Man’s great-grandfather rode with Forrest


Ray Goad is glad to tell the true history — not myths — about how his great-grandfather rode with Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The 79-year-old Goad has read many books about Forrest and has followed stories on the recent controversy about whether the university should continue using the Civil War cavalry leader’s name on the Army ROTC building at MTSU.

"I have seen what I think are extremes on both sides of this question," Goad said. "I don’t deify Nathan Bedford Forrest because my great-grandfather rode with him. But on the other hand, I think when you try to eliminate history or revise history, that’s not right either."

Goad was 5 when his great-grandfather, Elijah Hanks Watson, died in 1932.

"He and I were great buddies," Goad recalled. "The earliest recollections I have are going out in the springtime with him, and we’d go hunker down against the house in the sunshine just sitting there soaking up the sun. I remember the night that he died. It tore me up."

Goad was not old enough then to absorb any of his great-grandfather’s stories about the war. He learned this years later from his grandmother, Rosetta Watson Haywood; his older sister, Lucille Goad Kerr; and his uncle, Earl Haywood.

"One of the tales that my great-grandfather passed down was they would ride sometimes just for days on end without stopping to sleep," Goad said. "And he recalled this one campaign when they were riding along mountain trails in single file, and they would fall asleep in their saddle and fall off the horse, and they’d run back to the horse to get back up."

That description matches a route that Forrest traveled when he was on the trail of Union troops through mountainous terrain from North Mississippi all the way to Georgia before capturing the enemy, said Goad, who’s confident that his great-grandfather must have been part of that pursuit.

"That’s the only campaign where it would fit," Goad said.

His great-grandfather, though, did not ride with Forrest in the early part of the war, such as when the general captured Murfreesboro from Union control July 13, 1862.

Goad has researched state archives about his great-grandfather and learned how Watson appeared in court after the war to verify that another Confederate veteran had served for the Maury (County) Light Artillery. That unit early in the war was stationed at Fort Donelson near Dover, Tenn., and it faced a siege by Union troops led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

The fort’s commander agreed to surrender, but Forrest refused to comply and led his cavalry and others through high water to flee from Grant’s superior-sized forces.

"A lot of troops in Fort Donelson didn’t want to surrender either, so they followed Forrest along with his regular cavalry," Goad said. "My great-grandfather was one of those who followed Forrest out of there on foot."

Goad concluded his great-grandfather must have joined the Forrest cavalry after escaping Fort Donelson.

Records do suggest that Forrest inspired troops beyond his own cavalry to escape from the larger Union force, said Derek Frisby, an MTSU Tennessee and U.S. history professor.

Part of what made Forrest a legend with many men was that he’d disregard what the generals were telling him to do when they were outnumbered.

"Forrest was smart enough to know when to retreat and when to press the issue," said Kirby, noting that Forrest continued to fight several weeks after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee chose to end the war by surrendering in 1865.

Although Forrest often retreated before larger Union forces could capture his cavalry, he was also known for bluffing the Northern officers into thinking his forces were larger than they were.

"Forrest was really good at that," Goad said.

In addition to deceiving the enemy on the battlefield, the general was also known for winning battles by getting to key locations first with the most men.

Forrest’s influence as a military leader should be appreciated but not exaggerated, Goad said.

"It’s kind of hard to know what truth is when you’re looking back that far," said Goad, who’s concerned about how writers and others sometimes can be unethical in how they present history to increase book sales. "I think in a lot of cases like this we don’t need to be nit-picking things that divide us as a society. People get up in arms over the silliest things."

Some still resent what happened, yet the Civil War ended as it should have, Goad said.

"I think slavery is, was and always will be wrong," Goad said. "It’s wrong to own another human being. I think my great-grandfather believed that. I don’t know why he fought in the war. A lot of young men fight in wars that they didn’t understand."

Goad hopes MTSU students and others will come together to better understand Forrest.

"If we let history divide us, we are not learning from history," Goad said. "This country has been divided many times in the past, and not just in the Civil War. If we don’t learn from that, we are really going backwards instead of forward. We need to remain focused on trying to make this society better for everybody."

Copyright ©2006 The Daily News Journal.

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