April 12, 1864: Fort Pillow

 

 

Fort Pillow

 Northern casualties were more than 63 percent, and the number of black soldiers killed was disproportionately high. There is no doubt there was a massacre of some kind. But I think he (Forrest) did everything he could to stop it. Next day, when the Federals came in and shelled the place, he sent a captured Union captain and a Confederate soldier back with a white flag to tell ’em to stop shootin’ their own wounded men because that’s all that was left at the fort.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Fort Pillow

Easily the most controversial engagement of the Civil War, the storming of Fort Pillow by forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and what happened in the aftermath have been hotly contested for the past one hundred and fifty years.  Fort Pillow was a Union fort on the Mississippi 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It was garrisoned by around 600 Union troops, equally divided between blacks and whites.  The black units were the 6th United States Regiment Heavy Artillery and the 2nd United States Colored Light Artillery.  The whites were recent recruits of the 14th Tennessee Cavalry consisting of  Tennessee Unionists.  Both groups had every reason to fear falling into Confederate hands.

Forrest, commanding about 1500 men, summoned the garrison to surrender at 3:30 PM:

“The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such as to entitle them to being treated a prisoners of war. I demand the unconditional surrender of the entire garrison, promising that you shall be treated as prisoners of war. My men have just received a fresh supply of ammunition, and from their present position can easily assault and capture the fort. Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.”

This was a typical demand for surrender by Forrest, promising good treatment if the force surrendered and indicating that he could not guarantee good treatment if the fort was taken by storm.  This was common practice, with commanders understanding that if a fort was taken by storm it was not unusual for the storming force, maddened by sustaining what they usually perceived as unnecessary casualties, exacting vengeance upon the garrison.  The Union commander refused, and the fort was taken by storm about 5:00 PM. (more…)

Published in: on April 12, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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