Fort Pillow National Battlefield Park Study Act
STATEMENT OF P. DANIEL SMITH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, EXERCISING THE AUTHORITY OF THE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 1130, A BILL TO CONDUCT A STUDY OF FORT PILLOW HISTORIC STATE PARK IN HENNING, TENNESSEE, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MAY 22, 2019
Chairwoman Haaland, Ranking Member Young, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today and present the Department’s views on H.R. 1130, a bill to conduct a study of Fort Pillow Historic State Park in Henning, Tennessee, and for other purposes.
The Department recognizes that Fort Pillow would be an appropriate subject for a National Park Service special resource study. Currently, we are focusing resources on reducing the National Park Service’s $11.9 billion deferred maintenance backlog and addressing other critical national park needs. In addition, the National Park Service has not yet completed 30 studies on other sites that Congress previously authorized to determine if specific areas meet the appropriate criteria for designation as new park units, national heritage areas, national trails, or wild and scenic rivers.
Fort Pillow, an earthen structure constructed by Confederate engineers, was situated on a high clay bluff at the junction of Cold Creek and the Mississippi River, approximately 40 miles north of Memphis. Today, the site is part of a state historic park and is open to the public.
In May 1862, Fort Pillow was held by Union forces to prevent Confederate interference with shipping along the river. In April, 1864, the fort was attacked by Confederate forces under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. At that time, the fort was garrisoned by approximately 570 Union troops, of whom 262 were African-American. Once the Confederates were inside the fort, effective resistance ceased. Some of the Union troops fled, while others surrendered. The Confederates refused to accept the surrender of the black soldiers, and 229 of the 262 were killed. The survival rate of black soldiers was just 12 percent, compared to 55 percent for the garrison as a whole.
A congressional committee investigated the battle and concluded that Confederate soldiers had committed atrocities against black soldiers. News of the massacre had a profound effect upon black soldiers in other units. Anticipating that no quarter would be given to them in battle, black troops, keeping the fate of the Fort Pillow garrison in mind, had still another reason to fight in the Union cause. “Remember Fort Pillow!” became a battle cry for black soldiers.
Fort Pillow was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1975. The National Historic Landmark documentation notes that the events that occurred at Fort Pillow are of national significance because “they clearly establish the refusal of the Confederates to treat black men as soldiers; they symbolize the Southern view of the future for blacks in the South; [and] they hardened the resolve of black soldiers to fight so as to give every possible support to the Union cause in future engagements in the war.”
If the Committee decides to act on H.R. 1130, we recommend amending section 3 of the bill to correct the name of the National Park System and to provide that the study to be conducted in accordance with the criteria under 54 U.S.C. 100507, as is standard for bills authorizing special resource studies. We would be happy to provide the recommended language.
Ms. Chairwoman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.