I am in the process of reviewing the final edits of my Crater book. As I made my way through chapter 1 I came across one of my favorite quotes that appears in the section that explores how white Southerners assessed reports of the massacre of black Union soldiers. The quote comes from the Richmond Examiner, which appeared on August 2, 1864:
We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that some of the men in the Fourth Division charged into battle screaming “No quarter” and/or “Remember Fort Pillow.” Reports of this battle cry can be found in the letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers who were present during the battle as well as those who were not. They can also be found in many Southern newspapers, including the Examiner. It is fairly easy to judge who was positioned to hear such a battle cry, which raises the question of why the reference is so pervasive in southern accounts.
I uncovered a couple of examples of black soldiers killing Confederate soldiers after they attempted to surrender. This was not systematic, but more a function of the confusion of battle as Union and Confederate soldiers faced off against one another in the complex chain of earthworks that extended out from the crater itself. I say this in reference to the first sentence of the quote above since most of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner in the section of the battlefield occupied by the Fourth Division were escorted to the rear.
To the extent that soldiers and civilians feared “No quarter” from black soldiers ultimately reflects their approval of what took place at Fort Pillow, Tennessee on April 12, 1864. What it tells us is that both soldiers and civilians were united around the following:
- United States Colored Troops were not considered to be soldiers.
- USCTs were executed after the battle as they had been at Fort Pillow.
- Their execution was justified as part of God’s “work”.
- The same actions ought to be taken in the future
I am curious as to that final reference: “…and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.” What do you make of it? Is the writer simply encouraging Confederate soldiers to do everything they can to rescue a captured comrade or is he suggesting more extreme measures?
Finally, I am struck by the confusion that many express when the topic of Nathan Bedford Forrest and Fort Pillow arises and the lengths they will go to deny that a massacre took place. While some people today may be confused, the Richmond Examiner was quite clear as to what took place.
More importantly, it embraced it.