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Old March 28th, 2013, 04:36 PM   #1
Joined: Mar 2013
From: Germany
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American Civil War: General Order No. 233

Im new to this forum and hope that you might be able to help me.
Concerning this pamphlet I have some questions. Did the GO 233 radicalise the Civil War? Was the GO 233 ever put to action?
In my research I came across the massacre of Fort Pillow, was there some sort of retaliation by the north? Or are there other examples where, following the message of the GO, retaliation should have been done? Was the GO 233 just some kind of Public measure to insure black volunteers to keep enlisting?
Sorry for my bad english, Im german.
Thanks in advance for your answers.
Greetings, The Guy
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Old March 28th, 2013, 05:43 PM   #2

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Fort Pillow Massacre, 12 April 1864
It was caused by General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men, who were Confederates.

In March 1864, Forrest took a division of cavalry (about 1,500 men), on a raid north through western Tennessee, that actually reached as far north as Paducah, Kentucky. It was on his way back south that Forrest and his men committed what is now generally accepted as a massacre.
Fort Pillow was garrisoned by one regiment of black troops, numbering 262, and a cavalry detachment of similar size, for a total of 557 men. On 12 April Forrest’s men attacked the fort. After a brief fight they overwhelmed the garrison. Confederate losses were fairly low (14 killed and 86 wounded). Union losses were much heavier. Of the garrison of 557 men, 231 were killed, 100 wounded and 226 captured. Only 75 of the 262 black troops were amongst the captured.
The very high number of dead immediately attracted attention. The Federal commander of the fort, Major William Bradford, was conveniently killed ‘while attempting to escape’. Despite southern denials at the time, it seems clear that several dozen black soldiers were killed after they had surrendered. The Confederacy had an ambiguous attitude to the presence of black soldiers in the Union army. On the one hand their view on the racial inferiority of their slaves made it hard for them to accept that black soldiers would be able to fight. On the other hand the Union’s black soldiers soon proved that they could indeed fight, and often very well indeed. Fort Pillow was the most visible outbreak of a Confederate fury at the very idea of black soldiers. The Fort Pillow massacre and a suitable response to it was the subject of some days debate in Lincoln’s cabinet. In the end, they could not find a response that would not risk escalating beyond control. Meanwhile, black soldiers continued to play a major, and increasing, role in the Union war effort, providing nearly 200,000 men to the northern war effort.
According to that pamphlet, they were calling for black troops a year before this event occured. I seem to remember Lincoln making moves to allow blacks to join the fight in the Union Side. A good fine! I wonder if maybe there was some connection? It could be possible that the result of this was that the Confederacy also went after black troops on a personal, racist level? As the site stated, the idea that blacks could fight as well as whites was inconcievable for them. Maybe this was one of the consequences of that pamphlet?

btw, welcome to the forums!

Last edited by HistoryFreak1912; March 28th, 2013 at 05:49 PM.
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Old March 28th, 2013, 06:06 PM   #3
Joined: Mar 2013
From: Germany
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Thanks for your answer!
I guess that racist prejudices were common at the time. Both by Northern and Southern troops (long before the emancipation proclamation or this pamphlet). The Problem I have is judging the impact of the General Order 233. Was it just a "Paper Order" with more symbolical meaning than real impact? It seems to me that violations against the law of war happened quite often. Ive read kinda often that black soldiers were rather shot down than they were allowed to surrender. So it makes sense that the enlisting of black soldiers and especially the enlisting of contrabands radicalised the war. So the GO 233 could be seen as an "insurance" for black soldiers that the north did care about them. But again: Was there ever something more than debating about possible retaliation?
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Old March 28th, 2013, 06:20 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by The Guy View Post
So the GO 233 could be seen as an "insurance" for black soldiers that the north did care about them...
Using former slaves in the Union Army gained them about 180,000 more
fresh troops that the CSA could not counter with. But, why were those
same black troops, initially paid (corrected later) less salary than white Union soldiers and why
were their units segregated from white soldiers? Maybe our more vocal Civil War members could
answer this.
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Old March 28th, 2013, 06:36 PM   #5
Joined: Mar 2013
From: Germany
Posts: 3

Thanks for your Answer!
As far as I know there was a general distrust in the capability of black soldiers. Thats why they were no black officers and black regiments allways had white officers. I also guess that, as I have mentioned, the general racist tendency by also northern troops led to the idea that mixed regiments wouldnt do well. I know that the enlistment of black soldiers gave the north a good advantage in both granting them more human ressources plus denying the south work force.
But my main problem still is the application of the GO 233. For there were so many black soldiers wanting to surrender who got gunned down, there should have been many acts of vengeance following GO 233...
Any Info would be of great help!
Thanks in advance.
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Old April 8th, 2013, 08:42 PM   #6

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Originally Posted by The Guy View Post
...But my main problem still is the application of the GO 233. For there were so many black soldiers wanting to surrender who got gunned down, there should have been many acts of vengeance following GO 233...
Any Info would be of great help!
Thanks in advance.
I just read a passage in Frederick Douglass' auto-biography that may answer your question. Douglass was an escaped slave who became a leading abolitionist. In July, 1863, Douglass went to the White House to meet with the President (unprecedented in itself at the time) and spell out his grievances about how black soldiers were being treated. One of his grievances was exactly the one you're talking about. Here's what Douglass said about the meeting in regard to this issue:

As I approached and was introduced to him he arose and extended his hand, and bade me welcome. I at once felt myself in the presence of an honest man - one whom I could love, honor, and trust without reserve or doubt... Mr. Lincoln listened with patience and silence to all I had to say. He was serious and even troubled by what I had said, and by what he had evidently thought himself before upon the same points. He impressed me with the solid gravity of his character by his silent listening not less than by his earnest reply to my words...

On the second point, in respect to equal protection, he said the case was more difficult. Retaliation was a terrible remedy, and one which it was very difficult to apply; one which, if once begun, there was no telling where it would end; that if he could get hold of the Confederate soldiers who had been guilty of treating colored soldiers as felons he could easily retaliate, but the thought of hanging men for a crime perpetrated by others was revolting to his feelings. He thought that the rebels themselves would stop such barbarous warfare, and less evil would be done if retaliation were not resorted to; that he had already received information that colored soldiers were being treated as prisoners of war. In all this I saw the tender heart of the man rather than the stern warrior and commander-in-chief of the American army and navy, and, while I could not agree with him, I could but respect his humane spirit.

Source: Life and Times of Frederick Douglass - Frederick Douglass - Google Books
It should also be noted that although the Union did not retaliate by executing or enslaving Confederate soldiers (wisely, I believe), they did stop the prisoner exchange in retaliation against Confederate policy. This had the effect of making life more difficult for both Confederate and Union white soldiers, but it also had a very detrimental effect on the Confederacy's war effort.
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