The Civil War – Fort Pillow and Memphis

Submited By C.J. Johnson

On the morning of June 6, 1862, Memphis, Tennessee – a naval port and manufacturing yard, an important industrial center, and the fifth largest city in the Confederacy – succumbed to Union forces by way of a naval battle, witnessed by the citizens of town and country. The city had few fortifications, as the Confederates decided to depend on significant defenses upriver, at Island Number 10 and Fort Pillow.

At Memphis, the Confederate fleet of eight ships was destroyed, with three ships rammed and sunk. The remaining ships were bombarded by shot from Union vessels, with only one Rebel ship surviving the barrage. The Union counted the loss of only one ship, and four casualties.

Early in the war, Federal leaders developed the “Anaconda Plan,” which like a snake, would squeeze the Confederacy, attacking from the north, from the Mississippi River, and from the Gulf of Mexico, in conjunction with blockades. The first effort was to take control of the Mississippi River.

By April 1862, the Union had already captured New Orleans and Island Number 10, the key Rebel defensive position on the northern part of the River, above Fort Pillow and Memphis. After the capture of Island No. 10, only the defensive stronghold Fort Pillow protected Memphis.

In mid-April, both Federal land and naval forces drew near to Fort Pillow, only forty miles north of Memphis. However, a significant number of the land troops were sent to northern Mississippi, with Rebel troops converging at Corinth. When Confederate soldiers evacuated Corinth, headed to central Mississippi, Fort Pillow was suddenly isolated, surrounded by territory under Federal control.

Union ships started firing on Fort Pillow and continued for seven weeks. On May 25, additional vessels arrived to add to the pressure on the Fort. The Rebel troops at the Fort eluded the Yankees on June 4, carrying away what they could and destroying what was left. Only two days later, Memphis was captured.