Fort Pillow

Fort Pillow

by Harry Turtledove

Paperback(First Edition)

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In April 1864, the Union garrison at Fort Pillow was comprised of almost six hundred troops, about half of them black. The Confederacy, incensed by what it saw as a crime against nature, sent its fiercest cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, to attack the fort with about 1,500 men. The Confederates overran the fort and drove the Federals into a deadly crossfire. Only sixty-two of the U.S. colored troops survived the fight unwounded. Many accused the Confederates of massacring the black troops after the fort fell and fighting should have ceased. The "Fort Pillow Massacre" became a Union rallying cry and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion.

Harry Turtledove has written a dramatic recreation of an astounding battle, telling a bloody story of courage and hope, freedom and hatred. With brilliant characterization of all the main figures, this is a novel that reminds us that Fort Pillow was more than a battle—-it was a clash of ideas between men fighting to define what being an American ought to mean.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312354770
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/01/2007
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

HARRY TURTLEDOVE is a multiple New York Times bestselling author THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH and master of the alternate history novel. He holds a Ph.D. in history from University of California Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt

Fort Pillow

By Turtledove, Harry

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2006 Turtledove, Harry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0312355203

Chapter One

Jackson, Tennessee, was a town laid out with big things in mind. The first streets were ninety feet wide. The first courthouse was built of logs, back at the start of the 1820s. Now, more than forty years later, buildings of red and gray brick prevailed. Oaks and elms helped shade those broad streets.

The Madison County seat had not flourished quite so much as its founders hoped. Still, with the Forked Deer River running through the town and two railroads meeting there, Jackson was modestly prosperous, or a bit more than modestly. It was a considerable market for lumber and furs and produce from the farms in the Forked Deer valley.

When civil war tore the United States in two, Jackson went back and forth between Union and Confederacy several times. Confederate General Beauregard made his headquarters there in early 1862. From that summer to the following spring, Jackson lived under the Stars and Stripes as one of U. S. Grant's supply depots. Then Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry ran the Yankees out again.

In June 1863, U.S. General Hatch defeated the Confederate garrison and reoccupied the town. Now, in April 1864, Forrest was back, and the Stainless Banner replaced the U.S. flag.

Forrest had his headquarters in the Duke home on MainStreet. Two years earlier, Grant had stayed in the same two-story Georgian Colonial house. The Dukes were happier to accommodate the Confederate cavalry commander than they had been to host his opponent in blue.

Although Forrest went to church on Sunday morning, he did not treat the Sabbath as a day of rest. For one thing, he couldn't afford to. For another, his driving energy made him hate idleness at any time. He paced back and forth across the Dukes' parlor like a caged catamount, boots clumping on the rugs and thumping on the oak planks of the floor.

He was a big man, two inches above six feet, towering over the other Confederate officers in the room. He could have beaten any of them in a fight, with any weapons or none. He knew it and they knew it; it gave him part of his power over them. Though his chin beard was graying, his wavy hair had stayed dark. His blue eyes could go from blizzard cold to incandescent in less than a heartbeat.

"I wrote to Bishop Polk last week that I was going to take Fort Pillow," he said. He had a back-country accent, but a voice that could expand at need to fill any room or any battlefield. "I reckon we can go about doing it now. All the pieces are in place."

His aide-de-camp, Captain Charles Anderson, nodded. "Yes, sir," he said. "General Buford's raising Cain up in Kentucky, and we've got enough men looking busy down by Memphis to keep the damnyankees there from moving north along the Mississippi."

"About time we gave that garrison what it deserves," Forrest said. "Past time, by God. Niggers and homemade Yankees . . ." He scowled at the idea.

"Wonder which is worse," Anderson said.

"Beats me." Nathan Bedford Forrest's scowl deepened. That black men should take up arms against whites turned every assumption on which the Confederate States of America were founded upside down and inside out. "You sooner get bit by a cottonmouth or a rattlesnake?"

Dr. J. B. Cowan, the chief surgeon on Forrest's staff, looked up from his cup of sassafras tea. "No," he said. "I'd sooner not."

The concise medical opinion made Forrest and the rest of his staff officers laugh. But mirth did not stay on the commanding general's face for long. Most of the white Union troops in Fort Pillow were Tennesseans themselves, enemy soldiers from a state that belonged in the Confederacy. When they came out of their works, they plundered the people who should have been their countrymen. If half of what Forrest heard was true, they did worse than that to the womenfolk. And so . . .

"We'll move then," Forrest said. "Captain Anderson!"

"Yes, sir?"

"Colonel McCulloch's brigade is at Sharon's Ferry along the Forked Deer, right?" Forrest said. Anderson nodded. Forrest went on, "And General Bell's got his brigade up at Eaton, in Gibson County?" He waited.

Charles Anderson nodded again. "Yes, sir, that's where he was last we heard from him."

Forrest waved dismissively. "Yankees haven't got enough men up there to shift him, so that's where he's at, all right. How many soldiers you reckon McCulloch and Bell put together have?"

Anderson's eyes took on a faraway look. Under his mustache, his lips moved silently. He wore a neat beard much like Bedford Forrest's. "I'd say about fifteen hundred, sir."

" 'Bout what I ciphered out for myself. Wanted to make sure you were with me." Forrest's gaze sharpened. "Now, Captain, how many Yankees d'you suppose Fort Pillow holds?"

"It can't have half that many." This time, Anderson didn't hesitate, though he did add, "They've got a gunboat out in the river to support the place."

"That's bluff country," Forrest said. "Gunboat won't be able to see up high enough to do 'em much good. Send orders to McCulloch and Bell, Captain. Get 'em moving tomorrow. I want them to hit Fort Pillow first thing Tuesday morning. We will take it away from the United States, and we will free this part of Tennessee from Yankee oppression."

"Yes, sir," Anderson said once more. "General Bell in overall command?"

"No, General Chalmers." Forrest made a sour face. He'd tried to have James Chalmers posted somewhere other than under his command, but he'd been overruled both here in the West and by the War Department in Richmond. Chalmers was a good--better than a good--cavalry officer, but not respectful enough of those set above him. In that way, and in some others, he was more than a little like Forrest himself, though he had the education his superior lacked.

"I'll draft the orders, sir, and I'll send them out as soon as you approve them," Captain Anderson said.

"Good. That's good. Tell General Bell especially not to sit around there lollygagging. He's got a long way to travel if he's going to get there by morning after next. He'd better set out just as fast as he can."

Anderson's pen scratched across a sheet of paper. "I'll make it very plain," Forrest's aide-de-camp promised. Forrest nodded. Anderson was a good writer, a confident writer. He made things sound the way they were supposed to. As for Forrest himself, he would sooner pick up a snake than a pen.

Fort Pillow was not a prime post. When it rained, as it was raining this Monday morning, Lieutenant Mack Leaming's barracks leaked. Pots and bowls on the floor caught the drips. The plink and splat of water falling into them was often better at getting men of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.) out of bed than reveille would have been.

One of the troopers in the regiment swore as he sat up. "Listen to that for a while and you reckon you've got to piss, even if you just went and did," he grumbled.

"Piss on the Rebs," said the fellow in the next cot.

"Pipe down, both of you," Leaming hissed. He was about twenty-five, with a round face, surprisingly innocent blue eyes, and a scraggly, corn-yellow mustache that curled down around the corners of his mouth. "Some of the boys are still sleeping." Snores proved him right. Quite a few of the "boys" were older than he was.

The bugler's horn sounded a few minutes later. Some of the men slept in their uniforms. The ones who'd stripped to their long johns climbed into Federal blue once more. Some of them had worn gray earlier in the war. Most of those troopers were all the more eager to punish backers of the Confederacy. A few, perhaps, might put on gray again if they saw the chance.

Leaming chuckled softly as he pulled on his trousers. That wouldn't be so easy. The United States wanted men who'd fought for the other side to return to the fold. The Confederates were less forgiving. In places like western Tennessee, the war wasn't country against country. It was neighbor against neighbor, friend against former friend.

Some of the troopers wore government-issue kepis. More used broad-brimmed slouch hats that did a better job of keeping the rain out of their faces.

"Come on, boys," Leaming said. "Let's get out there for roll call. Don't want to keep Major Bradford waiting."

Bill Bradford was a man with pull. The Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry was his creation. Recruitment and promotion were informal in these parts. Since Bradford came into U.S. service with a lot of men riding behind him, that won him the gold oak leaves on his shoulder straps. And he'd made an able enough commander so far.

Pulling his own slouch hat down low over his eyes, Mack Leaming went outside. Along with the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, four companies of heavy artillery and a section of light artillery were lining up for roll call and inspection. Leaming lips skinned back from his teeth in a mirthless grin. The artillerymen came from colored outfits. The officers and senior sergeants were white men, but the men they led had been slaves till they decided to take up arms against the whites who'd held them in bondage--and who wanted to keep on doing it.

Nigger soldiers, Leaming thought. He didn't like fighting on the same side as black men in arms--he was no nigger lover, even if he fought for the U.S.A. A Negro with a Springfield in his hands went dead against everything the South stood for. Leaming also wondered if the blacks would fight, if they could fight.

They looked impressive enough. They were, on average, both older and taller than the men in his own regiment. They drilled smartly, going through their evolutions with smooth precision. But could they fight? He'd believe it when he saw it.

Major Booth, who commanded them, seemed to have no doubts. Leaming might have trouble taking colored troops seriously. Nobody in his right mind, though, could lightly dismiss Lionel Booth. He was a veteran of the Regular Army, his face weathered though he was only in his mid-twenties, one cheek scarred by a bullet crease. Though he and his men came up from Memphis only a couple of weeks before, he was senior in grade to Major Bradford and in overall command at Fort Pillow.

Back when the war was new, Confederate General Gideon Pillow ordered the First Chickasaw Bluff of the Mississippi fortified. With customary modesty, he named the position after himself. As the crow flew, Fort Pillow lay not quite forty miles north of Memphis. Following the river's twists and turns, the crow would have flown twice as far, near enough.

General Pillow didn't think small when he built his works. His line ran for a couple of miles from Coal Creek on the north to the Mississippi on the west. The next Confederate officer who had to try to hold the place built a shorter line inside the one Pillow laid out.

That didn't do any good, either. When the Confederates in the West fell back in 1862, Federal troops occupied Fort Pillow. The U.S. Army kept nothing but the tip of the triangle between the Mississippi and Coal Creek. The present earthworks protected only the bluffs at the apex of the triangle and ran for perhaps four hundred feet. The Federals did keep pickets in rifle pits dug along the second, shorter, Confederate line.

These days, six pieces of field artillery aided the defenders: two six-pounders, two twelve-pounders, and two ten-pounder Parrott long guns. They were newly arrived with the colored troops from the Sixth U.S. Heavy Artillery and Second U.S. Light Artillery. Having come under artillery fire, Leaming liked it no better than anyone else in his right mind. He assumed the Confederates felt the same way.

Major Bradford strode up in front of the drawn-up ranks of cavalrymen. Leaming saluted him. "All men present and accounted for, sir," he said. Military formality sounded good. Outside the perimeter defined by the soldiers in the rifle pits, where would the troopers of the Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry go? If they didn't ride out in force, they were asking to get bushwhacked, to get knocked over the head and tipped into the Mississippi or buried in shallow graves with their throats cut.

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Bradford returned Leaming's salute with a grand flourish. He enjoyed being a major. He didn't much enjoy losing command of the fort to Major Booth. He couldn't do anything about it, though, not unless he wanted to arrange an accident for the younger man. Nodding to Leaming, he said, "Have the men fall out for sick call."

"Fall out for sick call," Leaming echoed.

Four or five men did. One of them shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "Sir, permission to visit the latrines?" he said. When Leaming nodded, he scurried away.

Most of the sick men probably had some kind of flux of the bowels. Camp in one place for a while and that would happen, no matter how careful you were. Bad air or something, Leaming thought. Doctors couldn't do much about it. An opium plug might slow down the shits for a while.

If you were already plugged up, the surgeon would give you a blue-mass suppository instead. Leaming didn't know what the hell blue mass was. By the way it shifted whatever you had inside you, he suspected it was related to gunpowder.

After roll call, he went up to Bradford and asked, "Any word of trouble from the Rebs?"

"Not here." The other officer shook his head. "I reckon General Hurlbut started seeing shadows under his bed, that's all. Why else would he send us all those damn niggers?" He had even less use for them than Leaming did.

"Worried about Forrest, I expect," Leaming said. "Way he chased Fielding Hurst into Memphis . . ."

Colonel Hurst's Sixth Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.) had had the misfortune of running into a detachment from Forrest's force not long before. Hurst's men were rough and tough and nasty. They needed to be. Like the Thirteenth, they were homemade Yankees, and the hand of every Secesh man in the state was raised against them. However rough, tough, and nasty they were, they couldn't stand up to Forrest's troopers.

Major Bradford chuckled unkindly. "I hear tell Hurst ran away so hard, he galloped right out from under his hat."

What could be more fun than hashing over another outfit's shortcomings? "I hear tell he left his white mistress behind," Leaming said, "and his colored one, too."

Now Bradford laughed a dirty laugh. "He had to have variety--unless he put 'em both in the same bed at the same time." With a sigh, he pulled his mind back to matters military. "But anyway, Forrest isn't anywhere near here. He's off at Jackson, and that's got to be seventy miles away."

"I was talking with one of the officers who came up with the coons," Leaming said. "You know what Forrest had the nerve to do?"

"Son of a bitch has the nerve to do damn near anything. That's what makes him such a nuisance," Major Bradford said. "What is it this time?"

"He sent Memphis a bill for the five thousand and however many dollars Colonel Hurst squeezed out of Jackson while he held it," Leaming said.

Bradford laughed again, this time on a different note. "He better not hold his breath till he gets it, that's all I've got to say. He'll be a mighty blue man in a gray uniform if he does. Besides, that's not all Hurst has squeezed out of the Rebs--not even close."

"Don't I know it!" Mack Leaming spoke more in admiration than anything else. Colonel Fielding Hurst had turned the war into a profitable business for himself. People said he'd taken more than $100,000 from Confederate sympathizers in western Tennessee. Leaming couldn't have said if that was true, but he wouldn't have been surprised. The Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry had done its share of squeezing, too, but the Sixth was way ahead of it.

"So anyhow," Major Bradford went on, "I don't reckon we've got to do a whole lot of worrying about Bedford Forrest right this minute."

"Sounds good to me, sir," Leaming said.


Copyright © 2006 by Harry Turtledove


Excerpted from Fort Pillow by Turtledove, Harry Copyright © 2006 by Turtledove, Harry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Fort Pillow 2.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
UtahSnowy More than 1 year ago
Of all the Harry Turtledove books I have purchased this is the worst. I have not been able to get through it although I have had it for nearly a year. Usually I cannot put his books down. I am sorry to say that it is not worth buying.
TRFeller More than 1 year ago
This is NOT an alternate history, which the author is famous for, but rather a straightforward historical novel about one of the most controversial battles of the American Civil War. On April 12, 1864, Confederate forces under the command of Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked and captured Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River about 40 miles north of Memphis (as the crow flies). One of the units defending the fort was a Black artillery regiment, and the Confederates did not take any of them prisoners. The historical accounts differ on what really happened, so Turtledove made his best guess. Four of the point-of-view characters are historical ones, Sergeant Benjamin Robinson, a black soldier who survived the battle, Union Lieutenant Mack Leaming, another survivor, Fort Pillow second-in-command Major William Bradford who became the commander early in the battle after the original commander was killed, and Forrest himself. There are two other POV characters, both fictional and enlisted men in the Confederate Army. I found it to be a fascinating read and learned a lot as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Turtledove, in both his alternative history fantasy writings and in this attempt at an accurate historical novel gives us nothing but his imagination. His quest to prove that the Confederacy and the Confederate armies were the redneck parallel to Nazi Germany has again left all facts scattered...and void on the pages. Ignored in this writing is the fact that there were over ninety free men of color belonging to and fighting General Forrest's cavalry not only with many of his campaigns but also at Fort Pillow! Ignored is the three legit facts that led to Forrest's behavior at Fort Pillow. The first fact is that leading up to the attack of Fort Pillow Forrest had learned and had seen with his own eyes over the course of two months what Tennessee regiments loyal to the Union had inflicted upon the state. Hundreds of homes and communities had been sacked and dozens of civilians killed and raped. Forrest and his officers knew that some of the units responsible for this 'rape of southern Tennessee,' were hidden in Fort Pillow. Secondly, Forrest and his men felt that 'special deadly treatment,' was deserved those men in Fort Pillow who had betrayed their state to fight alongside the invaders. Lastly, Forrest had issued a warning to the garrison before hand to surrender or else. The outnumbered and poorly organized units within Fort Pillow were given a choice to surrender or face death. Yet, with little regard to life or common sense, they refused to surrender and got what was promised to them. In no statement did Forrest or any of his veterans hint that the Fort Pillow attack was responsible for its soldiers being half black. In fact, following the Civil War, Forrest gave a speech to the black population of Memphis stating, 'Though we differ in color, we do not differ in sentiment and friendship.' Turtledove's accounts and opinions are the work of fantasy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to reading this thrilling topic, however the battle begins right away leaving out any background, history, or anecdotes. There is zero character build up and the novel content is a simple description of blood and guts. The author actually uses the word 'knucklehead' to describe a soldier.