Remembering Fort Pillow: 150th Anniversary Activities at Fort Pillow State Park



Depiction of the Fort Pillow Massacre, Harper’s Weekly, 1864

The American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia bills itself as “the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate, and African American perspectives.” In doing so, it recognizes that there were indeed three very different vantage-points from which the Civil War was viewed and interpreted at the time. None of these perspectives is “better than” or “superior to” the others; they’re different, but all valid. Perhaps implied by the Museum, but not stated, is that throughout the post-war era, the African American Civil War experience has often been overlooked and even ignored. But it’s never too late to catch up with the past.

In that light, I am heartened to see the list of events and activities planned for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the so-called Fort Pillow Massacre, to be held at Fort Pillow State Park on April 12 and 13. The list of events is at the bottom of this blog entry.

As many people who study the Civil War know, the Fort Pillow Massacre is one of the most infamous and controversial events of the American Civil War. Fort Pillow was a Union-held fort located 40 miles northeast of Memphis, Tennessee. The garrison at the Fort included a number of men from the US Colored Troops, perhaps half of the men there. The Fort was attacked on April 12, 1864, by Confederate forces under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The Confederates overran the fort, suffering moderate casualties. In the wake of the attack, around 300 Union soldiers were killed, most of them Colored Troops. The Union – the US military, members of the US government, the US press, and very important, many African Americans – considered Fort Pillow a race-based massacre, during which black soldiers were killed even after they surrendered. Confederates, most notably General Forrest himself, denied that a massacre occurred; they would call it the Battle of Fort Pillow.

The Massacre was a cause célèbre at the time, and remains controversial to this very day. Fort Pillow State Park, the preserved site of the Fort, is holding a series of activities and lectures to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Fort Pillow which, on the face of it at least, focus on the African American experience during this time of war and change, and, which highlight the issues of war, race, and slavery that have inflamed passions about the event to this very day. This focus will be seen especially in lectures scheduled on April 12, which will complement other activities such as living history programs and Union and Confederate encampments.

I say that I am heartened because, from a perusal of internet sources, there are many who feel that the more controversial issues surrounding Fort Pillow have been ignored in earlier commemorative events. Some might add that a single week-end of such focus is not enough; it’s catch-up ball, and more needs to be done in the long run. But clearly, events like this are a good way to start, and one hopes that there will be more to come.

So, for those in the vicinity of Fort Pillow State Park outside of Memphis, I recommend giving the place a visit to view the activities, which will take place during the coming week-end (April 12-13). Cost and distance will keep me from attending… sigh.

Note: I have an earlier blog entry related to Fort Pillow here.
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Fort Pillow – 150th Anniversary and Memorial Service
Fort Pillow State Park

Schedule of Activities:

Saturday Schedule (April 12, 1984)

8:00 am Living History Encampments open to the public until 3:00 pm

ORIENTATION VIDEO Meet at Museum to view the Park Video.

Officer’s Call-Meet outside of Park Museum to discuss daily activities

8:30 am MEET at Museum to view the Park video.

Black Powder Safety Class – All Re-enactors that wish to participate in any Black Powder event will need to have a Black Powder card. Open to the public. Meet outside of the Museum.

9:00 am HAYRIDE – Meet on the hill above the museum for a hayride to restore fortifications where black powder demonstrations will be held.

CANNON DEMONSTRATIONS – Meet at Battlefield to watch the steps required to shoot a Civil War Cannon

ORIENTATION VIDEO – Meet at the Museum to view the Park video.

9:30 am PROGRAM – Haversack – soldiers’ equipment -Meet at the museum for a tour of the museum and a haversack display.

ORIENTATION VIDEO Meet at the Museum to view the park video.

10:00 am SPEAKER I – Doctor John Cimprich ”The Significance of the Fort Pillow Battle” – Meet in the Museum Auditorium for this presentation.

RIFLE DEMONSTRATION – Meet at the Union camp to learn the steps required in firing a Civil War rifle/musket.

HAYRIDE – Meet on the hill above the museum for a hayride to restore fortifications where black powder demonstrations will be held.

FOOD VENDORS Vendors will be present until 5:00 pm

10:30 am PERIOD MUSIC – Meet at the Confederate camp. Hear 1860s music. Don’t forget your chair. Until 11:30 am

11:00 am SPEAKER II Doctor Charles McKinney “Region, Race, and Memory: Inheriting the Civil War” A Facilitated Discussion – Meet in the Auditorium for this presentation. Program made possible by Humanities Tennessee.

CAMP LIFE-Meet at the Confederate Camp to learn the role of the men, women, and children of the Civil War and the duties that they faced.

HAYRIDE – Meet on the hill above the museum for a hayride to the restore fortifications where black powder demonstrations will be held.

11:30 pm BATTLE HYMN OF A FREED MAN – A Gospel Jazz Musical-Event will be held under the tent across from the Confederate Camp.

12:00 pm BLACKSMITH – Meet at the Confederate Camp to learn about the art of Blacksmithing.

12:30 pm SPEAKER III – Doctor Wayne Moore “Using GIS to map the African American landscape of the Civil War in Tennessee” – Meet in the Museum Auditorium for this discussion.

1:00 pm CANNON DEMONSTRATION – Meet at the Union Camp to see the steps required for the firing of a cannon.

HAYRIDE – Meet on the hill above the museum for a hayride to the restore fortifications where black powder demonstrations will be held.

1:30 pm MARCHING/DRILL – Meet at the Union Camp to see and learn the drills of the Union Soldier.

1:45pm PERIOD MUSIC – Meet at the Confederate camp. Hear 1860s music. Don’t forget your chair. Until – 2:45 pm.

2:00 pm SPEAKER IV – Doctor Bobby Lovett “Tennessee: United States Colored Troops After Fort Pillow, 1864-1865”-Meet in the Museum Auditorium for this discussion.

HAYRIDE – Meet on the hill above the museum for a hayride to the restore fortifications where black powder demonstrations will be held.

BLACKSMITH – Meet at the Confederate Camp to learn about the art of Blacksmithing.

2:30 pm PROGRAM – Haversack – soldiers’ equipment – Meet at the museum for a tour of the museum and a haversack display.

3:00 pm CANNON DEMONSTRATION – Meet at the Union Camp to see the steps required for the firing of a cannon.

3:30-5:00 pm MEMORIAL SERVICE-Meet outside the Museum for the Memorial Service. Several guest Speakers will be present and the event will begin with the Tennessee State Parks Honor Guard presenting the Colors.

6:00-7:00 pm -The Re-enactor meal is not a public event.

7:30 pm Night Hike – Meet outside the Museum for a hike to the Restored Fortifications.There will be night fire from a Civil War musket and cannon. The hike will be approx. 2.1 miles. Bring a flashlight.

Sunday Schedule (April 13, 1984)

8:00 am Camp is open to the public until 12 noon.

Museum Video shown upon request through 4:00 pm.

9:00 am Cannon Demonstration – Meet at the Confederate camp to see the steps of firing a cannon.

9:30 am Role of the Union Soldier at camp – Meet on the hill above the Museum to see and learn the daily activities of the Union Soldier while in camp.

10:00 am RIFLE DEMONSTRATION -Meet at the Union camp to learn the steps required in firing a Civil War rifle/musket.

10:30 am PROGRAM – Haversack – soldiers’ equipment -Meet at the museum for a tour of the museum and a haversack display.

11:00 am-11:45 am 1861 Church Service-Meet at the Museum Auditorium

12:00 noon Events conclude

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