Fort Pillow Attack


It is almost as difficult to find consistent information about
the incident at Fort Pillow as it is to determine the moral
significance of its outcome. Scholars disagree about exactly
what transpired on April 12, 1864 at Fort Pillow, when General
Nathan Bedford Forrest captured the fort with his 1,500 troops
and claimed numerous Union lives in the process (Wyeth 250). It
became an issue of propaganda for the Union, and as a result the
facts were grossly distorted. After close examination it is clear
that the ¦Fort Pillow Massacre_ (as it became known by
abolitionists) was nothing of the sort. The 1,500 troops under
the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest acted as men and as
soldiers in their capture of Fort Pillow.

It is first necessary to understand what happened in the battle
before any judgment can be made. A careful study performed by Dr.
John Wyeth revealed the following information: from April 9-11,
1864, troops under the command of Ben McCulloch, Tyree Harris
Bell, and Brig. General James Chalmers marched non-stop to Fort
Pillow to begin their assault under the command of General Nathan
Bedford Forrest. Confederate sharpshooters claimed the lives of
several key Union officers during the morning assault on the
fort. The losses included the commanding officer Major Loinel F.
Booth, and his second in command shortly after that. These
losses created a complete breakdown of order and leadership among
the Union troops within the fort. (251) During the morning
engagement, the gun boat the New Era was continually attempting
to shell the Confederate forces from the Mississippi, but with
minimal success. The Union forces fought back heartily until
around one o¦clock in the afternoon, when both sides slowed down.
Around that time the New Era steamed out of range to cool its
weapons. It had fired a total of 282 rounds, and its supplies
were almost totally exhausted. During this hiatus in the firing,
while Confederate troops waited for supplies that would arrive
around three o¦clock, Forrestwas injured when his horse fell on
him after being mortaily wounded (252). When the supplies
arrived, Confederate troops under a flag of truce delivered a
message from Forrest that said, ¦My men have received a fresh
supply of ammunition, and from their present position can easily
assault and capture the fort,_ (253). Forrest demanded ¦the
unconditional surrender of the garrison,_ promising that you
shall be treated as prisoners of war_ ( 253). This agreement was
refused by Major William F. Bradford using the name of Major
Booth, and Forrest was left with no option but to attack (Long &
Long 484). Without a word, Forrest rode to his post, and a bugle
call began the charge. The soldiers stormed the fort under the
cover of sharpshooter fire. The Union spent their rounds on the
charging mass, and the second wave was to all intents and
purposes a ¦turkey shoot._ As hordes of soldiers came over the
wall, a considerable number of Union lives were lost to point
blank fire, an action that was deemed murder by the northern
press. (255) However, it must not be forgotten that those Union
troops who died were in the process of reloading their rifles.
Even knowing that they were severely outnumbered, they had
demanded the fight (Henry 255).

By this point most of the Union officers in the fort had been
killed, and the remaining troops fled the fort toward the river
where they had provisions waiting . There was also a plan for the
New Era to shell the Confederate troops in the fort with
canister, but the shelling never happened(. Confederate troops
were waiting at the bottom of the fort to prevent access to the
supplies by the Union forces. With the Union flag still flying
upon the fort and Union forces still firing on the run,
Confederate troops claimed many more lives on the river bank. It
was reported by Colonel FIRST NAME Barteau that they made a wild,
crazy, scattering fight. They acted like a crowd of drunken men.
They would at one moment yield and throw down their guns, and
then would rush again to arms, seize their guns and renew
the fire. If one squad was left