06 December 2010 by Published in: Blogging 10 comments

This article by historian/analyst D. L. Adams is thought-provoking and worth reading. My antipathy toward Nathan Bedford Forrest is well-known and I need not repeat it here, particularly in light of his racist roots. I’m not 100% certain that I agree with Adams or his conclusions here, but they are worth considering. Since I assume that most of my readers are not familiar with Adams and his writings, much of his commentary has to do with the threat to national security posed by radical Islam, so read this article with that in mind.

See what you think and draw your own conclusions.

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  1. J Little
    Tue 07th Dec 2010 at 9:25 pm

    I know you don’t like Forrest much, however I do believe he did more under more difficult circumstances than any other cavalry commander could do. He wasn’t just a Morgan-esque style raider, given his participation in the battles of Shiloh, Chickamauga, Brices Cross Roads, Tupelo, Franklin-Nashville campaign among others. As for the racism aspect, I’m hard pressed to find many Civil War commanders on both sides, who weren’t racist by todays standards. He was probably more progressive in race relations in the 1870s than most of his era. The fact that there were a few thousand Afican Americans at his funeral is a tribute to that.

  2. Lee
    Wed 08th Dec 2010 at 10:22 am

    J Little,

    I think the reason why Forrest is so widely disliked (and sometimes even hated) isn’t simply because he was “a racist.” You’re right, there weren’t many whites of the time, Northern or Southern, who wouldn’t be considered racist today. What distinguishes Forrest is the actions he is associated with that are seen, with justification, as being linked to that racism–particularly his prewar slave dealing, Fort Pillow, and his postwar involvement with the KKK. I agree that the last two of these are more complicated than they are often made out to be, but it’s disingenuous to suggest Forrest is so controversial simply for holding racist attitudes. It’s his concrete actions that make him controversial.

  3. John Foskett
    Wed 08th Dec 2010 at 11:39 am

    I think Lee makes an excellent point. Forrest’s racist views were put into (sometimes bloody) practice on a number of occasions. Although it’s only tangential, I’d add that Forrest’s reputation as a virtually infallible tactician/cavalryman takes a well-researched hit in Dave Powell’s Failure in the Saddle, a study of Forrest’s conduct during the Chickamauga campaign. which is just out. Adams also ought to be more careful in his use of “sources”. One of them is the book Jack Hinson’s Civil War, which is based on skeletal facts and much speculation/invention by the author.

  4. J Little
    Wed 08th Dec 2010 at 6:15 pm

    I don’t see Forrest’s battlefield performance as perfect either. He had bad days in the saddle as did every commander. He will forever have the stigma of being a slave trader and his involvement in the Klan post-war. I do find his overall performance as exceptional. Everyone has an opinion though, which proves the Civil War is never far from our minds for us history lovers. Thanks Eric, John and Lee for your views. Nice to have critical dialog amongst cavalry men.

  5. John Foskett
    Thu 09th Dec 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Never call me a cavalry man (LOL). Seriously, if you want to talk about artillery I’m your guy but my “expertise” on the horse soldiers might fill a thimble and much of what I do know comes from buying Eric’s books. I do recommend the Powell book, however, for a detailed look at Forrest in one campaign.

  6. C. Small
    Fri 10th Dec 2010 at 4:19 pm

    My wife and I recently toured an antebellum home on Hwy 17 just north of Wilmington, NC. It was a peanut plantation and had 62 slaves at the time of the War. The owners, named Foy, were apparently admirable people, industrious, civic minded and devoted to family. The docent (a native of Massachusetts dressed in period garb) explained that of course no one defends slavery now, but that the Foys must have been good masters because all of the slaves but one stayed on the place after the War. Now the question for us history-minded people living in 2010 is how do we reconcile “good” people heartily endorsing and participating in the institution of slavery? After considerable study I have come to a conclusion. I would like to have your thoughts.

  7. Lyle Smith
    Sun 12th Dec 2010 at 3:09 am

    I didn’t really like Adams’ article all that much because some of his historical points are arguably superficial.

    However, his article makes a good point. Forrest was awesome at War, and sometimes we, as a people, must have War… and if we do, we too must be awesome at it. And Forrest is as good an American example as any about how to go about being awesome at it. I’d surely want a Nathan Bedford Forrest next to me in battle, if not leading me into it. The only problem is he was on the fire eating, radical side of the Civil War, i.e. the radical Islam or despotic Arab side of the War.

    U.S. Grant or William Tecumseh Sherman would be better models to write about, I think, because despotic and violent, radical Islam is going to unfortunately have to be beaten down over time by the United States just like the Confederacy was. Vanquishing the Taliban in Afghanistan or the despotic Saddam in Iraq is something akin to Grant liberating Mississippi or Sherman marching to the Sea. A lot of Lincoln is needed from our leaders, and a lot of Forrest is needed in our soldiers (or really Grant and Shermans, among many others).

  8. J Little
    Sun 12th Dec 2010 at 9:36 am

    I’m a ex-Cavalryman John, so I lumped you on with us. What book are you referring to, the Powell one that is? Lyle, I’m not on board with you on the radical side of things concerning Forrest. Very straight forward when it came to fighting, but he called it a day in May 65, when he could have continued on a protracted, senseless guerilla campaign. His farewell address also discounts that idea of radicalism.

  9. Lyle Smith
    Sun 12th Dec 2010 at 2:49 pm


    The radicalism I’m talking about is the radicalism of slavery… not the radicalism of rebellion or how Forrest fought. It’s not a perfect analogy for sure, I grant you that. However, slavery was an institution that had to go. It was intolerable to the ideals of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. It was intolerable to the great American experiment. Just as despotism and the radical Islamic life is intolerable to America today.

    Forrest, as much as he loved the Constitution and America, just was on the wrong side of the slavery issue. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were as well. Myriad ancestors of mine were too, from Virginia House of Burgesses members to widowed plantation owners in Civil War Louisiana. In no way am I’m saying that they were the exact Osama bin Ladens of their time… they weren’t… but they were upholders of an institution that had to be vanquished, much like bin Laden’s violent jihad culture or Saddam Hussein’s brand of despotism must be stood up to and vanquished.

    Again, it’s definitely not a perfect analogy… but we’re still the same country of Lincoln (with the same ideological commitments), yet now our interests span the breath of the world, and not just below the Mason-Dixon line.

  10. J Little
    Sun 12th Dec 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Lyle, I got ya buddy. Totally right on the slavery thing. Agree it was a foul institution. Not much anyone can say that will mitigate its inherent evilness. It was a product of our time, and thankfully it is over. I have to say I am proud of my ancestors who fought on both sides however. Anyway, great topic of discussion. We can thank Eric for having a great forum to get our views out.

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