The name Nathan Bedford Forrest once struck fear in the heart of his Federal opponents.
Today opinion is sharply polarized about Forrest with his post-Civil War story dominating the discussion. This is particularly true in Tennessee where both sides of the issue are literally battling over Forrest's remains buried in a state park in West Tennessee.
Some where along the way, his true history has been abandoned for a series of half-truths and complete exaggeration.
In Cannon County, we prefer to stick to the truth about Forrest.
Yes, before the Civil War, Forrest was a millionaire dealing in cotton, land and slaves. He began the war as a private, who soon decided to raise his own unit at his own expense. He ended the war as a lieutenant general.
His first major victory came on his birthday, July 13, 1862, was at Murfreesboro where he outwitted a Union occupational force and freed a number of Cannon countians who faced execution the following day.
That victory at Murfreesboro won the "eternal" gratitude of Woodbury and Cannon County.
For four years, Forrest fought the Union army with great success using common sense and a complete disregard for military rules of the day.
By the end of the war, Forrest was known as the "Wizard of the Saddle" and was the most feared cavalry commander (of both sides) of the conflict.
In 1864, Forrest won an amazing victory at Brice's Cross Road, eluding and defeating a Union detachment twice the size of his own.
Earlier that same year, Forrest's detachment fought at Fort Pillow with his men easily overpowering the "fort," which included 262 soldiers of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Forrest first offered them terms of surrender, but when the Union forces refused the onslaught began. The Confederates, according to eyewitness accounts, were enraged by the sight of black troops and executed many of them.
"Remember Fort Pillow" became a rallying-cry for black soldiers throughout the Union Army.
Despite Fort Pillow, Forrest was a popular public figure among both blacks and whites in the post-war years.
He was so popular that the leaders of the Radical Republicans, like "Parson" William Brownlow, perceived him as a social and political threat. Beginning in the 1870s, the Radicals began to spread rumors and lies about Forrest to diminish his popularity among newly enfranchised black voters.
Among those rumors was Forrest founded the Ku Klos Society, which was later known as the Ku Klux Klan.
That group was founded by six Confederate veterans meeting in the office of Giles County Judge Thomas Jones. All were Pulaski veterans. As for Forrest, he never as much visited Pulaski, but he was later named "Grand Wizard" of the KKK during a meeting in Nashville. Forrest didn't attend that meeting either.
He did, however, help abolish the Klan. Acting in his official Ku Klos capacity in 1869, Forrest issued his first and only order to disband the Klan within its entirety.
Ironically, Forrest emerged as an advocate for Tennessee's freed slaves, including hiring many as construction engineers, crew foremen, train engineers and conductors for his Selma, Marion and Memphis Railroad.
When Forrest died in 1877, Memphis newspapers reported his funeral procession was over two miles long. The throng of mourners was estimated to include over 3,000 black citizens of Memphis.
But after his early death (at age 56) critics continued to downplay his legacy.
The attacks reached their crescendo earlier this year following the horrible incident during which Dylann Roof, killed nine blacks in a Charleston church. Roof's goal was to start a race war.
That incident in South Carolina unleashed a war to besmirch the legacy of Forrest with politicians suddenly vying to remove any trace of "The Wizard of the Saddle" from Tennessee.
On the other hand, we hope to preserve his legacy even offering a home to the controversial bust of Forrest currently housed in the Tennessee State Capitol. It is the least we can do.