Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Tecumseh Sherman

Thursday, April 20, AD 2017

I will have the matter of Sturgis critically examined, and, if he be at fault, he shall have no mercy at my hands. I cannot but believe he had troops enough. I know I would have been willing to attempt the same task with that force; but Forrest is the very devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower. I have two officers at Memphis that will fight all the time—A. J. Smith and Mower. The latter is a young brigadier of fine promise, aud I commend him to your notice. I will order them to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury. There never will be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead.

William Tecumseh Sherman, telegram to Secretary of War Stanton-June15, 1864

Unbelievably, after the War Sherman and Forrest became friends, Sherman concluding that Forrest was the most remarkable man to arise on either side in the War.  Ironic but fitting that two of the most controversial figures of the War enjoyed personal amity after the greatest War in our history.

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3 Responses to Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Tecumseh Sherman

  • Forrest reminds me of Oliver Cromwell. Who would have expected men with their histories to become military geniuses.

  • Genius always needs opportunity. Imagine how many geniuses live their lives completely unaware of their latent abilities due to lack of opportunity.

  • Reminds me of our aircraft designers at the end of WWII going to Japan to praise the designer of the “Zero” for creating a masterpiece of a fighting machine.
    It reminds us that truth even surpasses, in greatness, man’s wars.

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation: Part II

Sunday, October 11, AD 2015


Wherefore be it resolved, that we, the Survivor’s Association of the Cavalry of the Confederate States, in meeting assembled at Augusta, Ga., do hereby express our unmitigated disapproval of any such sentiments as those expressed by Gen. N. B. Forrest at a meeting of the Pole Bearers Society of Memphis, Tennessee, and that we allow no man to advocate, or even hint to the world, before any public assemblage, that he dare associate our mother’s, wives’ daughters’ or sisters’ names in the same category that he classes the females of the negro race, without, at least, expressing out disapprobation.

One of the more popular blog posts that I have written is Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation. Go here to read it.  It tells about the address of Forrest to  a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue on July 5.  What I thought was the complete speech in that blog post was not, as I have recently learned by reading a blog post which may be read here.  From newspaper accounts of the day the following is the complete speech:

“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. ( Immense applause and laughter.) This day is a day that is proud to me, having occupied the position that I did for the past twelve years, and been misunderstood by your race. This is the first opportunity I have had during that time to say that I am your friend. I am here a representative of the southern people, one more slandered and maligned than any man in the nation.

I will say to you and to the colored race that men who bore arms and followed the flag of the Confederacy are, with very few exceptions, your friends. I have an opportunity of saying what I have always felt – that I am your friend, for my interests are your interests, and your interests are my interests. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, and live in the same land. Why, then, can we not live as brothers? I will say that when the war broke out I felt it my duty to stand by my people. When the time came I did the best I could, and I don’t believe I flickered. I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe that I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to bring about peace. It has always been my motto 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, that 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. Use your best judgement in selecting men for office and vote as you think right.

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. I have been in the heat of battle when colored men, asked me to protect them. I have placed myself between them and the bullets of my men, and told them they should be kept unharmed. 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.).

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One Response to Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation: Part II

Forrest’s Farewell to His Troops

Monday, May 11, AD 2015

I imagine that there were a few sighs of relief in Washington when this farewell address of General Nathan Bedford Forrest made its way north.  If any man were going to lead a guerilla resistance in the South it was Forrest.  That he was ready to accept defeat was a good sign that such resistance was not going to occur.  Here is the text of his address:

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3 Responses to Forrest’s Farewell to His Troops

  • One of the most fascinating figures in military history, period. His rebuke of Braxton Bragg was magnificent (oh, how how HOW is the nation saddled with a major military installation named after *Bragg*….?):

    “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 orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me… and 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 you life.”

  • Political philosopher Russell Kirk tells this story:
    Years after Appomattox, at a convention of Confederate veterans, that magnificent, simple cavalryman [Forrest] listened to a series of highflying speeches from his old comrades in arms, by way of apologia for the lost cause; but slavery was scarcely mentioned. Then Forrest rose up, disgruntled, and announced that if he hadn’t thought he was fighting to keep his [slaves] and other folks’ [slaves], he never would have gone to war in the first place.

    He also seemed to change as he got older. He joined the KKK in 1866 and as head of it ordered it disbanded (reportedly) in 1869. But in 1875, 2 years before his death, he gave a conciliatory speech to a black fraternal organization in Memphis, supporting black voting rights and economic advancement.

November 4, 1864: Battle of Johnsonville Begins

Tuesday, November 4, AD 2014

Next Johnsonville attracted his attention, where Sherman had collected his stores, and the gunboats once terrible conniption floated grandly and proudly at its doors, but Forrest’s artillery battalion, Morton, Rice and Waltham and Thrall, set fire to Sherman’s gunboats and transports, nor ceased till they had burned them all.

Line from Confederate song celebrating the victories of General Nathan Bedford Forrest

The handwriting was on the wall by the beginning of November in 1864 that the Confederacy was going down to defeat, but that did not stop General Nathan Bedford Forrest from staging perhaps his greatest raid.  The Union had established a huge supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee on the Tennessee River and that was Forrest’s target.  On October 29-30 with artillery he placed at Fort Heiman, Forrest captured three Union gunboats.  Repairing two of them he used them for his attack on Johnsonville.  With his artillery and his tiny flotilla, Forrest closed river traffic to Johnsonville, beat off Union gunboats, and got close enough to Johnsonville to bombard it.  28 Union steamboats and barges were lost, either sunk by Forrest’s artillery, or burned by the Union commander who feared that Forrest would capture them.  Seeing the depot ablaze, Forrest withdrew, his mission accomplished.  Forrest destroyed millions of dollars worth of Union supplies and destroyed 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery.  This raid crippled Sherman’s supply line, and  made Grant nervous about Sherman’s planned March to the Sea with a raider of the caliber of Forrest left free to devastate Union supply lines.  Here is Forrest’s report on the raid:

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September 25, 1864: Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

Thursday, September 25, AD 2014


Nathan Bedford Forrest again demonstrated that so long as he was in the vicinity no Union supply line was safe.  On September 23, 1864, near Athens, Alabama, he and 4500 troopers were engaged in destroying a Union controlled  rail trestle.  He easily beat a Union force that sallied from Fort Henderson to stop him.   Taking Athens, he began an artillery barrage on Fort Henderson on the morning of the 24th.  Convincing the Union commander that he had 8,000-10,000 men, a common Forrest trick, the garrison capitulated.  Shortly after the capitulation, 350 men of the 18th Michigan and the 102nd Ohio had the misfortune to arrive by rail.  Forrest promptly attacked them, and they surrendered after losing a third of their numbers.

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3 Responses to September 25, 1864: Battle of Sulphur Creek Trestle

  • How sad it is that the political correctness police have made him a nonperson.Far more than Robert E Lee,he deserved recognition as the Souths greatest commanding officer.As a non West Pointer his contemporaries denied him recognition,then because of questionable accusations about The Fort Pillow massacre and the KKK,we ignore him today.

  • TQ: I agree. Whenever I think of Forrest, von Suppe’s “Light Cavalry Overture” runs through my alleged mind.

    His (I think) motto, “Get there fustest with the mostest.” says it all. Additionally, he had his troopers trained, motivated, experienced, hugely confident in his leadership abilities, and convinced that he would win every time and not waste their lives. He was the opposite of certain Union cav generals, e.g. Kilpatrick, whose nickname was “Kill cavalry.”

    Another cavalry CW phenom similarly maligned by subsequent events and professional envy was Custer.
    Patton was also dashingly victorious. He couldn’t keep his mouth in check or control himself and not slap soldiers. And, his politics rankled the commies in the Army and elsewhere. My friend’s (RIP) father (RIP) was a Lt. with Patton from France to Germany. He loved the man. The other brass hats, not so much.

  • “Get there first with the most men. Reported by General Basil W. Duke and Richard Taylor
    Often erroneously reported as “Git thar fustest with the most mostest.” In The Quote Verifier : Who Said What, Where, and When (2006) by Ralph Keyes, p. 272, the phrase he used has also been reported to have been “I always make it a rule to get there first with the most men” and “I just took the short cut and got there first with the most men.””

July 14, 1864: Battle of Tupelo

Monday, July 14, AD 2014


General Nathan Bedford Forrest did not lose many battles during the Civil War, and the battle of Tupelo is one of the handful he lost.  After his masterpiece of Brice’s Cross Roads, go here to read about it, Forrest was regarded as a potential mortal threat to the supply lines of Sherman.  Major General Andrew C. Smith was sent out from La Grange, Tennessee on July 5, 1864 with a Union force of 14,000 men.  His mission was to find Forrest and defeat him, and thereby prevent him from staging raids into middle Tennessee to cut Sherman’s supplies.  On July 11, 1864 Smith was in Pontotoc, Mississippi.  Forrest was nearby at Okolona, Mississippi, and was under orders from his commander Stephen D. Lee not to engage Smith until Lee reinforced him.  On July 13, Smith became apprehensive of an ambush and marched his force to Tupelo, Mississippi and took up a defensive position.

Lee having reinforced Forrest, on July 14, beginning at 7:30 AM, Lee launched a series of uncoordinated attacks with his force of 8,000, all of which were bloodily repulsed.  Lee halted the attacks after a few hours.  Forrest would attack again,  once in the evening and once on the morning of the 15th, both attacks being repulsed.  Smith attempted no pursuit, for which he was heavily criticized,  and on July 15 retreated himself back to Memphis, pursued by Forrest. Smith did accomplish his goal of stopping Forrest from raiding into Tennessee and he was now a member of the exclusive, and minute, club of Union commanders who defeated Forrest in battle.  Union casualties were 648 to 1300 Confederate.

Here is Forrest’s report of the battle:

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June 10, 1864: Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

Tuesday, June 10, AD 2014


Forrest is the devil, and I think he has got some of our troops under cower…I will order them to make up a force and go out to follow Forrest to the death. If it costs ten thousand lives and breaks the Treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead.

General William T. Sherman to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton-June 15, 1864

General Nathan Bedford Forrest gained some incredible victories in the Civil War, but his victory at Brice’s Cross Roads in which he routed a well supplied Union force outnumbering his by almost three to one, ensured that he would enjoy mythic stature for the remainder of his life.

Sherman made Forrest one of his chief targets in the late spring of 1864, Sherman being concerned that Forrest would raid and shred his supply lines as he moved further south into Georgia.  For that purpose Major General Samuel D. Sturgis was given a mixed force of 8500 infantry and cavalry and given the mission of finding Forrest and destroying him.  Leaving Memphis on June 1, 1864, Sturgis headed into Mississippi.

As in so many times in his Civil War career, Forrest the hunted, quickly became Forrest the hunter.  Commanding only 3200 men, Forrest decided that he would fight Sturgis on ground of his choosing.  Realizing that Sturgis was heading for Tupelo, Mississippi, Forrest decided to fight at Brice’s Crossroads about 15 miles north of Tupelo.  The prospective battlefield had heavily wooded areas and one creek, Tishomingo Creek, with only one bridge across it, which the Union force would have to use to reach Brice’s cross roads.  Forrest was aware that the Union cavalry part of the force of Sturgis was about three hours ahead of the Union infantry, wearily marching over muddy roads.

At 9:45 AM a brigade of General Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry division crossed the bridge over  Tishomingo Creek and headed towards Brice Crossroads.  Forrest immediately launched a delaying attack with one of his cavalry brigades.  By 11:30 AM all of the Union cavalry was committed and Forrest was driving them back with his cavalry.

By 1:30 PM Union the exhausted Union infantry regiments began to arrive after struggling all morning marching along the muddy roads..  The Union force briefly went on the offensive attacking Forrest’s left.  Forrest repulsed this attack and launched attacks on both Union flanks while battering the Union center with his artillery.   An unsuccessful attack on the bridge over  Tishomingo Creek at 3:30 PM caused a panic  in the Union force.  Sturgis decided to retreat and the retreat became a rout with panic beginning as the bridge across the creek became a bottle neck.  Sturgis by this time was hoping merely to escape as he indicated to Colonel Edward Bouton of the 59th US Colored Infantry: “For God’s sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone I will let him alone. You have done all you could and more than was expected of you, and now all you can do is to save yourselves. ” 

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One Response to June 10, 1864: Battle of Brice’s Crossroads

  • Forrest didn’t find an able adversary until James Wilson, and even then Forrest embarrassed the Union general the first time they met in combat.

April 12, 1864: Fort Pillow

Saturday, April 12, AD 2014

Fort Pillow

Northern casualties were more than 63 percent, and the number of black soldiers killed was disproportionately high. There is no doubt there was a massacre of some kind. But I think he (Forrest) did everything he could to stop it. Next day, when the Federals came in and shelled the place, he sent a captured Union captain and a Confederate soldier back with a white flag to tell ’em to stop shootin’ their own wounded men because that’s all that was left at the fort.

Civil War historian Shelby Foote on Fort Pillow



Easily the most controversial engagement of the Civil War, the storming of Fort Pillow by forces under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest and what happened in the aftermath have been hotly contested for the past one hundred and fifty years.  Fort Pillow was a Union fort on the Mississippi 40 miles north of Memphis, Tennessee.  It was garrisoned by around 600 Union troops, equally divided between blacks and whites.  The black units were the 6th United States Regiment Heavy Artillery and the 2nd United States Colored Light Artillery.  The whites were recent recruits of the 14th Tennessee Cavalry consisting of  Tennessee Unionists.  Both groups had every reason to fear falling into Confederate hands.

Forrest, commanding about 1500 men, summoned the garrison to surrender at 3:30 PM:

“The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such as to entitle them to being treated a prisoners of war. I demand the unconditional surrender of the entire garrison, promising that you shall be treated as prisoners of war. My men have just 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.”

This was a typical demand for surrender by Forrest, promising good treatment if the force surrendered and indicating that he could not guarantee good treatment if the fort was taken by storm.  This was common practice, with commanders understanding that if a fort was taken by storm it was not unusual for the storming force, maddened by sustaining what they usually perceived as unnecessary casualties, exacting vengeance upon the garrison.  The Union commander refused, and the fort was taken by storm about 5:00 PM.

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February 22, 1864: Battle of Okolona

Saturday, February 22, AD 2014

Okolona Campaign

It is quite easy to assume that of the many victories won by General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War, the saddest for him was that of Okolona where his brother Colonel Jeffrey Forrest was killed leading a charge of his brigade.  As General Forrest himself observed:  War means fighting and fighting means killing.

As part of Sherman’s drive to take Meridian, Mississippi, read about that campaign here,  Major General William Sooy Smith led 7,000 cavalry out of Memphis to rendezvous with Sherman at Meridian.  But Smith got off to a late start, and Sherman, waiting for Smith for five days at Meridian, marched out of Meridian on February 20, 1864.  Smith, learning of this, headed back north towards Okolona, Mississippi, pursued by Forrest.  The pursuit was classic Forrest.  Outnumbered three to one, and short of ammunition, it was of course Forrest who was pursuing Smith!    Late on February 20, Forrest skirmished with Smith’s force at Prairie Station and Aberdeen, which hastened Smith’s retreat.

At dawn on February 22, on the prairie south of Okolona, Forrest opened the attack on Smith’s force, which had dismounted and prepared field fortifications.  Forrest’s frontal attack and flank probes quickly cause the Union troopers to retreat, abandoning five cannon.  The Federals reformed on a ridge, where Colonel Forrest received his mortal wound.  Forrest rushed to his brother, and cradling him in his arms cried “Jeffrey! Jeffrey!”.   He then told his adjutant to look after his brother’s body, and led the charge which swept the Union cavalry into headlong retreat, Forrest personally killing three Union soldiers in close combat.  Forrest pursued the retreating Federals for eleven miles.

The defeat was considered a vast humiliation for the Union Army and General Smith resigned from the Army before the year was out.   Here is the report of Forrest on the battle:

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April 21, 1863: Streight’s Mule Raid Begins

Sunday, April 21, AD 2013

In reviewing the history of this ill-fated expedition, I am convinced that had we been furnished at Nashville with 800 good horses, instead of poor, young mules, we would have been successful, in spite of all other drawbacks; or if General Dodge had succeeded in detaining Forrest one day longer, we would have been successful, even with our poor outfit.

Colonel Abel Streight


One of the more unsuccessful raids of the Civil War, Colonel Abel Streight’s Mule Raid was filled with high drama and low comedy.  Go here for a first rate video presentation of the raid.

A bookseller in Indianapolis at the beginning of the war, Streight was Colonel of the 51rst Indiana Infantry in 1863.  He hit upon the idea of a raid through Northern Alabama.  With Union loyalist Alabamians as guides, Streight planned to drive through Northern Alabama and on into Northern Georgia to destroy the rail hub of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which would have cripple the ability of the Confederates to supply their forces in Tennessee.  The raid was not intended as a cavalry raid, most of Streight’s force to consist of mounted infantry, their mounts being used for transportation and not to be fought from.  Streight was given command for his raid of a brigade of 1700 men, consisting of  two companies of the First West Tennessee and First Alabama Cavalry regiments, and the Third Ohio, Fifty-First Indiana and Eightieth Illinois Infantry regiments.

Signs that the expedition was ill-fated began when most of the men were mounted on temperamental, is there any other type?, mules.  Riding a mule can be a trial even for a skilled rider, and most of Streight’s men were novices.  Confederates during the expedition had great fun laughing at the “Jackass Cavalry” as Streight’s men were deemed, and Union morale suffered as a result.  The constant braying of the mules made finding the raiders an easy task for the Confederates during the raid, as well as getting on the nerves of their unfortunate riders.  The slow pace of the mules made certain that any Confederate force mounted on horses was going to be much faster.  Streight recognized the problem with the mules from the outset, and objected to them prior to the raid, to no avail.  To make the fiasco complete, about 200 of Streight’s men had no mounts at all at the beginning of the raid.

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April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

Tuesday, April 3, AD 2012

It is rare for any soldier to attain the rank of general, but Albert Sidney Johnston managed that feat in three armies:  rising from private to brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, brevet brigadier general in the United States Army, and full general in the Confederate States Army.  On April 3, 1862 he led his newly created Army of Mississippi out of the town of Corinth, Mississippi and began the march which would end in the surprise Confederate attack in the early morning of April 6, 1862, the beginning of the two day mammoth battle known to history as Shiloh.

The battle would result in the death of Johnston, his dying caused probably by his act of mercy in dispatching his personal surgeon to attend a wounded Union officer and none of his remaining staff having the presence of mind to fashion a tourniquet to stanch Johnston’s bleeding after he was wounded, and the fighting would inflict over 23,000 total Union and Confederate casualties, exceeding in two days all of the battlefield casualties in all of America’s wars prior to the Civil War.  Shiloh told the nation, North and South, that this was going to be a very grim war, and that their adversary would fight it with all the strength and will that they could muster.  After Shiloh the myth of a quick victorious war died on both sides.

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One Response to April 3, 1862: Johnston Begins His March to Shiloh

  • Sherman: “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”

    Grant: “Yes. [cigar puff] Lick ’em tomorrow, though.”

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

Friday, August 6, AD 2010


Easily the most controversial figure in the Civil War, probably the most controversial figure in American history, Nathan Bedford Forrest has always been the subject of fierce debate.  Self-made millionaire who rose from poverty with much of his money made as a slaver trader;  a semi-literate whose tactics and strategies as the most successful cavalry commander of the  Civil War are still studied at military academies around the world;  a brilliant general celebrated by the South and condemned by the North as the perpetrator of a massacre at Fort Pillow;  a man who killed in combat 31 Union soldiers in the War but who after the War constantly had former Union soldiers visit him to shake his hand; and  a racist who helped found the Ku Klux Klan after the War, but who also made a remarkable speech near the end of his life.

In 1875 Forrest was invited to address a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue on July 5.  Forrest was told by many whites that he should not accept, but Forrest went.  Just before he spoke he was presented a bouquet of flowers by Miss Flora Lewis, a daughter of one of the members of the Pole Bearers.   Here is Forrest’s speech.

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17 Responses to Nathan Bedford Forrest and Racial Reconciliation

  • A highly successful cavalry general. “Get there first with the most.” True cavalryman, he understood cavalry tactics: audacity, economy of force, military intelligence/recon and mobility. General Custer’s Civil War record was also stellar.

    Praise the Lord! Apparently, he came to repent of his sins and sought to amend his life.

  • Very interesting.

  • Thank you for another excellent piece. AMERICAN CATHOLIC never fails to entertain and enlighten.

  • Fascinating, and as always, excellent work. I never knew Forrest had a change of heart. Good.

    Forrest had one of the great slap-down rants of all time, directed at Braxton Bragg (whom I heartily thank God wore the gray) after Bragg’s jealous mistreatment of him following the battle of Chickamauga:

    “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 I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me. You have threatened to arrest me for not obeying your orders promptly. I dare you to do it, and 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.”

  • Hey Donald,

    May I put this article up on my facebook page?

  • I have read that Forrest left the KKK when he felt it was going in a directrion he didn’t approve, and that he was recruited into it as a reconstructionist organization after Robt. E Lee recommended him instead of himself. Further that he also left the KKK to solidify his business interests. So I think there continue to be two sides to the NBForrest story

  • Go ahead Bret.

  • Another Gem from the McClarey mine.

    Thank you for the education.

  • Most of this is sourced indirectly via Hurst’s biography. The KKK in its original form was to fight reconstruction. While there was somewhat of a centralized organization, a lot of Klan folks weren’t organized. NB Forrest got threatened by Congress. The organization pretty much ceased to exist after that. It was reconstituted around the 1920s and took the character with which it is most often identified.

    Fort Pillow was mainly propaganda to help Lincoln’s re-election. After the election, the matter was basically dropped. The Union apparatus showed no interest in making Forrest pay for his alleged massacre at Ft. Pillow.

    Forrest did indeed convert to Christianity. I wish I had the quote handy, but he said during the war that he couldn’t convert yet because he had un-Christian things to do.

    Forrest had amassed a small fortune before the war, but the money was in slave trading, so he wasn’t respected by the landed aristocracy of the time. He was broke after the war and a railroad venture ensured he remained that way. During his last years, he did a lot of work on racial reconciliation. He thought it would be better for blacks and whites to be in solidarity in attacking reconstruction and the mismanagement that went along with it.

  • NB Forrest is no hero to Catholics. He is one of American history’s most dispicable personages. The Ku Klux Klan is a domestic terrorist organization founded by former members of the Confederate Army of Tenn. with the specific goal of denying the civil rights of black people. The Army of Tennesee battle flag is a KKK symbol.

    Catholic immigrants to the United States have long been subject to intimidation by the KKK, both North and South. NB Forrest was a slave trader, war criminal, and domestic terrorist. How bizarrre it is to see an attempt to celebrate his life here at American Catholic.

  • What is bizarre Trevor is your unwillingness to even consider an event in Forrest’s life that indicates that he was trying to make amends for the racism of his life. Redemption is one of the key elements of the Catholic faith, and this story demonstrates that as long as there is life there is an opportunity for it.

  • There is nothing fascinatng or ‘redemptive’ about NB Forrest’s life Donald. The man was a slave trader, a civil war criminal, and a domestic terrorst. No amount of rhetoric on his part is going to change those facts.

    Put in its proper context, the speech which this story alludes to was part of an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan to get nacent black political organizations like the Tennesee Independent Order of Pole Bearers to stop supporting black/Republican candidates and support the white Democrat candidates instead. The Klan was ultimately sucessful in that endevour as the black Republican political ascendency in Tennesee ended the following year in 1876. Thus ended black Tenneseean’s best chance for stopping the imposition of Jim Crow laws over their lives.

    From a religious perspective the Forrest speech would be better viewed as a story about Satan’s temptation. By appearing in the flesh amongst the black audience, smiling, acting friendly, and saying the right words, the worldly white supremicist Klan leader was able to convince his less sophisticated opponents to drop their own poliitical cause and join his. To their everlasting detriment.

  • As I said Trevor at the beginning of my post, Forrest is probably the most controversial figure in American history. On my blog Almost Chosen People, when I posted this, I received flak from a neo-Confederate named Bill. A debate between you and Bill would be amusing if not edifying.


    In regard to Forrest, you are quite incorrect as to whether he is fascinating. He obviously is, judging from the number of recent biographies and the fact that whenever his name appears in anything I write for a blog, the comments roll in.

    As for his speech, Forrest was invited to give it. He specifically indicates in it that he is not going to attempt to tell his listeners how to vote. I might also note that it would be a peculiar election strategy to think that sending Forrest of Fort Pillow and the Klan to a black group would be an effective form of political persuasion. By 1875 Forrest by all indications was no longer involved with the Klan and was not involved in politics. Forrest in his speech was not speaking for any party, but for himself. You are of course free to interpret his speech as arising from ulterior motives, but I do not think that the facts support such an interpretation.

  • I can’t help but chime in:

    Often Forrest’s reputation comes down to the controversies surrounding three specific parts of his life:

    1) His role as a slave-trader.
    2) His role in the Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow.
    3) His role in the Klan.

    There is no denying Forrest was a slave trader. However, the practice was perfectly legal at the time (Constitutionally protected even as evidenced by the Dred Scott decision) and he wasn’t the only person partaking in said practice. Of course this does not exonerate his participation therein from a moral standpoint, but this detail placed in it’s proper historical context is, as Michael Bradley (Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Escort and Staff, 2006, pg 215-6) passionately argues, an example of presentism; “Presentism would have us use our knowledge and values to judge the actions of the past, even though our knowledge and values were not accessible to the people of the past.” If the matter is argued even further, 13 out of 39 signing members of the Constitution were slave-traders/slave-owners themselves and during the 1858 debates with Douglas, Lincoln even remarked (a position he publicly held on numerous occasions following his election) that he did not think that the black man is “my equal in many respects, certainly not in color—perhaps not in moral or intellectual endowments…” (Shane Kastler, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption, 2010, 37-9). One thus wonders if the onslaught of criticism of Forrest’s slave-trading activities are as merited when so many prominent historical figures in US history are given passes for their words/actions in comparison.

    The Battle (Massacre) of Fort Pillow is a wonderful example of propaganda. There are numerous points of contention worth noting, but among the more noteworthy:

    A) Forrest’s official report for his activities was not offered or considered as evidence in his defense for 4 months; his report was submitted to his Commanding Officer, General Polk, who subsequently died during the Atlanta Campaign against General Sherman and the report was lost until later found by Polk’s replacement. Consequently, the Northern Congress wrote of the event as a “massacre” while distributing 40,000 copies decrying Forrest’s action as murder; oh yes, it was also 1864 and Lincoln was convinced he wouldn’t win re-election unless desperate measures were taken (Robert Selph Henry, First with the Most; Forrest, 1944, 248-9). Interestingly, too, that same Congress also exonerated Forrest but the Northern Press did not emphasize that detail with the same vigor it had in efforts of condemning him.

    B) Equally interesting, Fort Pillow was given 3 (count them, three) chances to surrender. The Fort was surrounded. The Federals were outnumbered. The main commanders of the Fort, Bradford and Booth, had zero combat experience. I could go on (Hell, just read Maness, Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Hurst, Wills, or anyone else that documents the event) and the outcome is pretty predictable.

    C) Did I also forget to mention that more than half the combatants were taken prisoner, given quarter, medical treatment and all prisoners of war were eventually exchanged to the federals? (Jordan & Pryor, 1899, reprinted 1996, 704).

    D) Oh, and did I also forget to mention that many of the Federal combatants did surrender, only to re-pick up their arms and start shooting again? (See Jordan & Pryor, Wyeth, Wills, Hurst, etc.) Interesting how the Congressional report condemning Forrest includes testimony by Federal soldiers saying that they never officially surrendered as well as re-fought after individual members surrendered, but the Northern Press, again, did not emphasize these points with the same vigor it had in condemning him. Here is where it might be reasonable to believe a conspiracy of sorts was taking place.

    E) More people died at the The Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) in one day than virtually all of Forrest’s war campaigns put together. You might be thinking, “So what difference does that make?” Well, there is only one real obvious difference, minus the commanders involved with each conflict: white people were killing white people instead of white people killing black people. Could it really be this simple? Maybe not. But when numerous colored regiments under the regional direction of Federal General Sturgis, among numerous others assigned by General Sherman to annihilate Forrest, fail miserably and repeatedly, it’s a tough recruiting tool to win public support, increase black enlistment, not appear incompetent, etc., when Forrest is consistently destroying those in his path. Plus how else can the Federals justify their losses beyond conceding that they did not adequately train members of their command? Cognitive dissonance and propaganda work miracles.

    A lot of ink has also been spilled about Forrest having a role in the Klan. Was he in the group or wasn’t he? According to Morton (1909), Forrest’s former artillery officer, he initiated Forrest as a member and as eventual Grand Dragon. According to Stanley Horn (1939), Forrest was probably a member but there is no conclusive evidence he ever held a leadership role. Pick and choose whatever you want to believe, but a few things are clear:

    A) Forrest wasn’t a founding member of the organization; it already existed for a year to 18 months before his alleged involvement.

    B) During Reconstruction ex-Confederates were denied the right to vote. The fear was that if they could vote, they would vote to maintain the Old South as well as white supremacy; indeed a reasonable fear. Consequently, however, rather than reconciliation or efforts to reconstruct the South for all its members, ex-Confederates were now singled out for discrimination. The Governor of Tennessee, Brownlow, went so far under a Reconstructionalist agenda to attempt to have all ex-Confederates shot by citizen militia groups under the pretense that all KKK members were clearly ex-Confederates fighting for the right to preserve the Old South (and by proxy obvious Klan members and/or sympathizers), while the offenders would never be brought to justice if Brownlow had his way. It should be noted that some might argue that this position taken by Brownlow and Reconstructionalists was justice for the plight of what blacks inhumanely suffered for centuries; others might argue, rightfully, however, that using more discrimination to fight discrimination solves nothing. Notwithstanding, once Brownlow resigned to pursue political aspirations as a Senator, Senter of the Democratic Party became the new Tennessee governor and voting rights were restored for all eligible citizens. In so doing, the KKK was officially disbanded; often attributed as the work of Forrest.

    C) New groups, in the name of the original, popped up. Many allegations have even surfaced that many of the newer groups were actually discontent Union-loyalists attempting to pursue their own agenda (Selph Henry, 450-1). I have even read some critics suggest that some of the “newer” Klan groups were discontent blacks; but you’d have to really buy into conspiracy theories and insane propaganda to believe that any group of people would vote/fight/kill against their own interests… oh, that does happen.

    In sum, Forrest is often judged for isolated incidents before the Civil War (e.g. slave-trading), during the Civil War (e.g. Fort Pillow) and immediately following the Civil War (e.g. KKK activities). Interestingly, however, the last 8 years of Forrest’s life are often ignored altogether. You might be thinking, “Why should anyone care?” Well, for one, Forrest converted to Christianity. Two, Forrest began to publicly preach racial reconciliation (e.g. evidenced by his speech to the Pole Bearers, among other things). Three, Forrest even alienated his traditionally white supporters in efforts to protect newly emancipated slaves (e.g. as a planter following the Civil War he actually paid black laborers more than his competitors/neighbors). Often the “so what?” question from these observations emerge. Detractors of Forrest often like to find instances of controversy while choosing to only provide certain pieces to make their case. Conversely, defenders of Forrest often like to emphasize Forrest’s war achievements in isolation from the rest of his life and not fully consider him as the incomplete, inconsistent, and contradictory person that he was.

    For what my stake in this larger debate entails, I would say this: defenders of Forrest have hurt Forrest’s reputation by refusing to acknowledge the man for all his faults. Instead, Forrest has become a symbol of white masculinity defending a way of life that may never have existed (e.g. read the Agrarian Manifesto by the 12 Southerners or Cash’s The Mind of the South for a better idea of what I’m talking about). Detractors of Forrest have done nothing but focus on the man for his faults, often cherry-picking details out of context or simply ignoring context altogether. Interestingly, neither defenders nor detractors have spoken much about Forrest’s last 8 years in great detail; almost as if to imply that neither is willing to consider Forrest as having developed a progressive attitude towards race late in his life. But what an irony it would be if the NAACP and the KKK have been using the same man to make an argument for their respective positions, when, in fact, Forrest is not the man either have claimed him to be. But it’s a lot easier to blindly accept what we’re told because, after all, history is always inclusive of—and written with—the minority position in mind. Or not.

  • Thank you Paul for your well-thought out comment. This is precisely the type of comment I hope to see when I post on historical topics here and at my blog on American history, Almost Chosen People:


    History must be approached on its own terms as you have done here. Establishing the facts of history can be difficult, but until we have established the facts, debate about what the facts mean is meaningless. In regard to Forrest and the Klan, I think he clearly was involved at a high level, and I will probably do a piece on that at Almost Chosen People as the length of the examination would warrant a full blog post.

  • In regard to Fort Pillow, another subject worthy of a lengthy blog post on Almost Chosen People, the historical controversy rages from the day of the taking of Fort Pillow to today. My position is as follows.

    Some Confederates did kill black and white Union soldiers, most of whom were Tennessee Unionists, after the fort was taken. Unfortunately this was not an uncommon occurrence after a fort was summoned to surrender and had to be taken by assault. The assaulting troops are usually in that situation highly enraged and it is extremely difficult for commanders to keep them under control in the immediate aftermath. There is little evidence that I can see that Forrest ordered his men to do such killings and a fair amount of evidence that Forrest took steps to end the killings as soon as he learned of them.

    This contemporary letter after the battle discusses what happened:
    “Letter of Surgeon Samuel H. Caldwell, Sixteenth Tennessee Cavalry

    Camp Near Brownsville, April 15, 1864.

    My Dear Darling Wife,
    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
    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—…

    Nothing more but remain your devoted husband.
    S. H. Caldwell.”

  • Your welcome.

    With regard to Fort Pillow, depending on whose account you read and lend credence towards, the Federal troops were composed mainly of former slaves, Tennessee Unionists and ex-Confederate deserters; all of whom were regarded as traitors in the eyes of Confederates. Throw in the sense of outrage in having to risk your life to fight a battle that could have been avoided and there is a lot of high emotion going on. Once more, there is also a lot of documentation alleging Bradford and his men were robbing, raping and harassing the locals; so goes the story Forrest viewed Fort Pillow as a meaningless strategic position but he was begged by the locals for protection including from his own men who had families in the area.

    One of the reasons why the allegations of “massacre” have gained a lot of traction, however, is that there is considerable speculation that Forrest lost control of his men; that is to say, he didn’t order a massacre but he didn’t prevent one from happening either. Richard Fuchs, at least, attempts to push this argument further by suggesting premeditated murder. Interestingly, however, Forrest ordered General Chalmers to direct the action since he arrived late on the scene and he also had 3 horses shot from under him during the initial fighting before the demand for surrender commenced. But getting into all these details is often ignored by detractors because, after all, by simply acknowledging that they could be wrong or have condemned Forrest irrespective of the facts, this concession opens itself to further attack insofar as what else detractors may have failed to recognize.

    With regard to the Klan, it’s suspicion of guilt versus confirmation thereof. During the Congressional Investigation of the Insurrectory States Forrest’s testimony definitely suggests he knew much more than he was willing to admit. Forrest’s testimony with the Cincinnati reporter that was offered into evidence also suggests Forrest held a high position of leadership, or at least was very influential, but once more there is no evidence to conclusively link Forrest to the Klan. Most historians often nonchalantly say Forrest had a role, but what is often omitted is that this so-called “link” is a suspicion rather than supported in fact. Consequently, the Northern Congress, to their credit, recognized the insufficient evidence and exonerated Forrest.

    Notwithstanding, I find it absolutely fascinating that once certain allegations go unchallenged it almost becomes accepted in lieu of fact. Perhaps the allegation is as good as fact without evidence to support the claim for some folks, but what often seems to happen is that once each allegation becomes accepted without proof, the severity of the charge(s) seems to escalate. For instance, the Memphis chapter of the NAACP has often charged Forrest as being the founder of the Klan; thus, as they have argued, this is grounds alone to remove his equestrian statue in a racially polarized city such as Memphis. Should anyone remind the NAACP that Forrest didn’t create the Klan, however, they often refuse to admit the carelessness in this charge.

    Even more strange is when civil rights groups in general try to argue the reasons surrounding Forrest’s interment locale. It often behooves these groups to recognize that Forrest specifically asked to be buried in Elmwood as opposed to a park dedicated in his honor. Why does this matter? When Forrest Park was built the equestrian statue was the second largest of it’s kind ever constructed, next to Napoleon’s, at a cost almost surpassing all other American monuments at that time; quite the accomplishment considering this money came out of the pockets of Memphis citizens dirt poor from Reconstruction. Moreover, a park built in the memory of a Confederate hero stands when none exists in honor of Martin Luther King in the city of Memphis only seems to further motivate detractors in their efforts to rewrite history to their liking.

    I would absolutely be curious to see new scholarship emerge about Forrest’s controversial roles as they are situated within a greater historical context versus isolated from the world he lived in. Too often scholars and detractors alike have extreme tunnel vision to the point that they appear more concerned with fulfilling political agendas than promoting genuine efforts to seek racial reconciliation. Because once we recognize that people in history are not as one-dimension as often asserted, the sooner we can shift from our inability/unwillingness to come to terms with our undesirable history and actually focus on ways to improve the social ills that plague us.