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In 1998 a book was published called The Slaughter: An American Atrocity by Carroll Case. It alleged that in June of 1943 at an Army base in Mississippi 1200 black soldiers were massacred by white soldiers, and the entire incident was covered up. The allegation prompted investigations and a documentary on the History channel, which was summarized as follows by the Philadelphia Citypaper:

The hour-long program explores allegations that, upon first read, seem ridiculous — especially a charge that 1,200 African-American combat troops were killed by white soldiers in a single massacre at Camp Van Dorn in the isolated town of Centreville, MS, and that a subsequent cover-up has gone on for almost 60 years. That claim was made in a 1998 book, The Slaughter: An American Atrocity. Former Mississippi banker Carroll Case pursued the claim for years after one of his employees told Case he had participated in the killing. William "Bill" Martzall, who joined the military police of the 63rd Division out of his home in Dillsburg, PA, first told Case this tale in the 1980s. Martzall has since died. The U.S. Army categorically denies Martzall’s version and claims he could not have even been in Camp Van Dorn during the period he described to Case.

As the Citypaper goes on to document there could be no doubt that the situation at Camp Van Dorn was terrible and there certainly was violence.

Letters in the National Archive and in NAACP files describe the events that ensued. "We are catching hell here," a member of the 364th wrote. "Two of our men have been kill [sic] and we have only been in this camp for six days. Something worse is going to happen soon." "There have been about 20 or 25 Negros [sic] hurt and kild [sic]," another white soldier wrote. "They [sic] have been 5 or ten shot right through the head … and we are going to give them hell when they come around us."

The 364th’s Morning Reports, a kind of company-by-company daily attendance sheet, note dozens of soldiers as AWOL following the Walker shooting and its aftermath. Files in the National Archives trace some who made their way north, seeking from their local induction boards asylum from what they called a life-threatening situation.

Following reports of the Walker killing and subsequent riots, black leaders sought to find out what happened. In a June 17, 1943, memo President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the Secretary of War Henry Stimson to prepare a response to a telegram from Edgar J. Brown, director of the National Negro Council. Brown asked that Bishop David Henry Sims, leader of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, be authorized to investigate conditions of black soldiers at southern military bases, "especially Camp Van Dorn."

Brown’s request was politely declined. A letter prepared by Stimson for the president’s signature concluded: "You may be assured that every effort is being made to safeguard interests of Negroes in the Army."

Whatever happened to the 364th in the summer of ’43, in December the regiment’s remaining men were relocated to a far-off camp in the Aleutian Islands. It was then that their personnel roster began to show signs of hemorrhage. Records show that between 800 and 1,000 of the 3,000 men left the 364th before the war’s end. In other words, from June 1943 until Japan’s surrender, about one soldier’s name per day disappeared from the 364th’s roster.

But when you get right down to it the only real evidence of the alleged mass killing is Case's account of being told about the incident by one person, now dead. In the ten years since this was first brought up has any other evidence of a massacre been found?


Edited with new information

I got a copy of the book The Slaughter: An American Atrocity and had a chance to read the source of the claim. The odd thing is that the factual part of the book is only about 50 pages, including several pages of transcripts and reproductions of official documents. The rest of the book is a fictional account of a reporter investigating a fictional hate crime vaguely based on the author's own experiences. It struck me as an odd approach to such a serious accusation.

Carroll Case's primary source is William "Bill" Martzall, who worked with Case. One day years ago, Case says, Martzall confessed his role in a massacre at Camp Van Dorn. Though really, the word "confessed" may be a little strong. As Case relates it, Martzall's story sounds like a race-baiting fantasy. Martzall's story starts off fairly factual, talking about how the 364th had a bad reputation from events that happened in Phoenix. Martzall says that the population of Centerville was so concerned about this influx of troublesome black soldiers (I should note that the whole account only uses the n-word to refer to them) that a local sheriff decided to kill one just to teach the others a lesson. This would appear to refer to the death of William Walker, which I'll address separately. After this, however, the story gets suspect. Martzall then says there was supposed to be a July 4th dance on base, but the black soldiers disrupted the festivities before they could start. The final straw occurred when black soldiers attacked a pregnant white woman and ripped the baby from her womb, "stomping it to jelly." That night Martzall says he was assigned to a machine gun squad that gathered the 364th into an open area on the edge of the base and killed "hundreds, maybe a thousand" black soldiers. The bodies were loaded into a train and somehow disposed of.

Obviously, if a pregnant woman and an unborn child were killed in such a gruesome manner it would be big news, but no such death is associated with the 364th. I'm pretty sure that the whole later part of Martzall's story is just a horrible racist fantasy.

The story in no way specifies 1200 or 1227 dead. None of Case's sources would have any way of knowing how many dead there were, and it was not a case of simple subtraction as suggested in the comments. The math doesn't work out. I'd be interested to know where the number comes from.

Case also presents what he says is the "smoking gun," a memo from a Major General Virgil Peterson commenting on the plan of a General McNair to discipline the 364th. We don't know what McNair's plan was, but Case assumes it must have been the massacre. I would point out that while Peterson's memo doesn't say exactly what McNair's plan is, it doesn't sound from his responses that it's anything extraordinary. For example, Peterson doesn't think the people of Centerville should be given a veto on the black soldiers' access to town. I'm not sure how that fits into a plan to kill a large number of those soldiers.

None of this is not to say that bad things weren't going on at Camp Van Dorn. The William Walker killing, in particular, sounds like premeditated murder even in the official documents trying downplay it. Walker, on leave, was confronted by two armed MPs, a town sheriff, and an unspecified number of shotgun-toting men acting as a posse, for the "crime" of missing a button on his uniform. The MPs claimed that even though he was faced with what I assume must have been at least seven heavily armed men Walker started a fight and the sheriff had no choice but to shoot him. I can see why the NAACP would have taken an interest in that.

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Even if it happened (I've no data either way) I doubt it was exactly 1200 that were killed. I'd not be surprised if there were fights between black and white units at training bases (or indeed between units of any colour with other units of any colour). Large groups of young, angry, men on steroids in close proximity, most of them with guns and the skills to use them, is a dangerous situation, and most experienced officers would have been at the front lines... –  jwenting Apr 11 '11 at 6:46
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I'm not sure that steroids were an issue in 1943, but that there was interracial violence at the base doesn't seem to be in dispute. Where the number 1200 dead in a single massacre comes from seems to be from Case's book and only Case's book. Moreover I found that in Case's response to Army investigation he doubled down on the exact number of dead being 1227. I can't figure out where he got that specific number, but maybe the book says. It does seem a little unlikely that if it was covered up so well there'd be any way to determine such an exact number. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 11 '11 at 13:22
    
Almost any event in history can be spun from a conspiracy angle. I can't found anything with the allegation except Case. –  Nthaoe Apr 11 '11 at 13:30
    
Scott, I'm pretty sure teens and young people in general were as much ruled by their gonads in 1943 as they are today :) But yes, interracial violence existed then as it does now. Except now you don't hear much about it as it's black gangs fighting latino or asian gangs, there's no whitey to blame (usually, when it happens it gets worldwide coverage). –  jwenting Apr 11 '11 at 18:43
    
Case probably took every black soldier transferred from the base as having been a covered up racial killing, then rounded up the numbers to a nice big total for shock value. –  jwenting Apr 11 '11 at 18:45
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1 Answer

No, it would appear not. In December of 1998 the NAACP sent out a request for more information, stating it would like to believe the official army response but was reluctant to do this without querying its members, on account of previous incidents that were alleged to have been covered up.

A Google search reveals the NAACP has announced no new evidence since then. Considering the NAACP's status and access to potential sources, we can logically assume no other witness statements or evidence was forthcoming.

Considering the claim is that 1200 men were killed, it would seem unlikely that not one relative or descendent of these men would come forward with evidence in response to the NAACP's call for assistance.

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But it wasn't up to the NAACP to announce anything, they were asking people to help in the Army investigation that was released in 1999. Since then the NAACP and other groups have said they have reason to think the Army's investigation was a white wash, but I haven't seen much evidence as to why. I'd like to read the Army report, but I haven't found it yet. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 24 '11 at 18:26
    
Would 55 years since the passing of the incident not account for the lack of responses, especially if you include the facts that a) a war was going on, in which lots of people were dying b) Such racial bias may have been commonplace at the time. –  apoorv020 Apr 25 '11 at 6:50
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Scott Hamilton's final sentence asked if there was any new evidence - I was primarily responding to that question, and admittedly speculating that it seems unlikely the massacre occurred. However it would seem likely that a number of men among the 1200 would be close friends, so multiple families would have been impacted, and those kind of stories of atrocities would presumably pass down through generations. That the NAACP has made no statements since the call out we can assume no accounts confirming the alleged atrocity were discovered. –  TrueSkeptic Apr 25 '11 at 6:57
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protected by Community Jul 29 '11 at 5:32

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