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During the civil war, the African-American soldiers faced greater perils than white soldiers on the battlefields. Blacks who were captured by the enemy were often treated not like soldiers but like slaves guilty of rebellion. Some captive black soldiers were held prisoners of war but others were executed or were sold into slavery. The war crimes continued. The worst took place at Fort Pillow TN, in April 1864, the Confederate captured the fort and massacred hundreds of unarmed black soldiers who had surrendered. General Nathan Bedford Forrest ordered his men to shoot shouting "No Quarter, No Quarter". The Confederate soldiers did not stop African-Americans from fighting with spirit and determination. In fact, this may have inspired the black troops to even greater ferocity. From then on their battle cries "REMEMBER FORT PILLOW!"
The Fort Pillow massacre was one of the worst events on the record of Confederate troops during the Civil war. Fort Pillow was located in Jackson, Tennessee bank of the Mississippi River, and had fallen the 12th April, 1864. The total number of men present, for both sides, was 3,200. The north had 295 white soldiers from Tennessee and 262 black troops as well. The southern force had 2,500 men and a competent cavalry division. The odds were always on the side of the Confederates. Major Booth was the commander of the Union garrison and was known for his toughness. Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the fort with 2,500 men. Booth was killed during the battle so Major. William F. Bradford then took over command of the garrison.
The rebels, under Forrest, appeared, and drove in the pickets about sunrise on Tuesday morning. Here the fight continued till about four p.m. The rebels charged with great boldness down the river, and faced a fire from the guns and small arms of the fort. They crowded the fort surrounding it; where they were sheltered from fire by the steep bank. Under a flag of truce which his men faked while creeping up on the fort, Forrest demanded the garrison's surrender, threatening that if they refused he would not be responsible for the actions of his men. Believing Forrest was bluffing, Bradford refused, so the Confederates charged killing every thing in there path. The garrison fled down to the river. But awaiting them were the armed-ready soldiers.
After the rebels were in possession of the fort, and the survivors had surrendered, they commenced the shooting of all the Federal soldiers. The colored soldiers threw down their guns, and raised their arms, in token of surrender; but was ignored. They continued to shoot down all they found. A number of them, finding no quarter was given, ran to the river, and tried to hide themselves under the bank and in the bushes, where they were pursued by the rebels, whom they begged to spare their lives. One had crawled into a hollow log, and was killed in it; another had got over the bank into the river, and had got on a board that run out into the water. He lay on it on his face, with his feet in the water. He lay there, when exposed stiff. Several had tried to hide in crevices made by the falling bank, and could not be seen without difficulty; but they were spotted while reaching the crevice and killed. D. W. Harrison, one of the Thirteenth Tennessee on board, says, that, after the surrender, he was below the bluff, and one of the rebels presented a pistol to shoot him. He told him he had surrendered, and requested him not to fire. He spared him, and directed him to go up the bluff to the fort. Harrison asked him to go before him, or he would be shot by others; but he told him to go along. He started, and had not proceeded far before he met a rebel, who presented his pistol. Harrison begged him not to fire; but, paying no attention to his request, he fired, and shot him through the shoulder; and another shot him in the leg. He fell; and, while he lay unable to move, another came along, and was about to fire again, when Harrison told him be was badly wounded twice, and implored him not to fire. He asked Harrison if he had any money. He said he had a little money, and a watch. The rebel took from him his watch and ninety dollars in money, and left him.
Another survivor, Jacob Wilson, who was picked up below Fort Pillow, and had a narrow escape. He was down on the river-bank, and, seeing that no quarter was shown, stepped into the water so that he lay partly under it. A rebel coming along asked him what was the matter: he said he was badly wounded; and the rebel, after taking from his pocket all the money he had, left him. It happened to be near by a flat-boat tied to the bank, and about three o'clock in the morning. When all was quiet, Wilson crawled into it, and got three more wounded comrades also into it, and cut loose. The boat floated out into the channel, and was found ashore some miles below. The wounded soldiers aboard faked themselves dead until Union soldiers came along.
Major Bradford also ran down to the river, and, after he told them that he had surrendered, more than fifty shots were fired at him. He then jumped into the river, and swam out a little ways, and whole volleys were fired at him there without hitting him. He returned to the shore, but he heard frequent threats from the rebels that they would kill him.
By the next morning only about 65 blacks had survived a massacre that had continued intermittently through the night. More than seventy percent of the white survivors would perish in rebel prisons. The Confederates lost about 18 killed.
This attack,in history, was said to be one of the motivating factors of the Civil War.
The accusation against Forrest is well known and for good reason. The southern commander is said to be responsible for the massacre of hundreds of surrendered Union soldiers. The killing of men who have surrendered is bad enough, but the fact that the Union soldiers massacred were African-Americans, made it all too painful.
The winning feeling that was experienced by the Confederates was short-lived as they abandoned the fort the same day as when they fought and died for it. The Confederates won the battle and gained control of literally nothing.
The northern army would use the action at Ft. Pillow as a tool for motivation in the battles to come. "Dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards," The Fort Pillow Massacre became a Union rallying cry and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion.