Only two weeks after the battle, a U.S. Congressional inquiry could not conclusively determine exactly what happened. Both sides failed to control the action, and only Forrest’s direct, personal intervention to stop the shooting saved many of the Union defenders left standing on the beach. Not satisfied with the Congressional inquiry, Union General William T. Sherman convened a not-so-impartial inquiry. He openly stated that he would try and convict General Forrest. However, Sherman’s inquiry also ended without substantive evidence to find Forrest culpable.
The stain that his lopsided Fort Pillow victory was a premeditated “massacre” remained with Forrest for the rest of his life. Northern newspapers publishing obituaries after his October 29, 1877 death, while acknowledging Forrest’s genius as a cavalry commander, nonetheless resurrected the “Fort Pillow Massacre” charges. The New York Times’ obituary even claimed that, during Forrest’s post-Civil War life, “his principal occupation seems to have been to try to explain away the Fort Pillow affair.” Northern newspapers criticizing Forrest’s effort “to explain away the Fort Pillow affair,” however, seem especially disingenuous since the sensationalist accounts by the partisan Northern press bears a large share of the burden for creating and perpetuating the “massacre” claim in the first place. Forrest always disputed claims that his Fort Pillow victory was a “massacre.” Any fair-minded judgment as to whether it was truly the racism-inspired, premeditated massacre claimed by the Northern press and Union leaders at the time must also take into consideration the inevitable confusion of desperate, hand-to-hand combat and the many contributing factors that created and exacerbated the disastrous Union rout.
~ Lieutenant Colonel (U. S. Army, ret.) Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr.