A New Look at Fort Pillow

by Fred Ray on May 26, 2011 · 0 comments

Few battles in the Late Unpleasantness have aroused such passions as Fort Pillow. Battle or massacre? Truth or propaganda?

Steve Cole is looking at the men who actually fought the battle and their fates.

The Battle of Fort Pillow was part of General Forrest’s raid into western Tennessee in 1864.  Fort Pillow was the first river fort north of Memphis but was abandoned by the Confederates in June 1862.  By 1864, the Union had only 550 troops at the fort when General Forrest attacked it with 1500 Confederates.  The Union troops hoped to hold out until gunboats came down the river with infantry and artillery support.  The result was that more than half of the Union troops were killed and most of these were black.  Thus it became known as the “Fort Pillow Massacre”.  The purpose of this webpage is not to discuss the causes and effects but to give an accounting of the cost of this battle.

Cole goes on to give a detailed accounting of both the Confederate casualties and the Union casualties, using period records and reports and information that later became available like a soldier’s CSR. He manages to come up with a pretty complete picture of who was there and their fate during and after the battle. For instance, the total of Union soldiers usually given is 557, but he’s identified 590 plus a number of civilians who were present also. A nice piece of scholarship and well worth a look.

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