Manual Murder Takes No Prisoners

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Europeans, whom the Davis administration was courting for military assistance, found the policy offensive. And international law, as the Lincoln administration quickly pointed out, supported the position that these were legitimate soldiers and must receive the same rights as white prisoners of war.

Lincoln vowed to retaliate man for man for executed Yankees, and for each black soldier the Confederacy returned to slavery, he would place a Rebel soldier at hard labor. Since there were more Confederate than Federal prisoners of war, Lincoln could ultimately outlast Davis.


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In the end, the Davis administration backed down, but Confederate officers on the scene sometimes established their own policy. Either they refused to take black soldiers as prisoners or fought under the black flag, which indicated that they would take no prisoners, nor would they expect the Yankees to take any. As a result, wartime atrocities against the USCT were commonplace, as Confederates hoped to discourage black enlistment and sought revenge for their contributions to the Union army.

The first killings were isolated incidents.

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But as the war dragged on and Confederates became more and more frustrated, atrocities in battle escalated. In , at Poison Springs. Arkansas, the Federals abandoned the field, leaving behind wounded soldiers, many of them from a black regiment. Eyewitnesses assured a Union colonel that Confederate troops murdered them on the spot. During the Battle of Saltville, Confederates executed numerous black troops who fell into their hands.

Over the next two days, two separate parties of Confederate troops entered Rebel hospitals and executed seven wounded black soldiers in their beds. Without doubt, the most infamous series of atrocities in the war occurred approximately forty miles north of Memphis, at Fort Pillow. The Federal garrison consisted of soldiers, nearly one-half of whom were black. In April , 1, Confederate cavalrymen under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest demanded the surrender of the fort. When the Union commander refused, Forrest's troops stormed the fort and killed, wounded, or captured almost the entire garrison.


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  • Two-thirds of all black soldiers at Fort Pillow were killed, compared to 36 percent of the white Yankees. After the battle, Federals accused Forrest and his troops of committing all sorts of atrocities against black soldiers. Forrest and Confederate authorities insisted that no such brutal acts had occurred, that only black soldiers who continued to fight or tried to escape lost their lives.

    The U.

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    Congress's Committee on the Conduct of the War launched an investigation and concluded that Forrest's men had butchered black troops. Southerners, and Forrest in particular, continued to claim that his command had done nothing wrong. But testimony from both Federal and Confederate troops and civilians on the scene indicates that Forrest's men did execute some black soldiers. Atrocities only served to solidify the USCT's reputation in the Union army and unite the white officers and black soldiers within those units.

    So it was. There's a machine gun firing at us. We were going up this field and we were under some fire. Anyway, we finally got up and we took that ridge. Another group of Americans tried and failed to take the town the day before. Frank remembers looking down on their burning tanks.

    There's another thing he remembers, something eight veterans from the 11Th Armored say is true, that there was an order to take no prisoners.


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    • Frank Hartzell: Then we went down into town, and then we were told to pull back. I do remember digging into the fox hole along the top of that ridge. Frank was with his buddy Bob. It was New Year's Eve, Frank Hartzell: In a twilight I guess, there was shooting going somewhere, sporadic artillery coming in, and we were digging.

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      It was so hard to dig in that frozen ground. Bob Fordyce, who I dug with, he was a hard worker, and he had been digging and working hard, and he said, "Frank, you want to dig for awhile? He hacked at the dirt. It was like rock. Then they heard artillery rumble in the distance. German shells started whistling down all around them. Frank Hartzell: I had been in there digging for two minutes before some 88 fire came in.

      The hole was just shallow enough I was lying down. When the fire come in, you lie down, and he would lie down in the outside where I'd been. This piece of shrapnel I guess, I felt it hit the top of my helmet, just a little teeny down at the top of my helmet.

      I remember saying, "Boy Bob, that was close," and I looked up and it had taken the top of his head off. I remember shouting over to Tom Hickcock, who was our squad leader. I said, "Bob's dead. I don't know if his body stayed there all night or not. Well, I lost my two best friends in the first two days. His battalion gathered along the ridge line. Behind them, U.

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      They waited. The guns went quiet, then they charged down into town. Machine gun fire snapped through the air as the G. The Germans were ready. What do you remember seeing around you as you moved into town? Frank Hartzell: What'd I see? Just the houses, which would have been pretty well demolished by the bombs dropped on the town. Dead bodies, or black people who had been wounded. Combat is when you're actually in it. It's very chaotic, yeah. They zig-zagged, taking cover from the German guns wherever they could.

      The Americans couldn't figure out where one of the machine guns was shooting from. Then they spotted the source, the basement window of a farm house. Frank Hartzell: I remember I'd been near that farm house, just outside a high stone wall, probably two or three yards from it. Their aim was bad. The grenades bounced off the side of the farm house.