In Forrest’s favor

The writer of the Feb. 23 letter "Bloody hands" may be trying too hard to indict Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (who seems to have preferred to be known as Bedford Forrest). Forrest was many things, including an exceptional leader of cavalry, but he was certainly not a "U.S.-trained military officer." In fact, despite his remarkable career, he had no formal military training at all. It is very unlikely that he was among the several Confederate officers who chose to violate a specific oath to the Constitution of the United States.

The unfortunate events at Fort Pillow in April 1864 remain in dispute and it is unclear whether Forrest had any direct role in this so-called massacre, other than to order it stopped as soon as he was aware that something unusual was going on. After studying all of the relevant reports, Gen. William T. Sherman decided that Forrest probably did not participate, as his record regarding treatment of prisoners was, otherwise, quite good.

The early years of the Ku Klux Klan remain virtually undocumented, but it is almost certain that Bedford Forrest was not one of the founders of the KKK. It is generally regarded that he was elected to a leadership position in the years immediately after the Civil War. According to his testimony before Congress, he served only about two years before ordering the organization to disband.

Mike Harpold