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Confederate Army

Fort Pillow

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Re-enactors at Fort Pillow

Abraham Lincoln (Ford's Theatre)

Schrivers House


The Battle of Fort Pillow

(April 12, 1864)

In April 1864, the Union garrison at Fort Pillow, a Confederate-built earthen fortification and a Union-built inner redoubt, overlooking the Mississippi River about forty river miles above Memphis, comprised 295 white Tennessee troops and 262 U.S. Colored Troops, all under the command of Maj. Lionel F. Booth. Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the fort on April 12 with a cavalry division of approximately 2,500 men. Forrest seized the older outworks, with high knolls commanding the Union position, to surround Booth's force. Rugged terrain prevented the gunboat New Era from providing effective fire support for the Federals. The garrison was unable to depress its artillery enough to cover the approaches to the fort. To make matters worse, Rebel sharpshooters, on the surrounding knolls, began wounding and killing the Federals, including Booth, who was killed. Maj. William F. Bradford then took over command of the garrison. The Confederates launched a determined attack at 11:00 am, occupying more strategic locations around the fort, and Forrest demanded unconditional surrender. Bradford asked for an hour for consultation and Forrest granted twenty minutes. Bradford refused surrender and the Confederates renewed the attack, soon overran the fort, and drove the Federals down the river's bluff into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight. Many accused the Confederates of perpetrating a massacre of the black troops, and that controversy continues today. The Confederates evacuated Fort Pillow that evening so they gained little from the attack except to temporarily disrupt Union operations. The Fort Pillow Massacre became a Union rallying cry and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion.

Fort Pillow State Historic Site
3122 Park Road
Henning, TN 38041
P.O. Box 109
Henning, TN 38041
Phone: (901) 738-5581
Internet:  www.state.tn.us/environment/parks/pillow/index.html

Hours: Daily (site)
Monday - Friday (visitor center)

Overlooking the Mississippi River north of Memphis, Tennessee, Fort Pillow was an important Confederate river defense until its capture by Union forces in 1862. The fort remained in Union hands until April 12, 1864, when troops of Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest's Cavalry Corps attacked and captured the earthworks.

Battle casualties for the Confederates were light, with 14 killed and 86 wounded. Union troops, especially black troops, suffered much greater losses, with 231 killed, 226 captured, and roughly 100 wounded. The unusually high ratio of killed versus wounded instantly created controversy and raised charges of a massacre. Union troops stated that black troops who had already surrendered and thrown down their weapons were killed, along with the wounded. At the time of the assault, 262 black troops occupied Fort Pillow, composing the 11th U.S. Colored Troops, and Battery F of the 4th U.S. Colored Light Artillery. At battle's end, only 58 were taken prisoner. Some would later claim (on both sides) that the high casualty rate was due to the 11th U.S.C.T.'s hard-fought defense of the earthworks and their refusal to fall back. The controversy has continued for over thirteen decades and will likely continue for as many more.

The fort is open to the public, courtesy of the State of Tennessee, and features a visitors center and other amenities.

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