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Old July 27th, 2011, 04:34 PM   #1

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Fort Pillow, and War Crimes and Atrocities of the Civil War


In 1863 the self-made Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry butchered some 200 Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, after the latter had surrendered. Some were killed with utmost cruelty, five were allegedly buried alive. The justification for the killing was the fact that some of the Federals in question were blacks, runaway slaves at that; the cry of "kill the niggers!" was allegedly heard loudly during the entire incident.

Was Forrest ever in any way called to explain this event? Even if he didn't order it, he obviously went to no heroic lengths to prevent the massacre.

Though this is probably the best-known and most controversial massacre of the Civil War, its far from the only one. Confederate guerillas commited many acts of savagery in the Western Theater of the War, and there are stories of Federals using Rebel prisoners as human shields; Sherman's notorious March to the Sea, while certainly not an act of genocide, nonetheless saw many rapes and murders commited by Northern soldiers.

Yet for all this, only one man was ever charged with, let alone punished for war crimes after the War, Henry Wirz, commander of the Rebel prison camp of Andersonville. According to the Wikipedia article on Wirz, there is apparently a significant faction, both contemporary and modern, that would argue that Wirz did not deserve to be hung, but hung he was - the only person executed for war crimes after four years of total war between the North and South.

It seems shameful to me that justice apparently only caught up with one of many men - Yank and Reb alike - who was guilty of abuse, neglect, or mass murder of his fellow human being.

Thoughts?
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Old July 27th, 2011, 05:06 PM   #2

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The site of the battle, Fort Pillow, is preserved to this day.

Click the image to open in full size.

Named after Brigadier General Pillow. Many said that he couldn't lead men into battle, they believed he was too soft.


Many prisoners of war died in Andersonville. This went on for a long time and was clearly documented. These other atrocities were smaller in scale and I assume occured in the wilderness.
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Old July 27th, 2011, 05:13 PM   #3

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I really hope Scamp makes an appearance in this thread to defend the Fort Pillow massacre.
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Old July 27th, 2011, 05:25 PM   #4

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It's probably much easier to prosecute war crimes when you live in an age where people have cameras to document events.
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Old July 27th, 2011, 05:46 PM   #5

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Right, wrong or indifferent, this book has been closed for more than a century. Justice is unattainable.
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Old July 27th, 2011, 06:10 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah ad-Din View Post
In 1863 the self-made Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry butchered some 200 Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, after the latter had surrendered. Some were killed with utmost cruelty, five were allegedly buried alive. The justification for the killing was the fact that some of the Federals in question were blacks, runaway slaves at that; the cry of "kill the niggers!" was allegedly heard loudly during the entire incident.

Was Forrest ever in any way called to explain this event? Even if he didn't order it, he obviously went to no heroic lengths to prevent the massacre.

Though this is probably the best-known and most controversial massacre of the Civil War, its far from the only one. Confederate guerillas commited many acts of savagery in the Western Theater of the War, and there are stories of Federals using Rebel prisoners as human shields; Sherman's notorious March to the Sea, while certainly not an act of genocide, nonetheless saw many rapes and murders commited by Northern soldiers.

Yet for all this, only one man was ever charged with, let alone punished for war crimes after the War, Henry Wirz, commander of the Rebel prison camp of Andersonville. According to the Wikipedia article on Wirz, there is apparently a significant faction, both contemporary and modern, that would argue that Wirz did not deserve to be hung, but hung he was - the only person executed for war crimes after four years of total war between the North and South.

It seems shameful to me that justice apparently only caught up with one of many men - Yank and Reb alike - who was guilty of abuse, neglect, or mass murder of his fellow human being.

Thoughts?
Yes, both sides comitted atrocities during this conflict. My own family even suffered during the war. My great great great great grandfather's family were East Tennessee Unionists. He would be killed in 1864 by Confederate Bushwackers while trying to hide a team of mules. They knew he was a Federal sympathizer and was murdered for it. His body was later found by one of my great great great uncles. Four of his sons including my great great great grandfather would serve in the Federal army with the 2nd Tennessee US Cavalry. One of his brothers "my great great great uncle" moved to Alabama before the war, he would later enlist in the Confederate Army. He would be captured during the Franklin & Nashville campaign in 1864. He was sent to a Federal POW camp at Camp Chase Ohio where he starved and froze later perishing a month before the war ended. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetary near the original camp site.My great great great grandfather lost both his father and a brother during the conflict. On my great grandmothers fathers side, my great great great uncle fought with the 24th Alabama Infantry. He would be captured in 1864 at the battle of Pace's Ferry and sent to Camp Douglas where he remained for the rest of the war. He would survive, however, six thousand of his brothers in arms would not be so lucky. Good post Salah, hopefully this discussion can stay civil unlike many of the previous topics related to this subject.
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Old July 28th, 2011, 03:21 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chui View Post
I really hope Scamp makes an appearance in this thread to defend the Fort Pillow massacre.
Well it would be my pleasure...

FACTS ABOUT FORT PILLOW... Short and sweet.

1. Fort Pillow was surrounded.

2. Their commander was already shot dead by Confederate sharpshooters, who held the high ground above the Fort and could fire right into it. Poor position to defend.

3. Don't fight against Nathan Bedford Forrest, when he is in a bad mood...

4. Forrest sent a note. Surrender all your troops, or die. You have 20 minutes.

5. Bradford's reply, I will not surrender.

6. You cant fix stupid.
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Old July 28th, 2011, 03:34 AM   #8

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To what extent (or not!) were the conflicts in the Civil War connected to events between such acts committed during the American Revolution?
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Old July 28th, 2011, 04:15 AM   #9

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Very to the point comments Scamp.
+Fort Pillow was a military target to take and Major-General Forrest took it.
Forrest was pressed for time as he knew any stalling meant he might compromise
his position of strength. He did the cordial thing in offering to avoid bloodshed,
that offer was refused. It being war, Forrest moved on to what he had to do next.
In the rush of adrenaline from soldiers atrocities were committed. There was no
Geneva Convention of rules to follow, the US wouldn't sign on with that till 1882.
Wars & the heat of the battle often cause horrible outcomes that normally sane people
wouldn't do.
+It is my understanding the CSA had in place a policy towards any slave or person
of color taking up arms against the CSA, meant no quarter given. Not all blacks
were killed, some were taken alive.
+Good recall Kevin. The Battle of Fort Pillow reminds me, not fully equal of course,
of what the Patriot army did at the Battle of Kings Mountain towards the
Loyalist.
+Here is Maj-General Forrest official report of the battle
Forrest's Fort Pillow OR
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Old July 28th, 2011, 04:39 AM   #10

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Quote:
1. Fort Pillow was surrounded.

2. Their commander was already shot dead by Confederate sharpshooters, who held the high ground above the Fort and could fire right into it. Poor position to defend.
Correct. Of course, you'd have to talk to the Confederates who originally built the fort about it's positioning. Gideon Pillow's incompetence outlived him in the Confederate military.
Quote:
3. Don't fight against Nathan Bedford Forrest, when he is in a bad mood...
4. Forrest sent a note. Surrender all your troops, or die. You have 20 minutes.

5. Bradford's reply, I will not surrender.

6. You cant fix stupid.
The doublethink is truly fascinating. Sherman's March makes him worse than Attila the Hun, yet when a Confederate general's troops murder prisoners, it's shrugged off as "They didn't surrender" and "Forrest was in a bad mood". Murdering prisoners? Eh, they brought it on themselves. Lee's army capturing escaped slaves and free blacks alike during the Gettysburg Campaign to drag South into slavery? Lalala, can't hear you. Destroying Confederate property and militarily useful resources? Barbarism! Of course, bushwhackers and jayhawkers both committed atrocities in Missouri.

Quote:
Sherman's notorious March to the Sea, while certainly not an act of genocide, nonetheless saw many rapes and murders commited by Northern soldiers.
Curious for a source here? Excesses were certainly not unheard of amongst Sherman's bummers, but the rape of white women was extremely rare in the Civil War as far as I'm aware. Slave women had more to fear from both sides. Civilian deaths during Sherman's March primarily seemed to occur when bushwhackers and cavalry hit foraging parties and immediately after.

Last edited by Viperlord; July 28th, 2011 at 04:48 AM.
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