Friday, September 01, 2006

The Riots & Massacres of Memphis Tennessee 1866

Note: Some of the language maybe offensive to some, but I feel this document shouldn't be changed to be politically correct as this is a historical document and part of our heritage.

Fort Pickering, Memphis, Tennessee, 1866

A few months before the riots the citizens of Memphis asked Major General Stoneman, of Fort Pickering, to take his troops back to the fort, as the citizens were boasting that they were perfectly competent to take care of themselves. The General stated he would turn the city and county over to the civil authorities, as long as they showed they could keep the order of peace.
When the riots broke out on Tuesday, May 1, 1866, the General was called upon by the sheriff and some of the good citizens of the city, asking the General for help to stop the rioting.

As the citizens had so urgently demanded that the troops leave, Genreal Stoneman desired to know what means the city authorities had taken to quell the disturbances. He further desired that the question should be tested whether the civil authorities could take care of themselves, as they claimed they could and would, before sending out any troops. Shortly, the Mayor came and reqested the use of the troops, to cooperate with the Constabulary force of the city, in case of any further lawlessness. General Stoneman stated that he had only one hundred and fifty troops at the fort, (16th United States infantry) and would not order them out unless he felt the necessity for the safety of the city.

On May 2, 1866, Judge Leonard, Judge of the county came to General Stoneman, saying that was skimishes in the South Memphis, and wanted arms for a posse of citizens being formed. The General stated that no military arms could be used unless he knew they would be put in the proper hands. General Stoneman later that day viewed the men of the posse. After seeing the men, he found them to be the low lives of the city and some not of the city but from Arkansas, he would not let the arms leave the fort.

The mob continuing it's outrages through Wednesday and Wednesday night. This compelled General Stoneman to send a communication to the Mayor of Memphis, that he would take over the civil affairs of the city and forbidding any persons without his authority to assemble together, nor any posse, armed or unarmed, white or colored. This did not include the police force, so long as they showed they were trying to preserving the peace.

On Tuesday May 1, 1866, a crowd of about a hundred negros had congregated on South Street, when the police came the colored soldiers who were there were cheering for "Abe Lincoln", to which a policeman replied; "Your old father, Abe Lincolin, is dead and damed." One of the colored men who was arrested a week before saw the policeman that arrested him in the crowd of policemen and became excited. The colored soldiers of the colored crowd began to gather around the policeman, threatening in a excited manner, calling out "Club them, shoot them." As the policemen marched off with two men they had arrested the soldiers began firing into the air, thinking they were being fired on the policeman returned fire. It could be heard from the crowd "A policemen is shot, so is one of ours." After the firing stopped, each crowd went their own way.

The riots went on and through out the city you could hear the calling, "Kill them all, the God d-d niggers, they ought to be killed, no matter whether if big or small." By the time the riots were over, hundreds of people were killed or wounded, white and colored, many business were destroyed, white and colored.

After the riots, there was a special committee from the House of Congress, that was sent to Memphis, to make a report (twelve hundred pages) on the matter. The committee took testimonies from hundreds of witnesses. Below I have put some of those testimonies.

Note: I have the index of those that gave testimony, (white and colored) if you think or know your family was there and would like to see if they were a wintness and gave testimony, you can E. mail me at, I will be happy to take a look.

Fred. Toles:
"On the evening of the 1st. May, 1866, as I was going home from work, I met a number of policemen who were after some colored man, firing at him with revolvers. They all passed me but one. He stopped when he came up to me and shot me through the arm and then passed on. I hid under a pile of lumber near by, and remained until night before I went home."

Coleman Default:
"On the evening of the 1st. of May, 1866, David Roach, policeman, and several other policemen, came to where I was on South street, and fired the house, shot me twice, beat me on the head with pistols, and robbed me of what money I had and my discharge from the Army. David Roach shot me the first time, in the thigh, but could not tell who shot me the second time. After Roach shot me, I begged of him not to kill me; He said, " Yes, God dam you, I will! You and all the balance of you." I think they left me for dead. That night I rented another house from Captain Barns, and a party of men burned it that night. They shot and wounded a man who was trying to stop the fires, the loss will amount to thirty ( 30 ) dollars."

Theodore Peterson:
"I keep the Cosmopoliton saloon, corner of Jefferson and Second streets. On Tuesday evening about nine o' clock, May 2, 1866, I saw a crowd of forty or fifty white men on Adams street, some of them were beating a negro; did not know the negro, or any one in the crowd; I heard expressions that " all Negroes ought to be killed or run out of town," or words to that effect."

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