WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced the Fort Pillow National Battlefield Park Study Act, legislation that would direct the Department of the Interior to conduct a resource study to determine whether the location of an infamous massacre of Black Union soldiers in the waning months of the Civil War qualify it as a National Park Service site.
Ft. Pillow is currently a state historic park.
The massacre, in which surrendered soldiers were killed by Confederate soldiers under the direction of future Ku Klux Klan leader General Nathan Bedford Forrest, rallied Black Union soldiers and Naval troops across the country who realized surrender could never again be an option on the battlefield.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
“Fort Pillow has long been ignominious as the site of a Confederate slaughter of surrendered Union forces, many of them African Americans in uniform, and it deserves the recognition that National Park Service status bestows. It is essential that we learn from our history, remember its tragedies, and honor those who fell. This bill authorizes a study to advance knowledge of this major but oft-forgotten event in our history.”
On April 12, 1864, 1,500 Confederate soldiers under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest surrounded and recaptured Fort Pillow. Located 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, the fort had been occupied by Union troops for nearly two years, serving as a supply depot and recruitment center. According to the 1864 Report “Fort Pillow Massacre” from the United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, the Union garrison consisted of 19 officers and 538 troops of whom 262 were United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). Per the report, “Of the men, from three hundred to four hundred are known to have been killed at Fort Pillow, of whom at least three hundred were murdered in cold blood after the fort was in possession of the rebels and our men had thrown down their arms and ceased to offer resistance.”
Word of the massacre became a rallying cry for Black soldiers across the Union ranks. Calls to “Remember Fort Pillow!” echoed through the 209,145 USCT and Black Navy men, who fought for the preservation of the Union with the knowledge that surrender was not an option. The Fort Pillow National Battlefield Study Act would ensure their sacrifices are recognized and their contributions honored.