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Letter from Nathan B. Forrest to Maj. Gen. S.A. Hurlbut Regarding Service of Capt. Frank B. Gurley

In the Field, December 12, 1863

Maj. Gen. S. A. Hurlbut,
Commanding Federal Forces, Memphis, Tenn.:

GENERAL: I have the honor respectfully to state that information has just reached me that Capt. Frank B. Gurley is on trial in Nashville for the so-called murder of General McCook, and that further time has [been] granted him for the purpose of procuring evidence. As I was his commanding officer at the time of the occurrence I feel it my duty to forward you under flag of truce, and by the hands of my adjutant-general, Maj. J. P. Strange, the following statement of facts to show that Captain Gurley was then, and is yet, a Confederate soldier and officer, and that he should be treated and regarded as such: Captain Gurley was regularly mustered into the C. S. Army as a member of the Kelley Troopers, in July, 1861, which company formed a portion of my old regiment known as Forrests regiment.

After the fall of Fort Donelson (from which place I escaped with my command) Captain Gurley was left sick at Huntsville, Ala., with orders from me to gather up all the men of my command; also with power and authority to raise [a] company of cavalry. This he did, and reported to me with his company in July, 1862. It was inspected and mustered into the service at Chattanooga, by my inspector-general and by my order, in the month just named. Hence Captain Gurley has been regularly in the service from July, 1861, to the time of his capture.

In November last his company with three others from my old regiment (all from Alabama) were consolidated with Russell's battalion, and formed what is known as Russell's or the Fourth Alabama Cavalry, which regiment served under me until the 21st of February, 1863, when it was transferred from my command to General Wheeler. These, general, are facts, and, when known, I confidently rely upon his being treated as a prisoner of war, and not as a guerrilla or robber.

My desire is to show the court, through you, that Captain Gurley has been from the beginning a soldier in the Confederate service, and I claim for him the treatment due to a prisoner of war. What may have been attributed to him by the press of the country, North and South, is one thing, but actual facts and the muster-rolls in the Department at Richmond is quite another. Major Strange, the bearer of this, has been with me in the service (as my adjutant) from the organization of my old regiment to the present time, and can, if you think proper to receive it, add his testimony to the facts as stated.

While communicating with you, general, on this subject, allow me to say that it is my purpose to drive guerrillas from the country. They must join the service regularly, on the one side or the other, otherwise be disbanded and driven off; and while I deplore the existence of such men and their lawless conduct, I desire respectfully to call your attention to facts self evident and undenied. The charred walls of many dwellings have met my eyes. The naked chimneys and devastated premises of the now houseless and homeless is not calculated to soften the feelings of those engaged in this struggle, the merits of which, in its beginning, continuance, or end, the women and children of the country are in no wise responsible. It has ever been my desire to see this war conducted according to the rules of civilized warfare, and so far as I am concerned will so conduct it. At the same time I am determined to execute on the spot every house-burner and robber that may fall into my hands, whether he claims to be a Federal or a Confederate.

Hoping, general, that you view these matters as I do, I trust you will issue such orders and when disobeyed inflict such punishment as will prevent the destruction of houses and property of non-combatants. Whatever may be necessary for the use of troops, military necessity and military law authorizes to be appropriated, but the wanton destruction of the houses and dwellings of the people ought to be discontinued and severely punished by every civilized or Christian commander. Major Strange, with his escort of twenty men, is instructed to wait your pleasure and bear any message or communication you may think proper to make.
Hoping that you will forward, without delay, to the proper authorities at Nashville the facts in regard to Captain Gurley, also that you will receive this communication in the spirit in which it is sent.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.

Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 2, Volume 6

Maj. Gen. S.A. Hurlbut's Reply to B.G. N.B. Forrest's Letter

Memphis, Tenn., December 16, 1863,

Brig. Gen. N. B. FORREST,
C. S. Army:
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication by flag of truce of 13th December.

I shall take pleasure in forwarding it at once to Nashville, and in certifying to its genuineness as received by me.

In reply to so much of your letter as refers to the unnecessary wrongs and injuries inflicted on non-combatants, I regret that the disclpline of both armies has not been equal to the task of wholly suppressing these outrages.

As you are well aware as a cavalry officer, detached bodies of men on distant service frequently commit these wrongs. It is, for example, reported to me that two women, residing in McNairy County, have been shot by the command of one Wilson because their husbands were in the Union service. If I obtain any accurate information of the parties, I shall forward their names to you for that speedy justice which you promise.

My orders are positive, forbidding pillaging of any kind or any interference with non-combatants, except so far as may be necessary to subsist men and horses in case they are removed from their sources of supply, and the impressment of animals for military purposes.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, U. S. Army.

Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Volume 31, Part 3

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