APRIL 12, 1864

The Fort Pillow Massacre took place when 2,500 members of a Confederate cavalry attacked the fort held by less than 700 Union soldiers. Confederate Gen. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest led the attack on the fort, about 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, but the Union leader, Maj. William F. Bradford refused to surrender. 

Confederates overran the fort, killing as many as 300 Union soldiers, most of them Black. According to survivors’ accounts, Confederates massacred the Union troops even after they threw down their guns and surrendered. In response, many “madly leaped into the (Mississippi) River, while the rebels stood on the banks or part way up the bluff, and shot at the heads of their victims,” one survivor wrote. 

“I could plainly see this firing and note the bullets striking the water around the black heads of the soldiers, until suddenly the muddy current became red, and I saw another life sacrificed in the cause of the Union.” 

In his memoir, U.S. Gen. Ulysses Grant talked of the river being dyed with “the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards.” Afterward, the massacre became a rallying cry for Black troops.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.