Fort Pillow, April 12, 1864

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 8.11.35 PM.pngIn April 1864, the Union garrison at Fort Pillow, a Confederate-built earthen fortification and a Union-built inner redoubt, overlooking the Mississippi River about forty river miles above Memphis, comprised 295 white Tennessee troops and 262 U.S. Colored Troops, all under the command of Maj. Lionel F. Booth. Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the fort on April 12 with a cavalry division of approximately 2,500 men. Forrest seized the older outworks, with high knolls commanding the Union position, to surround Booth’s force. Rugged terrain prevented the gunboat New Era from providing effective fire support for the Federals. The garrison was unable to depress its artillery enough to cover the approaches to the fort Rebel sharpshooters, on the surrounding knolls, began firing into the fort killing Booth. Maj. William F. Bradford then took over command of the garrison. The Confederates launched a determined attack at 11:00 am, occupying more strategic locations around the fort, and Forrest demanded unconditional surrender. Bradford asked for an hour for consultation, and Forrest granted twenty minutes.  Bradford refused surrender and the Confederates renewed the attack, soon overran the fort, and drove the Federals down the river’s bluff into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight. Many accused the Confederates of perpetrating a massacre of the black troops, and that controversy continues today. The Confederates evacuated Fort Pillow that evening so they gained little from the attack except a temporary disruption of Union operations. The “Fort Pillow Massacre”  became a Union rallying cry and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion. – CWSAC summaries

Confederate victory

For further reading

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By Civil War standards, the day-long Battle of Fort Pillow, Tennessee (April 12, 1864) was a rather small affair, and yet it is one of the most debated and polarizing events of the entire war. Its infamy rests in what history has concluded was the wholesale massacre of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) defending the fort. Author James Moshier’s Truth Massacred: The Battle at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, April 12, 1864, challenges this traditional belief and reaches some stunning conclusions.

Most studies of Fort Pillow focus on Nathan Bedford Forrest and rely on assumptions and conclusions based upon incomplete data and a shocking ignorance of the actual records. Truth Massacred boldly separates itself from those studies and the readily accepted post-surrender slaughter narrative. For the first time, the focal point rests on the African American soldiers at Fort Pillow―hard-fighting soldiers and heroes, not victims ripe for butchery.

The result of nearly 15 years of methodical study, Truth Massacred condenses thousands of pages of statements, reports, and Congressional record testimony to cover a wide range of material in an engaging fashion. Like a good courtroom drama, Moshier’s groundbreaking study, which includes a broad array of archival and other sources, sets forth each piece of the historical puzzle in its turn. One of his key pieces of evidence is the long-ignored battle report of Lt. Daniel Van Horn, a U.S.C.T. officer and Fort Pillow survivor. His official eyewitness account offers an entirely different view of the events we have come to believe and accept as true, and of the conduct of the U.S.C.T. soldiers.

As readers will experience firsthand, the original testimony of many of the battle participants was twisted or completely silenced or ignored. Brought to life in these pages, often for the first time, their voices draw us into the smoke and confusion of that terrible fight. Anyone with an interest in the Civil War in general or African American history and the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) in particular, will find these gripping detailed stories of valor and courage inspirational and educational.

Truth Massacred is an entirely new and unique perspective of the battle, and offers readers something fresh and new to think about.

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