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Prelude to the Fort Pillow Massacre
- Confederate soldiers under the command of Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow built the fort in early 1862 to help defend the Mississippi River.
- Fort Pillow was located 40 miles (64.4 km) north of Memphis in Henning, Tennessee.
- The Confederates abandoned Fort Pillow in the summer of 1862 upon which it was occupied by Union forces.
- In March of 1864 Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest led approximately 7,000 troops into western Tennessee and Kentucky on a mission to capture Union soldiers and forts, and to obtain supplies. In April he separated his forces taking somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 soldiers to attack Fort Pillow in order to obtain supplies.
- Six hundred Union soldiers, half white and half black, occupied Fort Pillow when the Confederates attacked it on April 12th of 1864.
Fort Pillow Massacre Facts
- On April 12th (1864) Confederate troops attacked the fort. With their superior numbers they soon gained the upper hand positioning themselves for a final assault on the fort's defenders.
- General Forrest gave the Union forces a chance to surrender, promising the forts garrison would be treated with the rights of prisoners of war. The Union soldiers however refused to surrender.
- The Confederate troops launched their final attack on the fort and quickly, and with minimal casualties, took the fort.
- The events that occurred immediately after the fort was taken has been a point of controversy, however based on most accounts it was a massacre of black soldiers.
- By most accounts black soldiers who had surrendered, many begging for their lives, were shot in cold blood by Confederate soldiers.
- There have been a few eyewitnesses that claimed the Union soldiers never surrendered and never dropped their weapons. Many Confederate soldiers involved in the battle claimed that as the Union soldiers retreated they kept turning around and firing their guns forcing them to return fire.
- The number of Union soldiers killed is debated but is believed to be between 277 and 297; the majority of which were black. Only fourteen Confederates were killed and less than 100 wounded.
- The fact that black soldiers had a drastically disproportionate casualty rate compared to white Union soldiers tends to support the belief black soldiers were targeted by the Confederates.
- An interesting fact is that the Confederates abandoned Fort Pillow a few hours after the massacre; at that point in the American Civil War the fort's location held no importance to them.
- The outrage over this massacre led to the Union Army ending prisoner exchanges with the Confederates.