Nathan Bedford Forrest rides on

The point of Scott Barker’s story in Sunday’s paper was that, more than 140 years after the Civil War ended, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest still stirs things up in Tennessee. Reaction to the story included:
— A note from a man who said he refuses to bring images of the Confederate flag into his house and, so, did not bring in Sunday’s paper.
— A message from a reader stating, definitively, that there was no massacre at Fort Pillow and that evidence indicates Forrest was never even in the Ku Klux Klan.
A couple of the notes are attached in the extended entry.

Mr. Barker:
There is no doubt whatsoever that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave trader. However, the two UT professors are largely incorrect on two other points.
First, there was no massacre at Fort Pillow. It was a hard fought battle, but the popular version of it as a “massacre” doesn’t hold up. An after-the-war investigation lead by former Union Gen. Sherman cleared Forrest and his command of any blame. This is very well documented.
Second, there is no evidence to tie Gen. Forrest to the Klan. All evidence indicates he told his ounger former officers in the Klan to disband and grow up and act like gentlemen. While people say say Gen. Forrest started the Klan, that is false. There is considerable doubt he was ever a Klan member.
Too much of present day Civil War history has evolved from present day “urban legends,” not fact.
Alton Lanier
Arlington, Tennessee
Mr. Barker:
Unfortunately, we live in a time which has seen the rewriting of history to a significant degree over the past several decades. Little of what is presented as “history” is actually a reflection of the reality and documentable history of the period. Nathan Bedford Forrest is a primary example of this situation.
The fact is that Forrest’s life and his personal positions were far different from what is popularly presented.
While Forrest was at one time a slave dealer his policies survived.
They included: His personal prohibition on separating families; his policy of purchasing and reuniting familes that had been separated; his choice to bring new slaves into his home to be cleaned and clothed by his personal servants; his policy of giving passes to new slaves and offering them the opportunity to determine for themselves to whom they would wish to be sold; and maintaining a list of those to whom he would not sell because he knew them to be cruel.
Some slaves of cruel masters even came to Forrest to ask that he purchase them away from their abusive masters.
The likelihood that Forrest would sell a slave impregnated with his child, if such a thing can really be proven by more than family oral history, would be remote based on his recorded personal policies and acts. Perhaps DNA testing would settle what is obviously a troubling matter for Mr. Ward. If Mr. Ward would not agree to DNA testing to prove conclusively whether or not he is descended from Forrest one would be prompted to wonder why.
After all, anyone can claim descendancy from anyone. Family oral histories are not always reliable.
Regarding Forrest’s conduct toward Blacks during the War, the following is germaine:
“‘First With the Most’ Forrest” by Robert Selph Henry, Indianapolis,
IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1944, page 14 – “Forty-five of Forrest’s own slaves, indeed served through the war with him as teamsters. ‘I said to forty-five colored fellows on my plantation…’ Forrest told a Congressional committee after the war, ‘that I was going into the army; and that if they would go with me, if we got whipped they would be free anyhow, and that if we succeeded and slavery was perpetuated, if they would act faithfully with me to the end of the war, I would set them free. Eighteen months before the war closed I was satisfied that we were going to be defeated, and I gave those forty-five men, or forty-four of them, their free papers, for fear I might get killed.'”
When freed these men never left Forrest’s side and served as personal servants, cooks, teamsters, foragers, scouts, and eight of them served as Forrest’s personal armed bodyguards.
Is there proof that these men rode into combat with Forrest? Most definitely and from the most widely-accepted authoritative source:
Federal Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805, Lt. Col.
Parkhurst’s Report (Ninth Michigan Infantry) on General Forrest’s attack at Murfreesboro, Tenn, July 13, 1862: “The forces attacking my camp were the First Regiment Texas Rangers, Colonel Wharton, and a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers, Colonel Morrison, and a large number of citizens of Rutherford County, many of whom had recently taken the oath of allegiance to the United States Government. There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day.”
Forrest later commented in 1871 that, “Those fellows never left me…and better Confederates did not live.”
The 1864 investigation of the Ft. Pillow “massacre” was wartime propaganda of the crudest sort. The intention was to inflame United States Colored Troops (USCT) to greater effort by making them believe that they could expect only death if they surrendered and provoke them to cruelty toward surrendered Confederates.
Their propaganda succeeded.
At the Battle of Marianna, Florida, on September 28, 1864, USCT briefly shot and clubbed surrendered Confederate Home Guard members until the 2nd Maine Cavalry restrained them. At Ft. Blakeley, Alabama, on April 9, 1865, USCT murdered significant numbers of surrendered Confederate soldiers by shooting, bayoneting, and clubbing them to death. When two white Union USCT officers tried to intervene both were shot by the Colored Troops. One officer died and the other was crippled for life.
In 1871 a Congressional investigation was convened to look into Forrest’s alleged involvement with the Klan and to revisit the Ft.
Pillow “massacre.” The investigation was chaired by Forrest’s old enemy, William Tecumseh Sherman, who told the press that, “We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try Forrest, convict Forrest, and hang Forrest.”
The outcome of the 1871 investigation was twofold. The committee found no evidence that Forrest had participated in the formation of the Klan and that even the use of his name may well have been without his permission. They also found that there was no credible evidence that Forrest had ever participated in or directed any actions of the Klan.
“The reports of Committees, House of Representatives, second session, forty-second congress,” P. 7-449.
“The primary accusation before this board is that Gen. Forrest was a founder of The Klan, and its first Grand Wizard, So I shall address those accusations first. In 1871, Gen. Forrest was called before a congressional Committee along with 21 other ex-Confederate officers including Admiral Raphael Semmes, Gen. Wade Hampton, Gen. John B.
Gordon, and Gen. Braxton Bragg. Forrest testified before Congress personally over four hours .
Forrest took the witness stand June 27th,1871. Building a railroad in Tennessee at the time, Gen Forrest stated he ‘had done more , probably than any other man, to suppress these violence and difficulties and keep them down, had been vilified and abused in the (news) papers, and accused of things I never did while in the army and since. He had nothing to hide, wanted to see this matter settled, our country quite once more, and our people united and working together harmoniously.’
Asked if he knew of any men or combination of men violating the law or preventing the execution of the law: Gen Forest answered emphatically, ‘No.’ (A Committee member brought up a document suggesting otherwise, the 1868 newspaper article from the “Cincinnati Commercial”. That was their “evidence”, a news article.)
Forrest stated ‘…any information he had on the Klan was information given to him by others.’
Sen. Scott asked, ‘Did you take any steps in organizing an association or society under that prescript (Klan constitution)?’
Forrest: ‘I DID NOT’ Forrest further stated that ‘..he thought the Organization (Klan) started in middle Tennessee, although he did not know where. It is said I started it.’
Asked by Sen. Scott, ‘Did you start it, Is that true?’
Forrest: ‘No Sir, it is not.’
Asked if he had heard of the Knights of the white Camellia, a Klan-like organization in Louisiana,
Forrest: ‘Yes, they were reported to be there.’
Senator: ‘Were you a member of the order of the white Camellia?’
Forrest: ‘No Sir, I never was a member of the Knights of the white Camellia.’
Asked about the Klan :
Forrest: ‘It was a matter I knew very little about. All my efforts were addressed to stop it, disband it, and prevent it….I was trying to keep it down as much as possible.’
Forrest: ‘I talked with different people that I believed were connected to it, and urged the disbandment of it, that it should be broken up.'”
The following article appeared in the New York times June 27th, “Washington, 1871. Gen Forrest was before the Klu Klux Committee today, and his examination lasted four hours. After the examination, he remarked than the committee treated him with much courtesy and respect.”
Congressional records show that Gen. Forrest was absolved of all complicity in the founding or operation of the Ku Klux Klan, and he was certainly never a “Grand Wizard”. These committees had the utmost evidence and living witnesses at their disposal. The evidence precluded any Guilt or indictment of Gen. Forrest and the matter was closed before that body of final judgment in 1872.
The following findings in the Final report of this committee of Congress concluded, “The statement of these gentlemen (Forrest and Gordon) are full and explicit…the evidence fully sustains them.”
Regarding Ft. Pillow they found that although there were individual acts by Confederate soldiers there was no ordered or organized “massacre” and that Forrest had taken immediate action to stop such individual misdeeds as soon as he arrived on the scene. His horse had fallen and rolled on him the previous day and he was delayed by those resultant injuries.
They also found that two of the accusations of the most outrageous behavior were simply false.
Confederate forces were accused of burning Union barracks with wounded Union soldiers inside. Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn, Sixth U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, whose report is contained in the Federal Official Records, documented that Lieutenant John D. Hill fired the barracks under orders of the Union commanding officer. Lieutenant Van Horn also reported, “There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter.”
Accusations that Confederates buried wounded USCT were also found to be false. This was determined by the testimony of Union officers to the effect that they has been put in charge of the burial of their dead and that no such live burials occurred.
Additionally Confederate records showed that Forrest forwarded 39 USCT to higher command as prisoners of war. The Federal Official Records contain a receipt from the Acting Master of the U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud to acknowledge that he had received from Forrest’s adjutant the most seriously wounded of the fort’s defenders, including 14 USCT.
It seems highly unlikely that someone committing a “massacre” would trouble himself by taking prisoners and certainly not by trying to ensure that the most severely wounded of those he supposedly “massacred”
received better medical care than he could provide.
An objective analysis of available evidence is available on our web site:
After the War Forrest continued his life and by 1874 undertook actions which many of his fellow white Tennesseans found objectionable.
“Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography,” Jack Hurst, Chapter 33, Pg. 361
– “The rural west Tennessee town of Trenton saw racial trouble in 1874.
Two white men made themselves uninvited guests at a barbecue hosted by black residents. The host were insulted when the two men refused to pay for their dinner. It appears the two white men were fired on by the angry crowd. Sixteen of the barbequers were arrested by the Sheriff of Trenton. The posse had to defend itself from two attacks by groups of masked whites. At approximately 1:00 am, a group of masked men took the black citizens from the jail. They killed six on the edge of town. The others were never seen again. Forrest’s response to this incident was typical of the man and the attitudes he held throughout his life: ‘If I were entrusted with the proper authority I would capture and exterminate the white marauders who disgraced their race by this cowardly murder of Negroes.'”
The most clear example of this was documented by the Memphis Daily Avalanche as follows:
Memphis Daily Avalanche, July 6, 1875, 1.
“July 4, 1875 – Memphis, Tennessee –
Nathan Bedford Forrest was invited to speak by the Jubilee of Pole Bearers, a political and social organization in the post-war era comprised of Black Southerners. Miss Lou Lewis was introduced to General Forrest then presented him with a bouquet of flowers and said: ‘Mr.
Forrest – allow me to present you this bouquet as a token, of reconciliation, an offering of peace and good will.’
General Forrest received the flowers with a bow, and replied:
‘Miss Lewis, ladies and gentlemen – I accept these flowers as a token of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the South. I accept them more particularly, since they come from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God’s great earth who loves the ladies, it is myself.
This is a proud day for me. Having occupied the position I have for thirteen years, and being misunderstood by the colored race, I take this occasion to say that I am your friend. I am here as the representative of the Southern people – one that has been more maligned than any other.
I assure you that every man who was in the Confederate army is your friend. We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live in the same land, and why should we not be brothers and sisters.
When the war broke out I believed it to be my duty to fight for my country, and I did so. I came here with the jeers and sneers of a few white people, who did not think it right. I think it is right, and will do all I can to bring about harmony, peace and unity. I want to elevate every man, and to see you take your places in your shops, stores and offices.
I don’t propose to say anything about politics, but I want you to do as I do – go to the polls and select the best men to vote for. I feel that you are free men, I am a free man, and we can do as we please. I came here as a friend and whenever I can serve any of you I will do so.
We have one Union, one flag, one country; therefore, let us stand together. Although we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment.
Many things have been said in regard to myself, and many reports circulated, which may perhaps be believed by some of you, but there are many around me who can contradict them. I have been many times in the heat of battle – oftener, perhaps, than any within the sound of my voice. Men have come to me to ask for quarter, both black and white, and I have shielded them.
Do your duty as citizens, and if any are oppressed, I will be your friend. I thank you for the flowers, and assure you that I am with you in heart and hand ‘”
Rather than looking to reinforce the onerous rewriting of factual history and continue to unjustly demonize Forrest to allow those who wish to perpetuate and accentuate division may I suggest that the most logical and commendable recommendation would be to campaign to have a bronze tablet displaying Forrest’s July 4, 1875, speech added to Forrest Park. Likely that would both coincide with Forrest’s sentiments and be supported by his descendants.
There are those who want to add a monument to Black Confederates to Forrest Park. That would be supported not only by the irrefutable facts of history, but also by the position of the National Park Service African American Civil War Web Project:
“June 20, 2005
Much more information is available, especially from official, preserved government records, about the role of African American soldiers in the Union army. The numbers of those soldiers per se were undoubtedly greater than in the Confederate army. In addition, the federal government officially approved a recruitment policy for African Americans, including slaves (the majority of African Americans) into the Union army by 1863. The Confederate States did not officially approve the recruitment of African American slaves into the Confederate army until nearly the end of the war.
While some free African Americans served in the Confederate army, their role is not as well documented and preserved. In addition, many African Americans who served in some capacity in the Confederate army, often anonymously, were slaves. It is difficult to have precise information in the present about the ways in which they served, and the exact military role they played.
We hope over time to be able to include more information on all African Americans who served, both slave and free, including those who served in any capacity in the Confederate war effort. As some writers have pointed out even the official records preserved by the federal government have episodic references to this subject. It is a matter of collecting material from disparate sources to compile a portrait of the issue. It is a less well known part of Civil War history, because it was not as well documented, but it is a part of the overall history that we would like to include over time.
Marilyn W. Nickels, Ph.D.
Project Manager
African-American History Web Project
Office of the Chief Information Officer/NISC National Park Service”
Obviously, the fact that Mr. Ward has been told that he is descended from Forrest and has never been afforded the oppotunity to learn the truth about Forrest has troubled him greatly. I hope that by offering him these references he will have the opportunity to resolve old emotional wounds.
The most accurate prediction of our present situation was made by Irish-born Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne in his January, 1864, letter which proposed the mass emancipation and enlistment of Black Southerners into the Confederate Army:
“Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late…It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision…The conqueror’s policy is to divide the conquered into factions and stir up animosity among them…[emphasis added]”
We invite you to visit with the 37th Texas Cavalry (Terrell’s), Confederate States Army, the primary focal point on the Web for valid research and documentation of the Forgotten Confederates.
We have the largest, most visited Civil War reenactor web site. With
118 Web Awards to date it is the most honored Civil War site of any kind. While we stand firmly for history and against those who misrepresent the South and its history, we are not affiliated with any heritage or descendant groups.
Through painstaking research and thorough, uncommented documentation we celebrate the courage, sacrifice, and heritage of ALL Southerners who had to make agonizing personal choices under impossible circumstances.
“The first law of the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true.
Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.” – Cicero (106-43 B.C.)
We simply ask that all act upon the facts of history. We invite your questions.
Your Obedient Servant,
Colonel Michael Kelley, CSA (228-762-2573)
Commanding, 37th Texas Cavalry (Terrell’s)
“We are a band of brothers!”
“. . . . political correctness has replaced witch trials and communist
hearings as the preferred way to torment our fellow countrymen.” “Ghost
Riders,” Sharyn McCrumb, 2004, Signet, pp. 9

9 thoughts on “Nathan Bedford Forrest rides on

  1. R. Neal

    The article, the timing, and this lame defense are all quite disappointing.
    Passover is coming up soon. Maybe you could do a feature on Hitler. I bet you can find plenty of scholars who will tell you that Hitler was nice to Jews and The Holocaust never happened.

  2. Ron Johnson

    I impersonate General Forrest and find that more people respect him than reject him. He was an outstanding man. The northern propaganda tried to destroy the General’s reputation as other Confederate heroes. The Black Klan (NAACP) is on a mission to destroy Confederate history. They need to really know the truth first before they react. Over 90,000 Blacks fought for the Confederacy. They were integrated in the Confederate lines. In the North they were segregated into units that were looked at like trophy soldiers. Slavery was and is wrong but it’s over. Racism still exsists and it is alive and well in the North among many Blacks and Whites. More Northerners were racist than Southerners. Learn, read a book on the truth about General Forrest. He hired all Blacks after the war to work on his railroad.One of the first civil rights leader in the South.

  3. heather

    I think it is awesome what you all are doing this really helps me with my report on Mr. Nathan Bedford Forrest

  4. heather


  5. J.M. Harrell

    Sadly, we live in a time when emotion and rhetoric is too often considered truth. When speaking of General Forrest, one must remember that he lived and died over 130 years ago. There is therefore no new information to be had about this great man. We must rely therefore on that which has been recorded by those who came before us. In General Forrest’s case, there are many documents to support the fact that he was not the monster that he has been portrayed as. One must only look to the unbiased writer of history to find a good compilation of these facts. Sadly, the history of any war is written by the conqueror, and thus in many instances of the Civil War’s history, we find it warped with northern sentimen. If one wishes to understand the Northern dislike for Forrest, one must comprehend the absolute terror that he struck inot the hearts of many Federal troops who were engaged in battle with him. Against all odds Forrest bested the Federals on most occasions, and almost without fail the Federal commanding officers would estimate his stength as double or triple the reality. Sherman had such regard of Forrest as to send over 30,000 of the best Federal soldiers out to try to capture him and his command of 4,000 on his final invasion of Tennessee. This is all well documented in an oustanding book by the famed New York surgeon John A. Wyeth, entitled “Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest” and re-edited as “That Devil Forrest”.
    Necessarily we as humans resent those with whom we stuggle and cannot win. This was the bitter sentiment toward Forrest by the North during the Civil war, and we are dealing with the warping of that history yet today.
    J.M. Harrell CPL USMC Ret.

  6. edward forrest

    i am a decendent of nathan bedford forrest i dont have dna evidence but my first time finding out about my great great great grandfather was from my grandfather eugiene forrest he showed me his picture i am 100 percent shure i am his great great great grandson

  7. edward forrest

    im not shure how many greats though ive only known for 3 years but i didnt think anything about it until i watched the secret history of the kkk thats when i saw him and he was excatly the same as the picture my grandfather showed me he said his name was nathan bedford forrest thats when i knew i was related to him but i didnt know his deeds or works until i reshearched him online i am now saddend to know his negative image he was a great man i am damned proud to be his decendent

  8. George Richards

    There is no doubt these last two gentlemen are related to Gen. Forrest from the quality of their writing and grammar.

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