70 years of Sherryland

toppy sherry elder cane

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My Grandparents

By Judy (Randall) Garland

When I was little, I thought everyone had grandparents, but I found out as I got older that not everyone did. In fact some people had none and some people had only one set or one grandparent. My family was very lucky – we had two full sets of wonderful grandparents.

Grammie and Grampa Root

Grammie and Grampa Root

When I think of Grampa Root, I think of how he made one feel very special. I can still hear him cheering me on when I was little in the bike races at the 4th of July in North Danville. He was big and burly, almost a full-blooded Irishman, and I loved him.

Grammie Root was so sweet. I never heard her curse or swear. She had long flowing hair that she wore on top of her head. When she would comb it out, we were mesmerized. She would sit in a straight-back chair for hours crocheting away. Then she would give us her handiwork for Christmas, which I must say wasn’t very much appreciated at the time, but now we love her work. I don’t remember her doing anything with us but we still loved to go there.

Grampa and Grammie Randall

Grampa and Grammie Randall

We always begged my parents for a chance to go down to our other grandparents’ home, the Randalls, in St. Johnsbury in the summer. That was our vacation, and we relished it. And besides, we got out of doing dishes! We could swing on the tree swing or walk on the trail that went up through the woods. Our aunts, Betty, Gloria and Joanne, Grampa and Grammie’s youngest daughters, were there, too. Joanne especially would walk us to town when we asked her. We would walk on the cement walls at the Fairbanks Museum on our way down. I also remember getting caps for the cap guns or buy presents for the rest of the family. I remember buying Evening of Paris for my Mother. She acted like it was her favorite, but now that I smell it, it stinks!

Grampa Randall was very stoic but never lewd or lascivious. In fact, when Jini, my sister, and I were both there, she would go with Grammie into another bedroom, and I would sleep with Grampa. We would play a game—whoever goes to sleep first say, “I.” He would always win!

Grammie Randall, too, was a sweetheart. I never heard her use a curse word either. She did so much for my family. When Paul, my brother, broke both legs, she had him stay at her house. She bought my parents an automatic washer when the twins were born. She was always baking and mending our things, too. We could go to Grammie’s at any time. Though that was a time that “love” was never spoken, there was such a feeling of love in that home. I think Grampa said it best after she died, “She was a wonderful wife, a wonderful Mother, and a wonderful Grandmother.” I only hoped she knew it. We never told her just how wonderful she was.

When my cousin Dale called Grammie “Grammie,” I was so mad! How dare he call my Grandmother “Grammie?” My jealousy was stupid. Of course he would call her “Grammie.” That’s all he ever heard us call her.

When I think of Grammie Randall, I think of her as a modern grandmother. Sure, she did a lot of things that were a throwback to her time – like baking bread, making quilts and canning, but she would also go to our basketball games and cheer us on. For a while she even worked outside the home.

We didn’t know just how lucky my family was to have two full sets of wonderful grandparents.


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Danville Post Office Dedication Video, April 18, 2015

A video of the Dedication of the Danville Post Office, naming it after Thaddeus Stevens, is posted on YouTube at the following link: Danville Post Office Dedication. It was posted by Ross Hetrick, President of the Thaddeus Stevens Society.

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David Book presentation was riveting

The Society hosted David Book on Sunday, April 26. It was well-attended and worthwhile. The Vermont Humanities Speaker’s Bureau has a good one here; if you ever have a chance to hear his portrayal of Abel Morrill, a farmer in Cabot, it is worth the time. Liz Sargent took photos and we’ll share some of them here.

Photos of Abel Morrill's (David Book) two sons, who were both killed in Civil War in 1864.

Photos of Abel Morrill’s (David Book) two sons, who were both killed in Civil War in 1864.

Abel Morrill (David Book) reading the last words from his son's Bible.

Abel Morrill (David Book) reading the last words from his son’s Bible.

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Program on Sunday, April 26, 1:00 Choate-Sias House in Danville

We are pleased to host David Book’s portrayal of Abel Morrill. With just a rocking chair as a prop, he shares how one family, the Morrill’s, were affected by the Civil War. He writes, “There is nothing that I would like more than to share my historical monologue with the Danville Historical Society, because the people I portray are Danville people.”


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Thaddeus Stevens Post Office renaming program

Click the link below to see the program.

Click the link below to see the program.


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Annual Meeting and Program

This should be an interesting program--Gary Aubin is an expert and wonderful speaker. Join us.

This should be an interesting program–Gary Aubin is an expert and wonderful speaker. Join us.

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Nature trail guide—Greenbank’s Hollow Historic Park

By Dave Houston

A field-use trail guide for the Greenbank’s Hollow Nature Trail is available at the Historical Park. However, the following description contains added detail and photos (click on photos and figures to enlarge). Even so, this is a work in progress as more information will be included as it becomes available.

Examples of things to come:

  • Lists, descriptions and photos where appropriate, of plants and animals found here along the trail or surrounding area, including birds, mammals, amphibians and  reptiles, and insects, as well as other biota such as fungi and archaea.
  • Detailed descriptions and location (map) of the soils present here, including their suitability for supporting plants, etc.
  • Information related to Joe’s Brook including seasonal flow data, water chemistry, suitability for fish habitat, and historical use of water power.
  • Additional geological details concerning the origin, formation and characteristics of the bedrock beneath the Park.
  • The influence of the bedrock and the last glaciation on the shape of our landscape and the soils that blanket it.


Joe's Brook as it comes tumbling down just below the bridge.

Joe’s Brook as it comes tumbling down just below the bridge.


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Bringing the Bank to Danville, Part one

A History of the Bank of Caledonia and Caledonia National  Bank

By Patty Conly, President of the Danville Historical Society

Early Caledonia National Bank on Bank Street in Danville, ca 1886 to 1925.

Early Caledonia National Bank on Bank Street in Danville, ca 1886 to 1925.

Imagine what life must have been like for the early pioneers following their arrival to this area, a virgin wilderness that we now call “Danville” in the beautiful northeastern corner of the state. There were hard times with many important decisions to be made under difficult conditions while settlers began to organize the structure of the town at the very first town meeting warned in 1788.  Over the next ten year period, a post office was established, churches were organized and by 1799 there were twelve schools located in the various districts of the town proper.  Danville was on a fast track to becoming one of the most important towns in northern Vermont in the early decades of the new century, but it needed a bank. It did not come into existence for another 26 years.

To be or not to be was the question of the day following some controversy between Danville and Peacham over which town should be designated the shire town of Caledonia County. E. Tobias Balivet, local lawyer and historian writes, “…by 1790 Danville had become by far the largest town in the county with 25% of the total of the county population.” Chief Justice William Chamberlin suggested to his neighbors that they support a compromise by establishing a county grammar school in Peacham and let Danville have the courthouse.  He felt that Danville was the more logical site because of its geographic location in the center of the county, making it a more convenient location for lawyers to travel to the county court.  After review by the legislative committee, Danville’s bid was accepted and on November 8, 1796, Danville was officially designated the shire town.

Again quoting Balivet, “The Village of Danville Green did not exist until a four-acre parcel of land was donated [1797] for a courthouse and Green, and Aaron Hartshorn and Thomas Dow [the donors], began selling off building lots around it.  Before that, the closest thing to a populated village in the center of town was Danville Center, around Dole Hill.  And the major north-south road, possibly used by the stagecoach between Boston and Montreal, was the road that you can still pick out mostly on a map today, starting at Greenbanks Hollow, running through the Center, and on to Wheelock.  When the site was picked for the Green, people began selling their house lots around the Center and buying in the area of the Green.

“The jail was built immediately, near the head of Brainerd Street, but there was delay for some reason in building the courthouse.  They started building on the Green a few feet northwest of where the bandstand is now.  But they abandoned that site, got an extension in time from the Legislature, and ended up building approximately in the area between the current town hall and Danville Restaurant.” The new courthouse, a two story elegant wooden structure was completed in 1801.  Good roads were established in every direction from all points of the Green leading from the courthouse.  This would serve to greatly improve the mail delivery to the village as well as the operation of the first post office.

Commercial and industrial growth rapidly increased with the establishment of several mills, and by the late 1790s many artisans began to open shops on Danville Green.   By 1820, there were at least seven stores in town.   William Goodwin opened a hatting shop just east of the new courthouse, and Deming and Strong had a store on the site which later became the Eagle Hotel.  Buckminster and Kelsey opened their new store on the Green where several years later, Miss Francis Hand opened a dress-making shop on the second floor.   In one of the largest stores in town, one could buy everything from umbrellas, walking shoes, violins to Italian writing paper.

Sargent and Willard opened their woodworking business on the Green near the courthouse where they made clock cases, secretaries, sideboards, desks, and Windsor chairs.  Captain Peter Blanchard built a tavern about 1787, probably the first in town. This would also come to be known as the home of William Palmer, a man of legal and political distinction with a long-standing career in public service.   He was elected Governor of the state in 1831. Balivet writes, “ Governor Palmer’s home…was the house at the bend in the road to Greenbank’s Hollow…now owned by Peter and Cam O’Brien.”

In Susannah Clifford’s book, Village in the Hills, a prominent New England statesman travelling through Danville in May, 1819, recalls the warm and welcoming hospitality of a local tavern owner and the excellent food and accommodations.  He described the scene in the village as “young men brushing the streets with long tailored surcoats on their backs and small crowned hats on their heads.”  The first circus arrived in Danville in September 1823.  It was a “Grand Caravan of Living Animals” exhibited at Wait’s Inn on Danville Green.  Admission was twenty five cents for which one could view up to 34 different animals!

Danville soon became home to several well-respected lawyers and judges, many of whom were also local merchants and business owners.  By 1820, six lawyers and one judge had offices on the Green.   Marmaduke Wait, proprietor of Wait’s Inn on the Green rented rooms to at least two lawyers for their law offices.  Bliss N. Davis, who built one of Danville’s finest Greek Revival style houses in 1845 was the most prominent and well-known lawyer in town and had a long and distinguished career as a state senator, state’s attorney and judge. Today, this is the home of Senator Jane Kitchel and her husband, Guil.

Danville’s distinction was again demonstrated in 1804 being chosen as host town for the upcoming legislative session.  Israel Putnam Dana moved to Danville in early 1800 and built the house on the east side of Hill Street which later became the home of Col. Addison Preston and is now owned by James and Sara Stinson. Dana soon established himself as one of the most distinguished citizens in town.  In 1805, he opened a store on or near the Green known as the Haviland Store and purchased and renovated the “old red tavern stand” to accommodate the legislator’s horses.  Many of the townspeople opened their homes as boarding houses to accommodate the 200 legislators who would soon descend on Danville.  The legislative session was held at the courthouse while Abel Morrill’s tavern hosted the Governor and his council.

A Connecticut newspaper publisher, Ebenezer Eaton, arrived in Danville in 1807, printing press in tow with a plan to start a regional newspaper. He met with some of the towns leading citizens to ask for suggestions of names for the paper. The name North Star was proposed by local merchant and store owner, Aaron Porter, and the vote was unanimous. The first issue was published on January 15, 1807, on a single sheet of paper.

The tremendous growth and recognition of Danville as one of the most important market towns and political centers in northern Vermont happened in a relatively short period of time following the arrival of the first settlers.  Danville was soon becoming known and referred to as a “city on a hill” and would enjoy the prestige and profit of being the county seat for more than sixty years.

A Connecticut-born lawyer, William Palmer, previously mentioned, practiced law in St. Johnsbury for several years and moved to Danville after he was elected Judge of Probate in Caledonia County in 1811.   He was one of the wealthiest gentleman farmers in town and had a flock of more than 70 sheep.  He went on to be elected Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Vermont and subsequently elected as a Senator in the United States Congress for the next six years.  He then served as the representative in the legislature for Danville for the following year.   Realizing the need for the county seat and its growing community to have a strong financial institution, Palmer introduced a bill in the legislature to incorporate a bank in Danville.  The bill was originally rejected in 1824 but successfully passed in the 1825 legislative session.   The Bank of Caledonia, as it was named, was incorporated in 1825 and received its charter as a state bank, only the third to be chartered in the State of Vermont.  Israel Dana, at the time a member of the Governor’s council, also played an important role in securing the charter of the Bank of Caledonia.  This was yet another mark of commercial distinction for the town.

Advertisement for the sale of capital stock.  North Star January 24, 1886

Advertisement for the sale of capital stock. North Star January 24, 1886

A notice soliciting subscriptions for capital stock in the newly chartered Bank of Caledonia was issued on January 7, 1826, and the advertisement ran in the January 24, 1826, issue of the North Star.  The following were listed as the first commissioners of the Bank of Caledonia:  John W. Chandler, Israel P. Dana, Augustine Clark, Luther Clark, Samuel Sias, and Ephraim Paddock.  The sale of stock was opened on January 31, 1826 at the Inn of Marmaduke Wait on Danville Green and continued for ten days; $50,000 was raised by the sale of stock for the bank’s starting capital and the bank officially opened for business on March 13 of that year.  It is believed that the first board of directors at this time consisted of William Palmer, Samuel Sias, Franklin Deming, William Baxter, and Dr. Josiah Shedd.  The cashier, who acts as chief executive officer, was Zebina Newell.  The board of directors elected William Palmer as president of the bank; however, he resigned after only six months and was succeeded by Augustine Clark, a local merchant and tavern owner.  Clark owned a house at the top of Hill Street, known for many years to be the home of Dr. Martin Paulsen and his wife Louisa, now owned by Dwight and Sharon Lakey.

Phil Rogers, a former director of the Caledonia National Bank has done extensive research on the early history of the bank, and has shared a great deal of the following information. The Bank of Caledonia is believed to have started doing business in a brick building built by John Kelsey in about 1820.  This building was long known as the John Currier Store.  The building was later owned by the American Legion and is now home to the Open Door on the first floor, while the second floor is occupied by the office of the North Star Monthly. The bank did business at this location until its own building was completed on the Green, beside the old Wetherby Hotel, which was in the approximate location of the Pope Memorial Library today. At this time, Samuel Mattocks, a practicing lawyer in Danville, was appointed cashier of the bank in 1833. He remained in this position until 1835 when he was appointed clerk of the county court.  In 1848, he resigned this position and returned as cashier of the bank until 1857.  Gustavus A. Burbank served the bank in the position of cashier from 1857 – 1863.   In 1855, a fire destroyed the Bank of Caledonia building as well as the nearby Wetherby Hotel. The bank rebuilt on the Green the same year beside the Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the time of its incorporation, the Bank of Caledonia issued its own paper currency and continued to do so until this practice was taxed by the Federal government in 1863.  It was thought that the objective was to discontinue the issuance of paper money by thousands of different banks throughout the country in order that the government should have more control by bringing all banks under the same system.  In 1865, the directors of the bank voted to give up their state charter and become a member of the National Bank system.

1-scan0003The application was approved and on October 7, 1865, the bank received their new charter under the name Caledonia National Bank.  During this period, the bank had experienced significant growth with an increased capital of $100,000.  Orra Crosby was elected president of the newly named Caledonia National Bank at this time and James Mattocks, son of Samuel Mattocks, had been serving in the position of cashier since 1863. At that time, The National Banking Act allowed banks that had been granted a national charter to issue their own paper currency if this money was secured by United States government bonds held at the bank. The Caledonia National Bank issued a variety of these notes and they circulated widely until the bonds which secured the notes were called in by the Roosevelt administration in May, 1935.


Bliss N. Davis was elected president of the Caledonia National Bank in 1873 and held that position until 1879.  During this period he was instrumental in bringing the railroad to Danville.  Ground was broken in 1870 and construction began the following year.  At about the same time, the town decided to build a railroad depot to the south of the village. The building was constructed by builders William Dole and David Morse. On September 29, 1871, the first train cars arrived at the Danville depot greeted by a large cheering crowd.  Just one month after the arrival of the first steam engine to the station, the first telegraph message was successfully relayed from Danville. Telephone wires were strung from St. Johnsbury to Danville in August of 1884, and the first telephone in town was located in the Elm House Hotel.

Fire again ravaged the newest Caledonia National Bank building and the Methodist Episcopal Church next door in 1886. This is likely the reason that many of the early records of the Bank of Caledonia and the early Caledonia National Bank are no longer in existence. The Methodist Church rebuilt that same year and the new location of the Caledonia National Bank would be a large house on the Green referred to in more recent years as the “Hamilton House.”  The bank originally occupied a back corner room of the house but soon outgrew the space and expanded to two rooms.  Continued growth led to the renovation of the entire first floor for the use of the bank.  The original vault is still intact in the house today.

The Caledonia National Bank would experience an extreme stroke of good luck in 1889 when on the afternoon of May 9, a fire broke out in the Baxter barn on Hill Street near the Congregational Church.  The fire spread rapidly as high winds fanned the flames and within an hour most of the business portion of the village was a mere pile of smoldering ashes, including the Eagle Hotel, the old courthouse and the office of the North Star. The grand Elm House Hotel and Caledonia National Bank were the only two buildings left standing in the business district after the great fire. “The pictures show it stopped south of the Congregational church on Hill Street, traveled up Route 2 as far as the Danville Restaurant, and doesn’t appear to have touched the south side of Route 2,” notes Balivet.

Bank Street. The Caledonia National Bank and the Pope Memorial Library between 1890 and 1925

Bank Street. The Caledonia National Bank and the Pope Memorial Library between 1890 and 1925

A short time after the Great Fire of 1889, the bank would acquire a new neighbor to the north.  Mrs. Charles Pope of Chicago donated funds to construct a library in memory of her late husband, a Danville native who moved to Chicago and became a successful businessman. This beautiful building of superb nineteenth century neo-classical style was designed by Brooklyn architect Marshall J. Morrill. It was completed in 1890 and named the “Pope Memorial Library.”

After the death of his father in 1893, Charles H. Mattocks was called on to assume the responsibilities of cashier of the bank, continuing the work of his father, James B. Mattocks.  He was born in Danville in 1871 and graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in 1890.  At 22 years of age, he was likely the youngest bank cashier in the state, and it was a testament to his ability to be chosen to fill this important position.  He served as cashier until 1900.

Many noteworthy and prominent businessmen in addition to those previously mentioned served in the position of president of the Caledonia National Bank in the early years, some of whom include: Samuel Sias, George W. Chandler, Ira Brainard, L .H. Delano, Samuel Ingalls, James W. Simpson, John Farrington, Henry S. Tolman and Peter Wesson, who served from 1905 – 1920.

As business continued to grow, the Caledonia National Bank would eventually outgrow their current space and in 1924, the directors began to pursue a new location on the Green and a favorable design for the new structure.

This is the first in a series of articles that will focus on early life in the village of Danville, business on the Green and the history of the Bank of Caledonia and Caledonia National Bank.

This article first appeared in the North Star Monthly April, 2014

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April, 1864–“Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me”

The Fort Pillow Massacre Proves the lie of this childish notion

By Gary Farrow, Danville Historical Society

Fort Pillow 1Danville North Star April 23, 1864

The Fort Pillow Massacre

Washington, April 16 – Yesterday afternoon dispatches were received from General Sherman regarding the surrender of Fort Pillow and the brutal conduct of the rebels immediately afterwards which bids fair to be amply retaliated in that quarter in due time.

The Star says according to General Sherman [that there were] fifty – three white troops killed and one hundred wounded, and three hundred blacks murdered in cold blood after the surrender…..

…It is now believed that Forrest will next appear in the vicinity of Memphis where they can inflict no more than at Columbus and stand a very fair chance of being surrounded by overwhelming forces.

The latest news from Fort Pillow is that the enemy, after burning the fort, and destroying everything that was not moveable left the place.


How events actually unfolded on April 12 at a Union fortification nestled beside the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee, is a matter of debate and dispute.  But the political and military events that led up to the massacre are crystal clear.

Soon after the war broke out in 1861, three slaves fled their owners and made their way to the Union’s Fortress Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. General Benjamin Butler declared them “contrabands” and refused to return them to the slave owners, because the state had declared itself a foreign power. Therefore, he reasoned he was under no obligation to return them to their owners.

By the late spring of 1862, Butler had moved on to capture New Orleans and oversee the Union army’s administration of the city and surrounding environs.  The General effectively confiscated surrounding plantations and slaves and put them into production on behalf of the US government and quite likely his own pockets.

Senator Garrett Davis

Senator Garrett Davis

As spring turned into summer, Senator Garrett Davis from Kentucky, a border state that remained in the Union, responded to a proposal on the floor made by Radical Republicans that blacks be recruited into the army. An active slaveholder and weathervane of Southern sentiment, he lashed out, ““No! No! We would regard the authors of such a proposal as our worst enemies…before we would submit to any such condition of things…we would meet you in a death struggle to overthrow together such oppression…If this Union cannot be preserved by the white man … there are no conditions upon which it can be saved.”

Then Garrett Davis said what was really on his mind, “If you put arms in the hands of the Negroes and make them feel their power and impress them with their former slavery, wrongs and injustice….you will whet their fiendish passions, make them the destroying scourge on our cotton States, and you will bring upon the country a condition of things that will render restoration hopeless.”  The toxic temperature of fear, hatred and desperation over race was red hot and climbing. The Davis speech was but a single temperature reading as the mercury made its fateful climb towards Fort Pillow.

Although the proposal by abolitionist Radical Republicans to recruit blacks into arms was not immediately successful, they continued to push for the immediate end of slavery and equal opportunities for blacks. Soon after Garrett Davis’ diatribe on the Senate floor, new confiscation legislation was passed that stated any slave in rebel territory occupied the Union army would be freed through criminal proceedings against Confederate officials, military or civilians.

By the end of 1862, Jefferson Davis, having had quite enough of both General Butler and Union confiscation policy, issued General Order 111: “The African slaves have not only been excited to insurrection by every license and encouragement but numbers of them have actually been armed for a servile war.” Specifically calling out Butler and his officers, Davis declared that “as robbers and criminals deserving death,” they would be executed upon capture. Davis also directed that all noncommissioned officers in the Union army found serving in the company of “armed slaves” be executed. As for the “servile” blacks, they were deemed to be sent back to the states where they belonged to be tried for insurrection. The penalty for this crime was death.

On January 1, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation became law. This raised the stakes even higher. Under the previous Confiscation Act, slaves in rebel held territory occupied by Union troops could become free through the prosecution of southerners in criminal proceedings. Now Lincoln’s decree freed all slaves in all rebel territory. There would be no turning back. It was victory or death. Both sides were now engaged in an all or nothing proposition. The new law also kicked the door wide open for the recruitment of black soldiers.

In May of 1863, the Confederate Congress quietly passed the aptly named Retaliatory Act, which maintained that the Union’s actions brought a “Servile War” into rebel states that violated the rules of “modern warfare [prevailing in] civilized nations” and that those actions may “be properly and lawfully repressed by retaliation.” The law authorized Jefferson Davis to take any retaliatory measures that he thought proper and affirmed the President’s prior executive order that Union officers associated with black troops be put to death. It also declared that all “negroes and mulattoes…engaged in war…against the Confederate States” be subject to the insurrection laws in the state where they were captured. This overt language effectively said that blacks, from North or South, were not legally military combatants. The race war was on.

The heat had been turned up; the pot at Fort Pillow would boil over.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Enter the Confederacy’s self-taught military genius Nathan Bedford Forrest.  A prosperous slave-trader and business entrepreneur, he joined the Confederate army as a private. Moved by the woeful straits his comrades in arms were in, he purchased horses and equipment for his Tennessee regiment. This brought him to the attention of Governor Isham Harris, who promptly commissioned him a Lieutenant General.

Forrest, the cavalry officer, distinguished himself early in the war by orchestrating the escape of Confederate troops from Fort Donelson, which was surrounded by General Grant’s forces and ultimately taken by the Union. Soon, he commanded the rearguard as the rebels retreated from the Battle of Shiloh, which at the time was the largest clash between armies ever seen on the American continent. Promoted to Brigadier General, he took his cavalry as far north as the banks of the Ohio River in southwest Kentucky before returning to his base in Mississippi. Once again, he become a thorn in General Grant’s side, forcing to him revise his strategy and tactics in his quest to take Vicksburg, the linchpin to controlling the Mississippi River and splitting the Confederacy in half.

The man was fearless and continually burnished his legend with heroic and crazed acts of personal courage. In 1863, often undermanned and outgunned, he successfully led a guerrilla campaign in northern Alabama. Forrest also played a key role in the Confederates’ success at the Battle of Chickamauga, as victory that briefly stemmed the Union tide in Tennessee. After General Braxton Bragg, his superior officer, failed to follow-up the victory and attempt to take back Chattanooga, Forrest confronted Bragg and threatened to kill him. Bragg banished his Cavalry commander to the Mississippi backwater, but by the spring of 1864, all had been forgiven. Bragg promoted him to the rank of Major General and brought him back to the Kentucky-Tennessee theatre.

On March 26, 1864, General Forrest attacked  General S.G. Hicks’ Union post of 6,000 troops at Paducah, Kentucky. The initial attacked was repelled. The rebel commander then sent a message to Hicks demanding “unconditional surrender.” The missive closed with, “If you surrender you will be treated as prisoners of war, but if I have to storm your works, you may expect no quarter.” Three other assaults by Forrest and others were to no avail, and they left Paducah, licking their wounds with over 1,000 men dead and looking for revenge.

About two weeks later, the battle of Fort Pillow took place. A subsequent Congressional investigative report by the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War provides a “no quarter given” narrative of rebel atrocities. Dominated by Radical Abolitionists, the Committee’s report, whether accurate or not, served to beat the war drums to willing listeners in the North.

What transpired on that April 12 day is somewhat clouded by the fog of war. What were General Forrest’s orders to his men? Was General Forrest on the immediate scene? Did black and white Union troops refuse to surrender? Did rebel troops act on Forrest’s orders? Did Confederate officers lose control of their men and a spontaneous massacre ensue?

Here is one account by Samuel H. Cadwell, a surgeon in the Confederate Sixteenth Cavalry Tennessee Cavalry, that he shared in a letter to his wife.“ It was garrisoned by 400 white men and 400 negroes & out of the 800 only 168 are now living. So you can guess how terrible was the slaughter. It was decidedly the most horrible sight that I have ever witnessed.

They refused to surrender—which incensed our men & if General Forrest had not run between our men & the Yanks with his pistol and sabre drawn not a man would have been spared—We took about a hundred & 25 white men & about 45 negroes the rest of the 800 are numbered with the dead—They sure [lay] heaped upon each other 3 days—….”

Certainly this account contradicts the overarching theme of the Congressional Committee’s report.

Robert S. Critchell

Robert S. Critchell

Whatever the facts, Robert S. Critchell, Acting-Master’s Mate USN, witnessed the aftermath. His account in the form of a letter was published in the New York Times, “Our boat arrived at the fort about 7 ½ A.M., on Wednesday, the 13th, the day after the rebels captured the fort…I was sent out with a burial party to bury the dead….

“I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes … along the banks; most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayoneted also. All those along the bank of the river were colored. The number of the colored near the river was about seventy. Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire. Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, any way there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so….

“I had some conversation with rebel officers, and they claim that our men would not surrender, and in some few cases they could not control their men, who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not. This is a flimsy excuse, for after our colored troops had been driven from the fort, and they were surrounded by the rebels on all sides, it is apparent that they would do what all say they did, throw down their arms and beg for mercy….”

Whatever Nathan Bedford Forrest acts of commission or omission were, the weight of command responsibility falls upon his shoulders. The seeds of the race war at Fort Pillow were cultivated months and years before. By Confederate thinking, Union officers and black troops were engaged a servile insurrection against the social fabric of the South. Execution was the solution.

Along with the men who were there, the escalating words of fear, hatred and desperation through the years and the ideas they represented pulled the trigger and stuck the bayonet at Fort Pillow. Words and thoughts can hurt beyond a mere child’s wildest imagination. Authors of mayhem and murder, they too caused the Mississippi River to run red that day.

Sources: “Lincoln and the Border States” by William C Harris; Confederate President Jefferson’s General Order 111; The “Retaliatory Act”  passed by the Confederate Congress; New York Times May 3 1864 Letter to the Editor submitted by Congressman Blow from Missouri which is the letter of Robert S Critchell, Acting-Master’s Mate U.S.N.; Samuel Cadwell’s, Surgeon for 16th Cavalry Tennessee, letter to his wife; Committee on the Conduct of the War’s Report on the Fort Pillow Massacre published in the New York Times, May 6,1864



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