Nov. 13 Mail: Do the Research on Forrest

I started out on the side of changing the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest High School, but as and after I did some real research, I changed my mind. I found out propaganda was being treated as fact, and the despite the controversy, Gen. Forrest was basically an honorable guy.

Now before I go any further, understand that I am a Yankee, Democrat, social liberal who worked to help elect Alvin Brown and Barack Obama, do not like the Confederate Battle Flag and hate the KKK. I also worked with Amnesty International starting when I was a teenager in the ’70s to end apartheid. I am the last person you would think would come to defend a Confederate general, but as I said, the more I discovered about the man that was fact rather than twisted opinion, the more I came to respect him.

Forrest was raised when slavery was normal, when it was also normal to keep women silent and not voting, and for children to be put to work for 60 hours or more a week. Andrew Jackson was a bigot responsible for the Trail of Tears, Carnegie was responsible for murderous reprisals to labor strikes, and Henry Ford was racist against Jews. Even Abraham Lincoln considered blacks inferior to whites, and Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington owned slaves.

Here is some of what I uncovered, but do your own research using empirical evidence and historical records.

War is dirty. America put Japanese Nisei in concentration camps in World War II, in Vietnam there was the My Lai Massacre and, more recently, a war based upon lies in Iraq and Americans responsible for Abu Ghraib. Racism can work both ways, and often does. Truth can get distorted easily, and often does.

Why people aren’t more concerned about the grades at Forrest, recently Ds and Fs, than the name of the place is beyond me.

The petition for the name change has 95 percent of the names on it from people who don’t even live anywhere near here, and in a few days, my petition has nearly 200 signatures, 95 percent of which are alumni.

Here is a history lesson, if your mind isn’t already made up and closed. I openly call anyone with an un-researched opinion stupid or ignorant. I challenge them to do one tenth the research I’ve done and still be able to defend seeking a name change.

It appears that Forrest was trying to stop the carnage at Fort Pillow. With all these other battalions and units, do you think maybe one of them was more responsible than Forrest, knowing that units often do not do as ordered? I might be defending Forrest strongly, and identify myself as a Union Yankee, but I also honor truth above all, and think Forrest is left taking the rap for maybe what an underling did. I think what was worse is that many prisoners were taken to Andersonville, and that’s where the real war crimes took place. But do you think in the field, without radios, without good communication, with so many different commands, that he was able to control things when they got out of hand?

Identification of Units

Two days after the battle Achilles vs. Clark, a Confederate soldier wrote his sister a letter about what he witnessed in the fight. “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. The white men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen — blood human blood stood about in pools, and brains could have been gathered up in any quantity. I with several others tried to stop the butchery and at one point had partially succeeded — but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued.”

Confederate Samuel Caldwell said the Union soldiers had refused to surrender “which incensed our men & if General Forrest had not run between our men and the Yanks with his pistol and saber drawn, not a man would have been spared.”

Private Ellis Falls, a black Union soldier, said that Forrest ordered the Confederates to “quit fighting.”

Private Major Williams, a Union soldier, said he heard one Confederate officer shout that the blacks should be killed and then another Confederate officer contradicted him and said that Forrest had ordered them to capture the blacks and return them to their masters.

One captured Federal, Charles Fitch, ran up to Forrest and asked for protection. When Fitch said he was from Iowa, Forrest then said: “What in hell are you down here for? I have a great mind to have you killed for being down here.” Forrest then told one of his soldiers to keep Fitch safe.

First Sergeant Wilbur Gaylord, a black soldier of the 6th U.S. Heavy Artillery, was wounded as the Confederates came over the wall. He offered to surrender and was taken prisoner. But at the same time, he saw a Confederate soldier “shoot down three black men who were begging for their lives, and who had surrendered.”

This shows that Forrest maybe was not responsible, that maybe he did try to stop it and it got beyond his control. If his intent was to butcher and massacre, he wouldn’t have tried more than once to get the Union troops to surrender, not allowed a truce to allow them to attend to casualties, and would have had other instances of alleged “war crimes.” Remember, he attacked those troops because they had been raiding farms, with some instances of rape and murder of civilians. He also had his former slaves, whom he had freed, voluntarily fighting with him under his command. His letters and reports show a well-educated man of conscience and chivalry, despite the normalcy of slavery in society in which he was raised. There are also questions about the Union commander of Fort Pillow, who was suspected then of illegally shipping cotton North and profiteering, and who was reprimanded at a later post.

As far as causes of the Civil War go, slavery is lamented and, yes, it was a major cause, but not the primary cause. The issues that caused the Civil War had been growing since the United States was founded. The most important causes for the war were unfair taxation, slavery and states’ rights.

There were some skirmishes, but the South took the first shot at Fort Sumter. However, nothing in Constitutional law said the states did not have the right to succeed. Lincoln suspended many Constitutional rights to prevent the dissolution of the Union and used tactics that were forgotten or overlooked by history. Both sides were responsible: the North for being a bully and the South for slavery, being stupid enough to become a one-crop culture and taking the first punch.

As far as the Klan aspects, the KKK started out as a group to foster chivalry and protect the South against abuses of Reconstruction. If you know history, you know things got worse for the South following the war, with Republican and Union legislation which imposed fees, tariffs and taxes specifically upon the South, and forced the loss of property and assets of many Southerners. The war started because of economic rape, which perpetuated slavery, and what followed was even worse. It is no wonder there was resentment and the growth of hate groups: The North assisted in their birth through laws, taxes, regulations, tariffs and fees. When the KKK turned violent and started racial targeting, and not just targeting carpetbaggers and Republicans, Forrest tried to disband it. 

Skot David Wilson

Orange Park