Reviews: The Fort Pillow Massacre

by James Durney on January 6, 2010 · 3 comments

An Unerring Fire: The Massacre at Fort Pillow
by Richard L. Fuchs

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 190 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 9.50 x 0.75 x 6.50
  • Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; (October 1994)
  • ISBN: 083863561X

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Mr. Fuchs has tried to prove the case against Nathan Bedford Forrest for ordering the massacre at Fort Pillow.  He has produced an agenda ridden work of little or no value except to those convinced of Forrest’s guilt.  As an historical account, the work collapses under the overwhelming weight of his agenda.  Forrest is the bogeyman of the politically correct liberal left school of history.  Mr. Fuchs attempts to establish himself firmly in this group with this book.

Purchasing this book will help you understand Fort Pillow to the same extent that listening to speakers at an anti-war rally will help you understand American foreign policy.  The second option is free.

River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War
by Andrew Ward

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 1.63 x 9.78 x 6.58
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; (September 22, 2005)
  • ISBN: 0670034401

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No event in the American Civil War is so loaded with politically correct overtones as Fort Pillow.  The garrison was overrun and killed by troops under command of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the first KKK.  Add the fact that many of the dead were black and the politically correct liberal left school of history is in full cry.  The worst book on the subject is Richard L. Fuchs “An Unerring Fire: The massacre at Fort Pillow”.  The only thing missing in that book is Forrest in formal Klan robes riding about extorting his lynch mob of an army to kill all blacks.

RiverRunRedTheFortPillowMassacreAndrewWardMr. Ward avoids these mistakes and produces what is the most evenhanded book we are likely to see.  The Union Army in west Tennessee was a series of second or third-rate units with sever leadership problems.  Black marketing, speculation in cotton, a hostile population and a habit of  “foraging” contributed to the poor condition of these units.  Into this mix came two distinct sets of regiments raised in the area; the United Stated Colored Troops comprised of freed slaves and the white “loyalist”, many of whom had deserted from the Confederate Army.  Being in the USCT or a Tennessee Union regiment didn’t change racial attitudes, dividing local commands even more.  The isolated forts were to be abandoned but the profit in cotton was to attractive for Memphis to act quickly.

Into this mix rode General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his very able command.  Forrest had made Memphis his home before the war and many of his men were from the area.  The book covers this 1864 raid in detail giving us a good understanding of the conditions Forrest’s men face and the stories of “foraging” they had heard.  Fort Pillow was targeted, invested, refused to surrender, overrun and a massacre occurred.  Forrest lost control of his men but was never charged with any crime.  It was impossible to build a case against the man that would hold up even in a Reconstruction Court.

Having said all of this, why don’t I like the book?  “Damned with faint praise”; sums up the author’s treatment of Forrest.  In any question on where he was or what he was doing, the glass is always half empty.  He should have been stopping the massacre not checking the gunboats on the river.  However, these boats could have slaughtered his command if they had fought.  “The Wizard” is used so often, in referring to Forrest, that it becomes a snide remark.  Likewise, his Christian name was not “Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader”.

The stories from the saviors of the massacre are told in stunning detail, as is the fate of the Union POWs, both white and black.  This section of the book clearly illustrates how the “hard hand of war” was being applied.  This is not a pleasant book to read but it is the best coverage of the subject I’ve found.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 Amazon.com reviewer.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry January 6, 2010 at 9:31 am

What about Cimprich’s book?

Fort Pillow, A Civil War Massacre, And Public Memory (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War Series)

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James Durney January 6, 2010 at 12:17 pm

I have not read the book and cannot comment on it. Amazon has no reviews for this book either. Would you be willing to post a review for us?

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Harry January 6, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Nope, haven’t read it – was hoping you had. I think it came out right around the same time as Ward’s book, and IIRC it was the more highly regarded of the two.

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