Can there be an opportunity for a Guest Column on Forrest based on factual history?


The guest column "Eartha M.M. White superior to Forrest" is filled with folk lore and propaganda about Forrest such that is inflammatory for no other reason than to be inflammatory.

I submit the following column in response which cites factual history and which logically contradicts the emotional outpouring contained in the flawed Guest Column. I hope you will see the benefit in offering the public an opportunity to consider historical fact and whether history or emotion should be the guiding factor in resolving what has become a useless "controversy."

If you wish to research my statements about Ft. Pillow and Forrest’s speech in Memphis I refer you to the following URLs:

You might find interesting the fact that Mr. Nelson Winbush of Kissimmee, a gentleman in his 80s, remembers the stories his Grandfather told him as a child of his adventures riding with Forrest. Mr. Winbush’s Grandfather died when Mr. Winbush was nine years old. Mr. Winbush is Black and his Grandfather, who was Black, was one of Forrest’s bodyguards.

I would be happy to put you in touch with Mr. Winbush, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

If you choose to publish my offering you can feel free to include my name and Email address.

****** GUEST COLUMN ******

Regarding Forrest through historical fact

I believe in the teachings of Nathan Bedford Forrest that "Although we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment."

In "Eartha M.M. White superior to Forrest" the guest columnist expressed significant emotion but virtually everything cited as history was incorrect. The writer has absorbed propaganda and folk legend, blended them with misdirected anger and offered them to the reader as history.

The author wrote that Forrest "…made his fortune selling human beings…captured black Union soldiers…Instead of affording them proper treatment as POWs, he had 200 of them brutally executed. Some were buried alive…He was never brought to justice for this war crime; there was no Nuremberg trial for Forrest…a few years later…Forrest founded the KKK and became its first Grand Wizard. "

Only one of these statements is historically correct and even then with a caveat.

Forrest was a successful slave dealer but renowned for his humane policies. He purchased broken families and reunited them. He purchased slaves from abusive masters to protect them. He refused to sell slaves to people he knew to be abusive. He gave newly-purchased slaves passes so they could seek out their new masters. He gave trust and it was never betrayed.

When the War started 45 male slaves chose to ride with Forrest on the promise of freedom if the South won. They served as combat soldiers and Forrest’s personal armed bodyguards. At Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on July 13, 1862, after Forrest’s forces conducted a hostage rescue mission Lt. Col. Parkhurst of the 9th Michigan infantry remarked in his report recorded in the Federal Official Records, "There were also quite a number of negroes attached to the Texas and Georgia troops, who were armed and equipped, and took part in the several engagements with my forces during the day."

Eighteen months after the War started Forrest became convinced the South would lose and he would die in combat so he freed these men. ALL of them stayed with him through the War and beyond.

The author cited the "Ft. Pillow Massacre" and asserted that "there was no Nuremberg trial for Forrest." This is clear misstatement of history.

In 1871 Congress convened a committee to investigate the "Ft. Pillow Massacre." Chairman William Tecumseh Sherman (Forrest’s greatest enemy) was quoted before the hearing began as saying "We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try Forrest, convict Forrest, and hang Forrest."

When the committee considered written evidence and first-hand testimony it concluded there was no "Ft. Pillow Massacre." There were "incidents on the riverbank" which the committee acknowledged Forrest stopped as soon as he arrived on-scene. Union officers admitted there was never a surrender of the Union forces. Barracks burned and blamed on Forrest were fired by a Union Lieutenant. Forrest did take 39 Black soldiers prisoner and turned them over to his superiors while he transferred the 14 most seriously wounded Black Union soldiers to the U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud, hardly acts which would qualify as "war crimes."

Forrest did have his "Nuremberg trial" and was found innocent.

The Author wrote that "Forrest founded the KKK and became its first Grand Wizard." We can again thank the 1871 Congressional investigation for resolving that allegation. Their official conclusions were that Forrest did not found the KKK, that he was not its first Grand Wizard, and that his main activity was working to have it disband.

On July 4, 1875, in Memphis, Tennessee, Forrest gave a speech to a Black political and social organization, the Jubilee of Pole Bearers. Among the statements he made that day were the following:

"We were born on the same soil, breathe the same air, live in the same land, and why should we not be brothers and sisters . . . I want to elevate every man, and to see you take your places in your shops, stores and offices . . . I feel that you are free men, I am a free man, and we can do as we please. I came here as a friend and whenever I can serve any of you I will do so . . . We have one Union, one flag, one country; therefore, let us stand together. Although we differ in color, we should not differ in sentiment. . . Do your duty as citizens, and if any are oppressed, I will be your friend. I thank you for the flowers, and assure you that I am with you in heart and hand."

History is an amazing thing when someone bothers to learn it from the true sources.

To paraphrase the previous columnist, it would be the right thing for the current Duval County School Board to follow history and not change the name of Forrest High School – but instead educate students and teachers to Forrest’s true sentiments.

Forrest’s words offered a message of reconciliation and unity not repeated for almost 90 years. They still have weight today.


Michael Kelley
Pascagoula, MS

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