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“The Butcher Forrest,” detail from Leaders of the Democratic Party, wood engraving by Thomas Nast, 1868

The atrocities of the Fort Pillow Massacre became fodder for political campaigns. After the Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest helped found the Ku Klux Klan and was active in the Democratic Party. In 1868 artist Thomas Nast caricatured Forrest with other Democrats, portraying Forrest butchering surrendering black Union troops at Fort Pillow.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“The Butcher Forrest,” detail from Leaders of the Democratic Party, wood engraving by Thomas Nast, 1868

The Fort Pillow Massacre

After Confederate victories early in the Civil War, some members of Congress wanted greater involvement in military policy and strategy. In December 1861 Congress created a Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to investigate the Union effort. One investigation concerned the Fort Pillow Massacre in Tennessee. On April 12, 1864, Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest led an attack that ended in a slaughter targeting African Americans among the surrendering Union troops. The committee’s widely published report made the Fort Pillow Massacre a rallying cry in the North.

I saw one of the rebels and told him I would surrender. He said, “We do not shoot white men.” . . . He ordered me away; he kept on shooting the negroes

Sergeant Henry F. Weaver, Fort Pillow Massacre, May 6, 1864