I just wanted to wish everyone a happy Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. This was a proclamation signed by Governor Bill Haslam on June 2, 2015, just two weeks before the church shooting in Charleston. Of course being the weasel that Haslam is he is claiming that by law he had no choice but to sign it. I wonder though if he would have signed the same proclamation two weeks after the church shooting. I am sure he could have come up with an equally good excuse not to sign. Haslam conveniently forgot to tell the reporter about the proclamation when he was asked his opinion on removing the bust of Forrest in the capital. He told them that he would have no problem removing the Forrest bust from the state capital building.
Seriously though I believe that Forrest is worthy of honor on this day. July 13th was his birthday and it was also the date of one of his greatest military victories. Forrest's Murfreesboro raid on July 13, 1862. From a historical point of view I see at least two of historian David Barton's principles of left wing historical interpretation at work here. Modernism and Minimalism. Forrest is being judged from the modern standards of morality which is Modernism and his accomplishments are being overshadowed by his flaws in an oversimplified manner. For example his involvement in slavery, the Ft. Pillow massacre, and the Klan are reduced to one line platitudes. Forrest's character was complicated and worthy of serious examination. Most modern critics primarily focus on his involvement with the Klan although he swore under oath to Congress that he was not a member. There are some good biographies out there on Forrest that examine, in a scholarly way, the complexities in Forrest's character. One of my favorite is a book by Jack Hurst, named Nathan Bedford Forrest. Some of the early books written in the late 1800's and early 1900's gloss over the bad aspects of Forrest's character and even exaggerate to some degree his military accomplishments. As a student of history however I am just not ready yet to throw Forrest under the bus. I know that I am fighting a losing battle. In our modern politically correct environment people like myself, who are standing up for the Confederate flag, hero's, monuments and heritage are going the way of the dinosaurs. Maybe in that way we are more like our ancestors than we know. We are fighting for a lost cause. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is just the prelude of the fight to come. The fight to continue honoring our American heroes such as our Founding Fathers, traditions, our national anthem and even our flag. If the left is successful in destroying Southern heritage our American heritage may be next.
I have written many articles about Forrest over the years. About the fact that Forrest was a hundred years ahead of his time by developing the concept of mobilized infantry and battlefield tactics that were the basis for German blitzkrieg and is still being used and studied by armies all over the world. This from a man who was nearly illiterate. What I want to focus on today however is his contribution to not just the history of the Confederacy but to American history. All Americans should read a book called April 1865: The Month That Saved America, by Jay Winik. The author makes the point that Civil Wars are the bloodiest of all wars and that they almost always end badly. A Civil War is a national domestic situation. It is a family fight and they are the most dangerous. Besides traffic stops more police officers die responding to domestic situations than anything. America has been very fortunate. We have endured two civil wars and because of superb leadership America has survived reasonably intact. The American Revolution is usually not seen this way but it was a civil war. We were British subjects fighting against other British subjects. George Washington was offered a dictatorship or the opportunity to become our king after victory was secured. Washington saved our Republic and our revolution by refusing both.
In April 1865 Lincoln's biggest fear, and the thing that kept him up at night was that Robert E. Lee, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Nathan Bedford Forrest would not surrender. Lincoln's nightmare scenario was that Lee, Johnston, and Forrest instead of a formal surrender would split up into partisan bands and take the war into the mountains. It would then become a bloody hit and run guerrilla war that might last for generations. In April 1865, Southerners held these three men in high esteem. Whatever direction they chose to go the Southern people were willing to follow. Ironically the man that was urging his generals to do just that was president Jefferson Davis. He was at that time the least liked man in the Confederacy, but he wanted to fight to the bitter end. Lee was the first to surrender on April 9, 1865. Surrender was anathema to Lee but he felt that his men had given their all and his farewell address to his men admonished them to strive for the reconciliation of our country and to become good American citizens. Johnston surrendered on April 26. Lincoln had encouraged his two main generals, Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to "Let em up easy". Grant and Sherman were so magnanimous in their treatment of their defeated enemies, Lee and Johnston, that all four men had the most profound respect for each other until the end of their lives. Johnston would die of pneumonia after standing bareheaded in a cold rain at Sherman's funeral. When asked why he would do such a thing, Johnston responded that Sherman would have done the same for him. Lincoln showed great and wise leadership in treating the Southern leaders this way. It also reflected his knowledge of the Bible and the gospel of Christ's forgiveness.
If any of the three leaders were born for guerrilla warfare it was Forrest. It is said that he came to a crossroads just before disbanding his troops and told an aide that one road leads to Mexico and the other leads to hell. Forrest took a third road however. Upon hearing of Lee and Johnston's surrender he made the decision to disband his troops and gave them his farewell address. Jay Winik makes the point that April 1865 was the month that saved America. In spite of the fact that a bloody civil war ended and Lincoln was assassinated America survived in spite of this. He points out that six men, three Union men and three Confederate men saved America by exercising mature and moral leadership in the hour of America's maximum danger and vuneralbility. One of those men was Nathan Bedford Forrest. The following is Forrest's farewell address to his troops.
Civil war, such as you have just passed through naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred, and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings; and as far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contended, and heretofore so widely, but honestly, differed. Neighborhood feuds, personal animosities, and private differences should be blotted out; and, when you return home, a manly, straightforward course of conduct will secure the respect of your enemies. Whatever your responsibilities may be to Government, to society, or to individuals meet them like men.
The attempt made to establish a separate and independent Confederation has failed; but the consciousness of having done your duty faithfully, and to the end, will, in some measure, repay for the hardships you have undergone. In bidding you farewell, rest assured that you carry with you my best wishes for your future welfare and happiness. Without, in any way, referring to the merits of the Cause in which we have been engaged, your courage and determination, as exhibited on many hard-fought fields, has elicited the respect and admiration of friend and foe. And I now cheerfully and gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the officers and men of my command whose zeal, fidelity and unflinching bravery have been the great source of my past success in arms.
I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I now advise you to a course which I felt myself unwilling to pursue. You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the Government to which you have surrendered can afford to be, and will be, magnanimous.
— N.B. Forrest, Lieut.-General
Headquarters, Forrest's Cavalry Corps