On Tuesday, as breezes blended with the shade of magnolias to insulate the crowd at Memphis National Cemetery from the summer heat, some wondered whether that comfort came courtesy of the ancestors.
That wasn’t hard to imagine – especially since it was their desire to honor the ancestors that called them to that spot. Buried in Memphis National Cemetery are the remains of 248 mostly unknown Union officers and soldiers—including 109 graves representing the U.S. Colored Troops—who fell at nearby Fort Pillow. In the spring of 1864, the Union outpost, located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, included some 600 soldiers and an unknown number of civilians. The garrison was composed of the 2nd U.S. Colored Light Artillery (35 men), the 6th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery (269 men), and the 13th Tennessee Cavalry (approx. 295 men). Early on April 12, 1,800 troops commanded by General Nathan B. Forrest attacked the fort. Though outnumbered three-to-one, the Federals defied Forrest’s demand for surrender. Soon thereafter, the Confederates stormed the breastworks and took the fort.
For the remainder of the war, “Remember Fort Pillow” became the rallying cry of the nearly 179,000 African-American soldiers who fought to free the country from the scourge of slavery.
The marker was sponsored by The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group Inc., USCT, Memphis ASALH, Joe Williams, descendants and other African Americans,