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Battle of Fort Pillow

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Date: 12 Apr 1864 [unknown]
Location: [unknown]
Surnames/tags: US_Civil_War Battles
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The Battle of Fort Pillow was part of General Nathan Forrest's West Tennessee Raid of 1864. Forrest moved his entire cavalry corps, consisting of 4 cavalry brigades, across the Tennessee state line. With his base at Jackson, Forrest began raiding different Union forts and bases, including Paducah, KY and Union City, TN. He ordered General James R. Chalmers to take two cavalry divisions to attack Fort Pillow, which was a fort on the Mississippi River.

The Union fort had been abandoned but was re-occupied by the 13th Tennessee Cavalry(US), which was officially known as Bradford's 14th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion. They moved there to recruit men from the surrounding area. They also harassed the pro-Confederate civilians, who contacted Confederate General Forrest relief. Union XVI Corps commander, General S. A. Hurlbut sent the 6th US Colored Heavy Artillery to provide protection for the Union cavalry. Later he sent a section of the 2nd US Colored Light Artillery. In total the fort in the small inner fort on top of the bluff was defended by 580 men and 6 cannon. None of these units and only a couple of the white officers of the USCT units had experienced combat. The fort had addition protection from the Union timber-clad gun boat NEW ERA.

General Chalmers arrived at 5:00 am on 12 April, 1864, with approximately 1500 well-trained cavalry men who fought dismounted. General Forrest also went along with his personal escort and one battery. Chalmers surprised the fort and soon had it surrounded, however Forrest soon took over command of the attack. Confederate snipers were placed at higher elevation around the fort and could easily pick off soldiers behind the large earthworks, whereas the men in the fort could not fire out of the fort without exposing themselves.

Forrest called a truce to negotiate surrender. He offered to allow the US Colored Troops to be taken as prisoners of war. Major Bradford tried to stall the negotiations so the Union gunboat could get into position to aid their escape. Forrest called off the truce. The charge was ordered and the Confederate forces stormed the walls of the fort and captured it within 15 minutes.

Once the Confederates entered the fort, the Union forces fled down the steep bluff to try to reach the gunboats. However, Forrest had placed two regiments both above and below the bluffs and fighting continued. Many Union survivors accused the Confederates of showing no quarter. No Union officer ordered a surrender.

Fort Pillow was called a massacre because of the high death rate. The data shows the actual death rate of the Union was 37%. More USCT soldiers were killed than white soldiers but there were 56 USCT taken prisoner.

Prisoners (unwounded) were 7 Offices & 219 Enlisted Men or 226. Of these 56 were USCT and 163 were Whites.


"Fort Pillow, a Civil War Massacre, and Public Memory" by John Cimprich, LSU Press, 2005.

"River Run Red" by Andrew Ward, Viking Penguin, 2005.

“The Campaigns of Gen. Nathan B. Forrest”. Gen Thomas Jordan and J. P. Pryor. Da Capo Press, 1996.

"Brigadier General Tyree H. Bell, C.S.A.: Forrest'S Fighting Lieutenant", by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Jr., Unv Tennessee Press 2004.

U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, "Fort Pillow Massacre", House Report No. 65, 38th Congress, 1st Session.

MHQ; The Quarterly Journal of Military History; Spring 1996, Vol 8 No. 2: "Kill the Last Damn One of Them" by Noah Andre Trudeau.

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