The Battle of Fort Pillow, known as the Fort Pillow Massacre, particularly in the North, was fought on April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. The battle generated great controversy about whether a massacre of surrendered African-American troops was conducted or condoned by Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Fort Pillow, 40 miles (64 km) north of Memphis, was built by Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow in early 1862 and was used by both sides during the war. With the fall of New Madrid and Island No. 10 to Union forces, Confederate troops evacuated Fort Pillow on June 4, 1862, in order to avoid being cut off from the rest of the Confederate Army. Union forces occupied Fort Pillow on June 6, 1862, and used it to protect the river approach to Memphis.
The fort stood on a high bluff and was protected by three lines of entrenchments arranged in a semicircle, with a protective parapet four feet thick and six to eight feet high surrounded by a ditch. (During the battle, the thick parapet would in fact prove to be a disadvantage to the defenders because they could not fire upon approaching troops without mounting the top of the parapet, subjecting them to enemy fire. Similarly, operators of the six artillery pieces of the fort found it difficult to depress their barrels enough to fire on the attackers once they got close). A Federal gunboat, the USS New Era, commanded by Captain James Marshall, was also available for the defense.
On March 16, 1864, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a month-long cavalry raid with 7,000 troopers into western Tennessee and Kentucky. Their objectives were to capture Union prisoners and supplies and to demolish posts and fortifications from Paducah, Kentucky, south to Memphis. Forrest's Cavalry Corps, which he called "the Cavalry Department of West Tennessee and North Mississippi", consisted of the divisions led by Br...