cover image Fort Pillow

Fort Pillow

Harry Turtledove. St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (329pp) ISBN 978-0-312-35520-3

Turtledove revisits the controversial 1864 Battle at Fort Pillow, also known as the Fort Pillow Massacre, in this even-handed, readable historical novel (after Days of Infamy) about the bloodbath in western Tennessee, where the Civil War pitted ""neighbor against neighbor."" The defenders at the Union-held Fort Pillow were made up of a unit of nearly 300 Tennessee Unionists (""homemade Yankees,"" according to their neighbors in gray) and an equal number of African American artillery men. Turtledove sifts through the disputed historical record and scrupulously reconstructs the scene. Although greatly outnumbered, the fort's defenders at first rejected a Confederate surrender offer, and the rebels-enraged by traitorous whites and armed Blacks-stormed the fort, slaughtering twice as many blacks as whites, even while the Unionists tried to escape or surrender. For a comprehensive view of the battle, Turtledove shifts the narrative among a mix of fictional characters and historical figures: Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest; Major Bill Bradford, who replaced Major Lionel Booth as the garrison's Union commander; and Sgt. Ben Robinson, one of the Negro troops. Fans of Civil War history will especially enjoy this balanced account.