Today in History, April 12: 1864 – “The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” –Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest describing the attack (massacre) at Ft. Pillow, 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee. Forrest was a very successful Cavalry commander, making raids behind enemy lines that kept the Union army on it’s heels. During one of those raids he decided to attack Fort Pillow, wanting to collect it’s livestock and supplies for his army. There are no indications that he knew more than that the fort was protected by a force of about 600, which he felt he could defeat. Ft. Pillow was defended by an approximately equal amount of white and “colored” Union soldiers. During the attack, they initially refused to surrender, because Confederates had threatened to kill any black Union soldiers, or return them to slavery, rather than take them prisoner. There is no documentation that the acts at Ft. Pillow were policy rather than blood lust…but in the end, at least 80% of the “colored” troops were hunted down, shot, bayoneted, burned alive, murdered by Forrest’s troops. The rebels did not attempt to maintain the fort, leaving it the same day. This is certainly a sad day in American history. For anyone finding excuses, Forrest was, after the war, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. President Lincoln and his cabinet discussed how to respond…some wanting to treat Confederate prisoners with the same “tolerance”. In the end, the act did not have the effect Forrest desired…”Colored” regiments led the way into Richmond on it’s surrender, and were present at Appomattox.

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