“They Made Me Practically Their Slave": Accounts of Black Survivors of the Fort Pillow Massacre

Thursday, January 7, 2010: 3:00 PM
Marina Ballroom Salon D (Marriott)
Donald R. Shaffer , Upper Iowa University, Fayette, IA
Much has been written over the years about the Fort Pillow Massacre during U.S. Civil War.  Scholars have argued about such issues as the exact circumstances of the 1864 massacre, how many Union troops were killed (African Americans especially), and the exact culpability of Confederate commander Nathan Bedford Forrest in the incident.  This literature has largely taken shape through accounts from white Union and Confederate sources, with the only extant black accounts coming from the congressional investigation of Fort Pillow.  Only recently has it become apparent that another significant body of African-American accounts of the massacre exists in the Civil War pension files of veterans.  The massacre comes up in some depositions of ex-soldiers in their pension applications, either in the context of war-related disability claims or men trying to prove their identity as Civil War veterans.  From their accounts it is apparent that death or survival for black soldiers was not just a matter of random circumstance, but whether the Confederate soldiers who took them into custody wanted them dead or valued them more alive for their labor.  This paper will examine accounts of black survivors of the Fort Pillow massacre found in Civil War pension files and in the congressional testimony to reconstruct an African-American perspective of this incident.
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