girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war. Good bye to all. Your own loving--Write soon-- Lewis __________________ Source: Herbert Aptheker, A Documentary History of the Negro People of the United States , (New York, 1969), pp. 440-441.
THE FORT PILLOW MASSACRE, 1864 The aftermath of the Battle of Fort Pillow ranks as the single largest incidence of civilian death inflicted by a military force during the Civil War. After Union forces occupying the earthen fortress which guarded the Mississippi River surrendered to a Confederate Army led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest, approximately 400 mostly African American men, women and children who had taken shelter in the structure were killed by their captors. The animosity between the Union and Confederate forces was heightened because soldiers on both sides of the battle were Tennessean. The Union force was comprised of ex-slaves recruited from West Tennessee as well as white Unionists from both West and East Tennessee, while the men in Forrest's command were from West Tennessee. The account below, a partial description of the massacre, focuses on Captain John L. Poston who organized a group of sixty three white men from Brownsville, Tennessee, to fight for the Union. After the Civil War Poston became one of a small group of native Southerners who organized the Republican Party in West Tennessee and who assisted the ex-slaves as an agent for the Freedman's Bureau. I take special interest in the vignette because it suggests that not all white Southerners supported the Confederacy and because Poston hailed from Brownsville, my hometown. ______________________________________________________________________________ ______ The sixty three men whom John L. Poston had organized into Company E of the Union's 13th Tennessee Cavalry bivouacked at Fort Pillow as they moved to Memphis to join up with Union forces. These men were among the six hundred Union troops attacked at Fort Pillow by six thousand of Forrest's Confederate troops on 12 April 1864. No battle could better illustrate the Civil War as a fight of neighbor against neighbor. The largest part of the Confederate militia organized in Haywood County served under Forrest's command. Inside Fort Pillow, the Union forces combined African American troops from Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi with white troops from West Tennessee, including Poston's Company E. White Haywood County men attacked Fort Pillow, and white and black Haywood County men defended it. In a war noted for its carnage, the battle became infamous for the cruelty of its aftermath. Two hundred and sixty-two of the troops in Fort Pillow were African Americans. After the surrender of the fort, most of them were systematically executed. A soldier from Poston's company testified that after the surrender, he "saw them make lots of niggers stand up, and then they shot them down like hogs... The next morning I was lying [with the wounded] .... The secesh [secessionists] would be prying around there, and would come to a nigger and say, 'You ain't dead, are you?'...
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