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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest- you decide

Nathan Bedford Forest 
(1821-1877)
Years of Military service
1861–1865
American Civil War
Rank: Lieutenant General
3rd Tennessee Cavalry
Forrest's Cavalry Brigade



He is remembered as a self-educated, brutal, and innovative cavalry leader during the American civil War and as a leading Southern advocate in the postwar years. Although less educated than many of his fellow officers, before the war, Forrest had already amassed a fortune as a planter, real estate investor, and slave trader. He was one of the few officers in either army to enlist as a private and be promoted to general officer and corps commander during the war. Although Forrest lacked formal military education, he had a gift for leadership, strategy and tactics. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname The Wizard of the Saddle.


Forrest was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow for allowing forces under his command to massacre hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern prisoners. Union Major General William T Sherman  investigated the allegations and did not charge Forrest with any improprieties.

The facts, as little that can be found, suggest otherwise. In many ways he was more racist than George Wallace and as hypocritical, and cloaked himself with a veneer of legality that covered up many of his war crimes and murder itself. He was also the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Clan before resigning completely from this organisation. 

That said, he was ahead of his time militarily and perhaps showed, rather than George Wallace 107 years later, a more benevolent and understanding world view of the post war confederacy. I suspect that his speech below was meant from the heart for he had little to gain by making it, and because of it, alienated many within and outside the former confederacy at that time and for all time. You decide yourself.

Barry Clifford


Speaks to Black Southerners (July 1875)

“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)   
Nathan Bedford Forest  

In response to that Pole-Bearers speech, the Cavalry Association of Augusta, the first Conferderate organization formed after the war, called a meeting in which Captain F. Edgeworth Eve gave a speech expressing unmitigated disapproval of Forrest's remarks promoting inter-ethnic harmony, by ridiculing his faculties and judgement and berating the woman who gifted Forrest flowers as "a mulatto wench". 

The association voted unanimously to amend its constitution to expressly forbid publicly advocating for or hinting at any association of white women and girls as being in the same classes as "females of the negro race”. The Macon Weekly newspaper also condemned Forrest for his speech, describing the event as "the recent disgusting exhibition of himself at the negro jamboree," and quoting part of a Charlotte, North Carolina article which read "We have infinitely more respect for Longstreet who fraternizes with negro men on public occasions, with the pay for the treason to his race in his pocket, than with Forrest and Pillow, who equalize with the negro women, with only 'futures' in payment."