Pros & cons of Forrest discussed
Wednesday, November 18, 2015 11:50 am
Woodbury would be an appropriate place for the controversial bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, said newspaper editor Mike West during Tuesday's (Nov. 10) meeting of the Cannon County Historical Society.
"My publisher, Ron Fryar and I were talking earlier about my speech and we came up with the idea of writing th governor and suggesting that we take that bust of Bedford Forrest off his hands for $500. We will set it up in the Courier's office and let people come see it," West said.
"Forrest has always been dear to the heart of the people of Cannon County. One of my great-grandfathers was named Forrest and Ron had an ancestor with the same name," he said.
Woodbury would be an ideal place for that bust, the editor said.
West's speech touched upon Forrest's raid on Murfreesboro to free Cannon County residents being held there by Union troops, in addition to the Fort Pillow controversy and the KKK as well as Forrest's attitude about black Americans.
"Forrest not only publicly disavowed the KKK and worked to terminate it, but in August 1874, Forrest "volunteered to help 'exterminate' those meri responsible for the continued violence against the blacks." After the murder of four blacks by a lynch mob, Forrest wrote to Tennessee Governor Brown, offering "to exterminate the white marauders who disgrace their race by this cowardly murder of Negroes."
Turning to the battle of Murfreesboro, West said, "Sunday, July 13, 1862 was an important day for Woodbury and ol' "Murfreesborough" as well. Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Naturally, the truth lies somewhere between, West said.
Forrest's raid on Murfreesboro displayed his military genius at his best. Unlike many of the commanders on both the Union and Confederate sides, Forrest did not have any formal military training. He wasn't a Mexican War veteran and he only had a sixth-grade education, but he was the only man on either side to enter the war as a private and rise to the rank of lieutenant general.
He was instead, a natural tactician who had an eye for the terrain and was the anthesis of West Point trained officers who were restrained by tradition and who judged their chances for success solely on the strength of numbers, he continued.
During the raid on Murfreesboro, Forrest was to display several creative military moves, taking the town through a mixture of bravado, deception and aggression.
Murfreesboro, with a population of nearly 4,000, was an important transportation hub on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, which had gone into service on Feb. 11, 1854. Completion of the railroad cut the travel time between Nashville and Chattanooga from 22 hours by stage to nine hours by rail. Eleven major roads radiated from town, a number of them were paved with gravel and tar.
West said on April 27, 1862, Union forces began to march on Murfreesboro as part of orders from Washington D.C. to secure and repair the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. The Union troops headquartered there spent their time on picket duty and in training. Generally, the townspeople were less than friendly and troops became the target of catcalls and the occasional stone.
Despite a fear of attack, the Union leadership in Murfreesboro did nothing to unify its forces or to develop any fortifications. The jail and Courthouse on the Square became their headquarters. Trouble intensified when the Yankees began to raid area farms and mercantile stores. In a number of cases, if farmers or shopkeepers resisted, they were placed under arrest by Federal troops in either the jail or courthouse.
Now totaling some 1,400 men, the unit departed for Murfreesboro on June 12, only stopping to feed horses and men late that night in Woodbury. Have you ever noticed the state historic marker "Forrest Rested Here," that marks the stop on the eastern side of Woodbury, West asked.
A number of them were to be shot on Monday morning, July 13 (Forrest's birthday). Among those held as prisoners were a number from Cannon County, including Tommie Dillon (father of the late Z. T. Dillon), Col. Fed. St . John, Hiram Hall, Larkin Stewart (grandfather of W. D. Stewart), and one - Sauls.
He left in time to reach Murfreesboro about daylight next morning, and immediately attacked the guarded Courthouse, in which charge 25 of his men were shot and killed from the windows above, before the rescue was made, he said.
Using deception, Forrest's vanguard took out the 15 Union pickets without a shot being fired by pretending to be part of the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry arriving for duty. The cavalry surrounded the Union soldiers and took them prisoner with drawn pistols. No shots were fired and no alert was given.
The Union forces were in three positions with the largest detachment at Oaklands, another downtown at the Square and a third across town near Stones River. That third unit, the 3rd Minnesota was 500 men strong with four pieces of artillery.
It was Forrest's intention to catch them all sleeping. And he did.
"Forrest attacked Murfreesborough at five o'clock Sunday morning, July 13th, and captured two brigadier-generals, staff and field officers and 1200 men; burned $200,000 worth of stores; captured sufficient stores with those burned to amount to $500,000; sixty wagons; 300 mules; 150 or 200 horses, and field battery of four pieces; destroyed the railroad and depot at Murfreesboro. Had to retreat to McMinnville owing to the large number of prisoners to be guarded. Loss 16 or 18 killed, 25 or 30 wounded."
Fort Pillow had very little military value, but it was an assembly spot for escaped slaves and Northern businessmen. It had a hotel, store and contraband village. The fort was thus held by an uneasy combination of white Southerners and black freedmen. The troops were led by 25-year-old Maj. Lionel F. Booth, a capable career soldier.
The federals were in a difficult position. Booth commanded about 585 men and six cannons, but they faced enemy fire on three sides and had the steep bluff at their back. Rebels in the foliage and buildings surrounding the inner fort sent a constant shower of bullets into the men below, keeping them pinned down behind the walls.
Major Booth was soon shot and killed and was replaced in command by Maj. William Bradford of the 13th Tennessee.
At about 2 p.m., Forrest sent a flag of truce to the fort's commander with a message demanding surrender. He promised to give the garrison fair treatment as prisoners of war. "Should my demand be refused," Forrest's note ended ominously, "I cannot be responsible for the fate of your command."
After stalling an hour, Bradford responded: "I will not surrender."
Forrest's men had never faced black troops in battle before. In the Confederate mind, opposition from armed black men -- in this case, black men who had recently taunted them -- was tantamount to a slave insurrection, and few things were likelier to enrage a white Southerner, West said.
"The sight of negro soldiers," a Confederate witness said, "stirred the bosoms of our soldiers with courageous madness." Nor was that all: These black men were fighting alongside local white Unionists, whom the rebels despised as "homemade Yankees" and "Tennessee Tories."
Once the onslaught began, battle became massacre. Some federals attempted to surrender, but their attackers seemed determined to leave none alive. "The slaughter was awful," Confederate Sgt. Achilles V. Clark wrote.
Between 277 and 297 federals -- roughly half of the garrison -- had been killed or mortally wounded.
As for Forrest and the founding of the Klu Klux Klan. He didn't start the Klan, but he helped put it out of business in the post Civil War days, West said.
This was confirmed by the U. S. Congress in 1871. "The natural tendency of all such organizations is to violence and crime, hence it was that General Forrest and other men of influence by the exercise of their moral power, induced them to disband." See U. S. Congressional Committee Report (June 27, 1871).
In fact, a number of black soldiers were part of Forrest's command.
When Forrest's cavalry surrendered in May 1865, sixty-five blacks were on Forrest's muster role, including eight in Forrest's Escort, the general's handpicked elite inner circle. Commenting on the performance of his black soldiers, Forrest said: "Finer Confederates never fought."
After the war, Forrest fought to improve the standing of blacks in Memphis, the editor continued.
While Memphis was still under U. S. military command, Forrest spoke to federal authorities regarding the former slaves within their command. He noted that many of the freedmen were skilled artisans and should be employed. Additionally, he urged the authorities to establish training programs for the younger blacks so the next generation would not be dependent.
Forrest also approached the Memphis Board of Aldermen, according to newspaper accounts, and argued that the colored citizens could be doctors, clerks, bankers or anything else if given the opportunity and education. He believed that the blacks were a part of the community and should be involved and employed like anyone else.
While his words were ignored, Forrest conducted his own business consistent with what he urged upon others. As president of the Selma, Marion & Memphis Railroad, he employed former slaves as construction engineers, crew foremen, train engineers and conductors. Blacks were hired as managers, as well as laborers.
In 1875 Forrest was invited to address a meeting of the Independent Order of Pole Bearers, an early black civil rights organization in Memphis, at their Fourth of July barbecue, he said.
Just before he spoke, Forrest was presented a bouquet of flowers by the daughter of a Pole Bearers' officer. The gathering was at the Memphis fairgrounds and Forrest's short, extemporaneous speech was reprinted in the Memphis newspaper, as follows:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the white and colored races of the Southern states. I accept it more particularly as it comes from a colored lady, for if there is any one on God's earth who loves the ladies I believe it is myself. (Immense applause and laughter.) I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence, and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations, and shall do all in my power to elevate every man, to depress none. (Applause.) I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms, and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today. I don't propose to say anything about politics. You have a right to elect whom you please; vote for the man you think best, and I think, when that is done, you and I are freemen. Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you. I am not much of a speaker, and my business prevented me from preparing myself. I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I'll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand." (Prolonged applause.)
After the speech Forrest thanked the young black woman for the bouquet and kissed her on the cheek. This public familiarity between the races was unheard of at the time, West said.
"When Forrest died in 1877, Memphis newspapers reported that his funeral procession was over two miles long. The throng of mourners was estimated to include over 3000 black citizens of Memphis," he concluded.