Gideon Johnson Pillow (1806-1878)
Gideon Johnson Pillow was born in Williamson county, Tenn. June 8, 1806. In 1827 he graduated from the University of Nashville, after which he commenced the practice of law at Columbia and rapidly rose to prominence.
He was a delegate to the National Democratic convention of 1844, and aided largely in securing the nomination of his neighbor James K. Polk, for the presidency.
In July, 1846, he abandoned peaceful pursuits to accept a commission as brigadier-general of Tennessee volunteers in the Mexican War. At first he served with Taylor in northern Mexico, but was transferred to Scott's command at the beginning of the siege of Vera Cruz. In this siege he took an active part, and was appointed one of the American commissioners to receive the surrender of the city. At Cerro Gordo he commanded the right wing, and in the impetuous charge received a severe wound. On April 30, 1847, he was commissioned major- general. He fought with great gallantry at Churubusco, Molino del Rey and Chapultepec, in which last affair he was a second time wounded. A sharp difference between General Scott and himself left to a court-martial requested by himself. By the decision of this court he was fully acquitted of the charge of insubordination which Scott had brought against him.
After the close of the Mexican war he resumed the practice of law, and also engaged in planting.
In the great Southern convention held in Nashville in 1850, he took a conservative course and opposed extreme measures.
At the beginning of the Civil War he was appointed, by Governor Harris, major-general in the provisional army of Tennessee, in which capacity he aided largely in the organization of the State forces. On July 9, 1861, he was commissioned brigadier-general of the provisional army of the Confederate States. Being assigned to General Polk's department as second in command to that officer, he fought the battle of Belmont successfully against General Grant. At Fort Donelson he was second in command to Brigadier General Floyd and handled his troops with skill and ability. The gallant fighting of the Confederates was all in vain, for they found themselves hemmed in by superior numbers and had to surrender. Floyd and Pillow turned over the command to Buckner, who surrendered the fort and garrison to General Grant. Before the surrender, Floyd embarked his Virginia troops upon steamers and carried them off. General Pillow and a portion of his staff crossed to the opposite side of the Cumberland and made their way to Clarksville. At Decatur, Ala., General Pillow was relived from duty.
He subsequently led a detachment of cavalry in the Southwest under Beauregard, and still later was made chief of conscripts in the Western department.
At the close of the war he found himself ruined in fortune and left, in advanced age, without other means of support than the earnings of his professional labors. During the war he had ordered the seizure of the coal of a Pittsburgh company. The coal had been sold and the proceeds turned over to the State, and everything else received for the property of the company had been applied for military purposes. The general was sued by the Pittsburgh company for $125,000 damages, which resulted in a judgment against him for $38,500. Although a new trial was granted, the general's claims as a belligerent were not allowed. His State could not come to his relief. He was compelled to go into bankruptcy. General Pillow said that the loss of his property gave him "less anguish than the humiliation of bankruptcy."
He attempted the cultivation of his farm in Maury county and of his plantation in Arkansas, but labored under many discouraging circumstances. He died in Lee county, Ark., October 6, 1878.