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Under the Black Flag

Theodorick Bradford was born in Tennessee in about 1825 and married Miss. M.L. Boardman a music teacher from Vermont. They had moved to Dyersburg before the Civil War and Mr. Bradford began practicing law as did his brother W.F. Bradford. Theodorick’s activities after the beginning of the war are unknown, but he was commissioned as Captain of the 14th Tennessee Cavalry on Dec. 9, 1863. The captain's commission was not officially approved however until January of the following year.

The Bradfords were to play a key role in the battle at Fort Pillow. The bitter feelings that ran through out the Western District were to culminate in this encounter. Forrest was infuriated at the reports coming back from West Tennessee and was out for revenge. A family of six had been killed by Federals in Obion County and others were robbed or murdered. At the same time outlaws like Tom May’s from Dyer County seemed to roam freely without federal intervention.. While many of these outrages were not committed by the garrison at Fort Pillow, there are reports that reflect at least some of the troops were operating outside the law and were at the very least heavy handed with the local citizens. To many local people Fort Pillow was the citadel of the “Yankee Invaders” and had become a symbol of union occupation. Just prior to the battle a Rev. Harris from Dyer County was taken prisoner while visiting at the fort and Forrest demanded his release. The tension was at the breaking point.

Often animosity against the blacks in the garrison has been attributed as the factor for the forts heavy causalities. Though this was no doubt a factor, equal hostility was directed at the whites of the command. The rebels were bitter against these loyal Tennesseans, terming them “Home made Yankees” and declaring they would give them no better treatment than they dealt out to black troops with whom they were fighting.

As Forrest began his move on the fort, one of the units under his command was Bell’s Brigade. Col. Tyree Bell was from the Newbern area and part of his unit was made up of Dyer Countians mostly serving with Company G, 20th Tennessee Cavalry. The troops in the fort were under the command of Major Lionel F. Booth of the 6th U.S. Heavy Artillery. This would be the only time during the war that Dyer Countians would be fighting on both sides in a battle and it turned out to be a grim affair.

The Battle Forrest men soon swept into the neighborhood of the fort and surrounded the garrison. The Confederates were in a position to capture the fort and asked for it’s surrender. After some delay, the answer came back from the post commander, but was rather vague. Meanwhile the Union Guns boats were coming down the river and it was suspected the Federals were playing for time. Booth was asked to deliver a quick clear answer and soon replied that he would not surrender. Capt. Bradford from Dyersburg began an attempt to call in the Union Gun Boats on the river. His attempt was not unnoticed by General Forrest who ordered that he be silenced. A heavy fire was directed at Bradford and he was, “literally shot to pieces signaling the gunboats under a black flag.”

As the final assault began on the Fortifications, Major Booth was killed and the command fell to Major W.F Bradford. As the Confederates moved into the inner trenches a few Federals made a valiant effort to stand their post. The bulk of the Union troops soon began to lose ground and then beat a hasty retreat to the river. In their retreat the flag had not been lowered and so no surrender seemed in the offing. No doubt many though that they might be picked up by the Union Gun boats and did not want to be left behind.

The black troops had also been told by Federal authorities that they would be killed out of hand by Confederate forces. General S.D. Lee later wrote to Union General Washburn, that the black troops “had been firmly convinced by your teachings of the certainty of slaughter in case of capture.” “I respectfully refer you to history for numerous cases of indiscriminate slaughter after successful assault, even under less aggravated circumstances.”

As the battle progressed many loyal citizens who had been at the fort panicked and had taken to boats and skiffs. As a result of this action, many of the troops and remaining civilians jumped into the river and drowned trying to make their escape. Some the Southern officers were trying to restrain their troops, but at the same time the cry of “no quarter” was said to have been heard from some of the pursuing Confederates. There is little doubt that during the last moments of the battle many were killed while in retreat and still others may have been killed while trying to surrender. It is also true however that there were a good number of both black and white troops were captured. Some of the wounded of both races were later turned over to the Union Navy and the rest were eventually sent to Confederate prisons.. The Aftermath It is perhaps ironic that Captain Bradford was killed while waving a black flag, the same flag that the “Tories” of West Tennessee were accused of fighting under. His brother Major Bradford was captured at the end of the battle wading water up to his chin, while trying to reach a Union Gunboat. He later requested to be released long enough to bury his brother Theodorick, but he violated his parole and tried to escape. He was recaptured and was said to have been killed while trying to make another escape. It has also been stated that he was executed after his recapture and evidence seems to support that conclusion. After the battle at least part of the rebel Cavalry passed through Chestnut Bluff and Dyersburg on their way out and thus ending this chapter in Tennessee history.

The Union causalities from Dyer county must have been great though some of Bradford’s command had earlier been sent to Memphis. Two Federal Dyer Countians known to have been killed that day were Thomas Lanier and William Nail. There were also likely many black Dyer Countians among the Federal troops. Though on the surface there seems to be a shortage of black troops from Dyer County, it must be pointed out that of those that did enlist many would have been at Fort Pillow and thus may not have survived the war. Those that did survive would have found West Tennessee an inhospitable place and likely moved further West or North. We may never know the true enlistment rate, but I expect there was a good number of black Dyer Countians who followed the flag of the Union Army. This is one of the most controversial battles of the Civil War and will likely continue to be so. It surprises me however that no one has attempted to write a definite book on this episode.

The sentiment in later years may best be summed up in some selected lines of poetry written on the battle. At Fort Pillow From War Songs and Poems of the Souther Confederacy by James R. Randell

You Shudder as you think upon The Carnage of the grim report The desolation when we won Then inner trenches of the Fort

But there are deeds you may not know, That scourge the pulses into strife: Dark Memories of Deathless woe, Pointing the bayonet and knife.

The Yankee fiends that came with fire, Camped on the consecreated sod, And trampled in the dust and mire The Holy Eucharist of God

The house is ashes where I dwelt, Beyond the mighty inland sea; The tombstones shattered where I knelt, By the old church at Pointe Coupee

The spot where darling mother sleeps, Beneath the glimpse of yon and moon, Is crushed, with splintered marble heaps, To stall the horse of some dragoon... The tears are hot upon my face, When thinking what bleak fate befell The only sister of our race- A thing to horrible to tell...

My right arm bared for fiercer play, The left one held the rein in slack; In all ther fury of the fray I sought the white man not the black.

It glared athwart the dripping glaves, It blazed in each avenging eye- The thought of desecrated graves And some lone sister’s desperate cry!”

Below is a list of Union veterans that moved into Dyer County after the end of the war.

Veterans of the Union Navy

Harry J. Hewitt Sailor
William Maynard U.S.S. Powhattan
Frank Shepard Engineer
John A. Sherman U.S.S. Independance
Isaish Watkins 2nd Class Seaman

Black Union Veterans of Dyer County

Calvin Baxter Union Army
George Dunagan Co.D, 4th Heavy Artillery
Nelson Ruff Co.H, 88th Tenn. Infantry

Misc. Union Veterans
Daniel H. Baldridge 106th Ohio Inf.
John W. Boyd 10th U.S.
James Bristol Co.B, 7th Ill. Inf.
George Caborn Union Army
John Carman Union Army
Andrew J. Cloar Co.D, 4th Heavy Artillery
Samuel M. Collen Co.G, 2nd Kansas Cavalry
William Curtis Co.A, 10th Tenn. Infantry
Jerry M. Creasy Union Army
Wm. H. Davids Co.F, 3rd N.Y. Cavalry
Ed M. Davis Union Army
Wm. H. Dickerson Co.I, 58th Ohio Infantry
David J. Drake Co.B, 12th Kentucky Cavalry
Joseph Drummons Union Army
Harmon Enix Union Army
Mose Epperson Union Army
Lewis A. Evans Co.B, 146th Ind. Infantry
Sgt. Hayes Gaskel Co.A, 4th Heavy U.S. Artillery
Ruben Hooker Union Army
Daniel Hamilton Union Army
William A. Harden Union Army
William H. Jaber Quartermaster, Union Army
G. W. Keen Union Army
Solomon King Co.H, 18th Missouri Infantry
Sylvester Lann Union Army
John M. Martin Co.F, 11th Wisc. Infantry
Willoughby Alonzo Masterson Co.A, 4th Ind. Infantry
Ord. Sgt. Joseph Montgomery Co.C, 124th Ohio Infantry
John M. Owen Co.F, 10th Tenn. Infantry J
John N. Partin 10th Tenn. Cavalry
Evan M. Powell Co.D, 25th Ind. Infantry
Moses L. Propes Union Army
Elijah Rodgers Co.D, 10th Cavalry
Joseph G.M. Sherwood Co.E, 8th Mounted Tenn. Infantry
Walter H. Southworth Co.F, 3rd La. Battalion
Frank Steppen Co.H, 14th Penn.
Robert G. Stockton Co.A, 1st Ala. Cavalry
Goodlet W. Straley Union Army
Abraham J. Thompson Co.J, 1st Ala. Cavalry
John D. Tomlinson Union Army
Wm. W. Turner Battery B, Chicago Artillery
Thomas R. Wallace Union Army
A.F. Walker Union Army
William M. Warren Union Army
David N. Watson Union Army
S.W. Williams Union Army
Sgt. George G. White Co.D, 50th Missouri Cavalry
Hiram Wyatt Co.B, 120th Ohio

Widows of Union Veterans Living in Dyer County (after the war)

Culline Branch
Sarah J. Davis
Mollie Dowel
Mrs. Wm. Frazier
Cary Johnson
Charolette Johnson
Polly Johnston
Rebecca Sarncas
Mrs. John Snow
Harriet Walker

* Living in Dyer County upon enlistment

By Earl L. Willoughby, Jr.

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