Who was Nathan Bedford Forest? And why do southerners celebrate his holiday?

Who was Nathan Bedford Forest? And why do southerners celebrate his holiday?

I found an almanac reference to state holidays.
His day is July 13.
Since the day only appeared on lists for southern states, I assume he was a rebel general, but then why not R.E. Lee? Or Jefferson Davis?

Southern Civil War hero. Considered a true military genius by those who can overlook the politically incorrect aspects of that statement. Shelby Foote, I believe, considered him and Lincoln the two greatest minds of the war.

I believe he was one of the original founders of the KKK, but he renounced them as they grew more violent and radical.

www.brittanica.com has an concise article on him. To be even more concise, W.B. Forrest was infamous for taking no Negro prisoners during the war (and I don’t mean that in a good way), and is said to be one of the founders of the KKK. As to why Southerners celebrate N.B.F. day, well, I guess that’s up there with the question “Why do they still fly the Confederate Flag above the NC state capitol?”

He was a Confederate General, and contrary to the general Chivalrousness displayed by say Lee or Longstreet, he was a rascist pig of the first order, and an unconvicted war criminal. He ordered the killing of black union soldiers, and founded the KKK, for examples. He was only a fair general, also, not in Lee’s class, or Jackson’s. Of course that still made him better than most of the early Union incompetents.

Generally if you really want to see if that “neo-confederate” is only interested in re-enacting a bit of history, or really WOULD like slavery brought back, you ask about Forrest. If they hem & haw, and act embarrased, then they are the former. If they begin talking about him as the greatest general who ever lived, and “if they had just listened to him, the South would have never lost”, check for bedsheets. Celebrating HIS holiday, as opposed to Longstreets, Jacksons or Lees (or Davis), is a good indication that racsism is still alive in the South.

Some of our Southern posters are gonna flame me for this, but, then think of categaory 2.

It mentions the klan here

[I guess that’s up there with the question “Why do they still fly the Confederate Flag above the NC state capitol?”]

Three words: geography, geograph, geography.

Just a bit of useless trivia: In the movie “Forrest Gump”, Forrest explains that he is named after Nathan Bedford Forest.

Shelby Foote, hardly a virulent racist, has said the two greatest geniuses to come out of the Civil War were Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

There is no doubt Bedford Forrest was a great cavalry commander. He is the only person in the Civil War to rise from private to general, and several of his battles are still taught today in places like West Point. One particular one is studied because it shows how a small force can beat a much larger one. As a commander, Bedford Forrest was smart and resourceful (once, when suddenly attacked on two sides by Union forces – the sure sign of disaster – Forrest, when asked what to do, said, “charge both ways”; his troops did so and escaped) and drove the Union commanders crazy trying to find ways to stop him – the precise role of a cavalry commander working as he did.

There is also no doubt he was a virulent racist. He did slaughter black soldiers (though the main instance of this – Fort Pillow, I think – there’s some evidence that he tried to hold back his men but couldn’t). He did found the Klan, though he seemed to have renounced it at one point.

Bedford Forrest had a lot of bad points, but that doesn’t take away from his ability as a commander. No matter how much you condemn him for his racism (and his racism was more blatant and violent than many of the other Southern commanders), he still was a major force on the battlefield.

So, like the flag, the question is, are you celebrating his racism or his positive qualities? The answer, like the flag, is that you’re celebrating both – but everyone thinks you’re celebrating one or the other.

These holidays are long gone, officially, but nor forgotten. Many people around here are still waving Rebel flags on those “saint’s” days.

Reality Chuck said:

In fact, most of his rise was sue to the fact that he spent much of his personal fortune buying equipment for the cavalry regiment he formed. Hey, buy your own army and you can be a General, too.

That above comment, however, should not detract from any statement of his abilities during the war- as a cavalry commander, he was without equal. Not only was he brilliant in commanding his troops in battle (the above regarding having his troops charge both sides; in one situation, Forrest convinced a force that outnumbered his four-to-one to surrender simply by riding around the enemy so many times and so fast that the Union commander thought Forrest’s men outnumbered them four-to-one), but he showed an incredible personal daring and heroism (he had over twenty horses shot out from under him during the course of the war, compared to Sherman, who at six had the most of any Union general; read the accounts of what happened during his final charge following the defeat at Shiloh, and it sounds like Schwartzenegger should play him in a movie).

In contrast to any admirable qualities shown above, however, he made his fortune prior to the war as a slave trader, and he founded the Klan after the war.

Forrest was quite a character…

He was, before the war, one of the leading slave traders in the country, a millionaire, he used slave trading to pull himself and his brothers up from a hillbilly birth.

He could barely read or write. He was fearless and quick to escalate disputes to violence.

He was respected (perhaps even feared) by his slaves, but there is no indication that he ever mistreated them and (like most “poor white trash”) willingly worked with them.

He opposed secession, thought the South could not exist economically without the North, resigned his elected position as City Councilman in Memphis in part to avoid the secession controversy. His business was heavily in debt to Northern banks. He was also trying to diversify away from slave trading, turning the business over to his younger brothers.

He enlisted as a private after Ft Sumter but quit and formed his own cavalry unit with his own funds. Like many hill folk , he found the Southern army controlled by the Tidewater elite and their West Point graduates. (Many hill people, even in the deep south remained loyal to the Union but not Forrest.)

He first gained notoriety when he refused to surrender his unit at Ft Donaldson to General Grant. Instead he led his men through a partially frozen river at night past the Union lines. His unit gained the respect of the South and the anger of the North with numerous raids against Union supply lines and installations, defeating every attempt to destroy him. He was not as effective in major battles, however, probably due to the small size of his cavalry as compared to the cavalry in the east under J.E.B. Stuart.

It is debatable whether he ordered the death of any African-American prisoner - even though the Confederate Congress had ordered such punishment. Forrest actually preferred to attack black garrisoned forts, feeling (correctly) that the lightly trained blacks would surrender.

His troops were involved in two war crimes during the Civil War, the massacre at Ft. Pillow and the much smaller massacre at Selma. In both cases prisoners were murdered, in the former mostly black, in the latter (at the very end of the war) white oficers. Never directly implicated, Forrest was never even held on charges. To do so would require holding Robert E Lee as well as Lee commanded the troops that murdered black prisoners during the Crater Battle during the seige of Petersburg, Virginia.

Never captured, Forrest was the last major Confederate commander to surrender (excluding Texas). He quickly endorsed loyalty to the Union and began to rearrange his finances. Northern generals were relieved, they had assumed that if the South opened a guerilla war, Forrest would lead it.

He did not form the Ku Klux Klan. Still basically illiterate after the war, Forrest couldn’t even conceive of the sophmoric organization and rules of this secret society. He probably wasn’t even the first Confederate General to endorse the group and its immediate tactics - intimidating black voters.

But he quickly joined and became its leader. Under Forrest, the Klan started to reconcile Confederates with hill people loyal to the Union but opposed to equal rights. He disbanded the organization when it became clear that the Klan would perpetuate (and worsen) Union occupation of the South. Being a secret society, the Klan also quickly got out of control of the college educated officers that created it.

Forrest struggled to pay his debts after the war and engaged in a number of failed ventures. He alienanted his racist friends by denouncing white southerners as lazy and called for Asian immigration into the South. He also made a speech calling for reconciliation between blacks and whites. He died in 1877 of typhus, not yet 60, contracted by working alongside convict laborers in the fields of a farm he managed.

The Klan did not go away but extended its reach into fertile grounds in the border and Northern states (especially Indiana). As the South stagnated (and blacks agitated for equal rights), the Klan became much more violent than under Forrest. Forrest’s last years were quickly forgotten and he became a symbol of Southern resistance, hatred and intolerance.