The Cowardly and Inhuman Massacre~April 1864~14th & 15th

The Cowardly and Inhuman Massacre

The reports about the Fort Pillow atrocity begin to come. White Union officers commanding black troops vow to exact justice. Soldiers serving under Confederate General Forrest send home conflicting reports about Forrest’s own participation in the butchery.


April 14– Thursday– camp near Annapolis, Maryland– “We were paid this afternoon for the Month of February, and I enclose you $50.00 and am sorry that I can’t send you more, but Mother if you need more before I get my next pay (which is due the last of this Month) you must certainly draw it from the Bank, as I send it to you for you to use it just when you want it. . . . I don’t see any signs of our leaving here yet awhile, Troops arrive here almost every day and go into Camp. We have only had some 60 or 70 recruits as yet, but we hear there are some 200 in New York for us. Generals Grant and Burnside paid us a visit yesterday. There was no grand Review as is generally the case, but the Regiments just fell in line and Grant rode along and looked at them and then went on about his business. There are all sorts of speculation about the destination of our Expedition but the general opinion is that we are to go to North Carolina for an advance into Virginia by way of Goldsborough while the Potomac Army makes another push for Richmond by the front door, but I am rather inclined to think that we are intended as a kind of reserve, to send where we are most needed.” ~ Letter from Union soldier George Whitman to his mother Louisa.

April 14– Thursday– Washington, D.C.– “Gold is reported at 190 to-day; that is, it requires one hundred and ninety dollars of Treasury notes, Chase’s standard, to buy one hundred dollars in gold, paper has so depreciated.” ~ Diary of Gideon Welles.

April 14– Thursday– Orange County, Virginia– “I am sorry the hawks catch your chickens so badly. I wish I could be there to kill them. But I reckon I would not do much hawk killing unless I done better than when I was at home. You must get some ammunition and kill them yourself. You can soon learn to shoot, and it might be of great advantage to you, if the Yanks should ever get that low down in Georgia. I want women, children, old men and all to kill them every possible opportunity rather than let them pass through our noble old State. . . . The weather is fine and pleasant today and was also yesterday, which is quite a treat to us in one sense of the word at least, but of course will hasten the time of fighting, should it last long. Surplus baggage is being sent to the rear and a standing orders for the commissaries to keep seven days rations on hand, all of which indicates a preparation for the coming conflict.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier Marion Hill Fitzpatrick to his wife Amanda.


Fort Pillow massacre

Fort Pillow massacre

April 14– Thursday– Memphis, Tennessee– “There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter. As for myself, I escaped by putting on citizens clothes, after I had been some time their [the Confederates’] prisoner. I received a slight wound of the left ear. I cannot close this report without adding my testimony to that accorded by others wherever the black man has been brought into battle. Never did men fight better, and when the odds against us are considered it is truly miraculous that we should have held the fort an hour. To the colored troops is due the successful holding out until 4 p.m. The men were constantly at their posts, and in fact through the whole engagement showed a valor not, under the circumstances, to have been expected from troops less than veterans, either white or black.” ~ Report of Union Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn about the defense of Fort Pillow.

April 14– Thursday– on the U. S. Silver Cloud, off Memphis, Tennessee– “All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes. Around on every side horrible testimony to the truth of this statement could be seen. Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops. Strewn from the fort to the river bank, in the ravines and hollows, behind logs and under the brush where they had crept for protection from the assassins who pursued them, we found bodies bayoneted, beaten, and shot to death, showing how cold-blooded and persistent was the slaughter of our unfortunate troops. . . . here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate.” ~ Report of W. Ferguson, Acting Master, U.S. Navy, Commanding U. S. Silver Cloud on the massacre at Fort Pillow.


Fort Pillow

Fort Pillow

April 14– Thursday– Shelby County, Tennessee– “God grant we may humbly receive the blessings which have brightened our little Confederacy, drive this wicked band from our Sunny land, give us liberty and peace– oh! make us a Christian nation– we have suffered, yet we deserved thy punishment, we humbly crave thy pardon, and beseech thy blessings. The night spent as usual with me, sit in the Parlor with Father a short while after Tea.” ~ Diary of Belle Edmondson

April 14– Thursday– Chester, Nova Scotia, Canada– Charles Lot Church, prominent politician, the son of American Loyalists who fled the United States after Britain’s defeat in the American Revolution, dies at 87 years of age.

April 15– Friday– Cairo, Illinois– “Arrived in sight of Fort Pillow on Wednesday, the 13th , about 9 a.m. . . . . I went on shore, and while our men were engaged carrying the wounded on board the boat I with other officers, on invitation from [Confederate] General [James] Chalmers, visited the fort. We saw the dead bodies of 15 Negroes, most of them having been shot through the head. Some of them were burned as if by powder around the holes in their heads, which led me to conclude that they were shot at very close range. One of the gun-boat officers who accompanied us asked General Chalmers if the most of the Negroes were not killed after they (the enemy) had taken possession, Chalmers replied that he thought they had been, and that the men of General [Bedford] Forrest’s command had such a hatred toward the armed Negro that they could not be restrained from killing the Negroes after they had captured them. He said they were not killed by General Forrest’s or his orders, but that both Forrest and he stopped the massacre as soon as they were able to do so. He said it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the Negro. Chalmers said that all of his forces would be out of the place by 3 o’clock of that day, and that the main body was already moving. He also said to the officers, myself included, that Forrest’s command would never fire on transport steamers. Chalmers told me they took about 25 Negroes as prisoners. We saw two bodies of Negroes burning. The above is all I know of the affair which is of importance.” ~ Report of Union officer John G. Woodruff.

April 15– Friday– Memphis, Tennessee– A meeting at Fort Pickering of the white officers of the Second United States Colored Heavy Artillery unanimously adopts, among others, the following resolutions: “Resolved, That in the leaders and instigators of the cowardly and inhuman massacre of the survivors of the garrison, we recognize those unworthy the name of soldiers; that they have disgraced the position in which honor and chivalry are essential requisites, and that to the name of traitors they have now added that of cowards and murderers. Resolved, That, as American soldiers, we have always held that the person of a wounded and defenseless prisoner was sacred, but that the scenes at Fort Pillow admonish us that humanity forms no part of the policy of traitors. Resolved, That, as officers commanding colored troops in the service of the Union, we now know our doom if we are captured by our enemies; but that so far from being intimidated thereby, we accept the issue, and adopt as our significant motto, ‘Victory or Death.’” The officers request that numerous Northern newspapers reprint these resolutions so that the word comes to the attention of Confederate officers upon whom they intend to exact justice for the massacre at Fort Pillow.

Fort Pillow massacre

Fort Pillow massacre

April 15– Friday– Memphis, Tennessee– “After resistance had ceased the enemy, in gross violation of all honorable warfare, butchered in cold blood the prisoners and wounded. . . . The list of killed and wounded, so far as received, accompanies this report, and demonstrates the severity of the action. It is unquestionably true that the colored troops fought desperately and nearly all of them are now killed or wounded; but few are held as prisoners. . . . I cannot conclude this report without very earnestly calling the attention of the War Department through you to the necessity of some vigorous action on their part to insure the treatment due to soldiers to our colored troops. Not only is it due to our good name, but it will be necessary to preserve discipline among them. In case of an action in which they shall be successfully engaged, it will be nearly impracticable to restrain them from retaliation.” ~ Report of Union General Stephen A Hurlbut about the atrocity at Fort Pillow.

April 15– Friday– camp of the Sixth U. S. Heavy Artillery (Colored), Tennessee– “I have the honor to make the following statement in regard to the battle of Fort Pillow. I was not in the battle, but arrived there after the fort was captured . . . . They [Confederate soldiers] stormed the fort . . . and then commenced an indiscriminate slaughter of the command. The fort never was surrendered. I passed over the field of battle under the flag of truce (which was out to bury our dead), and I there saw men who were shot after they had thrown down their arms and were in hiding-places that they had selected after the fort was taken. A captain of one of the gun-boats informed me that the rebel General Chalmers told him they did not intend to show any mercy to the garrison of Fort Pillow when they attacked the same. When I went over the field I was under the escort of Colonel Greer, who informed me that it was the hardest battle that he was ever in–the most strongly contested. The appearance of a great many of the dead men’s bodies showed to me conclusively that they were murdered.” ~ Report of Union Captain William T Smith.

April 15– Friday– Jackson, Tennessee– “Have dispatched by telegraph of the capture of Fort Pillow. Arrived there on the morning of the 12th and attacked the place with a portion of McCulloch’s and Bell’s brigades numbering about 1,500 men, and after a sharp contest captured the garrison and all of its stores. A demand was made for the surrender, which was refused. The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 Negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned. The approximate loss was upward of 500 killed, but few of the officers escaping. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that Negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” ~ Report of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

April 15– Friday– Brownsville, Tennessee– “The slaughter was awful. . . . Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen. . . . human blood stood about in pools . . . I with several others tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeed, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs, and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.” ~Letter of Confederate soldier Achilles V Clark to his sisters.


April 15– Friday– Brownsville, Tennessee– “They refused to surrender– which increased our men & if General Forrest had not have run between our men & the Yanks & his Pistol and sabre drawn not a man would have been spared– we took about a hundred & 25 white men & about 45 Negroes the rest of the 800 are numbered with the dead– they sure heaped upon each other.” ~ Letter from Confederate soldier S H Caldwell to his wife.


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