Fort Pillow

Written by Harry Turtledove
Review by Viviane Crystal


It’s 1864 in Jackson, Tennessee, at a military headquarters that has changed from Confederate to Union and now back to Confederate ownership. Many of the soldiers themselves have switched sides, depending on who appears to be the apparent victor; for now, anyway. But Nathan Bedford Forrest has one goal in mind: the capture of Fort Pillow, now held by Union soldiers. More specifically, half of it is held by white soldiers, and the other half by Negro soldiers. Forrest finds it unconscionable that such “integration” exists, and he is determined to end it immediately. The story that follows is intriguing not because of the disastrous outcome for the Union troops, but for the thoughts and conversations about the motivations, passions, determination (or lack thereof), and chances for success for America’s only Negro Army unit.

How hard would one fight for victory if the alternative was slavery? Having never fought before, could these determined soldiers hold steady in the ferocity of bombardment and mounting casualties? Under the code of military conduct, how does one treat Negro prisoners of war, who in the eyes of Southerners are nothing more than escaped slaves? How far will men go to win freedom?

There are no rules for such a situation, and the enfolding story of this historical event is superbly crafted. Turtledove, who is known for his work in fantasy, writes this historical novel in a riveting and uncompromising fashion that will hold the interest of those interested in the Civil War and civil rights.