Forrest ended ‘massacre’
David Waters has his facts wrong in his April 12 column “Families’ histories illuminate Ft. Pillow.”
The attack was ordered by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest because of depredations by the fort’s garrison on civilians. Although Forrest was in overall charge of the operation, Brig. Gen. James Chalmers led the attack, and when Forrest arrived on the scene, having traveled a day and a night from Jackson, the fort had already fallen.
Resistance continued, however, as the fort’s garrison had fallen back to the river bank hoping to gain cover from a nearby gunboat. In their accounts, historians Shelby Foote and Robert Selph Henry both state that Forrest put a stop to the unnecessary killing when he arrived. Foote wrote that within three days of the fall of the fort, news of the “massacre” reached Washington and an investigation was ordered. W. T. Sherman undertook the investigation, but made no recommendation for retaliatory response.
Some responsibility for the garrison’s high casualties was due to the fort commander’s refusal to surrender in a hopeless situation and to garrison troops that rejoined the fight after surrendering. In fact, some of Forrest’s troopers were killed by Federal soldiers who had surrendered.
Fort Pillow was a very small event in a big war. If Waters wants to write about the war’s greatest injustice, he should write about the war W. T. Sherman waged against helpless civilians.
John W. Hollis