Forrest was a great soldier
To the editor,
I am always amazed that some of the dumbest ideas originate on the campus of supposed institutions of higher learning. The student council at MTSU is trying to change the name of the ROTC building from Forrest Hall to God knows what. I can’t think of a better person to name a building that teaches military tactics than Nathan Bedford Forrest. In my estimation, he was one of the greatest soldiers the world has ever produced.
Yes, he was a white supremacist, a man of his time and region. That can never justify evil, but it can somewhat explain it. Probably 99 percent of white America, both North and South, were racist to one degree or the other during his lifetime. I can list all of the bad things about Forrest.
The fact that he was a slave trader, that he was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, the Fort Pillow Massacre and other things. I will leave all that to his detractors. I want to dwell on those things that should make him at least worthy of our respect, not only as a warrior, but as a man.
Forrest is still studied today in military academies the world over. He has influenced great military minds since the Civil War. Among them were such notables as Patton, MacArthur, Guderian and Rommel. Forrest was a natural genius who was barely literate. He had about as much secondary education as Lincoln, who was also a natural genius.
He enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army and rose to the rank of lieutenant general by war’s end. Ulysses S. Grant called him the most remarkable soldier produced by either side during the war. Such notables as Sherman, Jefferson Davis and Lee agreed with Grant’s assessment.
Forrest invented the concept of mobile infantry, was a master of the tactical pursuit, and a master of what soldiers today might call psy-ops, or psychological warfare. Time after time he defeated superior forces by bluff — making them believe he outnumbered them when the reality was that they outnumbered him, such as on July 13, 1862 here at Murfreesboro.
I admire people of great physical courage. He killed 40 men in personal combat and had 39 horses shot out from under him. He was gravely wounded on several occasions.
Probably his greatest accomplishment, however, was the fact that he surrendered his command in the spirit of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox.
The biggest fear that Lincoln, Grant and Sherman had in April 1865 was that the various Confederate commanders of the remaining rebel forces would not surrender but resort to guerilla warfare. Jefferson Davis wanted to fight to the bitter end.
If one or more of the remaining Confederate commanders, Robert E. Lee, Joseph Johnston, Richard Taylor or Nathan B. Forrest chose the latter course, it is very possible that the South today could be as war-torn as Yugoslavia, Palestine or Northern Ireland.
There was no man better suited for guerilla war than Forrest. All four men disobeyed Davis and surrendered their forces. They encouraged their men to heal the nation and become honorable American citizens.
Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Klan, but he disbanded it in 1868 when it became too violent, even for him. The Klan was never the same without his leadership until it was reformed in 1915, when it experienced its greatest power and became a nationwide organization.
Forrest also saved the lives of a group of black men who were about to be lynched unjustly after the Civil War. If white supremacy nullifies the honoring of our traditional historical figures, then there would be very few left to honor. That includes three men who did probably the most to advance the cause of civil rights in this country — Lincoln, Truman and Lyndon Johnson. They were all racists, to varying degrees.
During an age when our nation and our military is becoming more and more feminized, I enjoy reading about the exploits of real men with the true warrior spirit. There was never a greater American warrior than Nathan Bedford Forrest.