Monday, April 14, 2014

April 12, 1864

April 12, 1864

---Battle of Fort Pillow, Tennessee:  In what should have been an unremarkable minor action, Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, on his raid through Kentucky and West Tennessee, strikes at Fort Pillow, a fortification on the Mississippi River just north (upstream) from Memphis.  The fort is garrisoned with white and black Tennessee Unionists, totaling 557 men.  Major Booth commands the two battalions in the fort, and as he is soon killed, Major W.F. Bradford takes over.  As Forrest places his men from Chambers’ division in positions of advantage, the guns of the fort and gunboats on the river send a heavy barrage of shell and shot toward the Rebel lines.  Forrest sends an ultimatum of surrender, but Booth refuses.  Forrest opens his attack, and the fort is taken in fairly short order, and the garrison surrenders.  After the surrender, apparently, the Confederate cavalrymen begin an unrestrained slaughter of the surrendered troops, both white and black, although the emphasis is plainly on the black troops.

Fort Pillow, Tennessee

Sergeant Achilles Clark, of the 20th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, gives his own account of what happened:
Illustration from Harper's Weekly

 The slaughter was awful – words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. The white men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen – blood, human blood, stood about in pools and brains could have been gathered up in any quantity. I with several others tried to stop the butchery and at one time had partially succeeded but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.
Illustration from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly

The numbers indicate the disparity: Federal losses are 231 killed outright, 100 wounded, and only 168 whites and 58 blacks were “captured.” Of the white troops, 31% are killed; of the blacks, 64% are killed.  An unknown number of civilians, some of them families of the garrison troops, are also massacred.  For the Rebels, only 14 are killed, and up to 86 wounded.


Gen. Forrest himself writes about this soon afterwards:

The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.

The approximate loss was upward of 500 killed, but few of the officers escaping.

It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners. We still hold the fort.

Gen. Forrest

On April 13, a Union naval officer appears on the ground as the Confederates are withdrawing, and takes a great number of wounded on board ship.  The officer’s examination of the ground confirmed the reports that most of the Federals were slaughtered after surrender.


---The steamer Alliance, of English registration, is captured in the delta of the Savannah River today, loaded with military stores for the Confederacy.


---About 85 miles east of Denver, the 1st Colorado Cavalry regiment has a spirited skirmish with a band of Cheyenne, on the north bank of the Platte River.

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