Fort Pickering 2
340 W. Illinois Avenue
Memphis, TN 38106
During the 3-year occupation of Memphis, Gen. Grant employed 750 contrabands housed at the massive site of Fort Pickering to protect the city. After Emancipation, U.S. Colored Troops regiments began organizing there.
With the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Memphis in June 1862, Federal forces began a three-year occupation of Memphis. Recognizing the tactical and logistical importance of the city, with excellent access to river and rail transport, Federal authorities immediately prepared features to protect their control over the city. Due to a shortage of labor, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant employed roughly 750 contrabands, slaves that had come to Federal lines for protection, as a labor force. The official boundaries of the resulting fort, named Fort Pickering, stretched for nearly two miles. The large fort housed within its earthen walls a hospital, depot, storehouses, and the many tents of those garrisoned inside. In return for their labor, the refugees received food, shelter, clothing, and protection. On special orders from Gen. William T. Sherman, the number of men garrisoned in and around Fort Pickering increased in late July 1862. A severe drought resulted in there being no water “fit for man or beast at any point near Memphis, save in wells, which are barely adequate to supply the inhabitants;” Sherman moved his men to the fort for its access to water from the Mississippi River. Diseases spread quickly in crowded camps, and by October 1862, Federal command ordered the construction of a cemetery just outside the walls of the fort to inter the remains of soldiers stationed there. In the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, Federal command at Fort Pickering began organizing regiments for the United States Colored Troops, and USCT regiments garrisoned the fort to the end of the war. In April 1865, passengers of the exploded steamer Sultana, many of whom were returning north after long stints in prison camps such as Andersonville, floated down to the banks of Fort Pickering where H. H. Hood, senior surgeon of the 3rd US Colored Heavy Artillery, administered medical care. After the war, Federal authorities had the fort completely razed, and no trace remains of it or the adjacent cemetery (if it truly was ever established). Today a portion of the fort lies under the asphalt of an I-55 exchange.
- With boundaries that stretched for 2 miles, the fort contained a hospital, depot, storehouses and tents
- Many survivors of the Sultana explosion were treated there
- The fort was completely destroyed after the war