Scissors dug at the site of Fort Pillow

These scissors were dug at the site of Fort Pillow, a.k.a., the Battle of Fort Pillow, a.k.a., the “Fort Pillow Massacre.” At the start of chapter 29 of his Life on the Mississippi (1883), Mark Twain mentions passing by “… what was once the formidable Fort Pillow, memorable because of the massacre perpetrated there during the war … we must bunch Anglo-Saxon history together to find the fellow to the Fort Pillow tragedy.”

Scissors are one of those things that probably only excite metal detectorists. They’re rarely found whole – almost always in pieces. They were obviously important at most stages of 18th and 19th century sites of human encampment or occupation, because they’re almost always found – whether military or domestic, or other…..

Wikipedia has a huge amount of info on this site:

The Battle of Fort Pillow, also known as the Fort Pillow massacre, was fought on April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee, during the American Civil War. The battle ended with a massacre of African-American Union troops and their white officers attempting to surrender, by soldiers under the command of Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Military historian David J. Eicher concluded: “Fort Pillow marked one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history.”

A hand-colored 1885 print titled “The Fort Pillow Massacre,” by Chicago-based Kurz and Allison, included in a series of commemorative prints of Civil War battles. It depicts women and children among the victims, though this is not supported by witnesses, who said that women and children had been removed from the fort prior to the battle.

It remains unclear whether Forrest ordered the massacre, encouraged it, ignored it, or — as he later claimed — was unaware of it.

Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi River 40 mi (64 km) north of Memphis, was built by Confederate Brigadier General Gideon Johnson Pillow in early 1862 and was used by both sides during the war. With the fall of New Madrid and Island No. 10 to Union forces, Confederate troops evacuated Fort Pillow on June 4, in order to avoid being cut off from the rest of the Confederate army. Union forces occupied Fort Pillow on June 6 and used it to protect the river approach to Memphis.

The fort stood on a high bluff and was protected by three lines of entrenchments arranged in a semicircle, with a protective parapet 4 ft (1.2 m) thick and 6 to 8 ft (1.8 to 2.4 m) high surrounded by a ditch. (During the battle, this design proved to be a disadvantage to the defenders because they could not fire upon approaching troops without mounting the top of the parapet, which subjected them to enemy fire. Because of the width of the parapet, operators of the six artillery pieces of the fort found it difficult to depress their barrels enough to fire on the attackers once they got close.) A Union gunboat, the USS New Era, commanded by Captain James Marshall, was also available for the defense.

The photo, taken between 1861 and 1865, shows guns mounted along the perimeter of Fort Pillow. (Library of Congress)

On March 16, 1864, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest launched a month-long cavalry raid with 7,000 troopers into western Tennessee and Kentucky. Their objectives were to capture Union prisoners and supplies and to demolish posts and fortifications from Paducah, Kentucky, south to Memphis. Forrest’s Cavalry Corps, which he called “the Cavalry Department of West Tennessee and North Mississippi,” consisted of the divisions led by Brig. Gens. James R. Chalmers (brigades of Brig. Gen. Robert V. Richardson and Colonel Robert M. McCulloch) and General Abe Buford (brigades of Cols. Tyree H. Bell and A. P. Thompson).

The confederate earthworks, built in 1864, as they appear today. Courtesy of John Banks Civil War Blog
The confederates’ view of the fort, as it appears today. Courtesy of John Banks Civil War Blog

The Union garrison at Fort Pillow consisted of about 600 men, divided almost evenly between black and white troops. The black soldiers belonged to the 6th U.S. Regiment Colored Heavy Artillery and a section of the 2nd Colored Light Artillery (previously known as the Memphis Battery Light Artillery (African Descent)), under the overall command of Major Lionel F. Booth, who had been in the fort for only two weeks. Booth had been ordered to move his regiment from Memphis to Fort Pillow on March 28 to augment the cavalry, who had occupied the fort several weeks earlier. Many of the regiment were former slaves who understood the personal cost of a loss to the Confederates—at best an immediate return to slavery rather than being treated as a prisoner of war. They had heard that some Confederates threatened to kill any black Union troops they encountered. The white soldiers were predominantly new recruits from Bradford’s Battalion, a Union unit from west Tennessee, commanded by Maj. William F. Bradford.

Caption in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (New York), May 7, 1864,  The war in Tennessee: Confederate massacre of black Union troops after the surrender at Fort Pillow, April 12, 1864

Forrest arrived at Fort Pillow at 10:00 on April 12. By this time, Chalmers had already surrounded the fort. A stray bullet struck Forrest’s horse, felling the general and bruising him. This was the first of three horses he lost that day. He deployed sharpshooters around the higher ground that overlooked the fort, bringing many of the occupants into their direct line of fire. Major Booth was killed by a sharpshooter’s bullet to the chest and Bradford assumed command. By 11:00, the Confederates had captured two rows of barracks about 150 yd (140 m) from the southern end of the fort. The Union soldiers had failed to destroy these buildings before the Confederates occupied them, and they subjected the garrison to a murderous fire.

The interior of the reconstructed fort / state park.

Rifle and artillery fire continued until 3:30, when Forrest sent a note demanding surrender: “The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such as to entitle them to being treated as prisoners of war. I demand the unconditional surrender of the entire garrison, promising that you shall be treated as prisoners of war. My men have just received a fresh supply of ammunition, and from their present position can easily assault and capture the fort. Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.” Bradford replied, concealing his identity as he did not wish the Confederates to realize that Booth had been killed, requesting an hour for consideration.[14] Forrest, who believed that reinforcing troops would soon arrive by river, replied that he would only allow 20 minutes, and that “If at the expiration of that time the fort is not surrendered, I shall assault it.”[15] Bradford refused this opportunity with a final reply: “I will not surrender.” Forrest then ordered his bugler to sound the charge.

The Confederate assault was furious. While the sharpshooters maintained their fire into the fort, a first wave entered the ditch and stood while the second wave used their backs as stepping stones. These men then reached down and helped the first wave scramble up a ledge on the embankment. All of this proceeded flawlessly and with very little firing, except from the sharpshooters and around the flanks. Their fire against the New Era caused the sailors to button up their gun ports and hold their fire. As the sharpshooters were signaled to hold their fire, the men on the ledge went up and over the embankment, firing now for the first time into the massed defenders. The garrison fought briefly, but then broke and ran to the landing at the foot of the bluff, where they had been told that the Union gunboat would cover their withdrawal by firing grapeshot and canister rounds. Because its gun ports remained sealed, the gunboat did not fire a single shot. The fleeing soldiers were subjected to fire both from the rear and from the flank. Many were shot down. Others reached the river only to drown, or be picked off in the water by marksmen on the bluff.

Although Confederate sources say that Forrest’s forces kept firing in self-defense, some historians and official Union reports emphasize that a deliberate massacre took place. Union survivors claimed that even though all their troops surrendered, Forrest’s men massacred some in cold blood. Surviving members of the garrison said that most of their men surrendered and threw down their arms, only to be shot or bayoneted by the attackers, who repeatedly shouted, “No quarter! No quarter!”

It was reported that women and children were killed, but this was disputed by Dr. C. Fitch, who was surgeon of the Fort Pillow garrison: “Early in the morning all of the women and all of the noncombatants were ordered on to some barges, and were towed by a gunboat up the river to an island before any one was hurt.” This is supported by the testimony of Captain Marshall. He stated that all the women, children, and sick soldiers were removed to an island before the battle started. The strongest evidence that the Confederates did not kill women and children is that no one reported seeing the bodies of women and children among the slain.

An 1864 photo shows officers of the 16th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment atop Lookout Mountain, Tenn. Black units in the Civil War were commanded by white officers. . (Library of Congress.)

A 2002 study by Albert Castel concluded that Forrest’s troops had killed a large number of the garrison “after they had either ceased resisting or were incapable of resistance.” Historian Andrew Ward in 2005 reached the conclusion that an atrocity in the modern sense occurred at Fort Pillow, but that the event was not premeditated nor officially sanctioned by Confederate commanders.

A period first hand description of what took place, as mentioned in a fairly recent Washington Post article:

In May 1864, the New York Times received a letter from a naval officer describing the bloody scene at Fort Pillow and demanding the Union government retaliate.

“I write, because most of our crew are colored, and I feel personally interested in the retaliation which our Government may deal out to the rebels, when the fact of the merciless butchery is fully established,” Robert S. Critchell, an acting master’s mate, wrote to U.S. Rep. Henry Blow (R-Mo.). He also detailed the how the “colored” troops had been “murdered” by the Confederate soldiers.

“I found many of the dead lying close along by the water’s edge, where they had evidently sought safety; they could not offer any resistance from the places where they were, in holes and cavilles along the banks,” Critchell wrote. “Most of them had two wounds. I saw several colored soldiers of the Sixth United States Artillery, with their eyes punched out with bayonets; many of them were shot twice and bayonetted also.” Critchell was appalled by the gruesome scene of 70 black soldiers lying dead along the Mississippi River.

“Going up into the fort, I saw there bodies partially consumed by fire,” Critchell wrote. “Whether burned before or after death I cannot say, any way there were several companies of rebels in the fort while these bodies were burning, and they could have pulled them out of the fire had they chosen to do so.”

The “Fort Pillow Massacre” became a fervent rallying cry among Union troops, according to the National Park Service, “and cemented resolve to see the war through to its conclusion.”

ETA: the scissors are now up and available in the SHOP:

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