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Nathan Bedford Forrest
Personal Information
Born: July 13, 1821(1821-07-13)
Place of Birth: {{{place of birth}}}
Died: October 29, 1877 (aged 56)
Place of Death: {{{place of death}}}
Birth Name: {{{birth name}}}
Other Information
Allegiance: United States of America
Confederate States of America
Participation(s): {{{participations}}}
Branch: Confederate States Army
Service Years: {{{service years}}}
Rank: Lieutenant General
Service number : {{{servicenumber}}}
Battles: American Civil War
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Nathan Bedford Forrest (July 13, 1821 – October 29, 1877) was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He is remembered both as a self-educated, innovative cavalry leader during the war and as a leading southern advocate in the postwar years. He served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret vigilante organization which launched a reign of terror against blacks and Republicans during Reconstruction in the South.[1]

A cavalry and military commander in the war, Forrest is one of the war's most unusual figures. Less educated than many of his fellow officers, Forrest had amassed a fortune prior to the war as a planter, real estate investor, and slave trader. He was one of the few officers in either army to enlist as a private and be promoted to general officer and division commander by the end of the war. Although Forrest lacked formal military education, he had a gift for strategy and tactics. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname The Wizard of the Saddle.[2]

He was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow for allowing forces under his command to conduct a massacre upon hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionists prisoners. In their postwar writings, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee both expressed their belief that the Confederate high command had failed to fully utilize Forrest's talents.[3]

Early life[]


Memphis City Directory entry for Forrest's slave-trading business, 1855-1856

Nathan Bedford Forrest was born to a poor family in Chapel Hill, Tennessee. He was the first of blacksmith William Forrest's twelve children with wife Miriam Beck. After his father's death, Forrest became head of the family at age 17. In 1841 Forrest went into business with his uncle Jonathan Forrest in Hernando, Mississippi. His uncle was killed there in 1845 during an argument with the Matlock brothers. In retaliation, Forrest shot and killed two of them with his two-shot pistol and wounded two others with a knife which had been thrown to him. One of the wounded Matlock men survived and served under Forrest during the Civil War.[4]

Forrest became a businessman, a planter who owned several cotton plantations in the Tennessee Delta, and a slave owner. He was also a slave trader, with a business based on Adams Street in Memphis. In 1858, Forrest (a Democrat), was elected as a Memphis city alderman.[5] Forrest supported his mother and put his younger brothers through college. By the time the American Civil War started in 1861, he was a millionaire and one of the richest men in the South, having amassed a "personal fortune that he claimed was worth $1.5 million".[6]

Before the Civil War,

"Forrest was well known as a Memphis speculator and Mississippi gambler. He was for some time captain of a boat which ran between Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi. As his fortune increased he engaged in plantation speculation, and became the nominal owner of two plantations not far from Goodrich's Landing, above Vicksburg where he worked some hundred or more slaves," according to his obituary. "He was known to his acquaintances as a man of obscure origin and low associations, a shrewd speculator, negro trader, and duelist, but a man of great energy and brute courage."[7]

Military career[]

Forrest returned to Tennessee after the war broke out, enlisted as a private in the Confederate States Army (CSA) and trained at Fort Wright in Randolph, Tennessee.[8]. On July 14, 1861, he joined Captain J. S. White's Company "E", Tennessee Mounted Rifles. Upon seeing how badly equipped the CSA was, Forrest offered to buy horses and equipment for a regiment of Tennessee volunteer soldiers with his own money.[9][10]

His superior officers and the state Governor Isham G. Harris were surprised that someone of Forrest's wealth and prominence had enlisted as a soldier, especially since major planters were exempted from service. They commissioned him as a Lieutenant Colonel and authorized him to recruit and train a battalion of Confederate Mounted Rangers. In October 1861 he was given command of a regiment, "Forrest's Tennessee Cavalry Battalion". Though Forrest had no prior formal military training or experience, he had exhibited leadership qualities and soon exhibited a gift for successful tactics.

Public debate surrounded Tennessee's decision to join the Confederacy. Both the CSA and the Union armies recruited soldiers from the state. More than 100,000 men from Tennessee served with the Confederacy (more per capita than any other state), and 50,000 served with the Union.[11] Forrest posted ads to join his regiment for "men with good horse and good gun" adding "if you wanna have some fun and to kill some Yankees".[12]

At six-foot, two-inches (1.88 m) tall and 210 pounds (95 kg; 15 stone), Forrest was physically imposing and intimidating, especially compared to the average height of men at the time. He used his skills as a hard rider and fierce swordsman to great effect. (He was known to sharpen both the top and bottom edges of his heavy saber.)

Historians have evaluated contemporary records to conclude that Forrest may have killed more than thirty-three enemy soldiers with saber, pistol and shotgun.[citation needed]

Forrest's command included his Escort Company (his "Special Forces"), for which he selected the best soldiers available. This unit, which varied in size from 40-90 men, was the elite of the cavalry. Eight of these soldiers were enslaved black men held by Forrest before the war.

Cavalry command[]

Forrest distinguished himself first at the Battle of Fort Donelson in February 1862. His cavalry captured a Union artillery battery and then he broke out of a Union Army siege headed by Major General Ulysses S. Grant. Forrest rallied nearly 4,000 troops and led them across the river.

A few days after Fort Donelson, with the fall of Nashville imminent, Forrest took command of the city. Local industries had several millions of dollars worth of heavy ordnance machinery. Forrest arranged for transport of the machinery and several important government officials to safe locations.[13]

A month later, Forrest was back in action at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6 to April 7, 1862). He commanded a Confederate rear guard after the Union victory. In the battle of Fallen Timbers, he drove through the Union skirmish line. Not realizing that the rest of his men had halted their charge when reaching the full Union brigade, Forrest charged the brigade single-handedly, and soon found himself surrounded. He emptied his Colt Army revolvers into the swirling mass of Union soldiers and pulled out his saber, hacking and slashing. A Union infantryman fired a musket ball into Forrest's spine with a point-blank musket shot, nearly knocking him out of the saddle. Placing a Union infantryman behind him on the saddle as a shield, Forrest broke out and galloped back to his incredulous troopers. A surgeon removed the musket ball a week later, without anesthesia, which was unavailable. Forrest would have been likely given a generous dose of alcohol to muffle the pain of the surgery.[14]

By early summer, Forrest commanded a new brigade of "green" cavalry regiments. In July, he led them into Middle Tennessee under orders to launch a cavalry raid. On July 13, 1862, he led them into the First Battle of Murfreesboro, which Forrest is said to have won.[15]

According to a report by a Union commander:

The forces attacking my camp were the First Regiment Texas Rangers [8th Texas Cavalry, Terry's Texas Rangers, ed.], Colonel Wharton, and a battalion of the First Georgia Rangers, Colonel Morrison, and a large number of citizens of Rutherford County, many of whom had recently taken the oath of allegiance to the United States Government. 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.[16]

Promoted in July 1862 to brigadier general, Forrest was given command of a Confederate cavalry brigade.[17] In December 1862, Forrest's veteran troopers were reassigned by Bragg to another officer, against his protest. Forrest had to recruit a new brigade, composed of about 2,000 inexperienced recruits, most of whom lacked weapons. Again, Bragg ordered a raid, this one into west Tennessee to disrupt the communications of the Union forces under Grant, threatening the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Forrest protested that to send such untrained men behind enemy lines was suicidal, but Bragg insisted, and Forrest obeyed his orders. On the ensuing raid, he showed his brilliance, leading thousands of Union soldiers in west Tennessee on a "wild goose chase" to try to locate his fast-moving forces. Never staying in one place long enough to be attacked, Forrest led his troops in raids as far north as the banks of the Ohio River in southwest Kentucky. He returned to his base in Mississippi with more men than he had started with. By then all were fully armed with captured Union weapons. As a result, Union general Ulysses S. Grant was forced to revise and delay the strategy of his Vicksburg Campaign. "He [Forrest] was the only Confederate cavalryman of whom Grant stood in much dread," a friend of Grant's was quoted as saying.[18]


Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest

Forrest continued to lead his men in small-scale operations until April 1863. The Confederate army dispatched him into the backcountry of northern Alabama and west Georgia to defend against an attack of 3,000 Union cavalrymen commanded by Colonel Abel Streight, with a force far smaller in number. Streight had orders to cut the Confederate railroad south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to cut off Bragg's supply line and force him to retreat into Georgia. Forrest chased Streight's men for 16 days, harassing them all the way. Streight's goal changed to escape the pursuit. On May 3, Forrest caught up with Streight's unit east of Cedar Bluff, Alabama. Forrest had fewer men than the Union side, but he repeatedly paraded some of them around a hilltop to appear a larger force, and convinced Streight to surrender his 1,500 exhausted troops.[19]

Forrest served with the main army at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 18 to September 20, 1863). He pursued the retreating Union army and took hundreds of prisoners.[20] Like several others under Bragg's command, he urged an immediate follow-up attack to recapture Chattanooga, which had fallen a few weeks before. Bragg failed to do so, upon which Forrest was quoted as saying, "What does he fight battles for?" [21] After Forrest made death threats against Bragg during a confrontation [22], Bragg reassigned him to an independent command in Mississippi. On December 4, 1863, Forrest was promoted to the rank of major general.[23]

Forrest's leadership style and principles[]

Fort Pillow[]

On April 12, 1864, General Forrest led his forces in the attack and capture of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River in Henning, Tennessee. Many African-American Union troops were killed in the battle. A controversy arose about whether Forrest conducted or condoned a massacre of African Americans who had surrendered there.

Forrest's men insisted that the Federals, although fleeing, kept their weapons and frequently turned to shoot, forcing the Confederates to keep firing in self defense.[24] Confederates said the Union flag was still flying over the fort, which indicated that the force had not formally surrendered. A contemporary newspaper account from Jackson, Tennessee, stated that "General Forrest begged them to surrender," but "not the first sign of surrender was ever given." Similar accounts were reported in many Southern newspapers at the time.[25]

These statements, however, were contradicted by Union survivors, as well as the letter of a Confederate soldier who recounted a massacre. Achilles Clark, a soldier with the 20th Tennessee cavalry, wrote to his sister immediately after the battle: "The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. The poor, deluded, negroes would run up to our men, fall upon their knees, and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased."[26]

Historians have differed on interpretation of events. Richard Fuchs, author of An Unerring Fire, concludes, “The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct – intentional murder – for the vilest of reasons – racism and personal enmity.”[27] Andrew Ward downplays the controversy, “Whether the massacre was premeditated or spontaneous does not address the more fundamental question of whether a massacre took place... it certainly did, in every dictionary sense of the word.”[28] John Cimprich states, “The new paradigm in social attitudes and the fuller use of available evidence has favored a massacre interpretation... Debate over the memory of this incident formed a part of sectional and racial conflicts for many years after the war, but the reinterpretation of the event during the last thirty years offers some hope that society can move beyond past intolerance.”[29]

Brice's Crossroad[]

Forrest's greatest victory came on June 10, 1864, when his 3,500-man force clashed with 8,500 men commanded by Union Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis at the Battle of Brice's Crossroads. Here, his mobility of force and superior tactics led to victory. He swept the Union forces from a large expanse of southwest Tennessee and northern Mississippi. Forrest set up a position for an attack to repulse a pursuing force commanded by Sturgis, who had been sent to impede Forrest from destroying Union supplies and fortifications. When Sturgis's Federal army came upon the crossroad, they collided with Forrest's cavalry.[30] Sturgis ordered his infantry to advance to the front line to counteract the cavalry. The infantry, tired and weary and suffering under the heat, were quickly broken and sent into mass retreat. Forrest sent a full charge after the retreating army and captured 16 artillery pieces, 176 wagons and 1,500 stands of small arms. In all, the maneuver cost Forrest 96 men killed and 396 wounded. The day was worse for Union troops, which suffered 223 killed, 394 wounded and 1,623 men missing. The losses were a deep blow to the black regiment under Sturgis's command. In the hasty retreat, they stripped off commemorative badges that read "Remember Fort Pillow", to avoid goading the Confederate force pursuing them.[citation needed]

Conclusion of the war[]

One month later, Forrest's first major tactical defeat came at the Battle of Tupelo in 1864. Concerned about Union supply lines, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman sent a force under the command of Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith to deal with Forrest. The Union forces drove the Confederates from the field and Forrest was wounded in the foot, but his forces were not wholly destroyed. He continued to oppose Union efforts in the West for the remainder of the war.

Forrest led other raids that summer and fall, including a famous one into Union-held downtown Memphis in August 1864 (the Second Battle of Memphis), and another on a Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, on October 3, 1864, causing millions of dollars in damage. In December, during the disastrous Franklin-Nashville Campaign, he fought alongside General John Bell Hood, the newest (and last) commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee in the Second Battle of Franklin. Forrest argued bitterly with Hood (his superior officer) demanding permission to cross the river and cut off the escape route of Union Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield's army. He made the attempt but was defeated.

After his bloody defeat at Franklin, Hood continued to Nashville, while Forrest led an independent raid against the Murfreesboro garrison. Forrest engaged Union forces near Murfreesboro on December 5, 1864, and was soundly defeated at what would be known as the Third Battle of Murfreesboro. After Hood's Army of Tennessee was all but destroyed at the Battle of Nashville, Forrest distinguished himself by commanding the Confederate rear guard in a series of actions that allowed what was left of the army to escape. For this, he earned promotion to the rank of lieutenant general.

In 1865, Forrest attempted, without success, to defend the state of Alabama against Wilson's Raid. His opponent, Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson, defeated Forrest in battle. When he received news of Lee's surrender, Forrest also chose to surrender. On May 9, 1865, at Gainesville, Forrest read his farewell address to his troops.[31]

In the four years of the war, Forrest reputedly had a total of 30 horses shot out from under him. He was said to have personally killed 31 people. "I was a horse ahead at the end," he said.[32]

Forrest's farewell address to his troops, May 9, 1865[]

File:Covington Veterans Memorial.jpg

Cannon in front of the Nature Center & Veteran's Memorial in Covington. Marker in the background cites Nathan Bedford Forrest's last speech. (2007)

The following text is excerpted from 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
Gainesville, Alabama
May 9, 1865[33]

Impact of Forrest's doctrines[]

Forrest was one of the first men to grasp the doctrines of "mobile warfare"[citation needed]that became prevalent in the 20th century. Paramount in his strategy was fast movement, even if it meant pushing his horses at a killing pace, which he did more than once. Noted Civil War scholar Bruce Catton writes:

"Forrest ... used his horsemen as a modern general would use motorized infantry. He liked horses because he liked fast movement, and his mounted men could get from here to there much faster than any infantry could; but when they reached the field they usually tied their horses to trees and fought on foot, and they were as good as the very best infantry. Not for nothing did Forrest say the essence of strategy was 'to git thar fust with the most men'."[34]

Forrest is often erroneously quoted as saying his strategy was to "git thar fustest with the mostest," but this quote first appeared in print in a New York Times story in 1917, written to provide colorful comments in reaction to European interest in Civil War generals. Bruce Catton writes:

"Do not, under any circumstances whatever, quote Forrest as saying 'fustest' and 'mostest'. He did not say it that way, and nobody who knows anything about him imagines that he did."[35]

Forrest became well-known for his early use of "maneuver" tactics as applied to a mobile horse cavalry deployment. He sought to constantly harass the enemy in fast-moving raids, and to disrupt supply trains and enemy communications by destroying railroad track and cutting telegraph lines, as he wheeled around the Union Army's flank. His success in doing so is reported to have driven Ulysses S. Grant to fits of anger.[citation needed]

War record and promotions[]


Nathan Bedford Forrest Park in Memphis, Tennessee

Postwar years[]

Template:Original research

Business ventures[]

After the war, Forrest settled in Memphis, Tennessee, building a house on a bank of the Mississippi River. With slavery abolished, the former slave trader suffered a major financial setback. He later found employment at the Selma-based Marion & Memphis Railroad and eventually became the company president. He was not as successful in railroad promoting as in war, and under his direction the company went bankrupt.

Nearly ruined as the result of the failure of the Marion & Memphis Railroad in the early 1870s, Forrest spent his final days running a prison work farm on President's Island in the Mississippi River. There were financial failures across the country in the Panic of 1873. Forrest's health was in steady decline. He and his wife lived in a log cabin they had salvaged from his plantation.

Ku Klux Klan involvement[]

Early on, Forrest became a member of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Civil War historian, author and Forrest biographer Brian Steel Wills writes, “While there is no doubt that Forrest joined the Klan, there is some question as to whether he actually was the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.”[36] The KKK (the Klan) was formed by Democrats in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866 and soon expanded throughout the state and beyond. Forrest became involved sometime in late 1866 or early 1867. A common report is that Forrest arrived in Nashville in April 1867 while the Klan was meeting at the Maxwell House Hotel, probably at the encouragement of a state Klan leader, former Confederate general George Gordon. The organization had grown to the point where an experienced commander was needed, and Forrest fitted the bill. In Room 10 of the Maxwell, Forrest was sworn in as a member.[37]

According to Wills, in the August 1867 state elections the Klan was relatively restrained in its actions. State Democrats who made up the KKK hoped to persuade black voters that a return to their state of repression and near-slavery, as it existed before the war, was in their best interest. Forrest assisted in maintaining order. It was only after these efforts failed that Klan violence and intimidation escalated and became widespread.[38] Author Andrew Ward, however, writes, “In the spring of 1867, Forrest and his dragons launched a campaign of midnight parades; ‘ghost’ masquerades; and ‘whipping’ and even ‘killing Negro voters and white Republicans, to scare blacks off voting and running for office.’”[39]

In an 1868 interview by a Cincinnati newspaper, Forrest claimed that the Klan had 40,000 members in Tennessee and 550,000 total members throughout the Southern states. He said he sympathized with them, but denied any formal connection. He claimed he could muster thousands of men himself. He described the Klan as "a protective political military organization...The members are sworn to recognize the government of the United States...Its objects originally were protection against Loyal Leagues and the Grand Army of the Republic..." Forrest dissolved the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan in 1869, although many local groups continued their activities for several years.[40]

Forrest testified before the Congressional investigation on Klan activities on June 27, 1871. Forrest denied membership, but his individual role in the KKK was beyond the scope of the investigating committee which wrote:

When it is considered that the origin, designs, mysteries, and ritual of the order are made secrets; that the assumption of its regalia or the revelation of any of its secrets, even by an expelled member, or of its purposes by a member, will be visited by ‘the extreme penalty of the law,’ the difficulty of procuring testimony upon this point may be appreciated, and the denials of the purposes, of membership in, and even the existence of the order, should all be considered in the light of these provisions. This contrast might be pursued further, but our design is not to connect General Forrest with this order, (the reader may form his own conclusion upon this question,) but to trace its development, and from its acts and consequences gather the designs which are locked up under such penalties.”[41]

The committee also noted, "The natural tendency of all such organizations is to violence and crime; hence it was that General Forrest and other men of influence in the state, by the exercise of their moral power, induced them to disband.”[42]

Forrest's personal sentiments on the issue of race, however, were quite different from that of the Klan. Forrest was invited and gave a speech to an organization of black Southerners called the "Jubilee of Pole-Bearers" in 1875. In this speech, Forrest espoused a radically progressive (for the time) agenda of equality and harmony between black and white Americans.[43]

At this, his last public appearance, he made what the New York Times described as a "friendly speech"[7] in which he called for reconciliation between the races and called for the admission of blacks into the professional classes from which they had heretofore been excluded.[citation needed]

Wikisource has the Text of an 1868 interview with Nathan Bedford Forrest.


Forrest died in Memphis in October 1877, reportedly from acute complications of diabetes.[44] He was buried at Elmwood Cemetery.[45] In 1904 his remains were disinterred and moved to Forrest Park, a Memphis city park named in his honor.

Posthumous legacy[]

File:NBFSP Camden TN 03 Museum NBF Bust.jpg

Bronze bust of Forrest at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park

Many memorials were erected to Forrest in Tennessee. Obelisks in his memory were placed at his birthplace in Chapel Hill and at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park near Camden. A statue of General Forrest was erected in Memphis's Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. A bust sculpted by Jane Baxendale is on display at the Tennessee State Capitol building in Nashville. The World War II Army base Camp Forrest in Tullahoma, Tennessee was named after him. It is now the site of the Arnold Engineering Development Center.

As of 2007, Tennessee had 32 dedicated historical markers linked to Nathan Bedford Forrest, more than are dedicated to the three former Presidents associated with the state: Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson (none of whom was born in Tennessee).[46] Finally, the Tennessee legislature established July 13 as "Nathan Bedford Forrest Day."[47]

File:MHC Nathan Forrest Monument.jpg

Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome, Georgia.

A monument to Forrest in the Old Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama, reads "Defender of Selma, Wizard of the Saddle, Untutored Genius, The first with the most. This monument stands as testament of our perpetual devotion and respect for Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest. CSA 1821-1877, one of the south's finest heroes. In honor of Gen. Forrest's unwavering defense of Selma, the great state of Alabama, and the Confederacy, this memorial is dedicated. DEO VINDICE." As armory for the Confederacy, Selma provided most of the South's ammunition.

A monument to Forrest in the Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Georgia, was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909 to honor his bravery for saving Rome from Union Army Colonel Abel Streight and his cavalry.

High schools are named for Forrest in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, and Jacksonville, Florida. On November 3, 2008 the Duval County School Board voted 5-2 against changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School in Jacksonville. The two votes for changing the name were cast by the Board's only black members. The school was named for Forrest in 1959 at the urging of the Daughters of the Confederacy because they were upset about the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. At the time the school was all white, but now more than half the student body is black. [4] Leaders in other localities have tried to remove or eliminate Forrest monuments, with mixed success.

File:NBF Memorial Memphis.jpg

Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial and grave in Memphis, Tennessee (2008)

In 2005, Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey started an effort to move the statue over Forrest's grave and rename Forrest Park. Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who is black, blocked the move. Others have tried to get a bust of Forrest removed from the Tennessee House of Representatives chamber.[48]

At Middle Tennessee State University, the ROTC building was named after Forrest. The building's name has become more controversial in recent years. The MTSU "Blue Raiders" mascot name used at Middle Tennessee State University was adopted in honor of those who rode with Forrest as his escort squadron.

Forrest City, Arkansas, was named in his honor and a private K-12 school operated there during the 1970s. The school named Nathan Bedford Forrest Academy was closed in 1981 because of declining enrollment and poor financial performance.

Forrest's great-grandson, Nathan Bedford Forrest III, pursued a military career, first in cavalry, then in aviation, and attained the rank of brigadier general in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II. On June 13, 1943, Nathan Bedford Forrest III was killed in action while participating in a bombing raid over Germany, the first U.S. General to be killed-in-action in World War II. His family was awarded his Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor) for staying with the controls of his B-17 bomber while his crew bailed out. The plane exploded before Forrest could bail out. Tragically, by the time German air-sea rescue could arrive, only one of the crew was still alive in the freezing water.

In popular culture[]

In the PBS documentary The Civil War by Ken Burns, historian Shelby Foote states that the Civil War produced two authentic geniuses: Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

In the 1994 motion picture Forrest Gump, the eponymous Tom Hanks character states that he was named after his ancestor General Nathan Bedford Forrest. In keeping with the film's Gump character portrayal throughout, his naivete is conveyed as not knowing of the Klan as a racist group, but rather a "club" that rode horses and "dressed up as ghosts". He then continued to explain he was called that to remind himself that people can do things that "just don't make no sense."

In the 1967 independent film In The Woods the ghost of Nathan Bedford Forrest appears and says he is "Happy to have founded the Ku Klux Klan". In the alternative history/science fiction novel The Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove, Forrest runs for president of the Confederacy in its 1867 election. John Grisham refers to Forrest in his book The Summons.

The song "The Decline and Fall of Country and Western Civilization" by Lambchop begins with the lines: "I hate Nathan Bedford Forrest / He's the featured artist in the Devil's chorus."

In 1952 the Bobbs-Merrill Company published "Bedford Forrest: Boy on Horseback" by Aileen Wells Parks as part of their Childhood of Famous Americans series, aimed at showing that famous Americans, recounted as children, had once been boys and girls, like themselves. This book is generally hagiographic.

In 1918 the B. F. Johnson Publishing company of Richmond, Virginia published "The Life of Nathan B. Forrest" by H. J. (Hamilton James) Eckenrode.

In addition to Forrest City, Arkansas being named after Gen. Forrest, Forrest County, Mississippi surrounding (Hattiesburg) was also named for the general in 1908.

Canadian singer Corb Lund references his name in the song Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!

In 1968, the character, Dee Bishop, played by Dean Martin in the movie "Bandolero!" describes the tenacious character of July Johnson, a Texas sheriff, as a man who rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The Fort Pillow Massacre[]

On October 30, 1877, The New York Times reported that "General Bedford Forrest, the great Confederate cavalry officer, died at 7:30 o'clock this evening at the residence of his brother, Colonel Jesse Forrest."

But The Times also reported that it would not be for military victories that Forrest would pass into history:

"It is in connection with one of the most atrocious and cold-blooded massacres that ever disgraced civilized warfare that his name will for ever be inseparably associated. "Fort Pillow Forrest" was the title which the deed conferred upon him, and by this he will be remembered by the present generation, and by it he will pass into history. The massacre occurred on the 12th of April, 1864. Fort Pillow is 65 miles above Memphis, and its capture was effected during Forrest's celebrated raid through Tennessee, a State which was at the time practically in possession of the Union forces. ..."
"Late in March (Forrest) passed into that State, and the route of his advance was marked by outrages and brutalities of the most cold-blooded character. He captured most of the small garrisons on his line of march, in each case summoning the defenders to surrender under a threat that if he had to storm the works he would give no quarter. On the 12th of April he appeared before Fort Pillow. This fort was garrisoned by 500 troops, about half of them colored. Forrest's force numbered about 5,000 or 6,000. His first attack was a complete surprise, and the commanding officer was killed early in the engagement. Still the defenders fought so gallantly that at 2 o'clock the enemy had gained no material advantage. Forrest then sent in a flag of truce, demanding unconditional surrender. After a short consultation, Major Bradford, on whom the command had devolved, sent word refusing to surrender. Instantly the bugles sounded the assault. The enemy were now within 100 yards of the fort, and at the sound they rushed on the works, shouting. The garrison was seized with a panic: the men threw down their arms and sought safety in flight toward the river, in the neighboring ravine, behind logs, bushes, trees, and in fact everywhere where there was a chance for concealment. It was in vain. The captured fort and its vicinity became a human shambles."
"Forrest reported his own loss at 20 killed and 60 wounded; and states that he buried 228 Federals on the evening of the assault. Yet in the face of this he claimed that the Fort Pillow capture was "a bloody victory, only made a massacre by dastardly Yankee reporters." The news of the massacre aroused the whole country to a paroxysm of horror and fury."...

This northern newspaper obituary further stated:

"Since the war, Forrest has lived at Memphis, and his principal occupation seems to have been to try and explain away the Fort Pillow affair. He wrote several letters about it, which were published, and always had something to say about it in any public speech he delivered. He seemed as if he were trying always to rub away the blood stains which marked him."[49]

There were conflicting reports about what had happened at Fort Pillow. Only 90 out of approximately 262 US Colored Troops survived the battle. Casualties were also high among white defenders of the fort, with 205 out of about 500 surviving. Bedford's Confederate forces were accused of subjecting captured soldiers to brutality, with allegations that some were burned to death.

Forrest's men were alleged to have set fire to Union barracks with wounded Union soldiers inside. The report of Union Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn said that act was due to orders carried out by Union Lieutenant John D. Hill. Van Horn also reported that, "There never was a surrender of the fort, both officers and men declaring they never would surrender or ask for quarter."[50]

These claims were directly disputed in letters written by Confederate soldiers to their own families, which describe wanton brutality on the part of Southern troops.[26]

Following the cessation of hostilities, Forrest transferred the 14 most seriously wounded United States Colored Troops (USCT) to the U.S. Steamer Silver Cloud.[51] He sent 39 USCT taken as prisoners to higher command.[52]

See also[]


  1. Foner (1988) p. 342. Hurst (1993) pp. 285, 287–288. . M. Lewis and J. Serbu, "Commemorating the KKK", Sociological Quarterly, January 1999.
  2. "Nathan Bedford Forrest", Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society
  3. Foote, p. 1053
  4. Confederate silver dollar site.
  5. Domestic slave trade site
  6. Winik, Jay (2002). April 1865: The Month That Saved America. Harper Perennial. p. 176. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Obituary: Nathan Bedford Forrest", The New York Times, 30 October 1877
  8. From an address by General J.R. Charlmers in 1879. "Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest And His Campaigns". Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. VII. Richmond, Virginia, October 1879, No. 10. Southern Historical Society Papers. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  9. Nathan Bedford Forrest Biography at Civil War Home
  10. Tennesseans in the Civil War
  11. Cheryl Hiers, "New Statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest Raises Old Controversy in Nashville", Blueshoe Nashville Travel Guide, 1998.
  12. Ken Burns' Civil War Episode 7 "Most Hallowed Ground"
  13. Wills, p. 66.
  14. Foote, Shelby. The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume One, p.350
  15. *Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. The Civil War Dictionary, New York: McKay, 1959; revised 1988, p. 289
  16. Official Records, Series I, Vol XVI Part I, pg. 805, Lieutenant Co Parkhurst's Report (Ninth Michigan Infantry) on General Forrest's attack at Murfreesboro, Tenn, July 13, 1862.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Eicher, p. 240.
  18. Foote, II, p. 65.
  19. Robert Willett, The Lightning Mule Brigade: The 1863 Raid of Abel Streight into Alabama, Emmis Books, 1999
  20. Foote, II, p. 759.
  21. Foote, II, p. 760.
  22. Foote, II, p. 814.
  23. Eicher, p. 809
  24. Bailey, p. 25.
  25. Cimprich and Mainfort, pp. 293-306.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Clark, Achilles V.
  27. Richard Fuchs, An Unerring Fire: The Massacre At Fort Pillow (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2002), 14.
  28. Andrew Ward, River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War (New York: Penguin, 2005), 227.
  29. John Cimprich, Fort Pillow: A Civil War Massacre and Public Memory(Louisiana State University Press, 2005), 123-124.
  30. Col. Howard Lee Landers, Battle of Brices Cross Roads, Mississippi. June 10, 1864 Washington, DC: Historical Section, Army War College, 1928.
  31. Bill Slater website
  32. "Civil War fact sheet", Civil War, PBS-WETA
  33. Foote, p. 1002
  34. Catton, p. 160.
  35. Catton, pp. 160-61.
  36. Wills p. 336
  37. Hurst pp. 284-285. Wills p. 336. Wills quotes two KKK members who identified Forrest as a Klan leader. James R. Crowe stated, “After the order grew to large numbers we found it necessary to have someone of large experience to command. We chose General Forrest.” Another member wrote, “N. B. Forest of Confederate fame was at our head, and was known as the Grand Wizard. I heard him make a speech in one of our Dens.”
  38. Wills p.338
  39. Ward p. 386
  40. Mattias Gardell, "Gods of the blood: the pagan revival and white separatism," Duke University Press. 2003. ISBN 978-0-8223-3071-4. page 354. [1].
  41. Report of the Joint Select Committee Appointed to Inquire Into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (1872) p. 12 available at [2]
  42. Report of the Joint Select Committee Appointed to Inquire Into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States (1872) p. 463 available at [3]
  43. Memphis Appeal, July 5, 1875
  44. Foote, III, p. 1052
  45. Foote, III p. 1052
  46. Loewen, James W. (2007). Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. Simon and Schuster. p. 237. 
  47. Tennessee Code Annotated 15-2-101
  48. Scott Barker, "Nathan Forrest: Still confounding, controversial," Knoxville News Sentinel, February 19, 2006.
  49. Bedford Forrest obituary October 30, 1877 in The New York Times
  50. Official Records, Series I, Vol. 32, Part 1, pp. 569-570: Report of Lieutenant Daniel Van Horn, Sixth U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery, of the capture of Fort Pillow.
  51. Stewart, Charles W. (1914). Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I Volume 26. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. p. 234. "I hereby acknowledge to have received from Major-General Forrest 2 first and 1 second lieutenants, 43 white privates, and 14 negroes." 
  52. citation needed


  • Bailey, Ronald H., and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East, Time-Life Books, 1985, ISBN 0-8094-4773-8.
  • Boatner, Mark M. (1988) [1959]. The Civil War Dictionary. New York, New York: McKay. ISBN 0-8129-1726-X. 
  • Catton. Bruce (1971). The Civil War. American Heritage Press, New York. Library of Congress Number: 77-119671. 
  • Cimprich, John, and Mainfort, Robert C., Jr., eds. "Fort Pillow Revisited: New Evidence About An Old Controversy", Civil War History 4 (Winter, 1982).
  • Clark, Achilles V., "A Letter of Account", ed. by Dan E. Pomeroy, Civil War Times Illustrated, 24(4): 24-25, June 1985.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed., ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877. (1988) ISBN 0-06-015851-4.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative - II: Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1963, ISBN 0-394-74621-X
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative - III: Red River to Appomattox, Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74622-8
  • Hurst, Jack. Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography, 1993.
  • Lytle, Andrew Nelson (1992) [1931]. Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company. Nashville, Tennessee: J.S. Sanders and Company. ISBN 1-879941-09-0. 
  • Ward, Andrew. River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War. Viking Penguin: 2005.
  • Wills, Brian Steel (1992). A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-092445-4. 

Further reading[]

  • Bearss, Edwin C. Forrest at Brice's Cross Roads and in North Mississippi in 1864. Dayton OH: Press of Morningside Bookshop, 1979.
  • Bearss, Ed. Unpublished remarks to Gettysburg College Civil War Institute, July 1, 2005.
  • Bradshaw, Wayne. The Civil War Diary of William R. Dyer: A Member of Forrest's Escort, BookSurge Publishing, 2009, ISBN 1-4392-3772-7.
  • Carney, Court, "The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest", Journal of Southern History. Volume: 67. Issue: 3., 2001, pp 601+.
  • Harcourt, Edward John. "Who Were the Pale Faces? New Perspectives on the Tennessee Ku Klux", Civil War History. Volume: 51. Issue: 1, 2005, pp: 23+.
  • Henry, Robert Selph. First with the Most, 1944.
  • Horn, Stanley F., Invisible Empire: The Story of the Ku Klux Klan, 1866–1871, Montclair, NJ: Patterson Smith Publishing Corporation, 1939.
  • Hurst, Jack. Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography. (1993)
  • Lytle, Andrew Nelson. Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company, 1931, Reprint by Ivan R. Dee, 2002, ISBN 978-1-879941-09-0.
  • Tap, Bruce. "'These Devils are Not Fit to Live on God's Earth': War Crimes and the Committee on the Conduct of the War, 1864-1865," Civil War History, XLII (June 1996), 116-32. on Ft Pillow.
  • Williams, Edward F. Fustest with the mostest; the military career of Tennessee's greatest Confederate, Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest Memphis, Distributed by Southern Books, 1969.
  • Wills, Brian Steel. A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1992, ISBN 0-06-016832-3.
  • Wyeth, John Allen. That Devil Forrest, 1899 (original) republished in 1989 by Louisiana State University Press.

External links[]

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