The Legacy of Fort Pillow
Following the assault and capture of Fort Pillow, Tennessee statements had been taken for the U.S. Government by the Provost Marshal's Office aboard MOUND CITY. Those interviewed and leaving their mark at the bottom of a sworn statement presented more questions than provided answers to the affair
Major Lionel F. Booth, commanding the Federal Garrison of seven hundred men, had been given an opportunity to surrender the fortifications to General Nathan Bedford Forrest without bloodshed. He had been given twenty minutes to confer with his officers after a one hour request had been negated. The response was a disappointment. The fort would not be given up. No one from within believed that this Confederate Cavalry Wizard had even been present, to them, it was a farce.
The assault was almost immediate, and early in the engagement, Major Booth lay dead on the field. The weak defensive fell on the shoulders of Major William F. Bradford who continued to resist as the gray troopers stormed the walls.
There had still been no sign of surrender. The United States Flag continued to fly on the staff and many now were running towards the Tennessee River, believed to be seeking shelter under the protection of the federal gunboats. Many were being shot in the backs, others drowning in the river while in flight.
By war's end, the Federal Government could not find any conclusive evidence that the forces under the command of Forrest had violated the rules of war, thus no charges were brought against the former Lieutenant General. The evidence concluded that the rebels were invited to storm the fortifications, making the security of the capitulation necessary to control those seeking assistance from the Navy with hot lead. It seems the disbelief that General Forrest, himself, had beleaguered the fort was a grave mistake on the part of the garrison.
Major William F. Bradford, the commander of the garrison upon the death of Major Booth, now carried the weight of this decision on his own shoulders. Upon his surrender, once the fort had fallen, he had been granted a parole, to bury his brother who had fallen in the engagement. He was thus honor bound to obey the rules of the parole and placed in the custody of Colonel Robert A. McCulloch. McCulloch, himself, reported the major missing the following morning, having violated that trust and making his escape.
Eluding the Confederate Army however, was not to be for Bradford. He was captured again several days later and made a prisoner of war. Once again, he attempted to take advantage of yet another opportunity to escape, however, at this point, his enemies had had enough of him. He had been summarily shot dead for his cowardly acts.
There had never been any attempt on the part of Forrest's Cavalry to violate the rules of war. Had there been that kind of animosity against this man, he would have been killed upon the rebel's entry of Fort Pillow
The historical record is rather conclusive, thus giving the Federal Government no grounds for a post war court-martial on General Forrest. In the end, it would seem, the garrison at Fort Pillow, was needlessly sacrificed simply by poor Federal Management.
Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at email@example.com