Nathan Bedford Forrest & Family

diane

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winter 1864

You hit a nerve when you wrote "bounding over the hill". One of the things that is very important to remember when considering the campaign in Tennessee from Nov 20 to Dec 28, 1864 is that this was the worst recorded weather known for this region. Temperatures were unmerciful, freezing rain and sleet at Franklin, snow at Nashville, and more snow and mud on the way out to Alabama. At Anthony's hill the gun wouldn't have exactly 'bounded' anywhere. General Wilson stated that he had lost about 5,000 animals during that period prior to Anthony's Hill on Dec 25 and that the US Army had had enough for a while when they gave up pursuit at Lexington, Alabama two days later. General Wilson went back home by the fire in Nashville and equipped himself with 13,000 fresh troops, horses and supplies and regrouped at Waterloo and Gravelly Springs, Alabama about 20 miles west of Florence. On March 22, 1865 he received permission from Sherman to move out in his successful effort to capture Alabama. The Army of Tennessee was long gone to face their destiny in North Carolina, but Forrest was left behind to defend Alabama and Mississippi as best he could, added only by young Richard Taylor, old Zach's son. With no fresh supplies or men of fighting age and muscletone, Forrest's fate was doomed and he called it quits at Citronelle, AL a few weeks later. Forrest mounted yet another horse (he kept losing them) and turned to his men with the news that he was 'agoing home' as he headed back to Memphis. After Anthony's Hill Dec 25, 1864 the next skirmish came the next day a few miles down the road at Sugar Creek where Forrest again sent a few yankees to the promised land which continuing to allow his wasted army to escape across the Tennessee River. "It was during the crossing (at Sugar Creek) that a Rebel fell into the mud. He scrambled out and spoke his mind, 'Now ain't we in a hell of a fix; a one-eyed president, a one-legged general, and a one horse Confederacy'".
 

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Forrest and the klan?

Many contemporary writers in this early part of the 21st century, portray General Forrest as a racial bigot bringing great difficulty to the black population of the south. This is an attempt to get at the truth. Was General Forrest a racial bigot? Certainly not.. Many of his former slaves served with him the entire war. At the close of the war there was no state government organized in Tennessee at the local level. The male population had been devastated, both white and black. Nearly all men between the ages of 20 and 40 had been actively involved in the war. “Carpetbaggers” from the north were roaming the south looking for investment opportunities and taking advantage of families devastated by the war. There were reports of “uprisings” of blacks newly freed and frustrated by their prospects for the future causing riots and borrowing food, clothing and shelter as were many white southerners.

General Forrest doubtless was interested in trying to keep the peace as much as possible until order could be restored. This was volunteer militia duty on his part, probably very little more. Yes, there are many sides and view points to this story.
 

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Here's an excerpt from :

THE KU*KLUX KLAN AND "THE BIRTH OF A
NATION."
BY MRS. S. E. F ROSE, WEST POINT, MISS.


LEADERS OF THE KLAN.
Gen. George W. Gordon, of Confederate fame, was one of the Klan's early and wise leaders. He prepared the oath and ritual for the Klan and furnished a safe chart for them to follow in their dangerous work. In the fall of 1866 the Klan had spread with amazing rapidity, covering nearly all the Southern States; and Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the great Confederate cavalry leader, was made "Grand Wizard of the Invisible Empire." The oath was administered to him by Capt. John W. Morton, afterwards Secretary of State of Tennessee, in Room No. IO of the Maxwell House, Nashville, Tenn., and the Klan moved forward in its great work of rescue and protection. In 1869 General Forrest gave the order for disbandment, believing that the mission of the Klan had been accomplished, and the mighty Invisible Empire, not by force, but voluntarily, disbanded. The Klansmen folded their tents like the Arabs and silently passed from view. Their great mission of protection for the homes and women of the Southland had been accomplished, and these uncrowned heroes of the Southland desired no other reward.
WRONG IMPRESSIONS.
The Ku*Klux have been called cowards because they acted under disguise. Existing conditions must again be considered to explain this. Ex*Confederates were denied the right of the ballot, of testifying in court, and of carrying firearms. There were negro soldiers, legislators, and magistrates. Carpetbaggers held the reins of government, and to have acted in the open would have been equivalent to offering their arms for handcuffs and being sent to some Northern prison, there to languish and die, leaving loved vies at home at the mercy of despots and ruffians. The secrecy they were compelled to use also made it possible for evil men to assume the disguise of the Ku*Klux and to perpetrate wicked deeds that the real Ku*Klux did not permit. The real Ku*Klux were opposed to taking human life and never did so except as a last resort. The Ku*Klux have also been compared to the "night riders." This is entirely wrong, for the latter destroyed lives and property' and carried out private vengeance and hatreds; but the Ku*Klux protected lives and property whenever it was possible to do so."


As we all know there is much still un-conclusive in this argument. Forrest, as has been said many times before, was no saint but certainly was a fighter.
 

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John Allan Wyeth in his book That Devil Forrest published by Louisiana State University Press 1989 wrote the following:

“In 1871-72 General Forrest was summoned before the committee of Congress appointed to inquire into the condition of affairs in the late insurrectionary states in regard to the formation of the Ku-Klux organization. The committee stated that perhaps Generals Forrest and John B. Gordon know more about the formation of this secret society than any others. Forrest testified that while he did not take an active part in the organization of the Ku-Klux, he knew that it was an association of citizens in his sate (Tennessee) for self-protection. There was a great, widespread, and deep feeling of insecurity felt by those who had sympathized with the South in the war, as a result of governor Brownlow’s calling out the militia and his proclamation, which they had interpreted as a license for the state troops, with no fear of punishment, to commit any kind of depredation against those lately in arms against the Union. Forrest stated that he had advised against all manner of violence on the part of the Southern people, and when the Loyal Leagues, for fear of the Ku-Klux, began to disband, he urged the disbanding of the other society. The impression which Forrest made on this committee may be inferred from their report: ‘The statements of these gentleman (Forrest and Gordon) are full and explicit… The evidence fully sustains them, and it is only necessary to turn to the official documents of Tennessee to show that all Forrest said about the alarm which prevailed during the administration of Governor Brownlow was strictly true. No state was ever reduced to such humiliation and degradation as that unhappy commonwealth during the years Brownlow ruled over her’.”
 

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The following is an excerpt from:

Copyright 2000
Gene Ladnier, Managing Editor The Southern Advocate

An Essay

General Nathan Bedford Forrest -
the first true civil rights leader


"What did Forrest fight for after the war was over? You may not believe it, but Forrest was probably the 'first white man' to fight for and promote equality and civil rights for blacks. Many people ignorant of history say that Bedford was the founder of the KKK. The Klan had already been in existence for a year and a half when he was asked to assume the leadership because the people looked up to him as their hero and proven leader.

The KKK of the late 1860's bears no resemblance to the thugs and racists of the new Klan formed at the turn of the century. The Klan Forrest rode with was to fight against the Yankee scalawags and carpetbaggers who were raping the south after the war. US. Army occupation forces committed innumerable atrocities, which today would certainly be classified as international war crimes, much of it against the free blacks. General Forrest joined a citizen militia then called the Klan to protect the citizens of the South, black and white alike, from these vicious atrocities.

Under the 'true' history of the time, one of the first outings that Forrest went on with the Klan was to a black man's house who was accused of beating his wife. The black man, holding an axe, told Forrest that he 'owned' his wife and could beat her anytime he wanted to." Wherein Bedford took the axe from the man, taught him some southern manners on how to treat a lady (black or white), then told him that he had better never see a mark on the woman again.

Forrest disbanded the Klan in 1869 because its mission had been achieved. Union appointed Governor Brownlow and the viscous carpetbaggers had been defeated. Primarily because Forrest told the President of the United States that if they didn't stop stealing land and goods from Southern US citizens, abusing them, and molesting free blacks, he had the capability to start the Civil War over again. The US government was well aware that he could do exactly what he threatened to do with half a million white and several hundred thousand black soldiers standing firmly behind him.

At a time when the northern states were passing laws 'forbidding' blacks to live in their territories, Bedford Forrest publicly, and at great personal risk defended the civil rights of the black people. Forrest said there was no reason black people could not be doctors, store clerks, bankers, or in any other jobs 'equal' to whites. He said they were skilled artisans and needed to be employed in those skills so that successive 'black' generations would not be dependent on a welfare society. (Forrest was a man of vision).
To prove his point, when he organized the Memphis & Selma Railroad, Forrest took it upon himself to hire blacks as architects, construction engineers, foremen, train engineers, conductors, and many other high level jobs, not just laborer positions. (The first affirmative action)."

What you have read above is factual. That's why folks in the south who know a bit about this man still consider him a hero. I'll go along with that. Did he need to be dealing in slaves? Nope, and neither did anyone else.
 

diane

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"Different Slants" are the clay from which the vase is made. I haven't read that particular book and would be most interested to learn more. I've noticed that Forrest apparently had so much impact with his legacy and legend, that author's tend to go one way or the other. He was either a saint and military genius who did and could do no wrong, or a revengeful brutal warrior who didn't care much for blacks. I suspect the truth may have fallen on many parts of this tree.
 

diane

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I could quite possibly be a bit naive, but I think Forrest was not that deeply involved on a day to day basis. Do I know what I'm talking about? You could probably answer that one, but I would say in all honesty, no not really. I wasn't around. Forrest remained a very visible public person, at the same time trying to develop some business activity to regain his wealth. The reference you make to the proposal for renewed slave trade is most interesting, though Forrest of all people, would have been aware of the illegallity at that point in time?


The following is an excerpt from an internet posting titled:

A Hundred Years of Terror
A special report prepared
by the
Southern Poverty Law Center
400 Washington Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36104

The KKK's First Death
As the violence escalated, it turned to general lawlessness and some Klan groups even began fighting each other. In Nashville, a gang of outlaws who adopted the Klan disguise came to be known as the Black Ku Klux Klan, and for several months middle Tennessee was plagued by a guerrilla war between the real and bogus Klans. The Klan was also coming under increased attack by Congress and the Reconstruction state governments. The leaders of the Klan realized that the order's end was at hand, at least as any sort of organized force.
It is widely believed that Forrest ordered the Klan disbanded in January 1869, but the surviving document is rather ambiguous (some historians think Forrest's "order" was just a trick so he could deny responsibility or knowledge of Klan atrocities).
Whatever the actual date, it is clear that as an organized body across the South, the KKK had ceased to exist by the end of 1869. That did not end the violence, however, and as atrocities became more widespread, Radical legislatures throughout the region passed harsher laws, imposed martial law in some Klan-dominated counties, and actively hunted Klan leaders.
In 1871 Congress held hearings on the Klan and passed a tough anti-Klan law modeled after a North Carolina statute. Under the new federal law, Southerners lost their jurisdiction over the crimes of assault, robbery and murder and the president was authorized to declare martial law. Night riding and the wearing of masks were expressly prohibited. Hundreds of Klansmen were arrested but few actually went to prison.”
 

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I don't know how many men were left in Forrest's command after the remainder of the Army of Tennessee left Mississippi for Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and the finale at Bentonville, NC. Forrest had been ordered by Beaugregard to defend Alabama and Mississippi. Being a true soldier, he did his best. 13,000 plus fresh federal troops with shiny new equipment and horses coming south from Gravelly Springs must have been an absolutely overwhelming tide of destruction. Forrest put up his defense and did what he could with very little strength before "escaping" to Citronelle where he and Gen. Taylor threw in the towel. Forrest was weak, tired and still carrying some lead after four years of horribly frustrating war. He must have had some satisfaction from some of his smaller and larger victories, though that was short-lived. Few critics of our study of Forrest seem to understand that we salute not his past occupation, but his valor, his intensity, and his uncompromising devotion to what he deemed his duty to his fellow man and the region from which he nurtured his being. It's not a matter of north against south or south against north, this was simply one helluva fightin' man.
 

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Paul, thanks for all those brief but kind words. You gotta remember that my feeble mind works? from the perspective of the 63rd Virginia Infantry Regiment at this point in the war. You are quite correct that there was continued activity in the south after Bentonville, but not for the 63rd. The Cherokees lasted a bit longer as well.
 

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Well, my fingers aren't fat, being one of the exceptions on my poor old carcass. Having said that, I hate to let the Gen. Forrest rest and I'm sure (because I've met a hundred or so of them) that there are plently of folks here in Middle Tennessee who will carry him around for the rest of their lives. I plan to continue my reconnaisance this summer around some of the haunts he traveled and will report as I'm able. The Forrest Boyhood Home at Chapel Hill stands as a fitting monument to him as does the park in Memphis, now under attack once more by the 'liberal' faction in that fair city, and even our ridiculous plastic version of his likeness out on I-65 south of Nashville in a valley he and his comrades rode and bled through many times. There are other players in the Tennessee campaign who deserve our attention such as Generals Wheeler and E. C. Walthall and even George Thomas, Edward Hatch and James Wilson. How's that for political correctness. Forrest ain't going anywhere, he's in too many southern hearts.
 

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I was discussing just that theory with a representative from the Preservation Trust at our SUV meetng last evening who was talking about adding new property to the sites at Franklin. We both pretty much agreed, though we didn't have the cyrstal ball handy. First off, a few hundred men who owe their lives to Gen. Forrest's mastery of warfare might have perished during the 'exit' from Tennessee had Forrest followed through on his offer to advance and further. Forrest was on the right Flank and was approaching the Big Harpeth River which he could have crossed. What is rarely mentioned was the very well-equiped and manned cavalry of Gen. James Harrison Wilson waiting just north of Franklin. Union Fort Grainger was also just across the river for the Confederate right flank. Again, more yankees with big guns. The meeting of Wilson and Forrest head-to-head might have been a waste of two fine cavalry officers whose forces were to clash again as the war drew to a close in Alabama. Could the Confederacy have taken Nashville with or without Forrest? My opinion is NO. Nashville being the distribution point for supplies coming off the Cumberland River and going to the Nashville Chattanooga Railroad to supply Sherman's army when they were still in west Georgia was the most fortified city in the region and had been since 1862. Too much firepower and well-entrenched (including huge Ft. Negley) for the Confederates to have had a chance with an actual takeover. The southern boys never made it past Woodmont Blvd still a good couple of miles from the fortifications and one big bunch of yankees who were flanking the Confederates from the northwest, thus pushing the survivors back down Franklin and Granny White Pikes. Sherman, who kept in good communication with George Thomas, was getting active reports. Sherman probably ordered another mint-julip and spent most of his time wondering about Lee and Grant in Virginia and whether Joe Johnston or some other competent Confederate would show up in time to cause him any harm. I don't think Hood was a concern. Certainly after Franklin, Sherman's worries were minimal.
 

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Interesting note from last night's meeting. More men killed at Franklin than on D-day in Europe. Still no battlefield park, but they're belatedly working on it.
 

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Ole, that was a very strong and in my opinion accurate point "you can't with any rational intent place him in command of the Army of Tennessee". That was Forrest in a nutshell. He was no military commander. That was the beauty of his performance. He had no apparent appreciation of what had taken Napoleon and his predecessors centuries to work out in terms of field maneuvers and the proper way to fight. I'm reminded of a bit of fact about the early battles between the native Americans and the settlers around the James River basin in early Virginia. The boys from Europe wore good Austrian armor in the first few contests, only to discover the heat, lack of vision, and the Indians kept beating them about the head with their stone axes. Forrest acted much the same way, simply going about dealing with the situation. A leader of a guerilla band and one of the few bright links in the Confederate chain, he at least has given many a Southern boy something of a hero to adore. As I recall Hoppalong Cassidy (alias William Boyd) did the same thing. We need that in our lives.
 

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I'm not sure if I can explain what I was trying to say but you know me, I'm dumb enough to try. Remember that FORMER president Clinton, Al Gore (self proclaimed inventor of the internet) and I were all in the same draft dodging class, so I'm not too swift at military terms. Forrest must have had the same problem, except he got caught in the draft. My inaccurate and hasty use of the term guerilla had more to do with the very poor communications that were available for the Confederates. No cell phones, in most cases no telegraph (thanks partly to Forrest) and curriors such as Sam Davis kept getting detained. Gen Beauregard rarely left Alabama so Forrest was lacking a supervisor much of the time. Just ask the folks in Johnsonville. A man left much to his own devices, he was able to do much to aid the supply and feeding of many a young and old southern soldier. When things got the most organized such as the battle at Chickamauga, Forrest had his greatest difficulty. Remember he hadn't gone to that fancy school up in New York. He was just down here in Tennessee and Alabama wandering about in the rocks, garden snakes and these ****ed hackberries.
 

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Thanks Ole. I got the impresssion somehow that with the possible exception of Forrest and J.E.B. Stuart, the use of cavalry for recon was never highly developed. It's also true that since most of the activity was on southern soil, the Confederates certainly in many cases had more local knowledge. There seemed to have been lots of coordination problems however with the army of Northern Virginia on occasions. T.J. Jackson seemed to be one of the better advised and scouted for commanders. There, again, he was on his own turf.
 

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Quite the contrary my friend. Ol' Nate found religion after the war and became a civil rights activist of sorts. Read the facts. Yes, he was a slave dealer before the war. He and his brothers lost a bunch of points for that one, but the klan connection for this man is grossly misunderstood. His GRANDSON also named Nathan Bedford Forrest, was quite another matter. Again, do some reading, but lay off the general please! If you get that far, his great grandson, a Lt. General himself, with the unlikely name of Nathan Bedford Forrest, deserved at least a salute. He was shot down over Germany commanding a bombing mission in WWII. Hell of a fighting family, the Forrests.
 

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Sam, we Southerners are so poor, we have to use our father's names just to keep something in the family of value.
 

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Hello 15th Miss. My gg grandfather was in the 63rd VA Inf and was in Forrest's command from the 3rd of December 1864 until December 28 1864 when the Army of Tennessee crossed the river at Bainbridge, Alabama. I suspect the General in a sense saved gg Grandad's life, since he had been severely wounded in Atlanta and was not very mobile at that period. You mentioned Selma and the battle there that involved Forrest and Gen. Taylor. Do you have any more information. I'm starting research also on the movement of the army (AOT) that included a pass through Selma from Meridian on their way east to Demopolis and North Carolina. Any insight or suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Hawaii is probably not convenient for you to do local research, but I'm curious to learn what you know! Welcome aboard the board!
 

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Where did Mr. Grierson hang out during the war? One other I would like to add to the list of possibilities for further disclosure is fightin' Joe Wheeler of Alabama.
 

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Grant was a man who didn't like the army. Too bad they drug him back in after his first exit.
 
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