The family was stricken by typhoid fever in 1840, and at least four of the younger children died.
In 1841, Forrest joined a small band of local men volunteering to help Texas win their independence from Mexico, though the conflict was over before the time they arrived. Soon after his return to Tippah County, he suffered through another lengthy illness.
"In February, 1841, when I was but ten years of age, I remember well a small company of volunteers who marched out of the town of Holly Springs, Mississippi, for the relief of Texas, then threatened by invasion from Mexico. In that little band stood Bedford Forrest, a tall, black haired, gray eyed, athletic youth, scarce twenty years of age, who then gave the first evidence of the military ardor he possessed. The company saw no fighting, for the danger was over before it arrived, and the men received no pay. Finding himself in a strange country without friends or money, Forrest, with the characteristic energy which distinguished him in after life, split rails at fifty cents per hundred and made the money necessary to bring him back to his family and home."
~ J.R. Chalmers
In 1843, Forrest's mother married Joseph Luxton, a sheriff, and had three more sons and a daughter: Joseph Jr, James Madison "Matt", Mary Jane "Mollie", and Dick.
Forrest's uncle, Jonathan Forrest, was killed in Hernando in 1845 during an argument with the Matlock brothers. In retaliation, Forrest shot and killed two of them with his two-shot pistol, and wounded another with a knife which had been thrown to him. William Matlock, the surviving brother, served under Forrest during the Civil War.
|Mary Ann Montgomery|
|Samuel Montgomery Cowan|
Forrest asked permission to call on Mary Ann, and Mrs. Montgomery agreed. But Nathan Bedford Forrest was not a man that her uncle, Reverend Samuel Montgomery Cowan wanted his niece to marry. Mary Ann’s father was dead, and Samuel, her mother's brother and a Presbyterian minister, was her male guardian. But Nathan Bedford Forrest and Mary Ann were married six weeks later on September 25, 1845. They would have two children: William Montgomery Bedford Forrest (1846-1908), who enlisted at the age of 15 and served alongside his father in the war, and a daughter, Fanny (1849-1854), who died in childhood.
|Grave of Fanny Forrest|
Forrest moved his family to Memphis and became a successful businessman who owned cotton plantations and slaves in the Tennessee Delta. He was a slave trader, with a business based on Adams Street in Memphis.
One of his ads read:
FIVE HUNDRED NEGROES WANTED. - We will pay the highest cash price for all good Negroes offered. We invite all those having Negroes for sale, to call on us, at our Mart, opposite Hill's old stand, on Adams street. We will have a good lot of Virginia Negroes on hand, for sale, in the fall. Negroes bought and sold on commission. HILL & FORREST.His annual profits from slave trading alone were estimated at more than $50,000 (about $1 million in constant dollars.) He probably sold more than one thousand slaves a year.
Forrest's brother John served in the Mexican war; he was shot and was paralyzed during his service. He worked in his brother's slave market, as did their brother, Jesse. Their brother William, ("Bill") ran a slave business in St. Louis, Missouri, buying slaves from their brother Aaron, who owned A.H. Forrest and Company in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Around the time of the beginning of the Civil War, Forrest purchased a farm near Memphis for his mother, Mariam and her second husband.
William Montgomery Bedford Forrest
His favorite maxim was, "War means fighting, and fighting means killing."
~ J.R. Chalmers
On December 28, 1861, Forrest, with three hundred men, met the enemy for the first time near Sacramento, Kentucky. He had marched his command twenty miles that day, when he found a fresh trail where the enemy's cavalry had passed. Putting his command at a gallop, he traveled ten miles further before he struck the rear guard. His own command was badly scattered, not half up with him; but he rushed the Federal army, leading the charge himself. When he had driven the rear guard on to the main body, and they turned on him, he dismounted his men and held the enemy in check until his command came up. The retreat of the Federals soon began. Quickly mounting his men, he pursued the Union army, fighting hand to hand with pistol and sword, continuing the chase for many miles. His major, D.C. Kelly, saw him then for the first time under fire, and described the change that took place in his appearance:
"His face flushed till it bore a striking resemblance to a painted Indian warrior's, and his eyes, usually so mild in their expression, blazed with the intense glare of a panther's about to spring on his prey. In fact, he looks as little like the Forrest of our mess table as the storm of December resembles the quiet of June."In February 1862, Forrest’s unit was stationed at Fort Donelson in Tennessee when General Ulysses Grant forced its surrender. Rather than accept General Simon Buckner's decision to capitulate, Forrest and nearly 4,000 men slipped away through the snow.
A few days after Fort Donelson, with the fall of Nashville imminent, Forrest took command of the city. Local industries had several millions of dollars worth of heavy ordnance machinery. Forrest arranged for transport of the machinery and several important government officials to safe locations.
A month later, Forrest was at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. He commanded a Confederate rear guard after the Union victory. In the battle of Fallen Timbers, he drove through the Union skirmish line. Not realizing that the rest of his men had halted their charge when reaching the full Union brigade, Forrest charged the brigade and soon found himself surrounded. He emptied his Colt Army revolvers into the swirling mass of Union soldiers and pulled out his saber, hacking and slashing. A Union infantryman fired a musket ball into Forrest's spine with a point-blank musket shot, nearly knocking him out of the saddle. Forrest grabbed an unsuspecting Union soldier, hauled him onto his horse to use as a shield, dumped the man once he had broken clear and was out of range, then galloped back to his incredulous troopers. His surgeon, Dr. John Cowan, removed the musket ball a week later, without anesthesia, which was unavailable.
Murfreesboro, with a population of nearly 4,000, was an important transportation hub on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. Eleven major roads radiated from the town. On April 27, 1862, Union forces began to march on Murfreesboro as part of orders from Washington D.C. to secure and repair the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. The jail and Courthouse on the Square became their headquarters. By early July 1862, at least 12 prominent citizens were being held in jail. Prime property like the Oaklands plantation, owned by Lewis and Rachel Maney, was being occupied by Union troops. Michigan troops, under the command Colonel William Duffield of the 9th Michigan, were camped on the front lawn of Maney’s home.
About 1,400 horsemen led by Forrest raided Murfreesboro and launched a surprise attack on its unsuspecting 934-man garrison. At one point during the ensuing fight, Forrest rode up to one of his subordinates, Major Baxter Smith, and asked him if his Tennesseans could capture part of a hastily formed Union line held by the Third Minnesota Infantry, supported by four cannon. The major turned to his troopers. He looked at his nineteen-year-old aide, 1st Lt. James Trimble “Trim” Brown, and saw a young man “eager for the fray.” The Tennessee cavalrymen promptly charged and took the position. Forrest’s force later captured the entire garrison and supplies.
|James Trimble “Trim” Brown|
COLONEL: I must demand an unconditional surrender of your force as prisoners of war or I will have every man put to the sword. You are aware of the overpowering force I have at my command, and this demand is made to prevent the effusion of blood.By evening, Forrest’s cavalry had captured between 800 and 1,200 Union prisoners, including General Crittenden and Captain Rounds, and set free the citizens in the courthouse, delighting the loyalist townspeople. The raid, also referred to as the First Battle of Murfreesboro, was the first significant operation behind Federal lines in the western theater. As Forrest’s first independent raid, its success catapulted Forrest to great renown and a promotion to brigadier general.
|Oaklands, Murfreesboro, Tennessee|
Ingersoll's overestimation of Forrest's strength was no accident: Forrest had brought kettledrums, which were kept beating to give the impression that large numbers of infantry were present. Many more fires than his troops required were lit and tended at night, and some of his cavalry were dismounted and paraded as infantry in front of his captives. Such measures not only put fear in the minds of his opponents, but encourage exaggerated caution, which provided more time to outmaneuver them.
For the next three weeks his troops would move around west Tennessee causing as much destruction as possible and getting into a few battles, Parker's Crossroads being the most memorable. Union General Jeremiah C. Sullivan attempted to cut Forrest off from withdrawing across the Tennessee River. On December 31, 1862, the two forces came into contact at Parker’s Cross Roads. Skirmishing began about 9:00 am, with Forrest taking an initial position along a wooded ridge. Colonel Cyrus Dunham pulled his brigade back a half mile and redeployed, facing north. His Federals repelled frontal feints until attacked on both flanks and rear by Forrest’s mounted and dismounted troops.
In 1863, Forrest had his mother and her two younger children escorted from Tennessee to the safety of their long time friends, Ira and Eliza Camp, in Navasota, Texas. Mariam’s safe haven was the Camp family’s inn.
William ("Bill") Montgomery Forrest
On May 3, Forrest caught up with Streight's unit east of Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Forrest had fewer men than the Union side, but he repeatedly paraded some of them around a hilltop to appear a larger force, and convinced Streight to surrender his 1,500 exhausted troops.
Forrest was noted for his hot temper and he was in a foul mood when he found that Streight's Yankee Raiders had captured two of his cannon in an ambush. He personally blamed Lieutenant Andrew Wills Gould for cowardice in losing the guns, even though it had actually not been the fault of the young artilleryman. Union gunfire had killed the horses pulling the guns, and the guns could not have been brought out. But Gould bore the brunt of Forrest's anger. In June, he signed orders to have Gould transferred out of his command. Gould took this to be a mortal insult and on June 14, he went to Forrest's Headquarters at the Masonic Building in downtown Columbia to confront the general.
|Andrew Wills Gould|
Forrest had been hit in the abdomen, which during the period of the Civil War was almost always ultimately fatal. Any puncture of the abdomen meant a peritonitis would probably set in, especially in warm weather.
Forrest yelled "Get out of my way! I am mortally wounded and will kill the man who has shot me!" His clothing in disarray, he hobbled into the street and took two pistols from his troopers, heading for the crowd that had gathered at the tailor shop. Forrest struggled up the front steps of the building, waving the pistols and shouting, "Lookout! Lookout!" The crowd dropped to the floor at the sight of the furious, gun~waving general. Gould was fading fast, but he saw Forrest come in the door; he rolled off the table and went out the back as Forrest sent a bullet after him. The bullet hit a brick wall and ricocheted into the leg of a soldier. Gould, now at the edge of consciousness, retreated only a short way before he fainted from the loss of blood and fell into the high weeds behind the row of buildings. Forrest staggered up to him and pushed at him with the toe of his boot, realizing that Gould was done for.
|Galloway House as it appears today|
|Nelson House as it appears today|
Forrest served with the main army at the Battle of Chickamauga, September 18-20, 1863. He pursued the retreating Union army and took hundreds of prisoners. Like several others under Bragg's command, he urged an immediate follow-up attack to recapture Chattanooga, which had fallen a few weeks before. Bragg failed to do so, upon which Forrest was quoted as saying, "What does he fight battles for?"
“I am not here to pass civilities or compliments with you, but on other business. I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them… and as I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”
~ Nathan Bedford Forrest to Braxton Bragg, after the Battle of Chickamauga, as recalled by Dr. John B. CowanBragg reassigned Forrest to an independent command in Mississippi. On December 4, 1863, Forrest was promoted to the rank of major general.
I must recall an anecdote strikingly illustrative of the estimation in which Forrest was held by the people, and which he always told on himself with great delight. When Bragg was retreating from Tennessee, Forrest was among the last of the rear guard, and an old lady ran out of her house to the gate, as he was passing, and urged him to turn back and fight. As he rode on without stopping, she shook her fist at him in great rage and said: "Oh! you great, big, cowardly rascal, I only wish old Forrest was here; he'd make you fight!"
~ J.R. Chalmers
|William Sooy Smith|
|Grave of Jeffrey Forrest|
Forrest reported to General Leonidas Polk on March 21 that Union Colonel Fielding Hurst of the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry and his regiment of "renegade Tennesseans" repeatedly had been reported as perpetrators of "wanton destruction of property", and that a month earlier, Hurst, by threatening to burn Jackson, had extorted $4,139.25 from its residents. Forrest wrote Memphis Federal authorities on March 22 complaining that "within the past two months, seven cases of deliberate murder have been committed in this department, most of them known and all believed to have been perpetrated by the command of Colonel Hurst." He enclosed findings by a Confederate investigative officer that included two murders of Forrest troopers recruiting behind enemy lines, a couple of similar killings in other western Tennessee counties, and the following graphic evidence of just how brutal the war in west Tennessee had become:
Lieut. Willis Dodds . . . collecting his command, was arrested at the home of his father in Henderson County, Tenn., on or about the 9th of March, 1864 . . . and put to death by torture. Private Silas Hodges, a scout . . . states that he saw the body of Lieutenant Dodds very soon after his murder, and that it was most horribly mutilated, the face having been skinned, the nose cut off, the under jaw disjointed, the privates cut off, and the body otherwise barbarously lacerated and most wantonly injured, and that his death was brought about by the most inhuman process of torture.
Second-in-command was Major William F. Bradford, a Tennessee attorney born in the same Bedford County as Forrest, but fighting on the Union side. Bradford commanded the 13th Tennessee Cavalry, a Federal unit that had a reputation for abuses of west Tennessee citizens. In addition, Confederate deserters had been incorporated into the ranks of this Union-raised unit.
By 10 in the morning on April 12, 1864, Forrest rode up to the Confederate headquarters outside of Fort Pillow, some 40 miles up the Mississippi River from Memphis. The soldiers under his command had surrounded the fort, built originally as a Confederate outpost. A stray bullet struck Forrest's horse, felling the general and bruising him. This would be the first of three horses he lost that day. He deployed sharpshooters around the higher ground that overlooked the fort, bringing many of the occupants into their direct line of fire.
Major Booth was killed by a sharpshooter's bullet to the chest and Bradford assumed command. By 11:00 a.m., the Confederates had captured two rows of barracks about 150 yards from the southern end of the fort. Forrest sent a communique to Major Booth demanding total surrender.
Major Booth, Commanding United States Forces, Fort Pillow:Major, - The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such as to entitle them to being treated as prisoners of war. I demand the unconditional surrender of this garrison, promising you that you shall be treated as prisoners of war. My men have received a fresh supply of ammunition, and from their present position can easily assault and capture the fort. Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command.Captain W.A. Goodman, Chalmer's adjutant general and bearer of the note, said later he clearly remembered the offer to treat the entire garrison as prisoners of war "because, when the note was handed to me, there was some discussion about it among the officers present, and it was asked whether it was intended to include the negro soldiers as well as the white; to which both General Forrest and General Chalmers replied, that it was so intended."
Bradford, concerned about the reputation he might have with Forrest, signed the reply as “Major Booth,” asking for more time to decide to surrender the fort and the gunboat, Olive Branch. Forrest replied that the gunboat wasn't expected to be surrendered, but the fort alone.
Bradford's answer, again signed "Booth", was returned penciled on a plain scrap of dirty paper: "Your demand does not produce the desired effect." Forrest read it and said, "This will not do. Send it back, and say to Major Booth that I must have an answer in plain English. Yes or No." A few minutes later, Goodman brought him an unequivocal answer: "General: I will not surrender. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, L.F. Booth, Commanding, U.S. Forces, Fort Pillow."
After attacking the fort, Forrest's men insisted that the Federals, although fleeing, kept their weapons and frequently turned to shoot, forcing the Confederates to keep firing in self-defense. Confederates said that the Union flag was still flying over the fort, which indicated that the force had not formally surrendered. A contemporary newspaper account from Jackson, Tennessee, stated that "General Forrest begged them to surrender," but "not the first sign of surrender was ever given." Similar accounts were reported in many Southern newspapers at the time.
These statements, however, were contradicted by Union survivors, as well as the letter of a Confederate soldier who recounted a massacre. Achilles Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee cavalry, wrote to his sister immediately after the battle:
"The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased."
There were numerous similar accounts from Union soldiers, several of whom said they heard Confederate officers saying Forrest had ordered them to "kill the last God damn one of them."
Confederate Surgeon Samuel H. Caldwell, of the Sixteenth Tennessee Cavalry, wrote his wife that
We are just from Fort Pillow which fort we attacked on Tuesday the 13th. 1864 & carried by storm. It was garrisoned by 400 white men and 400 negroes & out of the 800 only 168 are now living So you can guess how terrible was the slaughter. It was decidedly the most horrible sight that I have ever witnessed— They refused to surrender—which incensed our men & if General Forrest had not run between our men & the Yanks with his pistol and sabre drawn not a man would have been spared—We took about a hundred & 25 white men & about 45 negroes the rest of the 800 are numbered with the dead—They sure [lay] heaped upon each other 3 days—…
|Samuel H. Caldwell|
We saw the dead bodies of 15 negroes, most of them having been shot through the head. Some of them were burned as if by powder around the holes in their heads, which led me to conclude that they were shot at very close range. One of the gun-boat officers who accompanied us asked General Chalmers if the most of the negroes were not killed after they (the enemy) had taken possession, Chalmers replied that he thought they had been, and that the men of General Forrest's command had such a hatred toward the armed negro that they could not be restrained from killing the negroes after they had captured them. He said they were not killed by General Forrest's or his orders, but that both Forrest and he stopped the massacre as soon as they were able to do so. He said it was nothing better than we could expect so long as we persisted in arming the negro. . . . We saw two bodies of negroes burning.
"These troops fought bravely, but were overpowered. I will leave Forrest in his dispatches to tell what he did with them. 'The river was dyed,' he says, 'with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.' Subsequently Forrest made a report in which he left out the part which shocks humanity to read."
|Grave of Aaron Forrest|
I doubt, however, whether the exchange of negroes at all for our soldiers would be tolerated. As to the white officers serving with negro troops, we ought never to be inconvenienced with such prisoners.On May 1, 1863, the Confederate Congress had enacted an official policy of returning captured slaves to their owners - and of putting to death white officers and noncoms of the new black units.
General Johnston refused to forward the proposal to the War Department. He held that the enlistment of slaves was a political matter and not the proper concern of military officers. So incensed at Cleburne’s proposal was one of the generals present, Major General W.H.T. Walker, that he determined officially to register with higher authority his opposition to it. Walker circumvented Johnston's refusal to forward the proposal to the War Department by mailing it directly to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis replied:
“Deeming it to be injurious to the public service that such subject [the employment of slaves as soldiers in the army] should be mooted or even known to be entertained by persons possessed of confidence and respect of the people, I have concluded that the best policy under the circumstances will be to avoid all publicity, and the Secretary of War has therefore written to General Johnston requested him to convey to those concerned my desire that it should be kept private. If it be kept out of the public journals its ill effects will be much lessened."
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Attorney General Edward Bates wanted retaliatory measures. Secretary of the Interior John Usher wrote that it was “inexpedient to take any extreme action” and wanted the officers of Forrest’s command to be made responsible. Postmaster General Montgomery Blair wanted the “actual offenders” given the “most summary punishment when captured.” Secretary of State William Seward wanted the commanding general of the Union army to confront the commanding general of the Confederate army about the allegations.
“Remember Fort Pillow” became a rallying-cry for African-American soldiers throughout the Union Army.
A controversy arose about whether Forrest conducted or condoned a massacre of African Americans and white Tennessee Unionists and Confederate deserters who had surrendered there. Given the high numbers of casualties, a congressional inquiry was commissioned. It found grave atrocities, with charges that some soldiers were burned or buried alive, and the critical charge that some surrendering soldiers were killed.
Shelby Foote, the Memphis writer seen in Ken Burns’ “The Civil War”, gave the affair five pages in his three-volume work, concluding that Forrest did all he could to prevent a massacre. Foote agreed with the sentiment that the congressional conclusions were lies. To back up his claim, Foote said Lincoln himself ordered retaliation to take place if the claims were true. That fell to General William Tecumseh Sherman, who did no such thing, and Southern apologists have presumed that there was no evidence a massacre took place. However, Sherman was one of the least sensitive toward blacks of all Federal commanders, and Lincoln was facing a tough November election in which many voters seemed to feel much as Sherman did.
Forrest's greatest victory came on June 10, 1864, when his 3,500-man force clashed with 8,500 men commanded by Union General Samuel Sturgis at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads. He swept the Union forces from a large expanse of southwest Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Forrest set up a position for an attack to repulse a pursuing force commanded by Sturgis, who had been sent to impede Forrest from destroying Union supplies and fortifications. When Sturgis's Federal army came upon the crossroad, they collided with Forrest's cavalry. Sturgis ordered his infantry to advance to the front line to counteract the cavalry. The infantry, tired and weary and suffering under the heat, were quickly broken and sent into mass retreat. Forrest sent a full charge after the retreating army and captured 16 artillery pieces, 176 wagons and 1,500 stands of small arms. In all, the maneuver cost Forrest 96 men killed and 396 wounded. Union troops suffered 223 killed, 394 wounded and 1,623 men missing.
|Memorial at Brice's Crossroads|
|Stephen D. Lee|
Forrest led other raids that summer and fall, including one into Union-held downtown Memphis in August, known as the Second Battle of Memphis.
|Illustration of Memphis Raid|
|John Bell Hood|
The atmosphere was blue for a while. Stripped of General Forrest's bad words, he said to Major Landis: "Go back to your quarters, and don't you come here again and send anybody here again about mules. The order will not be obeyed; and, moreoever, if the quartermaster bothers me any further about this matter, I'll come down to his office, tie his long legs into a double bowknot around his heck, and choke him to death with his own shins. It's a fool order, anyway. General Hood had better send his inspectors to overhaul his wagons, rid them of all surplus baggage, tents, adjutant desks, and everything else that can be spared. Reduce the number of wagons instead of reducing the strength of his teams . . . I whipped the enemy and capture every mule wagon and ambulance in my command; have not made a requisition on the government for anything of the kind for two years, and my teams will go as they are or not at all."
On February 23, General George Thomas sent some Union officers to Forrest to discuss Forrest's proposal to exchange prisoners. The party met with Forrest in Rienzi, Mississippi. Captain Lewis Hosea, in a letter home, wrote that Forrest's hair was white enough by then to remind him of the powdered wigs of Revolutionary War heroes. According to Hosea, Forrest's
habitual expression seemed rather subdued and thoughtful, but when his face lighted up with a smile, which ripples all over his features, the effect is really charming . . . His language indicates a very limited education, but his impressive manner conceals many otherwise notable defects . . . He speaks of his success with a soldierly vanity, and expresses the kindliest feelings toward prisoners and wounded.
|James H. Wilson|
Forrest's total force numbered less than 4,000, barely half of whom were soldiers. Selma's fortifications had been designed to be defended by 20,000 men, and Forrest's outnumbered defenders had to stand 10 to 12 feet apart to cover their sectors.
Wilson's force arrived at the Selma fortifications at 2 p.m. Wilson had 9,000 well-armed and well-trained troops available to make the assault. Once the Union troops reached the works, vicious hand-to-hand fighting broke out. Many on both sides were struck down with clubbed muskets. Still, Union troops kept pouring into the works. In less than 30 minutes, Union men had captured the works. Once the outer works had fallen, General Wilson himself led the 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in a mounted charge down the Range Line Road toward the unfinished inner line of works. The retreating Confederate forces, having reached the inner works, rallied and poured fire into the charging Union column. This stopped the charge, and sent General Wilson sprawling to the ground when his horse was wounded. Wilson quickly remounted his injured horse and ordered a dismounted assault by several regiments. Mixed units of Confederate troops at the Selma railroad depot and the adjoining banks of the railroad bed tried to make a stand next to the Plantersville Road. Fighting there was heavy, but by 7 p.m. the superior numbers of Union troops had allowed them to flank the Southern positions, causing the defenders to abandon the depot as well as the inner line of works.
On May 9, 1865, at Gainesville, Alabama, Forrest read his farewell address to his troops:
SOLDIERS: By an agreement made between Liet.-Gen. Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama. Mississippi, and East Louisiana, and Major-Gen. Canby, commanding United States forces, the troops of this department have been surrendered.
I do not think it proper or necessary at this time to refer to causes which have reduced us to this extremity; nor is it now a matter of material consequence to us how such results were brought about. That we are BEATEN is a self-evident fact, and any further resistance on our part would justly be regarded as the very height of folly and rashness.
The armies of Generals LEE and JOHNSON having surrendered. You are the last of all the troops of the Confederate States Army east of the Mississippi River to lay down your arms.
The Cause for which you have so long and so manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations, and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. The government which we sought to establish and perpetuate, is at an end. Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. Fully realizing and feeling that such is the case, it is your duty and mine to lay down our arms -- submit to the “powers that be” -- and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land.
The terms upon which you were surrendered are favorable, and should be satisfactory and acceptable to all. They manifest a spirit of magnanimity and liberality, on the part of the Federal authorities, which should be met, on our part, by a faithful compliance with all the stipulations and conditions therein expressed. As your Commander, I sincerely hope that every officer and soldier of my command will cheerfully obey the orders given, and carry out in good faith all the terms of the cartel.
Those who neglect the terms and refuse to be paroled, may assuredly expect, when arrested, to be sent North and imprisoned. Let those who are absent from their commands, from whatever cause, report at once to this place, or to Jackson, Miss.; or, if too remote from either, to the nearest United States post or garrison, for parole.
Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.
The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully, and to the end, will, in some measure, repay for the hardships you have undergone.
In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the Cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, has elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my past success in arms.
I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.
|Forrest Memorial in Gainesville, Alabama|
After the war, William Sherman said,
"I think Forrest was the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side. To my mind he was remarkable in many ways. In the first place, he was uneducated . . . but he had a genius for strategy that was original, and to me incomprehensible. . . . He seemed always to know what I was doing or intended to do, while I . . . could never tell what he was trying to accomplish."
"I have Setled for the present at my plantation in Coahoma Co. Miss have gone to hard work have a fine crop of corn if the Seasons hit will make a fine crop Mrs F is making Buter & Rasing chickens"On March 31, 1866, Thomas Edwards, one of Forrest's black workers, physically abused his wife while Forrest was in their cabin. When Forrest told Edwards to stop hurting his wife, Edwards attacked Forrest with a knife, cutting him on the hand. Forrest grabbed an
ax that was in the abuser's cabin and struck him on the head, killing him. This account was reported by a Mr. Diffenbacher, a former Union Army officer, who was Forrest's partner at the time and who arrived on the scene after the incident. The other black workers angrily gathered outside Forrest's home, threatening revenge. At midnight the deputy arrived to arrest - and rescue - him. The local newspaper, The Avalanche, owned by Forrest's long-time friend and colleague, M.C. Gallaway, printed an account of the incident published on April 10: "Forrest had given all the freemen [mostly his former slaves] the opportunity to leave the contracts with which he had bound them, and all but 18 -- out of some 200 -- had refused to leave." Edward's widow blamed Forrest for his death, claiming she had never been abused.
Following the Civil War, one of Mariam's sons by her second marriage, "Matt" Luxton, sought refuge in Texas for an ‘undescribed’ crime he committed in Tennessee. He reportedly became a deputy sheriff. In the fall of 1867, he fell seriously ill and Miriam rushed by carriage to his aid. As she stepped off the carriage in Navasota, a nail penetrated her foot. She subsequently suffered blood poisoning and died at Camp Inn on November 15, 1867. Her last words were reported to have been asking when Bedford was coming to take care of her. She was 66 years old.
With slavery abolished after the war, Forrest suffered a major financial setback as a former slave trader. In 1866, Forrest and C. C. McCreanor contracted to finish the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad.
In May of 1866, a three-day riot in the city required the intervention of federal troops to end the violence. The violence began as a street fight between a few Irish policemen and a group of African American men, recently discharged from the Union Army. This initial spark escalated into full-scale rioting within the city by the next morning as a white mob attacked the city’s African American community. Altina Waller’s detailed analysis of the riot reveals that during the three days of violence
“only two whites were killed in the riot: one, self-inflicted, and one, accidentally by another white”, while “46 blacks were dead and 285 had been victimized in one way or another.
"However, no arrests were ever made for murder, rape, theft, or arson, although many of the rioters were well known to the victims who later identified them to a congressional committee.”
|Maxwell House in Nashville, Tennessee, c. 1900|
Forrest was sworn into the Ku Klux Klan here in the fall of 1866, and the first national meeting of the group was reportedly held here the following spring.
|Forrest in 1868|
I am opposed to it under any and all circumstances, and in our convention urged our party not to commit themselves at all upon the subject. If the negroes vote to enfranchise us, I do not think I would favor their disfranchisement. We will stand by those who help us. And here I want you to understand distinctly I am not an enemy to the negro. We want him here among us; he is the only laboring class we have; and, more than that, I would sooner trust him than the white scalawag or carpetbagger. When I entered the army I took forty-seven negroes into the army with me, and forty- five of them were surrendered with me. I said to them at the start: "This fight is against slavery; if we lose it, you will be made free; if we whip the fight, and you stay with me and be good boys, I will set you free; in either case you will be free." These boys stayed with me, drove my teams, and better confederates did not live.In 1868, Forrest delivered a speech in Brownsville, Tennessee where he reiterated some of the same sentiments articulated in his newspaper interview, and again stressed that the Klan was prepared to fight if the Tennessee militia were called out.
“If the Radical Legislature, with Governor Brownlow, arms the negroes, and tells them to shoot down all Confederate soldiers, on the grounds that they are members of this Ku-Klux Klan, there will be civil war in Tennessee.”According to the newspaper report of the speech, this statement was met by applause from the large audience gathered to hear him speak. He added that he was not inciting violence or war, but “we have already lost all but our honor by the last war, and I must say, that in order to be men we must protect our honor at all hazards, and we must also protect our wives, our homes, and our families.”
After a year as Grand Wizard, in January 1869, Forrest issued KKK General Order Number One: "It is therefore ordered and decreed, that the masks and costumes of this Order be entirely abolished and destroyed." But while Forrest’s apologists point to this action as evidence of Forrest’s support for law and order, this action was not intended to disband the Klan, nor was it meant to stop the Klan’s terrorist activities. Michael Martinez notes that “Forrest’s defenders point to General Order Number One as evidence of his realization that the Ku Klux Klan was a terrorist organization deserving of nothing so much as opprobrium.” According to Martinez, however, “Such an interpretation is disingenuous.” Other historians have made this same point, a fact that is ignored by Forrest’s modern day supporters, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and neo-Confederate organizations. Stetson Kennedy proposes that the order to disband the Klan was nothing more than an attempt to fool the rest of the nation into thinking that the South had surrendered to Reconstruction. The Klan, he says knew this order was not intended to restrict its activities in any way. “Consequently they went about their business as usual, without having to be told by anyone that the only real intent of the edict was to con the nation into believing that the Southern ‘troubles’ were over, and that a Fifteenth Amendment specifically asserting the political rights of blacks (then being debated in Congress) was not necessary.”
The violence in the Southern states at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan became so problematic that Congress held hearings on the matter in 1871. Thirteen thick volumes had been gathered of testimony detailing or denying beating and murders of blacks and their white Republican allies throughout the South.
Forrest testified before the Congressional investigation on Klan activities on June 27, 1871. According to Forrest,
There was a great deal of insecurity felt by the southern people … The negroes were holding night meetings; were going about; were becoming very insolent; and the southern people all over the State were very much alarmed. I think many of the organizations did not have any name; parties organized themselves so as to be ready in case they were attacked. Ladies were ravished by some of these negroes, who were tried and put in the penitentiary, but were turned out in a few days afterward. There was a great deal of insecurity in the country, and I think this organization was got up to protect the weak, with no political intention at all.Forrest denied membership; the investigating committee wrote:
"When it is considered that the origin, designs, mysteries, and ritual of the order are made secrets; that the assumption of its regalia or the revelation of any of its secrets, even by an expelled member, or of its purposes by a member, will be visited by ‘the extreme penalty of the law,’ the difficulty of procuring testimony upon this point may be appreciated, and the denials of the purposes, of membership in, and even the existence of the order, should all be considered in the light of these provisions. This contrast might be pursued further, but our design is not to connect General Forrest with this order, (the reader may form his own conclusion upon this question,) but to trace its development, and from its acts and consequences gather the designs which are locked up under such penalties.”
Countless volumes have been written documenting the Ku Klux Klan’s activities in Tennessee and in the South in the years following the Civil War. Many have insisted that the Ku Klux Klan was formed as a social club that quickly escaped the control of its original leaders and needed to be disbanded due to a surge of violence.
The truth is that the Klan’s goals, from the very beginning, were to restore white supremacy throughout the South by way of intimidation and violence. The story of the Klan’s terrorism in Tennessee in 1868 is well documented: the Klan whipped, beat, threatened, shot, and lynched black and white Radicals. The Klan burned schools, robbed homes, and disrupted church services. Many Tennesseans viewed the Klan as a ‘necessary, political expedient justified by the Radical disfranchisement policy, the high taxes of Brownlow’s administration and the threat black voting posed to white supremacy. None of these accounts of the Klan’s origins, in any way, describe the organization as a social club, formed for benign amusement. For many white Southerners, the Klan represented a way to restore the social order that was lost as a result of the war.
Katherine Du Pre Lumpkin understood the realities of the Klan. Her autobiography, The Making of A Southerner (1946), describes her childhood indoctrination to the Lost Cause through the teachings of her father, William Lumpkin. She understood that the Klan
must go on until the mass of Negroes ‘came to their senses,’ and their leaders, ‘black, white and yellow,’ had been ousted; until all and sundry – ‘scalawags,’ ’carpetbaggers,’ and Negroes - learned the lesson this organization said it went out to teach. Thus ‘crimes’ were punished; ‘bad men’ were treated according to their deserts; ‘restoration of order’ was envisaged, and ‘putting the darkey in his place.’ It would go on thus - so said the aim - until ‘white supremacy’ was re-established.
|Illustration of Bank Run during the Panic of 1873|
Frank Leslie's Illustration Newspaper, October 4, 1873
Forrest spent his final days running a prison work farm on President's Island in the Mississippi River, near Memphis. There he leased land and worked convict labor.
No one was arrested, much less convicted, for the crime.
"Ladies and Gentlemen I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God's earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man, to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don't propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I'll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand." (Prolonged applause.)
|Nathan Bedford Forrest|
"We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet, who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only ‘futures’ in payment."
|The Ku Klux Klan or Invisible Empire, |
by Laura Martin Rose
|Advertisement for The Ku Klux Klan or Invisible Empire|
in the Confederate Veteran
His high standing as a Confederate officer, his devotion to his country, his noble principles and sacred honor pledged to protect the South, puts at naught forever any false statements as to the purposes of the Klan, and challenges any stigma or misrepresentations as to the character of its members, for they were in the main Confederate soldiers, and Forrest was its great leader, and under his leadership and with the loyalty of the members, the Mission of the Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire, was successfully accomplished.
|James R. Crowe|
The younger generation will never fully realize the risk we ran, and the sacrifices we made to free our beloved Southland from the hated rule of the “Carpetbagger,” the worse negro [sic.] and the home Yankee. Thank God, our work was rewarded by complete success. After the order grew to large numbers, we found it was necessary to have someone of large experience to command. We chose General N. B. Forrest, who had joined our number. He was made a member and took the oath in the Room No. 10 of the Maxwell House at Nashville, Tennessee, in the fall of 1866, nearly a year after we organized at Pulaski. The oath was administered to him by Captain John W. Morton, afterwards Secretary of State, Nashville, Tennessee.Rose concludes, in laying out the great lessons taught by the Klan:
First, the inevitability of Anglo-Saxon Supremacy; when harassed by bands of outlaws, thugs, carpet-baggers, and guerrillas, turned loose on the South and upheld by political machinery, during the Reconstruction period, the sturdy white men of the South, against all odds, maintained white supremacy and secured Caucasian civilization, when its very foundations were threatened within and without. Second, a new revelation of the greatness and genius of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the “Wizard of the Saddle,” the great Confederate cavalry leader. As Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire, to his splendid leadership was due, more than to any other.Rose’s volume, with her claim about Forrest, was subsequently endorsed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who pledged “to ‘assist in every way possible to promote its circulation and to cooperate in getting this work in the schools and public libraries’ that the origin and objects of that great order may be more generally known and understood.”
|John Watson Morton|
|Thomas Dixon, Jr.|
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall."
Matthew 7:24-27After the service, Stainback later recounted:
“Forrest suddenly leaned against the wall and his eyes filled with tears. 'Sir, your sermon has removed the last prop from under me,' he said, 'I am the fool that built on the sand; I am a poor miserable sinner.”
Toward the end of his life Forrest told his lawyer, General John T. Morgan, a U.S. Senator:
General, I am broken in health and in spirit, and have not long to live. My life has been a battle from the start. It was a fight to achieve a livelihood for those dependent upon me in my younger days, and an independence for myself when I grew up to manhood, as well as in the terrible turmoil of the Civil War. I have seen too much of violence, and I want to close my days at peace with all the world, as I am now at peace with my Maker.Forrest died in Memphis on October 29, 1877, at the home of his brother Jesse, reportedly from acute complications of diabetes. He was 56 years old.
Thousands of people attended his funeral at Court Avenue Presbyterian Church in Memphis. His funeral oration was given by Jefferson Davis. The funeral procession was over two miles long with over 10,000 area residents. He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.
Northern newspapers publishing obituaries after his death, while acknowledging Forrest’s genius as a cavalry commander, resurrected the Fort Pillow Massacre charges. The New York Times’ obituary claimed that, during Forrest’s post-Civil War life, “his principal occupation seems to have been to try to explain away the Fort Pillow affair.”
In his Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, written in 1885, Ulysses S. Grant wrote that Nathan Bedford Forrest was "about the ablest cavalry general in the South."
A few months before he died, General Joseph Johnston's nephew paid him a visit and found him reading the book A History of Tamerlane; the book discussed the greatest generals of all time, so he asked his uncle who he thought was the greatest general of the civil war. Without hesitation, Johnston replied, "Forrest".
|Nathan Bedford Forrest II|
“the war did not decide negro equality; it did not decide negro suffrage; it did not decide States Rights … And these things the war did not decide, the Southern people will still cling to, still claim, and still assert in them their rights and views.”By the 1880s, Southerners were forging a new public memory that would take shape in the Lost Cause mythology. One aspect of the Lost Cause myth is the notion that the Southern cause was noble and that there was no reason to feel ashamed of defeat.
The Forrest Monument Association was incorporated on November 20, 1891 and included ex-Confederates as well as other prominent Memphis business leaders among its membership. Notable among these were the organization’s president, Sam Carnes, its vice-president, General George W. Gordon, and secretary, John P. Young. While many of the earlier Confederate monuments across the South were funded through efforts of organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Forrest monument was primarily a project of Memphis’ white, male elite. John P. Young, the secretary, was a Memphis judge who wrote a history of Memphis in 1912, titled Standard History of Memphis, Tennessee, from a Study of the Original Sources. This history clearly reflected a vision of Southern history influenced by Lost Cause ideology. Keeping with the Lost Cause influenced myth of contented slaves, his history notes that in 1874, “confidence between the white people and negroes was gaining ground and the latter had learned to a great extent
that their former owners were not enemies, though many of them had never thought so.”
|George Washington Gordon|
Gordon’s Prescript reflects the white supremacist views of the Klan and the majority of Southern whites at this time. It contains a list of “Interrogatories to be Asked” of new recruits who desired Klan membership. The fifth question is: “Are you opposed to negro equality, both social and political?” and the sixth question asks “Are you in favor of a white man’s government in this country?” These questions reveal not only the Klan’s vision of the New South, but also contribute to the vision of the South reflected in the Forrest monument. Gordon and Forrest were at the forefront of the Klan’s organization and supported its racial ideology designed to control the African American population of Tennessee during Reconstruction.
Memphis’ devotion to the Lost Cause was exhibited as the city hosted the 1901 United Confederate Veterans reunion. The city decorated streets and celebrated the elaborate event with parades, fireworks, concerts and speeches and its citizens raised $50,000 for the celebration.
In 1904, the remains of Forrest and his wife Mary were disinterred from Elmwood and moved to a Memphis city park named Forrest Park in his honor. The Forrest Monument Association unveiled the statue of Forrest on a horse on May 16, 1905. The Memphis News-Scimitar reported that the masterfully sculpted monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest would “stand for ages as the emblem of a standard of virtue.”
|Forrest Statue and Graves in downtown park|
“Forrest has come to his own again. Stalwart, strong and invincible…turning his eagle eye toward the south, just as he was wont to do forty years ago when the chaotic conditions of life required the organizing of the Ku-Klux Klan.”Forrest is envisioned “clad in his old Ku-Klux garb, a pall of white that covered horse and rider, the great leader of this secret clan rides once more,” and praised as “that leader whose iron hand held the reins of safety over the South when Northern dominion apotheosized the negro and set misrule and devastation to humiliate a proud race.”
By 1905, blacks were segregated on the city’s streetcars and were not allowed to visit the city’s parks.
By the time Forrest’s monument was dedicated, white supremacy had been restored to the South following the end of Reconstruction and establishment of Jim Crow laws. In this atmosphere, it becomes clear that the dedication of Forrest’s monument was intended to reflect white supremacist beliefs and to shape the future of Memphis as much, or more, than it was intended to honor General Forrest’s military career.
~ Tim Bounds
|Forrest Guard Reunion|
If the Lost Cause mythology eased the pain of military defeat for white Southerners on ideological grounds, the erection of monuments to the Confederate dead worked to forge complementary memories in the public sphere. The Confederate monument movement began as a way to remember those soldiers who were killed in battle. The Confederate memorial movement, through soldiers’ cemeteries, monuments, and memorial day celebrations, allowed Southerners to do just this. But the monuments soon took on additional functionality as mourning evolved into full-scale celebration. The end of Reconstruction saw the erection of monuments that were more public and more elaborate than those built in the years immediately following the war. Public parks and town centers were frequently chosen as the site for new monuments in an effort to show civic pride in the memorial. The memory of the war was no longer relegated to the city of the dead. Rather, the Confederate monument now occupied a more public place within the daily patterns of life of the citizens. This shift in the location and design of Confederate monuments sent a clear message to Southerners, both black and white, that Southern society’s values were reflected in the white Confederate war heroes these monuments honored.
|Nathan Bedford Forrest Boyhood Home|
Owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the S.C.V. currently has in place, the Nathan Bedford Forrest Boyhood Home Committee, which is to oversee the maintenance of the property, its restoration, and interpretation. Plans call for the home to be restored to its circa 1825 appearance, the period when the farm was occupied by the Forrest family. The restored Forrest homestead will be used to honor and interpret General Forrest without the politically correct spin so popular in the media today. It will also be a tangible illustration of the simple rural background which the General shared with thousands of other Confederate soldiers and their families. We hope to add the restored home with S.C.V. prepared historical interpretation to the list and brochures of antebellum and wartime sites and homes which have brought so many tourists and visitors to middle Tennessee. This will be the SCVs chance to give the true story of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
|Recycling Bin at Nathan Bedford Forrest Boyhood Home|
|Nathan Bedford Forrest III|
White Southern resistance has reasserted itself in the neo-Confederate movement. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, this movement began in the 1970s as a reaction to civil rights, school busing, and affirmative action and has been growing stronger ever since. Some of the major neo-Confederate organizations include the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. These
groups do not act independently, as many of their members belong to more than one organization. The League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans even share an affiliation policy that links them in non-political matters. Michael Hill, president of the League of the South, commented on the increase in white supremacist views within the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1998, stating “the old guard [in the SCV] is on its way out, and the organisation appears ready to work with us as a fellow pro-South group. This is good news long overdue.”
As this movement has grown, Forrest has taken his place as its leading hero. Tony Horowitz’s Confederates in the Attic (1998) provides some evidence of his increasing popularity. Horowitz interviewed Ruffin Flag Company owner Soren Dresch, whose best selling shirt features Nathan Bedford Forrest. Horowitz claimed that this was “confirmation to the trend I’d sensed across the South: a hardening, ideological edge to Confederate remembrance. As Dresch put it, ‘Southerners are getting tired of taking it on the chin. They’re getting more aggressive. Lee’s the Southern gentleman who represents
reconciliation with the Union. Forrest represents the spirit of going after them with everything you’ve got.’”
To a large degree, the neo-Confederate defenders of Southern heritage have grown in influence over the past two decades as the movement to remove Confederate symbols from the South continues to gain momentum. For many, especially African Americans, the Confederate flags and monuments are nothing more than reminders of slavery and centuries of oppression. Opponents insist that these are “offensive reminders of the worst aspects of Southern culture: a degrading, paternalistic view of African Americans as a racially inferior people and a belief that slavery was necessary to the economic and cultural interest of the antebellum south.” The “continued display of Confederate monuments by government entities … serve as memorials to white supremacy, bigotry, and a divided America in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”
But for the neo-Confederates who honor these symbols, attempts to remove them “are but profane efforts to deny the best qualities of Southern life - namely, an almost mystical faith in agrarianism, a fierce love of liberty, a mistrust of obdurate, centralized authority, and an unabashed appreciation of home and family.”
~ Tom BoundsThe Confederate battle flag was removed from Forrest Park in the late 1960s and the Tennessee state legislature was forced to remove Forrest’s birthday from the list of official state holidays. But although Forrest’s birthday is no longer a state holiday, it became a day of special observance in 1969. According to Tennessee Code, Title 15, Chapter 2, it is the governor’s duty to proclaim Forrest’s birthday as a day of “special observance” and “the governor shall invite the people of this state to observe the days in schools, churches, and other suitable places with appropriate ceremonies expressive of the public sentiment befitting the anniversary of such dates.”
In 1985, an article in The Commercial Appeal, provided historian Shelby Foote an opportunity to proclaim his reverence for Forrest. Foote repeated many of the claims that have been made by Forrest apologists. He stated that Forrest was not the villain that many people see him as and he envisioned a day when Forrest would be universally
respected. According to Foote, Forrest was involved in the slave trade, but “had avoided splitting up families or selling to cruel plantation owners.” He also repeated the claim that the post-Civil War Ku Klux Klan was not a hate group.
In 1988, the debate regarding Forrest was again renewed in Memphis. The University of Tennessee at Memphis reached an agreement with the city to utilize Forrest Park as a part of its campus and scheduled a ceremony in the park to honor an outgoing president. The Memphis NAACP used this event to bring attention to Forrest’s past and to condemn the actions of the university that linked public funds to Forrest’s name. Maxine A. Smith, Executive Director of the Memphis NAACP, sent a letter to Dr. James C. Hunt, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Memphis. In this letter, Smith asked if Hunt had “considered the impact of these actions on your Black faculty, your Black students, your minority recruitment program, and all others who retain a sensitivity to human dignity.” She also urged Hunt “to erase some of the racist image that U.T. Memphis holds in the community”.
That same year, Shelby Foote was again featured in The Commercial Appeal and caused some controversy with his claim that, “Forrest deserves the respect and admiration of the whole country,” and the more astounding notion that
“the day that black people admire Forrest as much as I do is the day when they will be free and equal, for they will have gotten prejudice out of their minds as we whites are trying to get it out of ours.”A commentary in the Tri-State Defender pointed out the ignorance in Foote’s comments by informing him
“Black people are already free and equal. They did not get that way, however, by admiring Nathan Bedford Forrest.”The author, Harry E. Moore then addressed Foote directly, telling him,
“The day you become as sensitive to the feelings of Black people as you are to those of Whites who admire Nathan Bedford Forrest you will be free, for you will have gotten the racist prejudice out of your mind that you want to force your hero on the descendants of his victims."At the 1993 celebration marking the 172nd birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, P. Charles Lunsford was invited to speak to the two hundred supporters gathered at Forrest Park. He
claimed that the fight to keep symbols of the Confederacy had just begun and used part of his speech to attack opponents in this battle. Addressing threats to Confederate symbols across the South, he claimed that opponents to Confederate symbols were hate groups who were trying to attack their culture.
A year later, Lunsford, who coined the term “Heritage, not Hate” was ousted from his leadership post in the Sons of Confederate Veterans after giving a speech to a hate group, the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.
For the next few years, the primary opposition to Forrest Park took the form of vandalism. In January 1992, the monument was splashed with paint, which prompted Danny Surwic of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to write a letter to The Commercial Appeal complaining that vandals “are damaging some of the finest artwork and historical displays in our city.” “Historical understanding is the first step toward cooperation,” he insisted. “We are all working to bring this city together and move it forward. This action by vandals only tears us apart.” The monument again fell victim to vandalism in 1994 on the night before the celebration of Forrest’s 173rd birthday. The graffiti made references to Forrest’s slave trading, Klan involvement and the Fort Pillow massacre. The words “racist murderer”, “slave trader,” and “the man on the horse … head of the KKK” were spray-painted on the statue.
In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, the titular character says that he was named after his ancestor General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
On July 11, 1998, a new statue honoring Forrest was unveiled in Nashville, Tennessee, in a private confederate flag park. It can be seen along Interstate 65, just north of Brentwood.
|Forrest Statue in Nashville, Tennessee|
High schools are named for Forrest in Chapel Hill, Tennessee and Jacksonville, Florida. On November 3, 2008 the Duval County School Board in Florida voted 5-2 against changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville. The two votes for changing the name were cast by the Board's only black members. The school was named for Forrest in 1959 at the urging of the Daughters of the Confederacy, because they were upset about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. At the time the school was all white, but now more than half the student body is black.
Most of Forrest’s supporters are associated with neo-Confederate organizations that began to form in the 1970s as a reaction to the civil rights movement. These groups include the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens. Previously existing groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), are also strongly influenced by the neo-Confederate movement. The explanations of Forrest’s actions given by his modern apologists are intended to deflect criticism of the Confederate general. The most common of these present Forrest as a “humane” slave trader, dispute the accepted facts surrounding the massacre at Fort Pillow, and downplay his role as the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Some of Forrest’s apologists go beyond simply defending these ideas to asserting that Forrest became a supporter of African American equality late in his life, even declaring him the first white civil rights leader in Memphis.
~ Tim Bounds
As of 2007, Tennessee had 32 dedicated historical markers linked to Nathan Bedford Forrest, more than are dedicated to the three former presidents associated with the state: Andrew Jackson, James Polk, and Andrew Johnson.
On February 10, 2011, Fox News Channel reported that there is a proposal in Mississippi to issue specialty license plates, honoring Forrest, to mark the 150th anniversary of the "War Between the States". The Sons of Confederate Veterans helped sponsor a set of Mississippi license plates commemorating the Civil War, for which the 2014 version featuring Forrest drew controversy in 2011. The Mississippi NAACP petitioned Governor Haley Barbour to denounce the plates and prevent their distribution. Barbour refused to denounce the plates, noting instead that the state legislature would not be likely to approve the plates anyway.
"Defender of Selma, Wizard of the Saddle, Untutored Genius, The first with the most. This monument stands as testament of our perpetual devotion and respect for Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. CSA 1821-1877, one of the south's finest heroes. In honor of Gen. Forrest's unwavering defense of Selma, the great state of Alabama, and the Confederacy, this memorial is dedicated. DEO VINDICE."
|Forrest Monument |
in Old Live Oak Cemetery,
On Feb. 26, 1965, Jimmy Lee Jackson was killed by an Alabama state trooper following a Civil Rights protest. Days later, 600 people set off on a march from Selma to Montgomery, determined to end the racist segregation that ruled their lives. After crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Confederate brigadier general, they were met by an army of police and state troopers who tear-gassed and beat the crowd. That day, March 7, 1965, has come to be known as Bloody Sunday. Four days later, Rev. James Reeb, a Boston minister who came to support the struggle, was beaten to death on a downtown Selma street in broad daylight.
Two weeks later on March 21, some 3,200 marchers started to Montgomery, their numbers swelling to more than 25,000 upon arrival at the state capitol four days later. That night Viola Liuzzo, a Michigan mother drawn to the Civil Rights movement, was murdered by Klansmen as she was shuttling marchers back to Selma.
|Bust of Forrest, which was stolen|
In response, Gene Hogan, Chief of Heritage Defense for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, started a petition to continue work on the monument:
"The other petition got about 320k signatures. We MUST top that. How soon can we do it?"The petition got 1,465 signatures before the account was closed.
From a Southern nationalist perspective, there is little to like about either petition. The pro-Forrest memorial petition is almost as bad as the anti-Forrest memorial petition in that it purports to defend the same values and uses the same PC language employed by anti-Southern and anti-White groups. There is no mention of the South or Forrest being a soldier for Southern independence.
There is no mention of the anti-Southern and anti-White agenda of our enemies, nor of their attempts to destroy our culture, heritage and identity.
The petition is entirely defensive rather putting the enemy on the defense. It is also predictably oriented towards ‘education’ rather than winning. The anti-Southern and anti-White groups that are protesting this memorial and signing the petition to get rid of it are not the least bit interested in reading claims about how Forrest was a great humanitarian and advocate for racial equality. They want the memorial gone because it is quite clearly a symbol of the White South and they are anti-Southern and anti-White. It’s as simple as that. It is futile to attempt to ‘educate’ such people; efforts should instead be focused on reaching our fellow Southerners, strengthening their identity, and encouraging them to stand firm on the matter while at the same time putting our enemies on the defensive.
The name changes upset those who believe the council is trying to change history by downplaying the significance of the Confederacy's struggle against Union forces. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and others in Memphis oppose the name changes, saying that Forrest is a misunderstood figure who was not a racist but a businessman who treated his slaves humanely and resigned from the Klan.
"We should cherish the history that we have, we shouldn't cover it up and try to bury it or hide it," said Becky Muska, who spoke against the name change. Muska, who is white, acknowledges that Memphis is a racially divided city.
Forrest Park is located a few miles from the old Lorraine Hotel, where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Memphis City Council member Lee Harris visited the park and turned to the west, where a $49 million medical research building is under construction. "This is a symbol of the growth of Memphis and its diversity and progress," Harris said. He turned back to face the statue.
"This …" he said and then paused to choose his words carefully. "This is not."
Harris, a law professor at the University of Memphis, introduced a resolution to rename the three city parks that commemorate the Confederacy. Harris had been an indifferent observer of the Forrest Park drama, which included the city's removal of a massive marker that the Sons of the Confederate Veterans plopped in the park last year. But at a January council parks committee meeting, council member Bill Boyd took it upon himself to defend the slave trader. As an example of Forrest's kindness, Boyd shared that after the war, Forrest hired people that he once could have owned. As Harris listened to Boyd go on and on, he knew the parks' names had to be changed.
A park named in honor of a historical figure signals that the honoree was exceptional, Harris said. "Exceptional conduct during that time would have been standing up against what was wrong." Until his side lost, Forrest was for the status quo. At best, Harris said, the general had a mixed record. At worst, his inhumanity to man makes him irredeemable.
It's a delicate exercise, this post-mortem calculation of a man's defects and his strengths. How much good does it take to outweigh the bad? What flaws are fatal? If a serial killer repents and murders no more, how should the victims' families feel when others deem the criminal otherwise gifted and therefore beyond reproach? There are bad habits, addictions, an incurable weakness for women, foibles that will follow great men into the history books.
In this case, the scales don't regard Forrest favorably, said Shea Flinn, one of nine council members who voted in favor of the parks' name change. "I'm glad that we don't have slavery so I don't necessarily see the upside of celebrating the people who fought for that," he said.
An ironic missive to the council from a self-identified Klansman boasts that his gang will be in town for a "peaceful" protest, but added this: "We will also check into your cities (sic) laws on concealed weapon permits because most our members have concealed weapons permits."
The wrongs committed by great men tend to be as large as the men themselves, and Forrest's were appropriately titanic. Yet even these were carried out with an indomitable, ruthless courage, and when his frenzied life permitted him time to reflect before acting, he usually did the moral thing, at least as he understood it. Although history to date has accorded him scant credit, he not only ordered the dissolution of the Ku Klux Klan but went on to disavow repeatedly its race hatred, to protest and decry racial discrimination, and, during his last two years of life, to publicly call for social as well as political advancement for blacks.
~ Jack Hurst, Nathan Bedford Forrest
|Nathan Bedford Forrest, by Jack Hurst|
Years ago, when I was working on an article on the declining cult of Robert E. Lee, I spoke with Charles Wilson, a professor of history and Southern culture at the University of Mississippi and scholar of the mythology of the Lost Cause. Wilson noted that, in spite of Lee’s preeminent place as the greatest hero of the confederacy, Lee’s virtues of perseverance, dignity, grace, and forbearance were not necessarily qualities that held a strong appeal to people in the modern age.
A figure with more natural appeal to modern audiences, Wilson said, would be Nathan Bedford Forrest, a self-made man who cared less about form and dignity and more about getting results. Wilson’s observation was prescient.
In the intervening years, reverence for the Lost Cause seems to have lost much of its general currency. Southerners are as likely as anyone else to make reference to “The Civil War” these days instead of “The War Between the States,” as Southerners insisted it be called for the first century after the event. Some of the change reflects the pervasiveness of mass media that is national in scope; another part reflects the changes in textbooks put out by publishers more concerned with issues of contemporary political correctness than those of a bygone Southern correctness.
On the other hand, while general, low-level Confederate nostalgia may be declining, the intense-level kind seems to be gaining even more momentum as a niche fixation. While most of us go on about our lives, a small corps of people around the South are ever ready to continue the struggle on at least some abstract level. On a fairly benign level are the Confederate re-enactors who like to dress up and “experience” history; on a darker level are the crypto-racists posturing about possible secession as a means of protecting “individual rights.”
The common thread in all this is the assertion that the prime interest lies in honoring a noble Southern past. There is also a corollary insistence that the war was not about slavery.
. . . It may be true that the Civil War was not totally about slavery. But it is false to say that the war was not about slavery altogether.
~ Phil Ashford
Coming to grips with our history, and thinking long and hard about the message we want to send into the future, is difficult, but necessary, work.
I'm asking that we give Nathan Bedford Forrest a rest. Let's not put up ugly statues of him. Let's not fight over where to put his dead body. Let's not see how we can insult people by suggesting we give room to him in the Civil Rights Museum. Let's stop literally and metaphorically dragging him out of the ground to fight about him. It seems the kindest thing we can do all around.
Let him rest in peace.
~ Betsey Phillips
and we’re still having the same fights.”
~ Malika Sanders-Fortier