Hundreds of Black Union Soldiers Massacred After Surrendering

April 11, 1864/2014
Volume 5, Issue 15 (183 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Hundreds of Black Union Soldiers Massacred After Surrendering

April 12, 1864. “When Union armies began employing Negro troops, the Confederate government threatened to execute or enslave captured blacks and to try their officers for inciting insurrection. Lincoln checkmated this threat with the announcement that a rebel prisoner would be executed for every one killed by rebels and that every enslaved prisoner would find a counterpart in a Confederate prisoner placed at hard labor [a threat never acted upon]. But an outrage in Tennessee showed that the issue could not rest.” (1)

On April 12, 1864, Confederate forces led by Nathan B. Forrest, later to found the Ku Klux Klan, attacked Fort Pillow, Tennessee, on the Mississippi River. When the fort was taken, many — about three hundred — of the United States Colored Troops defending the fort were murdered after they surrendered, as were some white soldiers and the commanding officer. Other black soldiers were put into slavery.

One Confederate soldier recalled that the black soldiers “would run up to our men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands, scream for mercy, but were ordered to their feet, and then shot down.” Another reported, “I saw four white men and at least 25 negroes shot while begging for mercy. . . .” Forrest himself was unrepentant: “The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards,” he said. “It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” (2)

“News of this atrocity rocked the North. ‘Indiscriminate Slaughter of . . . Prisoners,’ ‘Butchery,’ ‘Murder,’ newspapers trumpeted. Sympathy grew for blacks and their sacrifices, linked with increased willingness to punish Dixie by expanding the so obviously needed protection.” (3)


1.) Phillip Shaw Paludan “The People’s Contest,” p. 213.

2.) The Civil War: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey C. Ward, with Ric and Ken Burns, p. 335.

3.) Phillip Shaw Paludan “The People’s Contest,” p. 213.


The Fort Pillow Massacre, A letter from a Naval Officer, published: May 3, 1864, New York Times.

– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert


Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1864

2 responses to “Hundreds of Black Union Soldiers Massacred After Surrendering

  1. During the Battle of Brice Crossroads, Tippah County, Mississippi, my great great grandmother, Narcissa Suttle Bartlett, walked up the hill to her husbands grave, and sit on a pineknot all day and listened to the battle, the next day she and her younger children, walked to the battlefield where the y found a wounded, black soldier. They killed him with a stick of wood. Not a proud memory in my family history, but one certainly reflective of the times. Her son, James K. Bartlett was shot a t Lookout Mountain, captured and finished the war at the Infamous Rock Island Prison , Illinois.
    Larry Murley

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