was caused by my grave errors of judgment. I was conscious of the commission of no errors. None were specified in the order. To enable me to guard against like errors in the future it was essential that I should understand what were the errors of judgment ascribed to me. For the purpose of having this explanation of the order I visited Richmond, and in a personal interview with the President and yourself I asked for this explanation. In reply, the first error specified was that it was my duty-notwithstanding the decision of Generals Floyd and Buckner that the command must be surrendered-to have taken command and fought it out, if that was practicable, or have surrendered the command and myself with it. I accepted this decision of the President as the law of the case, though I had thought I would have subjected myself to arrest for insubordination had I taken that course. I then asked what other error I had committed. The answer was that it appeared from General Buckner's reports that, after we had driven the enemy from our front to the right of our position, he was in position to protect the retreat of the army towards Charlotte, and that my order calling off the pursuit and ordering it back into our works defeated this retreat. In reply to this I stated that this was a new point; that I had never heard of it before as offensive to the Government; that it was founded on a total misapprehension of the order I had given and of the condition of the army. I stated that we fought the battle of February 15 to cut up the investing force