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The Atrocity and War Crime of the American Civil War, 1864

Updated on April 12, 2014

Confederate history claim it was a battle, probably to cleanse their guilt as to what really happened and later discovered on April 12, 1864, near Fort Pillow, along the Mississippi River 65 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.

Once the North's attack on Ft. Sumpter, the Confederates sent 1500 men sweeping through and over the defenses of Ft. Pillow. Like most battles, it was fierce and bloody as the South started to break into the fort itself. There was a lot of hacking of bodies despite that many soldiers there wanted to surrender by tossing down their weapons. Rifle butts crushed skulls and many were burned alive. Some were tossed into pits and buried alive. The battle was so brutal, that, two weeks after it, the government sent investigators because it was beyond normal warfare, it was murder. Murder when eyewitnesses who survived indicated that many were murdered when they tried to surrender.

About 100 soldiers sought refuge near a bluff. When the Confederates discovered them, investigators found out that all were begging them not to shoot and none had weapons. These troops were defenseless. Among them, was their commanding officer. Despite the pleas of surrender, the Confederates barraged them with rifle fire until all were dead. It shooting practice.

Ft. Pillow was defended by about 600 Union soldiers. The investigation determined that about 300 in all were slaughtered like dogs by the Confederates when it became obvious a defense was futile and they tried to surrender.

The odd thing about this atrocity was that most of the men were black. Many white soldiers did surrender. The commander of the attacking force was Gen. Nathan Forrest, a wealthy slave owner. Although, he did not order they massacre, he did know of it at the time and nothing to stop it. Nothing would ever happen to him. He was not held for war crimes or even one murder and he boasted about how superior white soldiers are to black ones.

After the war, Forrest was one of the early member of the KKK, or Ku Klux Klan. Forrest claimed that the atrocity was because they did surrender fast enough. The South denied any such atrocity happened for many years after the war, fearing the North would make them pay. Today, Forrest is still celebrated as one of the South's best generals and monuments praise him.

Forrest admitted that the river ran red with blood of up to 500 for hundreds of yards. A white Confederate soldier who wrote a letter to his wife described how the Negros were begging, kneeling, trying to surrender and how they were ordered to stand like a man. Then, they were mowed down. A scene revisited by the Nazis killings defenseless Jews.

American soldiers did this again in Vietnam, when the rush of war and fear of the unknown caused a deadly panic at Mai Lai, 100 years later in 1968. This time, unarmed inhabitants of the village were killed and 26 US soldiers were charged with criminal offenses.


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    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes,Sir. Just yet another one as you so rightly say.

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

      perrya 

      4 years ago

      Just yet another one...

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      Agreed, like the Americans who shot down surrendering Germans; after Malmedy, of course. The list is quite lengthy through military history as you know.

    • perrya profile imageAUTHOR

      perrya 

      4 years ago

      I think the concept of killing a soldier in war who is trying to surrender or innocent non-combatants is abhorrent to those in history

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      4 years ago from North Carolina

      How does one judge the times of a different era? Barbarism and slaughter are what they are but can one really compare Fort Pillow with what the Nazis' and Stalin did? It's a strange fact that if Forrest had been given total control over the South's western cavalry things may have turned out much different than they did in a military sense. Yes, he was a racist and a hard man, but was Sherman's March with its plunder, destruction, rapes and murders much different? This is not a defense of Fort Pillow or Forrest but he did tell the white commanders of the place if he had to spill his men's blood taking it there would be retribution. Those Northern commanders chose this course and knowing of Forrest's reputation perhaps surrender would have been the wisest choice under the circumstances, but wouldn't have looked good at higher headquarters. Have things really changed concerning this? I hope so.

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