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Posted on Jul 13, 2012 in War College

Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Fort Pillow, 1864

By Ed Kennedy


This illustration from Kurz & Allison depicts the 1864 Battle of Fort Pillow. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The September 2012 issue of Armchair General magazine includes the Battlefield Leader article on Civil War Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the South’s “Wizard of the Saddle.” One of Forrest’s most controversial battles is his April 12, 1864 lopsided victory over the Union garrison (many of which were African-American soldiers) at Ft. Pillow on the banks of the Mississippi River near Henning, Tennessee. Edwin L. Kennedy’s insightful article examines the actions of both sides during one of the Civil War’s most controversial battles.


Although just a minor tactical action in the greater scheme of the Civil War, the April 12, 1864 battle at Fort Pillow became a strategic issue. The effects of the battle unintentionally rose to the very highest levels of both the Union and Confederate governments. There were a number of issues that caused this seemingly minor battle to rise to national prominence.

Fort Pillow was built in 1861 on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River about forty miles north of Memphis, Tennessee. Abandoned by the Confederates and occupied twice by Union forces, Fort Pillow became a target for Confederate forces commanded by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest in April 1864. In March 1864 two Union artillery units and a cavalry unit (a total of 557 soldiers) occupied the fort under the command of Major Lionel F. Booth. Second-in-command was Major William F. Bradford, Forrest’s fellow Tennessean from the same home county but fighting on the Union side. Bradford commanded the 13th Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.), a unit that was already notorious for its war crimes against West Tennessee citizens. Compounding the issue of the unit’s abuses were the Confederate deserters that had been incorporated into the ranks of this Union-raised unit serving in a Southern state. Also in Fort Pillow before the battle began were approximately one hundred civilian family members and workers.

Although the Union Army officially opened its ranks to African-American soldiers in 1863, they were only allowed to serve in segregated units under the command of white officers – at half the pay of white Union soldiers. The two artillery units in Fort Pillow were two such African-American units manned by, in the official term used during the Civil War, "U.S. Colored Troops." Roughly half of the Fort Pillow garrison’s strength was African-American Union soldiers.

After making a raid to Paducah, Kentucky in order to gain materiel and recruits, Forrest turned south towards Memphis. Fort Pillow immediately garnered Forrest’s attention due to the fact that it had been recently re-occupied by the Union. Confederate soldiers in Forrest’s ranks had family members in the area surrounding the fort and had complained of their abuse by the Union forces. Bradford’s "home grown Yankees" of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry were the named culprits. Local West Tennessee citizens requested that a unit from Forrest’s command be detailed to guard their homes and families from Bradford’s depredations. Forrest decided to do more. He ordered a demonstration towards Memphis and then launched the bulk of his forces against Fort Pillow.

On the early morning of April 12, 1864, almost 1,500 Confederate troops converged on Fort Pillow. The Confederates quickly drove in the outlying Union pickets and then occupied hillocks that allowed Confederate sharpshooters to begin engaging the fort’s defenders. Major Booth attempted to burn cabins and outbuildings near the perimeter of the fort to prevent the Confederates from using them as cover and concealment. It was here that some Union soldiers may have been shot down, then inadvertently burned in the very buildings they were torching to prevent Confederate use. However, this subsequently became a contentious issue when, after the battle, the Union claimed that the Confederates had burned wounded U.S. soldiers.

With Confederate Brigadier General James R. Chalmers commanding the initial assaults, the Confederates hemmed the Union defenders inside the fort and then began a concerted effort to close on the Union works. At about 9 a.m., Major Booth was killed by one of the 300 assaulting Confederate sharpshooters. At 10 a.m. Forrest arrived on the scene to take command. He immediately made troop dispositions to conduct a double envelopment as well as a frontal assault. About this time the Union naval gunboat, USS New Era, commanded by Captain James Marshall, began firing at the nearby Coal Creek ravine to prevent Confederate forces from enveloping Fort Pillow from the north. Forrest was injured when two horses were shot out from under him, but he remained to command the upcoming assault. At about 1 p.m. the New Era pulled away farther along the Mississippi River to allow its guns to cool. Almost 300 gunboat shells had been fired at the Confederates with virtually no effect.

Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (National Archives)At about 3 p.m. Confederate ammunition resupplies arrived and Forrest sent a demand for surrender to Major Booth not knowing Booth already had been killed. Forrest’s surrender demand read: "I now demand unconditional surrender of your forces, at the same time assuring you that you will be treated as prisoners of war. … I have received a new supply of ammunition and can take your works by assault, and if compelled to do so you must take the consequences."

Union naval gunboats, now including USS Olive Branch, began moving as if to reinforce the fort despite the truce. The Confederates reacted by moving troops towards the Mississippi River beach area to repulse any Union landings. This subsequently became another point of contention as the Union claimed a violation of the rules of war by citing the movement of the Confederates – but never acknowledging the potential reinforcement by the gunboats.

Major Bradford in the meantime, with Booth’s death now in command of Fort Pillow, stalled for time by returning a note to Forrest requesting time to consult with his officers. Aware of his personal reputation with Forrest, Bradford signed the note as the now-deceased “Major Booth.” Union soldiers along the ramparts were feeling confident enough to heckle the attacking Confederates after holding them off for the better part of a day. This intentional heckling only served to inflame the passions on the Confederate side. Major Bradford was cognizant of Forrest’s command’s previous use of ruses to gain the surrender of Union defenders. Most recently, at Union City, Tennessee, the Union garrison there had surrendered to one of Forrest’s subordinates who had a numerically inferior force. Bradford sealed his own force’s fate by declaring that he would never surrender. He placed barrels of alcoholic beverages with dippers for the defenders to drink from, perhaps hoping to steel the resolve of his soldiers.

At about 5 p.m., Forrest ordered the bugler to sound the "Charge." Outnumbering the Union defenders by at least two-to-one, the Confederates surged over the fort’s parapets in a rush. Not only did the Confederates outnumber the defenders, they had the additional benefit of overwhelming close-range firepower provided by the six-shot pistols all of the Confederate cavalryman habitually carried – but only half of Fort Pillow’s Union defenders were armed with revolvers. Assuming that the direct assaulting force consisted of about 800 Confederate soldiers armed largely with revolvers, the Confederates might have faced only about 260 Union troops with pistols, the remaining Union defenders being armed with either single-shot muskets or carbines. This alone would give the assaulting force the necessary 3:1 firepower ratio considered necessary for success by military doctrine for attackers since the muskets, once fired, were no good at such close-quarters combat except with bayonets or as clubs. The end result of this disparity in firepower meant that combat was necessarily close due to the short range of the pistols and the fact that the Confederates physically closed to within just a few yards of the defenders as they vaulted the walls of the fort. This produced hand-to-hand combat and point-blank shooting at extremely close range, creating another point of contention: based on powder burns found on some Union casualties, the Union accused Forrest’s Confederates of executing some of the fort’s defenders. However, such powder burns were to be expected at close-range engagements using black powder firing weapons.

At this point confusion reigned as the Confederates literally surged over the Union lines. Major Bradford shouted for the defenders to save themselves. The Union soldiers broke and ran to escape down the cliff to the beach area and the possible safety of the Union gunboats. No thought had been given to an organized surrender and Bradford’s hasty declaration to “Save yourselves!” panicked the Union defenders into a disorganized rout. Moreover, as the Union defenders fled to the beach, the U.S. flag still flew from Fort Pillow’s flagpole – this is significant since in 19th century warfare “Striking (lowering) the Colors” was the universally accepted signal that a garrison had surrendered and an unmistakable signal to the victorious attackers to stop firing. Had Bradford sensibly lowered the U.S. flag, this would have been a clear indication to all attacking Confederates that the garrison had surrendered.

Forrest’s Confederate cavalrymen pursued the fleeing enemy to prevent any further Union organized defense from being reconstituted. Captain Marshall of New Era, who had previously struck an agreement with the fort’s commander to support-by-fire any attempt of the Confederates to pursue the Union troops to the beach area, planned to engage the Confederates with cannister (anti-personnel) cannon rounds. But Marshall’s fire support plans were thwarted because the Union and Confederate forces were intermingled and therefore he risked hitting his own side’s soldiers.

In the race for the beach and possible safety, units intermingled, leaders were shot down and the inevitable confusion of fierce combat caused a loss of control on both sides. Major Booth actually had planned for such a contingency (of his garrison being pushed back to the beach) by pre-positioning ammunition boxes for his defenders to use if forced back to the beach. However, Booth’s planning assumption was predicated on an orderly displacement, not a panic-stricken rout. Later, some of the pre-positioned ammunition boxes were found opened, showing that at least some of the Union defenders knew their purpose and used the ammunition.

In one of the most controversial actions during the short assault, the Confederates shot down a number of Union soldiers in the beach area while many defending survivors drowned while trying to escape by swimming the Mississippi River. The Union subsequently tried to claim it was a planned massacre. In reality, it was most likely the result of a number of unintentional consequences combined to cause a tragedy for the Union soldiers. First, no organized surrender was ever declared. Soldiers surrendering did so as individuals. Because some of the Union defenders subsequently rearmed themselves after surrendering, it is likely that the Confederates became enraged and indiscriminately shot other defenders who were "surrendering." There is no doubt that latent racism was likely a contributing factor. Although Forrest had African-American Confederate soldiers in his ranks, the Confederate attackers were incensed that the defending African-American Union soldiers had taunted them during the truce and were therefore “guilty by association” with Bradford’s troops who had previously abused the attackers’ families. Revenge and heated passions from a long day of fighting made a deadly combination.

Another illustration depicting the events of the Battle of Fort Pillow as a massacre. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs DIvision)Experienced combat arms soldiers know how confusion occurs when converging forces assault an objective from three directions. This is what happened at Fort Pillow. Malice aforethought cannot be assumed simply because the losing side incurred a large number of casualties. A one-sided rout and vigorous pursuit would naturally produce a large number of casualties suffered by the defeated unit since the routed unit’s soldiers would not be organized to defend themselves and could more easily be shot down as they ran away. The attribution of a deliberate racist intent by the attacking Confederates to intentionally execute defenders defies knowledge of the culture and customs of Forrest’s command throughout the war. To ascribe ex post facto what happened to a premeditated conspiracy to "massacre" is logically and ethically wrong. Post-war lithographs of the battle and Union propaganda and disinformation managed to inflame passions. The prints used distortions and “tried” Forrest and his Confederate soldiers in the public forum, then found them guilty, despite the results of official Union inquiries into the conduct of the battle. Interestingly, all the prints and lithographs showing women and children present at the battle are part of the disinformation as all but ten civilian men had been evacuated by the Union Navy shortly before the battle. The women and children depicted being killed and brutalized by “blood-thirsty Confederates” in the notorious lithographs were not even present when the fort was assaulted and overrun.

Casualty figures vary slightly, but approximately 230 Union soldiers (of the approximately 560 in the fort’s garrison during the battle) were killed. About 60 African-American Union soldiers were taken prisoner (168 white Union troops were captured), the remainder either killed or reported as “missing in action.” In the wake of the battle, Forrest released 14 of the most seriously wounded Union African-American captives to the U.S. Navy steamer, Silver Cloud. About 14 Confederate soldiers were killed and more than 80 were wounded.

Only two weeks after the battle, a U.S. Congressional inquiry could not conclusively determine exactly what happened. Both sides failed to control the action, and only Forrest’s direct, personal intervention to stop the shooting saved many of the Union defenders left standing on the beach. Not satisfied with the Congressional inquiry, Union General William T. Sherman convened a not-so-impartial inquiry. He openly stated that he would try and convict General Forrest. However, Sherman’s inquiry also ended without substantive evidence to find Forrest culpable.

The stain that his lopsided Fort Pillow victory was a premeditated “massacre” remained with Forrest for the rest of his life. Northern newspapers publishing obituaries after his October 29, 1877 death, while acknowledging Forrest’s genius as a cavalry commander, nonetheless resurrected the “Fort Pillow Massacre” charges. The New York Times’ obituary even claimed that, during Forrest’s post-Civil War life, “his principal occupation seems to have been to try to explain away the Fort Pillow affair.” Northern newspapers criticizing Forrest’s effort “to explain away the Fort Pillow affair,” however, seem especially disingenuous since the sensationalist accounts by the partisan Northern press bears a large share of the burden for creating and perpetuating the “massacre” claim in the first place. Forrest always disputed claims that his Fort Pillow victory was a “massacre.” Any fair-minded judgment as to whether it was truly the racism-inspired, premeditated massacre claimed by the Northern press and Union leaders at the time must also take into consideration the inevitable confusion of desperate, hand-to-hand combat and the many contributing factors that created and exacerbated the disastrous Union rout.

Lieutenant Colonel (U. S. Army, ret.) Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr. was formerly Assistant Professor of History in the Combat Studies Institute and tactics instructor in the Center for Army Tactics, U. S. Army Command & General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS. He is currently Assistant Professor, Department of Command and Leadership, Redstone Arsenal, AL.


  1. Thank you for one of the most non-biased reports I have ever read about the Fort Pillow battle. Does anyone know where the Confederates KIA’s were buried after the battle?

    • Dear Ms Douglas,

      Thank you very much for your kind comments. The answer to your question is that I don’t know. However, I know some gentlemen who might. I will contact them and inquire.

      Based on my research of burials, Confederate soldiers were frequently removed from the field if they won the battle. It was not uncommon for them to be taken by family members. Since Forrest’s command was heavily recruited in Tennessee, it would be very probable that the families got some of the remains. Otherwise, they were removed to local cemeteries unless the battlefield was remote. In that case, they were buried where they fell. Markers of wood disintegrated and the graves were sadly lost.

      I frequently take groups to Chickamauga battlefield in Georgia to study the battle. There is only one soldier known to remain there — a young Conofederate — on the battlefield in a grave. I say “known” as many (thousands) were disinterred and reburied later in other cemeteries. Lt Richard Kirkland was exhumed and taken home by his family to South Carolina. He was reburied in the his home county and now lies under a beautiful monument in Camden, S.C. Kirkland, of course, is the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” immortalized at Fredericksburg on a large monument.

      It will take me a while to locate the gentlemen who might know the answer to your question but I shall return! Thank you again for your kind remarks.

      Regards, Ed

      • Ed,

        Please call me Nancy. I have studied this battle for at least four years and the one thing that I can never find is where the Confederate dead were buried. I look forward to hearing your findings from the gentlemen you mentioned. I sure hope they can shed some light on my query. My opinion is that Forrest cared for his soldiers and would never have let them be buried on the battlefield.

        I have read and reread your account of the battle many times. I truly enjoy that it is the most factual account I have ever had the pleasure to read. It is ashamed that it was a propanganda issue back then and still remains one 148 years later. I appreciate you for having set the record straight.


      • How interesting to read about the fate of the dead having just watched an excellent PBS film called “Death and the Civil War.”.

        The reason that I came upon this website is because, quite by accident, I discovered your most informative article on my relative, Nathan Bedford Forrest in the magazine while traveling. My great grandmother’s name was Amanda Forrest. As a result, I’m always fascinated in learning more about this larger than life general. Thank you.

      • Mr.Kennedy whould you happen to know what kind of guns would Forrest’s men be armed with at fort pillow?

    • As a Northerner and an ex military man , I find your explanation not only plausible but it rings of the truth. Thank you for your time to put pen to paper. Till now, I hano Idea about the Battle Of Fort Pillow! Thank You! Mike

  2. Wonderful article! This is the best I have read on Armchair General! Keep writing such informative (and unbiased) pieces!

  3. Best article about Ft. Pillow I have ever read.

  4. Far & away the best article about Fort Pillow I’ve ever read. Kudos to the author.

    Columbus, Ohio

  5. Excellent and informative article. Given the Union tendency to believe their own propaganda (witness the execution of Captain Wirz for command at Andersonville, despite the more well-documented and more serious abuses at Union prison camps), Sherman’s failure to convict Forrest is telling.

  6. My guess is that none of the previous respondents have read the first recommended book on the subject listed at the bottom of Colonel Kennedy’s article. Published in 2005 by LSU press, John Cimprich’s book, Fort Pillow – A Civil War Massacre and Public Memory, provides a very balanced and comprehensive history not only of Fort Pillow but also of the multifarious interpretations of the controversial battle that have been proposed by both Northern and “Lost Cause” sympathizers over the past 148 years. Though only 124 pages in length, it is a very slow read, comparing ad weighing the differing evidence, casualty reports, testimonies, and interpretations rather than simply professing to have all the answers to what truly happened. To be sure, Cimprich does conclude that a massacre, substantiated by Confederate witnesses, did indeed take place and for a variety of reasons, but he stresses that there is no definite proof either to exonerate or to condemn Forrest for the massacre. I believe that reading Cimprich’s scholarly work, especially the last three chapters, would be well worth the effort for readers interested in broadening their perspective on the controversy.

    • We in the South have heard the attacks of the North all to often to be interested in another. We have praised the article written, not the referenced book.

  7. Interesting perspective. Please recall that Southerns held White Officers of Black troops in particular disregard. Following Fort Pillow General Butler, who was negotiating prisoner exchanges with the Rebels, demanded that in the exchange and treatment of prisoners, black prisoners had to be treated identically to whites. This demand was refused and Rebel Secretary of War Seddon in June 1864 stated the Rebel position:
    “I doubt, however, whether the exchange of negroes at all for our soldiers would be tolerated. As to the white officers serving with negro troops, we ought never to be inconvenienced with such prisoners.”

    So, what does that mean? In context it seems that killing white officers of U.S. Colored Troops out of hand is being endorsed. Yes, there were many misunderstandings but the basic positions are crystal clear. Southerners that try to justify the Rebellion often point to “Gentlemen of the South” who were misunderstood or smeared by the North when failing to place it all in context.

    • When you invade another’s country, kill its citizens and rampage its land you have to expect you very well might highly anger said people and get your self killed. I believe that explains the “context”.

  8. African-American rebel soldiers?? Servants maybe but not soldiers.

    • The records are extremely clear on this count: black soldiers fought in combat with the Confederate army. Attempts to re-write history to characterize them as non-combatant servants does them a grave injustice. As but one set of examples, our local camp of United Confederate Veterans had three regular members who were black. They regularly attended meetings until their deaths, the last in 1935. At least two were regarded as heros. According to the camp meeting minutes, one was tortured (repeated drownings) by the yankees, but still refused to reveal the location of his unit. The other reportedly lost his rifle during the battle of Shiloh and started killing yankees with a stick.

    • I suggest you pick up the book Black Confederates In The U.S. Civil War: A Compiled List of African – Americans Who Served The Confederacy by Ricardo J. Rodriguez you can check it out on You will be amazed my friend

      And while you’re at check out Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 by Larry Koger, a black American

  9. Yeeeaaaah – a lot of good info here, and it’s good to know it wasn’t so one-sided, but the increasing amount of evidence points to a massacre. Just because the whole unit hasn’t surrendered doesn’t mean you can gun down hundreds of individual surrenders.

    Also, Forrest later became the first Grand Wizard of the KKK, though it is also to be noted that he reconciled with the Afro-American population of the south towards the end of his life.

    • There is no documented information that states Forrest was either a member or held leadership in the KKK. And the only testimony to that is from a man who made that statement 40 years after the first appearance of the Klan. None of this would be admissible in court.

      • Interesting. Your statement about Black Confederate soldiers is even less true than Forrest being the first Grand Wizard of the KKK (elected in 1867 and serving four years) and is also hearsay and inadmissible in a court of law. Find the documents that don’t say they weren’t cooks and servants (that is, slaves).

      • Since this will not allow me to answer eclecticdog directly I must reply to my own post. Hopefully eclecticdog will see it. Of course he’ll deny the facts if he does:

        FACT- there were black Confederate soldiers: As I mentioned above Black Confederates In The U.S. Civil War: A Compiled List of African – Americans Who Served The Confederacy by Ricardo J. Rodriguez. See also Black Defenders of America by Robert Ewell Greene, a black American who serve in Nixon’s administration. Contact Earl Ijames, a black American who works for the North Carolina State Archives.

        FACT- There is no reliable evidence to support Nathan Bedford Forrest being a member let alone “Grand Wizard” of the KKK. In a Congressional Inquiry Forrest testified without being threatened with penalty that he was never a member of the KKK. He did admit to being a member of the White Camelia. In his testimony he stated he knew members of the KKK and that membership had both white and black members. Forrest was also a guest speaker for the International Pole Bearers, a forerunner of the NAACP. I suggest you read his speech. And why on earth would blacks ask a Klan “Grand Wizard” to speak at their event?

        Show me facts not baseless opinions.

  10. I’m afraid there is no more “increasing evidence”. There is a lot of increasing opinion perhaps. That’s not “evidence”. All the evidence we have today is second-hand. There is no new evidence. We have no witnesses such as those interviewed at the two investigations held contemporaneously. General Sherman had first-hand evidence. We rely on what he obtained. It is not “increasing”. Only biased interpretations increase. Sherman admitted after his investigation that there was not enough evidence of an intentional “massacre” despite what Monday morning quarterbacks label it. The term “massacre” is an emotionally laden term that is unfortunately thrown about with ease by both sides of the issue. It connotes a bias when used. The definition of “massacre” implies that those killed were helpless or unable to resist. At Fort Pillow, that was not true. The Union forces resisted until Forrest called an end to the battle. This was not an incident of intentionally lining prisoners up and shooting them. I don’t doubt that the shootings got out of hand since combat is a very intense business as we who have served understand. However, this was no more a “massacre” than what happened on 26-27 February during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Iraqi Army was not surrendering, just retreating. The result was the “Highway of Death” where the Iraqis were engaged and destroyed by the thousands while trying to get away. They didn’t have their hands up and there were no white flags. It was ugly. It was war. There is no prohibition in international law against killing retreating enemies. We call this “pursuit” in the military and it is a legitimate form of action to prevent the enemy from reorganizing and subsequently killing their opponents later. Pursuits are nasty business for the forces being pursued as it is very difficult to fight while running away. We consider this one of the most difficult tasks in the military —– disengagement of forces —- “withdrawal under pressure”. In Korea, the 2nd Infantry Division (U.S.) was mauled by the Red Chinese in November 1950 as it attempted to withdraw under overwhelming contact. The Chinese pursuit was devastating but it was not a “massacre” even though the Chinese subsequently shot POWs. There is no evidence the Chinese planned to shoot the prisoners. It was a typical Oriental response to capturing people they were not prepared to take care of — bad planning on the part of the PLA. It doesn’t make it right but they had not planned for wounded prisoners nor did they have the ability to care for them. Murder? Yes. Planned massacre? I doubt it. As for Forrest and the KKK —- that is a completely different topic. I won’t try to address all of it here due to space and complexity. However, the KKK of 1868 is not the same KKK of today. Its goals were different and Forrest ordered it disbanded once it turned particularly violent towards blacks. Context is important. Understanding the situation it operated in and why it did so is important. The KKK was not resurrected by Forrest after he disbanded it and the KKK of today uses the name and tries to tie its lineage to the first KKK. Most people don’t know the difference and so their reaction is solely emotional but not based on fact.

  11. Thank you for clearing up some of the details of Fort Pillow and the KKK. The statement, “It was war” pretty much says it all.

    • Nancy,
      I got the answer to your question regarding where the soldiers were buried. I contacted the Tennessee State Historical Society and am told that the Federals were removed to be buried in Memphis. The Confederate dead were likely also taken there but no mention was made of whether they were separated. It seems all dead were taken away and made it to Memphis. My next task is to find where in the military cemetery in Memphis they lie.

      • Ed,
        Thank you so very much. I have studied that cemetery and could never find proof that the Confederate dead were taken there. I had thought that they were buried in Brownsville, Tennessee. Forrest went into Brownsville the day after the battle and if I am remembering right stayed the night there. He left the next morning to go to Jackson, Tennessee where he arranged for the burial of Wiley Reed. There are about 12 graves in the cemetery at Brownsville, Tennessee but no one seems to know who is buried in them. Please keep me posted on what you find. Thank you again.

  12. Nancy,
    That sounds like a very likely possibility since Fort Pillow is in the “sticks” and they might have wanted to leave their comrades there. I was in Brownsville the other day and should have checked.

    You’ve got me thinking again! Perhaps another trip to Brownsville is warranted.

    Please contact the ACG editor for my home email. He’ll give it to you. I’ll send some pics and information to you.

    Regards, Ed

    • Ed,
      I cannot figure out how to reach the AGC editor. Can you help me with this?
      Thank you,

  13. Thank you Col. Kennedy for your fine work. As an high school history teacher I want to present my students with all sides and let them analyze it for them selves. You can bet your article will be a part of my curriculum.

  14. History without references…?
    “Only two weeks after the battle, a U.S. Congressional inquiry could not conclusively determine exactly what happened.” That’s not quite what I read on, for example, page 6: “How many of our troops thus fell victims to the malignity and barbarity of Forrest and his followers cannot yet be deinitely ascertained.”

    I would be interested in finding transcripts of Sherman’s “not-so-impartial inquiry.” Strange that the biographies by John Allan Wyeth and James Harvey Mathes made no mention of it.

    • Winston Smith quotes as an historical reference: :’ “How many of our troops thus fell victims to the malignity and barbarity of Forrest and his followers cannot yet be definitely ascertained.” ‘

      I believe the last line states “cannot yet be definitely ascertained.”

      How does that differ from, “could not conclusively determine exactly what happened.” ?

      • It’s a lot different. They knew what happened; they just weren’t sure what happened to everybody. It goes on to say that two officers weren’t there that day (so they weren’t killed), but that of the officers who were there, only two were living, and they were both in the hospital. They had a low estimate of 300 killed and a high estimate of 400. Remember this is just two weeks after the massacre, and Forrest’s troops had thrown bodies all over the place and covered them with a little dirt, and they were still trying to collect them all and bury them. Major Bradford had been taken prisoner, but the general consensus was that he was murdered the next day. Was he? I don’t know. I could try to look it up, but that’s not the point here. The person who wrote this article misrepresented his source in order to further his argument. I don’t know whether the Ft Pillow massacre was pre-meditated or not; I do know the conclusion of this article was “pre-meditated” and pre-determined regardless of the evidence. No one accidentally misrepresents something to that degree. It’s not nit-picking; that is a serious distortion of the source, and since the source is on the web, you can find it and read it yourself while sitting in your armchair. Even if you can prove the information is incorrect or its conclusions unwarranted, the author still misrepresented what the source said, and that is bad history. A good historian goes where the evidence leads him; he doesn’t lead the evidence to his point of view.

  15. The Wall Street Journal, Weekend Edition of April 12, contained a commentary on the “Atrocity at Fort Pillow”. It appeared to try to promote the idea that the Union soldiers, particularly black, should be remembered as heroes and accorded such status. As with most articles on Fort Pillow, that article leaves out a lot of detail and does not present the battle in the context of what happens, particularly when the fighting is largely hand to hand combat. How you could have expected Forrest to have suddenly shut down the battle ignores what was occurring during the conflict.

    No one seems to find any fault with Bradford or his decision not to surrender. Forrest’s reputation was well known. He was an aggressive commander. This is by far the best account of the battle I have read. It places the events in context.

    The other point that should be recognized is that the entire Civil War was fought largely in the south. Troops had to live off the land as did Sherman’s army in their march to the sea. As a result the south and all its people suffered far more than the north during more than four years of intense fighting. And as has been pointed out the Battle of Fort Pillow was not very significant in the prosecution of the war. Casualties of both white and black were far more numerous in many other battles.

    • Similarly, another article at the New York Times on 11 April 2014 (Disunion: Remember Fort Pillow!) gives a detailed account of the action). Hand-to-hand combat was minimal or did not happen at all as the defenders fled the parapet to escape down the bluff. I also take issue with the lowering the flag part in this ACG article. It does not seem that anyone had time to think to do this after the parapet was taken.

      • What kind of guns did Forrest’s men have?

  16. I need to cite this as a source for my History Day Project. When was this article electronically published?

    • nevermind I didn’t see it

  17. Very good article…

  18. It is a strange kind of massacre indeed when 14 of the defeated side’s most seriously wounded troops are voluntarily released to their own navy; particularly when those wounded soldiers are black and the ‘massacre’ is motivated by racial hatred!


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