Tag Archives: Fort Pillow

The Fort Pillow Controversy

April 12, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry attacked the Federal garrison at Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River, and a controversy ensued over whether black troops were killed after surrendering.

Forrest’s troopers descended on Fort Pillow as part of their raid on Federal outposts and supply lines in western Tennessee. Forrest also sought to avenge Federal depredations being committed in the region; several men suspected of aiding the Confederacy were held without charges, and one of Forrest’s officers had been tortured and murdered.

The fort was a large earthwork on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, about 40 land miles north of Memphis. Held by Federal forces since June 1862, the fort protected a nearby trading post, and it was garrisoned by 557 Federal troops under Major Lionel F. Booth. Of these troops, 262 were newly recruited former slaves, and the rest were mostly Tennessee Unionists (whom Forrest’s Tennesseans considered traitors). The Federal tinclad gunboat U.S.S. New Era patrolled the Mississippi riverfront behind the garrison.

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

A portion of Forrest’s command consisting of 1,500 horsemen under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers attacked the outposts at 5:30 a.m. on the 12th and surrounded the fort by 8 a.m. Federal artillery and the New Era’s guns could not be positioned to hit the Confederates, who took the high ground on the perimeter and killed Booth. Command passed to Major William F. Bradford.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest arrived around 10 a.m. and directed an attack in which the Confederates captured the Federal barracks on the south side of the fort. The New Era steamed downriver to replenish her ammunition. Forrest’s aide, Captain Charles W. Anderson, stated that “it was perfectly apparent to any man endowed with the smallest amount of common sense that to all intents and purposes the fort was ours.”

When Forrest’s ammunition train arrived around 3 p.m., he sent a courier to Bradford under a flag of truce demanding surrender and warning, “Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.”

Bradford asked for one hour to consult with his officers. However, Forrest could see the New Era on the river and feared that she carried reinforcements. He gave Bradford just 20 minutes, stating, “If at the expiration of that time the fort is not surrendered, I shall assault it.” During the 20-minute ceasefire, Federal troops mocked the Confederates from the fort parapets. Confident he could hold the fort, Bradford finally replied, “I will not surrender.” Forrest attacked immediately.

The Confederates easily broke through the outer defenses, scaled the parapets, and drove the defenders down the bluff toward the river. The Federals tried fleeing to the gunboat, but it pulled back under the heavy Confederate fire. The fight soon degenerated into a panic, as Forrest and his officers tried stopping their men from wiping out the entire garrison.

In the end, all 557 Federals were killed, wounded, or captured (231 killed, 100 wounded, and 226 captured). Of those taken prisoner, 58 were black and 168 were white. The Confederates also captured six guns and 350 stands of small arms while losing just 100 men (14 killed and 86 wounded). Federal Acting Master William Ferguson, assigned to investigate Fort Pillow the day after it fell, reported:

“About 8 a.m. the enemy sent in a flag of truce with a proposal from General Forrest that he would put me in possession of the fort and the country around until 5 p.m. for the purpose of burying our dead and removing our wounded, whom he had no means of attending to. I agreed to the terms proposed…

“All the wounded who had strength enough to speak agreed that after the fort was taken an indiscriminate slaughter of our troops was carried on by the enemy with a furious and vindictive savageness which was never equaled by the most merciless of the Indian tribes… Bodies with gaping wounds, some bayoneted through the eyes, some with skulls beaten through, others with hideous wounds as if their bowels had been ripped open with bowie-knives, plainly told that but little quarter was shown to our troops…

“Of course, when a work is carried by assault there will always be more or less bloodshed, even when all resistance has ceased; but here there were unmistakable evidences of a massacre carried on long after any resistance could have been offered, with a cold-blooded barbarity and perseverance which nothing can palliate…”

In his report, Forrest wrote:

“The victory was complete, and the loss of the enemy will never be known from the fact that large numbers ran into the river and were shot and drowned. The force was composed of about 500 negroes and 200 white soldiers (Tennessee Tories). The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards. There was in the fort a large number of citizens who had fled there to escape the conscript law. Most of these ran into the river and were drowned.

“The approximate loss was upward of 500 killed, but few of the officers escaping.

“It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners. We still hold the fort.”

Witnesses accused the Confederates of killing Federal soldiers–particularly the black soldiers–even after they surrendered. Survivors later testified at a congressional hearing that the Confederates shouted, “No quarter!” while shooting or bayoneting several men who had already laid down their arms. Northerners generally decried the “Fort Pillow Massacre,” viewing it as indicative of the atrocities that Confederates committed against black soldiers for fighting against them.

Forrest argued that the engagement could hardly be called a “massacre” since he had taken 226 prisoners, none of whom were seriously injured. He also maintained that some Federals picked up their weapons and resumed firing after they surrendered, and therefore suffered the consequences. Others claimed the high black casualty rate was due to their brave defense, as they were the last to flee.

Four of President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet members—Secretary of State William H. Seward, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles—publicly supported the execution of an equal number of Confederate prisoners of war in retaliation. But Major General William T. Sherman, overall commander in the region, recommended no vengeance, and Lincoln ultimately agreed. Forrest and his men were not called upon to testify in their own defense after the war. Nevertheless, black soldiers used the rallying cry, “Remember Fort Pillow!” for the rest of the conflict.

—–

References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 167; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24, 25; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 187-89; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20657-81; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 392; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 2298-338; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 417-19; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 108; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 484-85; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 190-91; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 277-78

Advertisements

The Fall of Memphis

June 6, 1862 – After capturing Fort Pillow, the Federal Western Flotilla immediately targeted Memphis, the Confederacy’s fifth largest city, further down the Mississippi River.

The flotilla consisted of five ironclad gunboats led by Flag Officer Charles H. Davis (the U.S.S. Cairo, Carondelet, Louisville, St. Louis, and Davis’s flagship the U.S.S. Benton), and four rams led by Colonel Charles Ellet (featuring the U.S.S. Queen of the West and Monarch). Bearing 68 total guns, the fleet pulled out of Island No. 45, two miles north of Memphis, at 4:20 a.m. to take the city.

At Memphis, residents held a mass meeting to gather support for the city’s defenses, which were very weak. Most Confederate troops had already abandoned the city, but the eight “cotton-clad” steamers of the Confederate River Defense Fleet remained. Bearing 28 guns, they were jointly commanded by Commodore James E. Montgomery and Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson.

When a picket boat notified Montgomery of the Federal advance, he opted to move his fleet up the Mississippi to preemptively attack the enemy vessels before they could approach Memphis. Thompson’s army troops boarded the steamers to man the guns and lend small arms support.

Montgomery invited Memphis residents to “come down at sunrise” to watch him “sink the Yankee fleet.” He proclaimed, “I have come here that you may see Lincoln’s gunboats sent to the bottom by the fleet which you have built and manned.” Thousands of people answered his call, gathering on the bluffs overlooking the river to watch the action. They hoped to see a repeat of the Battle of Plum Run Bend last month, but an important change since then was that the Federals now had rams.

As a precaution, the Confederates sent one of their ironclads under construction at Memphis, the C.S.S. Arkansas, down the Mississippi to the Yazoo River. Another ironclad, the C.S.S. Tennessee, was destroyed to avoid capture.

Davis spotted the Confederate steamers approaching and ordered his flotilla to advance and meet them. Separated by two miles, the fleets formed battle lines on the water and began firing at each other in front of Memphis at around 5:40 a.m. The exchange lasted about 15 minutes until Ellet, heading the Queen of the West, shouted to his brother Alfred, commanding the Monarch, “Round out and follow me! Now is our chance!” The two rams steamed through the line of five ironclads at 13 knots to engage the Confederates.

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Battle of Memphis | Image Credit: Flickr.com

A wild fight ensued in which ships fired and rammed from all directions. The Queen slammed into the C.S.S. Colonel Lovell and nearly cut her in two; the collision’s vibration could be felt by the spectators on the bluffs overlooking the fight. The Lovell quickly sank, killing 68 of the 86 men on board.

The Queen was then disabled by the C.S.S. General Beauregard. The Beauregard and the C.S.S. General Price then tried ramming the Monarch, but the faster Federal ram slipped between them and they collided with each other, knocking off the Price’s wheel. The Monarch then rammed the Beauregard and sent her limping to the Arkansas shore.

The Federal gunboats then joined the fray, exploding the Beauregard’s boilers with a shot. The Monarch grounded Montgomery’s flagship, the C.S.S. Little Rebel, and the gunboats fired on her until Montgomery and his crew abandoned ship on the Arkansas shore. They fled into the woods.

The five remaining Confederate vessels then turned and tried to escape in what became a running, 10-mile fight. As the ships drew closer to each other, the troops on board exchanged small arms fire. Nobody was hit except for Ellet aboard the Queen; he was shot through the kneecap.

The gunboats bombarded the C.S.S. Sumter and General Bragg until they both ran aground. The Benton pounded the C.S.S. General Thompson with artillery fire until she exploded. The Beauregard, disabled from earlier fighting, drifted downriver and sank. Only the C.S.S. General Van Dorn was fast enough to get away, making it to the Yazoo River ahead of her pursuers. But the Van Dorn’s damage was so extensive that Confederates later scuttled her.

By 7:30 a.m., the entire Confederate Defense Fleet had been destroyed, as the converted steamboats proved no match for the powerful Federal ironclads and rams. The Federals took over 70 prisoners, as well as several transports and other vessels under construction on the Memphis docks. Four of the eight Confederate ships were later repaired and added to the Federal fleet.

Although Davis had a tense rivalry with Ellet and his rams, he credited the victory to Ellet’s “bold and successful attack on the enemy rams” and called him “conspicuous for his gallantry.” In what became the war’s last “fleet action” on the rivers, Ellet was the only Federal casualty. His leg wound was considered superficial, but he died of blood poisoning 12 days later. His brother Alfred replaced him as commander of the Ellet-class ram fleet.

Spectators on the bluffs returned to their homes in tears after seeing their River Defense Fleet annihilated. Thompson, watching the action from the shore, called it “one of the grandest, yet saddest scenes of my life.” He reported that “the enemy’s rams did most of the execution and were handled more adroitly than ours.” Thompson rode off with his remaining army troops to avoid capture. He later disbanded the fleet and reassigned the survivors to other posts.

The mayor of Memphis, who had also watched the destruction, raised a white flag. Charles Ellet’s son, Lieutenant Charles R. Ellet, and two others went ashore, walked through the incensed crowd, and accepted the surrender of Memphis at 11 a.m. An angry mob surrounded them as they hauled down the Confederate flag from City Hall and raised the U.S. flag over the post office, but they came away unharmed.

Two infantry regiments arrived later on the 6th to formally occupy the city. The next day, Federal forces toured Memphis, particularly the saloons and brothels below the bluffs along the river. Residents deeply resented the new military occupation.

The owner and staff of the Memphis Appeal, one of Tennessee’s most influential papers, refused to surrender. They escaped the city with their printing press and resumed publication from Grenada, Mississippi. One of its editorials declared that the owner would rather dump the equipment into the Mississippi “than continue publication under Union occupation.”

The loss of Memphis was a devastating blow to the Confederacy. The city became a supply base for the Federal armies moving into the Deep South. It not only had facilities to receive supplies from the river, but it had a railhead on the important Memphis & Charleston Railroad as well. The Federals now controlled the Mobile & Ohio Railroad from Columbus, Kentucky, to Corinth, Mississippi; Forts Henry and Donelson, Nashville, Clarksville, and all points on the Tennessee River up to Eastport, Mississippi.

Federals also controlled the entire Mississippi River except for the powerful Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. This would be the next target, as Davis began planning to move his fleet downriver and Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s fleet tried coming upriver from New Orleans.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (6 Jun 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 612, 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 180-81; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 388; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 163-64; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 198-99; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 221-23; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 417-18; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 88-89; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 428-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 156-57, 486-87

The Fall of Fort Pillow

June 5, 1862 – Confederates abandoned an important garrison on the Mississippi River, opening a path for Federal naval forces to move downstream and threaten Memphis, Tennessee.

General P.G.T. Beauregard’s withdrawal from Corinth, Mississippi, doomed many Confederates stationed on the Mississippi west of that town. First in line from north to south were the 3,600 men at Fort Pillow, Tennessee. These troops had been under bombardment from the Federal Western Flotilla since April 13. But with Corinth abandoned, their supply line on the Memphis & Charleston Railroad was lost, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

Fort Pillow | Image Credit: FortWiki.com

General John B. Villepigue, commanding at Fort Pillow, received orders from Beauregard to “immediately evacuate Fort Pillow for Grenada (150 miles south in Mississippi) by the best and shortest route. Whenever you shall be about to abandon the fort you will telegraph the commanding officer at Memphis to burn all the cotton, sugar, &c, in the vicinity of that city.” The troops were to leave behind anything they could not carry; “arms will be furnished you from the depot at Columbus, Miss., should there be any there.”

Despite protests from Memphis residents and Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson, Villepigue’s Confederates began withdrawing from Fort Pillow and arriving at Memphis on June 3. It was a foregone conclusion among many that without the fort’s protection, Memphis would soon fall. The last of the troops and ammunition were taken by steamer to Vicksburg; the ship fired off one last shot at the Federal vessels before abandoning Fort Pillow. Villepigue reported:

“First we set fire to the quartermaster’s stores; next, the commissary, and then every ‘shanty’ on the ‘hill.’ We blew up all the guns, except two which would not burst. It was a terrific sight–the rain pouring down, the thunder rolling midst the lightning flashes, while the Yankees were pouring a stream of fire, making the sight sublime, though terrible.”

The Federal commanders, Commodore Charles H. Davis leading the gunboats and Colonel Charles R. Ellet leading the rams, had planned to attack Fort Pillow on the 4th, unaware it had been abandoned earlier that morning. Colonel Graham Fitch, commanding 1,000 Federal infantry slated to land and attack, wanted to launch his assault on this day, “but a foolish movement of Colonel Ellet prevented it in a way that could not be foreseen.” So it was scheduled to take place tomorrow.

That afternoon, massive explosions could be heard from the fort, and that night the Federals could see intense fires burning. The fires revealed that the Confederates were gone. Fort Randolph, about 12 miles below Fort Pillow, was abandoned by that evening. Confederates had held firm against Federal bombardment for nearly two months before withdrawing.

Fitch called off his assault and prepared to land and take the works the next day. Federal troops went ashore on the 5th and confirmed Fort Pillow was empty. Ellet came ashore and raised the U.S. flag over the fort. Davis did not acknowledge this in his report due to the heated rivalry between his gunboats and Ellet’s rams within the fleet.

The explosions from yesterday had been casemates and magazines “blown to atoms.” Fitch reported that the Confederates “had destroyed or carried away nearly all the property of the fort; the gun-carriages were burned and burning, and many of the guns that could not be removed were burst.” He did not consider the works valuable enough to occupy, so he left a company behind while Davis left a gunboat, and both men began planning to take Memphis.

The fall of Fort Pillow exposed Memphis as a virtually defenseless city, ripe for Federal conquest. The inadequate Confederate River Defense Fleet on the Mississippi under Captain James E. Montgomery and Thompson’s small force at Memphis were now all that stood between the powerful Federal Western Flotilla and the vital river city. News of the Confederate withdrawal panicked cotton planters along the Mississippi, and they began burning their crops to prevent them from falling into Federal hands.

Davis pledged to advance on the city “with the least possible delay.” The two Federal naval commands began moving down the Mississippi toward Memphis, 40 miles away. Davis commanded the ironclads and mortar boats, and even though they were manned by naval personnel, Davis reported to Major General Henry W. Halleck. Colonel Ellet commanded the rams and reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, with army soldiers comprising his crews. The fleet also escorted transports for Fitch’s troops.

The Federals chased down a Confederate transport steamer, capturing her before the crew could burn her. The ships spent the night assembling north of Memphis, preparing to attack the next day.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13298; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 180; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 162; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 221-22; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 417; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 87; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486

The Battle of Plum Run Bend

May 10, 1862 – Confederates launched a surprise attack on the Mississippi River to keep the Federals from continuing downstream and capturing Fort Pillow and Memphis.

As Flag Officer David G. Farragut’s Federal naval squadron moved up the Mississippi from New Orleans, Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote’s Federal Western Flotilla moved downriver from Island No. 10 toward Fort Pillow, Tennessee. The ultimate destination for both Farragut and Foote was the vital river and railroad city of Memphis.

After the fall of Island No. 10, Foote’s ships continued about 50 miles downriver and docked north of Fort Pillow. The fort stretched five miles and was defended by 40 heavy guns. Foote had been deprived of army support when Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi was called to aid in the drive on Corinth, Mississippi. So all Foote could do was keep his ships out of the Confederates’ gun range and bombard them with siege artillery.

In addition to the Confederate garrison at Fort Pillow, opposing the Federal squadron was the Confederate River Defense Fleet, which consisted of eight vessels commanded by Captain James E. Montgomery and manned by army troops under Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson of the Missouri militia. The ships were steamboats loaded with timber and cotton bales for protection. Known as “cotton-clads,” the ships had been brought up from New Orleans to contest the Federals’ southward drive. They only had one or two guns each, but they were fitted with iron prows to stab holes into enemy ships. And they were faster than the Federal ironclads.

On May 8, three Confederate rams from the fleet moved up the Mississippi from Fort Pillow to scout the Federal vessels. The larger Federal gunboats drove the Confederates off. The next day, Montgomery held a council of war at Memphis, where he and his officers agreed to move upriver that night and attack the Federal fleet the following day. The Confederates hoped that a surprise attack might destroy the Federals before they could join forces with Farragut.

While the Confederates planned their attack, Foote stepped down as commander of the Federal Western Flotilla. His health had deteriorated ever since being wounded at Fort Donelson in February. He selected Captain Charles H. Davis to replace him in command of the seven ironclads (the U.S.S. Mound City, Carondelet, Benton, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cairo, and St. Louis), one timber-clad, 16 mortar boats, and two infantry regiments.

Montgomery steamed directly toward Davis’s fleet at Plum Point Bend, north of Fort Pillow, on May 10. The Federals sighted the black smoke from the lead vessel, the C.S.S. General Bragg, off Craigshead Point, two miles above Fort Pillow. Montgomery sought to destroy the Federal Mortar Boat No. 16 and her escort, the Cincinnati, as they shelled the fort unsupported. The Confederates’ speed advantage helped them in the tight bend in the river.

The Cincinnati got up steam and approached the middle of the river. The crewmen fired their three bow guns but were rammed by the General Bragg before they could reload. The impact opened a large hole in her starboard quarter. The C.S.S. General Price then rammed the Cincinnati’s port side, disabling her rudder.

The fight on the Mississippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The fight on the Mississippi | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The six remaining Federal ironclads came up to join the fight, knocking the General Bragg out of action as the C.S.S. General Sumter rammed the Cincinnati a third time. The Cincinnati managed to severely damage multiple Confederate ships with broadsides before finally sinking in 11 feet of water.

Meanwhile, the General Price sustained non-lethal damage as she disabled Federal Mortar Boat No. 16. The other Federal mortar boats fired exploding shells that rained iron down on the enemy ships. Montgomery’s fleet continued upriver to engage the remaining Federal ironclads coming down to meet them.

The General Sumter rammed the U.S.S. Mound City, which was then rammed a second time by the C.S.S. General Van Dorn. The Federals aboard the Mound City grounded her on a sandbar to avoid sinking. The ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet used rifled cannon fire to badly damage the General Sumter, General Lovell, and General Van Dorn.

The Confederates had inflicted severe damage on the enemy flotilla after 30 minutes of fighting. But when the Federal ships pulled back into shallower water, Montgomery’s deeper draft vessels could not pursue. He ordered a return to Memphis, with Confederate artillery and sharpshooters continuing to fire at the Federals from a distance.

Montgomery had been victorious, having sunk two Federal ironclads. But the rest of Davis’s fleet remained intact, while four of Montgomery’s eight ships had been disabled. This, combined with the Confederate withdrawal, enabled Davis to claim victory as well. Davis boasted that he had driven the Confederates off after inflicting heavy damage, but the Confederates did not sustain as much damage as Davis had hoped.

Federals raised the Mound City the next day, and the Cincinnati two months later. Both vessels returned to service. However, this engagement proved that the Confederate defenses at Fort Pillow as well as Montgomery’s fleet were too strong for Davis to attack with what he had.

This marked one of the few “fleet battles” of the war. It temporarily halted Federal plans to join the squadrons of Davis and Farragut at Memphis. Montgomery informed General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, Mississippi, that Davis’s fleet “will never penetrate farther down the Mississippi” at their current strength. Davis, aware of this as well, called on the Federal Navy Department to reinforce his flotilla with the speedy Ellet-class rams.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (10 May 1862); Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 612; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 168; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 380-81; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 149-51; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 587-88; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 209-10; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 416-17; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 83-85; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 486; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 303