April 12, 1864: The Fort Pillow Massacre takes place.

The battle over Fort Pillow, a fort in Tennessee situated in a strategic position on the Mississippi, ended in its capture by Confederate forces and in a massacre of surrendered black Union troops. African-Americans had been serving in Union regiments since mid-1862, although these regiments were commanded by white officers, and opening military service to African-Americans did not do much to lessen the prejudice and racism that they faced in Northern society. Confederate policy toward these soldiers regarded them not as prisoners of war but as slaves in insurrection, and decreed that captured black soldiers be dealt with accordingly. Captured white officers were tried for “inciting servile insurrection” (for which the punishment was death), and their soldiers were to “be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the law of said States”. This often involved returning freed/escaped slaves to slavery, although in some cases, Confederate officers chose instead to allow their soldiers to massacre surrendering troops rather than take them prisoner. Thus there always existed a dangerous uncertainty over what treatment black soldiers (and their white officers) might face if they were captured, or if they surrendered in Union uniform.

The Confederate force at Fort Pillow was under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, later first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and they outnumbered the Union soldiers (made up of both black and white men) around 2,000 to 600. Even after the overwhelmed Union troops threw down their guns in surrender, Confederate soldiers indiscriminately slaughtered both black and white soldiers, though black soldiers made up a disproportionately large amount of those killed (which was around half the total force of 600) and a disproportionately small amount of those taken prisoner. An excerpt from a letter “from a naval officer’, reflecting on the aftermath of the battle:

I had some conversation with rebel officers, and they claim that our men would not surrender, and in some few cases they could not control their men, who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not.

In June of that year, Congress passed laws equalizing pay between black and white soldiers; while advocating equal pay, one Massachusetts senator claimed that he believed the Union’s treatment of African-Americans was nearly as bad as that of the Confederate soldiers who had carried out the massacre at Fort Pillow. 

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    #black enlistment #civil war# fort pillow
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    Not your typical pillow fight