Using the same tired “He was a renowned military leader” argument, Tennessee’s governor once again signed a resolution making today Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Because we should celebrate the slave trader and murderous bigot responsible for the Fort Pillow Massacre who was also an early Grand Wizard of the KKK.
To be fair, Tennessee law requires the governor to declare July 13th Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. It also declares June 3rd as Confederate Decoration Day.
I’m not in Tennessee, but I plan to spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation of assholery there…
Haven’t you ever been in Connecticut on Benedict Arnold Day? The hero of Ticonderoga and Saratoga is honored with parades and fireworks! (Actually, there’s a lot more reason to honor Benedict Arnold than for Nathan Bedford Forrest.)
Grant I’m fine with but the Little Firebug not so much. There were a lot of nails in the coffin of peaceful reconciliation but his version of Total War was one of the larger spikes.
And to be all that honest, there are a few Confederate States military leaders I have a hard time hating. But that could be because the one ancestor I know was in the war was in the 2nd Mississippi.
(Long story short: he jumped ship in LA or MS and fought for a couple years because the pay was good. Somehow he ended up back in the Old Country before the end of the war. “We” didn’t have a dog in the fight, it was just a fight. We probably had some folks fighting for the North as well but I don’t know of any of them for sure.)
I’ve never understood the thinking behind this. Grant and most other generals were trying to win the war by killing enemy soldiers. Sherman tried to win the war by destroying enemy property. And somehow Sherman is seen as evil because he burned down southern crops and buildings rather than killing southern people. You’d think it would be the other way around.
Basically, Sherman drove the war home to white southerners at home. When boys were dying off in the fields, you could romanticize and justify the war in your head and think of it in the abstract. When you find yourself starving or broke because Sherman is destroying food and rail infrastructure, you can’t think of it in distant terms anymore, and have to deal with the reality of it.
While it’s a terrible idea to honor Forrest with a holiday, he’s a more complex man than most people think.
Most notable is that he became an advocate for racial equality toward the end of his life. On July 5, 1875, probably due to his advocacy of giving Blacks equal rights – he spoke at a picnic for the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association – the precursor to the NAACP. During the speech he told the audience that he believed Blacks should be able to do anything they are capable of doing, including voting.*
Then he did something that outraged white supremacists of his time: after being given a bouquet of flowers in his honor, he kissed the black woman on her cheek.**
His connection with the KKK was complicated. He was not a founder, but he did attend its first convention and they used his name to legitimatize it. He was the first Grand Wizard (the title was created for him). It’s difficult to ascertain how much he did in that role – he denied being a member at all – but he only remained Grand Wizard for a year and even ordered the Klan to dissolve in January 1869 as it became more and more violent. Of course, no one listened to him.
Fort Pillow, of course, is a complete blot on his record. Some have said that he didn’t order the massacre, and tried to stop it, but it’s hard to know if that’s true at all.
On balance, Forrest has too many bad things on his record to be considered a great American. But from the Pole-Bearer’s speech, he does show a good side, even if it’s too little, too late.
*Just in case you doubt the source, the original newspaper article is available online with a little digging; this was quoted verbatim from it.