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FORT PILLOW REVISITED: NEW EVIDENCE ABOUT AN OLD CONTROVERSY Edited by John Cimprich Robert C. Mainfort, Jr. The capture of Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864, by a force of Confederate cavalry under the command of Major General Nathan B. Forrest is, perhaps , the most controversial battle of the Civil War. A congressional report on the engagement concluded not only that Forrest's troops massacred a substantial portion of the racially mixed garrison, but also that they committed numerous grisly atrocities. The report drew much criticism from southern writers, who indignantly denied that a massacre took place and even more vehemently defended Forrest's conduct. More recently, several historians have held that the report correctly labelled the event a massacre but exaggerated the additional atrocities. Further evidence, mostly new Confederate sources, provides the first really solid support for the latter interpretation and also offers a more detailed picture of the event.1 The federal garrison at FortPillow at its last count, officially consisted of 580 men, of whom 292 belonged to the Sixth United States Colored Heavy Artillery or the Second United States Colored Light Artillery (hereafter designated U.S.C.H.A. and U.S.C.L.A. respectively) and 285 to the white Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry. Three men (post staff The authors of this article were aided by funding from the Tennessee Department of Conservation (Division of Planning and Development) and the Southeast Missouri State University's Grants and Research Funding Committee. They also acknowledge the help of research assistants Karen M. Johnson, Joe Mannard, Stephan Rogers, Marion Smith, and Parris Stripling. 1 U.S., Congress, Senate Committee Reports, 38th Cong., 1st sess., No. 83, passim; Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor, The Campaigns of Lt. Gen. N. B. Forrest (New York, 1868), pp. 439-45; Charles W. Anderson, "The True Story of Fort Pillow," Confederate Veteran3 (Nov. 1895):326;John AllanWyeth, The Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (New York, 1899), pp. 355-56; John L. Jordan, "Was There a Massacre at Fort Pillow?" Tennessee Historical Quarterly 6 (June 1947):122-32; Dudley T. Cornish, The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865 (New York, 1956), pp. 174-75; Albert Castel, "The Fort Pillow Massacre: A Fresh Examination of the Evidence," Civil War History 4 (Mar. 1958):46-49; idem, "Fort Pillow: Victory or Massacre," American History Illustrated 9 (Apr. 1974):4-11, 46-48. CivilWar History, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4 Copyright® 1982by The KentState University Press 0009-8078/82/2804-0001 $01.00/0 294civil war history members) belonged to other white units.2 Forrest's troops numbered about 1500 men. Contrary to the claim by the historian Ronald K. Huch, these troops had never before faced blacks in combat.3 The April 12, 1864, entry in the log4 of the gunboat New Era, which participated in the Union defense, summarizes the engagement: @6 a.m. Received information from Maj Booth5 commanding post that his Pickets were driven in and that the enemy were advancing on the Fort[.] @6.10 got underway[;] went into the Stream[;] Beatto quarters and commenced Shellingthe enemy in the ravinebelow the Fort and rendering all the assistance in ourpower to the Garrison[.] @8.15 Took in tow an empty Coal Barge containing Females and Non combat[;] towed it above Coal Creek out of danger[;] returned and commenced Shelling above the Fort throwing five inch Shell and Schrapnel and enfelading the enemys advance to such an advantage that a quantity of Sharp Shooters were stationed in the bank to drive us away[.] @9.30 a.m. Str. Liberty passed down landing at the barge and taking on board all who wished to leave[] In passing the Fort she received a Volley[.] [We] continued firing from a Signal from the Fort[;] Keeping underway[;] running a head and dropping as required[.] @noon the enemy opened on us from their battery of two light field pieces Stationed under cover of Wolfs Hül[;]e the Sharp Shooters Continued firing on us[.] @ 1.45 the enemy sent in a flag of Truce and firing was discontinued from the Fort[.] Owing the Strength of Wind and current all the firing was done by the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 293-306
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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