Though that reply is full and is approved by me, yet I deem it proper to communicate with you upon a subject so seriously affecting our future conduct and that of the troops under our respective commands.
You communication is by no means respectful to me, and is, by implication, insulting to Major-General Forrest. This, however, is overlooked in consideration of the important character of its contents. You assume as correct an exaggerated statement of the circumstances attending the capture of Fort Pillow, relying solely upon the evidence of those who would naturally give a distorted history of the affair. No demand for an explanation has ever been made either by yourself or your Government, a course which would certainly recommend itself to every one desirous of hearing truth, but on the contrary, you seem to have been perfectly willing to allow your soldiers to labor under false impressions upon a subject involving such terrible consequences. Even the formality of parades and oaths have been resorted to for the purpose of inciting your colored troops to the perpetration of deeds of which you say "will lead to consequences too fearful to contemplate."
As commanding officer of this department I desire to make the following statement concerning the capture of Fort Pillow, a statement supported in a great measure by the evidence of one of your own officers captured at that place:
The version given by you and your Government is untrue, and not sustained by the facts to the extent that you indicate. The garrison was summoned in the usual manner, and its commanding officer assumed the responsibility of refusing to surrender, after having been informed by General Forrest of his ability to take the fort, and of his fears as to what the result would be in case the demand was not complied with. The assault was made under a heavy fire and with considerable loss to the attacking party. Your colors were never lowered, and your garrison never surrendered, but retreated from the fort the cover of the gun-boats* with arms in their hands, and constantly using them. This was true, particularly of your colored troops, who had been firmly convinced by your teachings of the certainly of their slaughter in case of capture. Even under these circumstances many of your men, white and black, were taken prisoners.
I respectfully refer you to history for numerous cases of indiscriminate slaughter [after successful assault+], even under less aggravated circumstances. It is generally conceded by all military precedent that where the issue has been fairly presented and the ability displayed, fearful results are expected to follow a refusal to surrender. The case under consideration is almost an extreme one. You had a servile race, armed against their masters and in a country which had been desolated by almost unprecedented outrages.
I assert that our officers, with all these circumstances against them, endeavored to prevent the effusion of blood, and as an evidence of this I refer you to the fact that both white and colored prisoners were taken, and are now in our hands.
As regards the battle of Tishomingo Creek, the statements of your negro witnesses are not to be relied on. In their panic they acted as might have been expected from their previous impressions. I do not
*In the Lee's copy (see p. 606) this reads, "but retreated under cover of a gunboat."
+According to Lee's copy.