J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Happy Birthday General Forrest

Wednesday marks the anniversary of one of the Civil War’s most influential and controversial commanders, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Born on July 13, 1821, Forrest rose to fame after enlisting as a private in the War Between the States. Because of his outstanding, strategical military mind, he advanced to general during the course of the war.

At the onset of the Civil War, Forrest was a wealthy planter, slave trader, and real estate investor. Although he had no formal education, he worked hard (his father died when he was 17, leaving him responsible for his family) and put his younger brothers through college. Becoming a Memphis millionaire, he paid for horses and equipment for a regiment of Tennessee volunteers. From there, he proved to be a military genius in several battles. He was quoted as saying he was the first with the most, and that he came out a horse ahead (he had 29 horses shot out from under him, but killed 28 men). Author Shelby Foote stated that there were only two geniuses in the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln, and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

At the massacre of Ft. Pillow, Forrest was accused of intentionally killing surrendered Union soldiers because they were black. He was later found innocent of the charges. After the war, it was rumored that he helped establish the KKK, but this has never been proven, and he denied it adamantly. In fact, a court hearing was held, led by Union General Sherman, to prove his guilt, but that never happened. General Forrest was only 56 years old when he died on October 29, 1877.

Originally buried in Elmwood Cemetery, his body was disinterred to Forrest Park in Memphis in 1904. Every year, a ceremony is held to honor this special man and significant Confederate leader. This year, members from the 15th and 17th Mississippi, the 51st Tennessee, Nathan Bedford Forrest SCV Camp from Memphis (who hosted the event), the Mechanized Cavalry, and Tennessee’s Wigfall Greys attended, some dressed as reenactors. Lee Millar gave an honorary speech, and entertained the crowd of around 300 with fellow members of the 52nd Regimental Band. Many UDC ladies were there as well, including the Varina Howell Davis Chapter. Wreaths were placed at the monument, and after the ceremony, everyone enjoyed watermelon in the nearly one hundred degree heat.

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