Fort Pillow, TN

[Confederate massacre of Federal troops after the surrender
at Fort Pillow, April 12th, 1864- Courtesy of Wikipedia]

Date(s): April 12, 1864

Location: Please click on link below for map.

Fort Pillow, Lauderdale, Tennessee, United States

Campaign: Forrest’s Expedition into West Tennessee and Kentucky [1864]

Battles in Campaign:


  • On March 16, 1864, General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a month-long cavalry raid with 7,000 troopers into western Tennessee and Kentucky.

  • The Confederate objectives were to capture Union prisoners and supplies and to demolish posts and fortifications from Paducah, Kentucky, south to Memphis.

  • On March 25, Forrest's troops attacked Paducah and damaged the town and its military supplies.

  • Numerous skirmishes occurred throughout the region in late March and early April. Needing supplies, Forrest planned to move on Fort Pillow with about 1,500 to 2,500 men to replenish supplies.

  • The Union garrison at Fort Pillow consisted of about 600 men, divided almost evenly between black and white troops.

  • The black soldiers belonged to the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery and the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, under the overall command of Major Lionel F. Booth.

  • The white soldiers were predominantly new recruits from the 14th Tennessee Cavalry, a Federal regiment from western Tennessee, commanded by Maj. William F. Bradford.


  • Union: Maj. Lionel F. Booth and Maj. William F. Bradford

  • Confederate: Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest

Principal Forces:

  • Union: Detachments from three units (approx. 600)

  • Confederate: Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers’s 1st Division, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps


  • In April 1864, the Union garrison at Fort Pillow, a Confederate-built earthen fortification and a Union-built inner redoubt, overlooking the Mississippi River about forty river miles above Memphis, comprised 295 white Tennessee troops and 262 U.S. Colored Troops, all under the command of Maj. Lionel F. Booth.

  • Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked the fort on April 12 with a cavalry division of approximately 2,500 men.

  • Forrest seized the older outworks, with high knolls commanding the Union position, to surround Booth’s force.

  • Rugged terrain prevented the Union gunboat USS New Era from providing effective fire support for the Federals.

  • The garrison was unable to depress its artillery enough to cover the approaches to the fort Rebel sharpshooters, on the surrounding knolls, began firing into the fort killing Booth.

  • Maj. William F. Bradford then took over command of the garrison.

  • The Confederates launched a determined attack at 11:00 am, occupying more strategic locations around the fort, and Forrest demanded unconditional surrender.

  • Bradford asked for an hour for consultation, and Forrest granted twenty minutes. 

  • Bradford refused surrender and the Confederates renewed the attack, soon overran the fort, and drove the Federals down the river’s bluff into a deadly crossfire.

  • Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight.

  • The Confederates were accused of massacring the black troops and "Homegrown Yankees". 

  • The Confederates evacuated Fort Pillow that evening so they gained little from the attack except a temporary disruption of Union operations.

  • The “Fort Pillow Massacre” became a Union rallying cry and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion.

Photo Gallery:2

Fort Pillow Sate Historic Park

Outer wall line built by Confederates in 1861

Outer breastworks built by Confederates

Outer breastworks built by Confederates

National Historic Landmark 1975

General Nathan Bedford Forrest

Displays in the Fort Pillow Museum

Model of the Battle of Fort Pillow

Field pieces used by U.S.C.T. at Fort Pillow

Mountain Howitzers

Map showing location of Fort Pillow relative to Fort Donelson and Shiloh

U.S.Colored Troops

Report on the Fort Pillow Massacre

Stoneware Crock

Hostetter's Stomach Bitters

Drawing of the capture of Fort Pillow

View from the Fort

Mississippi River

Trail to the Fort

Trail to the Fort

The Inner Fort

Gun embrassurers fortified with 12-pound howitzers

Field artillery piece in embrassure

Field artillery piece in embrassure

Gun placements along wall

10-pound Parrot gun in embrassure

View of approach to fort from embrassure

Confederate water batteries

Earthworks over river batteries

River side view from fortifications

River side view from fortifications


Classification2: B


  • Union: 574

  • Confederate: 80

Results: Confederate Victory

Battlefield Website:

Lodging and Restaurants: Tennessee Tourism

Recommended Resources:

1 National Park Service summary.

2 Classification:

  • A - having a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war

  • B - having a direct and decisive influence on their campaign

  • C - having observable influence on the outcome of a campaign

  • D - having a limited influence on the outcome of their campaign or operation but achieving or affecting important local objectives

3 Casualties are someone killed, injured, wounded, captured or missing.