The River Was Dyed with Blood: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow

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chellers

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Upcoming release March 21, 2014

The battlefield reputation of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, long recognized as a formidable warrior, has been shaped by one infamous wartime incident. At Fort Pillow in 1864, the attack by Confederate forces under Forrest’s command left many of the Tennessee Unionists and black soldiers garrisoned there dead in a confrontation widely labeled as a “massacre.” In The River Was Dyed with Blood, best-selling Forrest biographer Brian Steel Wills argues that although atrocities did occur after the fall of the fort, Forrest did not order or intend a systematic execution of its defenders. Rather, the general’s great failing was losing control of his troops.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/080614453X/?tag=civilwartalkc-20
 
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AndyHall

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Forrest's report, AOR 57, 610:

Arrived there on the morning of the 12th and attacked the place with a portion of McCulloch's and Bell's brigades numbering about 1,500 men, and after a sharp contest captured the garrison and all of its stores. A demand was made for the surrender, which was refused. The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.​
 
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chellers

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Forrest's report, AOR 57, 610:

Arrived there on the morning of the 12th and attacked the place with a portion of McCulloch's and Bell's brigades numbering about 1,500 men, and after a sharp contest captured the garrison and all of its stores. A demand was made for the surrender, which was refused. The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.​
Thanks, Andy, for posting the source of the book's title.
 
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kevikens

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Did the Japanese commander in the Philippines order the massacre of Filipino and US troops at the time of the Bataan Death March? If not, should he have been held responsible for what his soldiers did? Santa Anna ordered the massacre of the Texians at the Alamo and no doubt was guilty of what would be a war crime later on in the 20th Century but how culpable is a commander who simply cannot control the behavior of his men? I look forward to seeing how the author deals with this.
 

Nathanb1

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Did the Japanese commander in the Philippines order the massacre of Filipino and US troops at the time of the Bataan Death March? If not, should he have been held responsible for what his soldiers did? Santa Anna ordered the massacre of the Texians at the Alamo and no doubt was guilty of what would be a war crime later on in the 20th Century but how culpable is a commander who simply cannot control the behavior of his men? I look forward to seeing how the author deals with this.
Let's be accurate. Santa Anna ordered SEVERAL massacres.....Zacatecas, the Alamo, and Goliad...and don't forget the Matamoros expedition, etc. :smile: Now let's compare. :smile:
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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Not making a point germane to the thread, but just a side comment... something I hadn't realized before I read K. Jack Bauer's book on the Mexican War is that the U.S. actually helped Santa Anna get back into Mexico. There was a really smart move. :O o:
 

Nathanb1

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Not making a point germane to the thread, but just a side comment... something I hadn't realized before I read K. Jack Bauer's book on the Mexican War is that the U.S. actually helped Santa Anna get back into Mexico. There was a really smart move. :O o:
LOL. My kids gasp in class when we get to that point in the Mexican war. :smile: Tells you a lot about the Mexican War, though.
 

diane

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Did the Japanese commander in the Philippines order the massacre of Filipino and US troops at the time of the Bataan Death March? If not, should he have been held responsible for what his soldiers did? Santa Anna ordered the massacre of the Texians at the Alamo and no doubt was guilty of what would be a war crime later on in the 20th Century but how culpable is a commander who simply cannot control the behavior of his men? I look forward to seeing how the author deals with this.
This is one of the key issues I'm hoping Wills will look at. It's always been alleged that Forrest, the die-hard rebel, deliberately ordered the black soldiers killed. The men he commanded were not prime specimens, either, but guys who were literally beat out of the brush - deserters, skulkers, draft-dodgers, etc. A lot of them had hard feelings toward Ft Pillow. It's possible, though, he turned a blind eye. He had some mashed ribs from an earlier accident...but he'd been working a Parrot gun on the river. He didn't lead the attack himself - Chalmers did - because he suddenly needed to have those ribs fixed. The question, of course, is: did he just get to the point he couldn't tough out broken ribs anymore, or did he find it a convenient excuse to absent himself (and deflect culpability) from what he knew would be a nasty thing, perhaps something he couldn't control?

Really looking forward to this one! :smile:
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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There have always been at least two or three Fort Pillows-- the one that actually happened, and the one that became a symbol for those who wanted it to be a symbol. By that, I mean that if it can be conclusively demonstrated that Forrest did not order a massacre (or even if charges of negligence ware overstated), the symbol of what was said to have happened at Fort Pillow was still a motivator for a large number of people on the Union side, not all of whom were African-American. The two (the historical and the notional) almost need to be treated separately to fully understand them, IMHO. I'll be interested to see this author's take on it.
 

AndyHall

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This is one of the key issues I'm hoping Wills will look at. It's always been alleged that Forrest, the die-hard rebel, deliberately ordered the black soldiers killed. The men he commanded were not prime specimens, either, but guys who were literally beat out of the brush - deserters, skulkers, draft-dodgers, etc. A lot of them had hard feelings toward Ft Pillow. It's possible, though, he turned a blind eye. He had some mashed ribs from an earlier accident...but he'd been working a Parrot gun on the river. He didn't lead the attack himself - Chalmers did - because he suddenly needed to have those ribs fixed. The question, of course, is: did he just get to the point he couldn't tough out broken ribs anymore, or did he find it a convenient excuse to absent himself (and deflect culpability) from what he knew would be a nasty thing, perhaps something he couldn't control?
Great questions. What I keep circling back to, though, is Forrest's own initial report, in which he claims "upwards of 500" Federals killed, versus 20 of his own men. He also uses the word "slaughter" to describe the event. Really, you don't get a 25:1 kill ratio in any kind of a straight-up fight. Once you recognize that, what happened at Fort Pillow becomes largely a matter of the words one chooses to describe it.
 
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diane

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Great questions. What I keep circling back to, though, is Forrest's own initial report, in which he claims "upwards of 500" Federals killed, versus 20 of his own men. He also uses the word "slaughter" to describe the event. Really, you don't get a 25:1 kill ratio in any kind of a straight-up fight. Once you recognize that, what happened at Fort Pillow becomes largely a matter of the words one chooses to describe it.
Yes, that's a good point, too. Forrest even used the word 'massacre' in one of his letters to Washburne, who jumped on it. Forrest was not, apparently, aware of the full import of using a word like that in a military context! It's complex - Forrest believed any black not on the plantation or helping the Confederates was a traitor, in insurrection, and whatever happened to him was his own dang fault. I don't think he thought anybody would make a fuss about a few dead Negroes. However, I also don't think he intended it to get as far out of hand as it did, and do think non-military personnel (local yokels with a grudge on!) in the area did some of the worst stuff outside the fort.
 
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AndyHall

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I don't think he thought anybody would make a fuss about a few dead Negroes. However, I also don't think he intended it to get as far out of hand as it did, and do think non-military personnel (local yokels with a grudge on!) in the area did some of the worst stuff outside the fort.
Yes. The Union Navy officers who arrived at the Fort at first light the next morning and, under flag of truce, aided those Union troops who survived and helped bury the dead, were told by the Confederate officers that they had lost control of their men. I don't think that's incaccurate, but it's danming in its own way.
 
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diane

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I've always suspected Chalmers did a 'stop-don't-or-I-shall-say-stop-don't-again' thing with the ground troops. Don't think he cared a spectacular lot! It wasn't until Forrest got into it with his pistols and saber that the officers finally got the men to stop killing. One thing they knew about their general was if he said he'd shoot 'em dead, he would. :cold: But, again...did he just realize what was happening, or did he sort of figure it was at a point to be stopped?
 
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