Check out historical accounts on Forrest

Feb. 25, 2011 

In the Feb, 20 edition of The Clarion-Ledger, David Hampton, editorial director, addressed car tags, Fort Pillow and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Hampton is correct in saying, "there are conflicting accounts of his role in that battle as there are conflicting accounts of his role as a slave trader, KKK grand wizard and quick-tempered egotist who maybe found religion later in life."

There are accounts that suggest Forrest and his men guilty of atrocities. There are also statements suggesting otherwise, such as the following from Confederate Samuel Caldwell: "Union soldiers had refused to surrender, which incensed our men and if General Forrest had not run between our men and the Yanks with his pistol and saber drawn not a man would have been spared."

Private Ellis Falls, a black Union soldier, said that Forrest ordered the Confederates "to quit fighting." One captured Union soldier, Charles Fitch, ran up to Forrest and asked for protection, when Fitch said he was from Iowa, Forrest said, "what the hell are you doing down here for? I have a great mind to have you killed for being down here." Forrest then told one of his soldiers to keep Fitch safe. Union Lieutenant Van Horn reported that, "there never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men had declaring they would never surrender or ask for quarter."

Union General William T. Sherman investigated Fort Pillow and found nothing wrong with Forrest’s conduct or the battle. The congressional investigation of 1871, rejected any idea of massacre of unarmed black Union soldiers and cleared Forrest of any violations of the rules of war in regards to the alleged massacre at Fort Pillow.

Please remember slave trading was a legal business at the time and even though most traders were not well thought of, Forrest was well respected. The formation of the KKK in part was initially a defense vs. Reconstruction abuses, the organization went too far, Forrest withdrew.

Some readers might want to expand their knowledge of Forrest and not just go on what they have heard. Try reading That Devil Forrest by John Allan Wyeth and get a look at who the man Forrest really was.

After the war Gen. Robert E. Lee was asked who was the best soldier he ever commanded. Lee replied, "A man I have never met, sir. His name is Forrest."

Michael Crain