NATHAN
BEDFORD
FORREST


&
the
Fort
Pillow
controversy
 



 REVIEW
of
THE
CONFEDERACY'S
GREATEST
CAVALRYMAN




 by
Brian
Steel
Wills



 After
reading
this
book
I
am
expecting
Bedford
Forrest's
Second
Coming
at
any
 moment
because
in
this
work
he
is
crucified
throughout
for
the
supposed
Fort
 Pillow
"massacre"
and
portrayed
as
if
this
incident
was
the
greatest
horror
 perpetrated
during
the
whole
Civil
War.
This
volume
is
the
best
hatchet
job
I
 have
ever
come
across
since
the
Last
of
the
Mohicans.
But
it
is
appalling
history


2


and
does
not
deserve
the
description
as
an
'history
book'.
 
 


Taking
one
example,
here
is
what
Wills
says
on
page
191
of
his
character
 assassination:
"To
be
sure,
Nathan
Bedford
Forrest
had
many
opportunities
to
 express
his
racism
and
did
so
with
a
vehemence
seldom
matched,
but
he
was
not
 alone
in
possessing
such
attitudes."
With
blatant
anachronistic
moralising
in
a
 political
correctness
vein,
the
author
tries
to
blame
Forrest
for
just
being
a
 Southerner
in
the
1860's.
To
say
that
the
South
had
institutionalized
slavery
is
 like
saying
the
ancient
Egyptians
built
pyramids.
Of
course,
Forrest
accepted
 slavery
because
he
was
born
and
grew
up
in
a
society
whose
economy
was
based
 on
slavery.
To
try
and
blame
him
personally
for
that
is
just
ludicrous.
An
 historian
must
try
to
understand
the
times
his
subject
was
living
in
and
not
 superimpose
his
own
morality
onto
people
who
died
over
a
century
ago.
 
 


On
the
same
page
Wills
admits:
"Forrest
did
not
march
against
Fort
Pillow
to
 obliterate
its
garrison.
Obtaining
the
garrison's
surrender
would
have
sufficed
 for
his
purposes..."
On
page
193
he
quotes
a
Confederate
soldier
Achilles
V
Clark
 who
wrote:
"Our
men
were
so
exasperated
by
the
Yankee's
threats
of
no
quarter
 that
they
gave
but
little.
The
poor
deluded
negros
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.
The
white
men
fared
but
little
better...
I
with
 several
others
tried
to
stop
the
butchery
but
Gen.
Forrest
ordered
them
shot
 down
like
dogs
and
the
carnage
continued...”
Wills
seems
to
believe
that
this
one
 'witness'
tells
the
whole
story.
In
fact
the
last
statement
about
Forrest
is
either
a
 blatant
lie,
a
fabrication
or
misunderstanding
or
even
added
for
effect.
 
 


On
page
196
Wills
summarizes:
"For
a
variety
of
reasons,
Fort
Pillow
became
a
 collective
release
of
pent‐up
anger
and
hatred.
It
became
in
clinical
terms,
a
 group
catharsis.
And
as
the
overall
commander
of
the
troops
on
the
scene,
some
 of
whom
carried
out
these
acts,
Nathan
Bedford
Forrest
was
responsible."
So
 now
Wills
claims
to
be
a
doctor
and
psychiatrist
as
well
as
an
'historian'.
He
 claims
to
be
able
to
tell
what
was
going
through
the
minds
of
dozens
of
fighting
 men
on
April
12th
1864,
during
the
confusion
of
battle.
Wills,
writing
in
1992


3


thus
can
'read
the
minds'
of
men
who
lived
130
years
before.
Quite
a
gift!
 
 


Now
let's
look
at
the
biography
of
Forrest
by
John
Allan
Wyeth
‐
who
actually
 did
become
a
doctor
after
the
war.
Wills
'borrows'
all
Wyeth's
photos
and
 illustrations
but
he
ignores
what
Wyeth
wrote
about
Fort
Pillow
on
pages
308‐ 341
of
his
book.
On
the
cover
of
Wyeth's
book
it
states:
"First
published
in
1899.
 That
Devil
Forrest
is
based
almost
entirely
on
accounts
of
those
who
knew
 Forrest
personally
and
on
contemporary
military
papers
and
records.
It
is
the
 single
greatest
source
of
primary
material
on
Nathan
Bedford
Forrest."
And
Wills
 virtually
ignores
it.
 
 


On
page
319
Wyeth
reproduces
Forrest's
demand
for
the
garrison
to
 surrender:
"Before
Fort
Pillow,
April
12,
1864,
Major
Booth,
Commanding
United
 States
Forces,
Fort
Pillow:
MAJOR
‐
The
conduct
of
the
officers
and
men
 garrisoning
Fort
Pillow
has
been
such
as
to
entitle
them
to
being
treated
as
 prisoners
of
war.
I
demand
the
unconditional
surrender
of
the
garrison,
 promising
that
you
shall
be
treated
as
prisoners
of
war...
Should
my
demand
be
 refused,
I
cannot
be
responsible
for
the
fate
of
your
command.
Respectfully,"
N.B.
 Forrest
Major‐General
Commanding.
 
 


On
this
day
Forrest
had
no
less
than
three
horses
shot
under
him
whilst
he
was
 reconnoitering
the
position
‐
indicating
just
how
dangerous
it
was
going
to
be
to
 storm
the
fort.
As
Wyeth
states
on
page
327:
"The
garrison
had
resolved
to
die
‐
 NOT
TO
SURRENDER
.
The
Confederates
were
there
to
take
the
fort
or
die
in
the
 attempt.
No
marvel
the
loss
of
life
was
terrible."
(I
have
used
capitals
for
the
 italics
of
the
original).
Wyeth
also
mentions
something
else
that
is
totally
missing
 from
Wills'
biased
account,
on
page
323‐324
"...
the
condition
of
intoxication
 which
prevailed
with
a
large
part
of
the
garrison.
Major
Booth,
from
all
accounts
 and
excellent
and
brave
commander,
was
dead.
Major
Bradford,
evidently,
as
 stated
by
Major
General
S.A.
Hurlbut,
"without
experience,"
had
succeeded
to
the
 command,
and
he
had
made
the
fatal
error
of
giving
his
men
free
access
to
the
 liquor
with
which
the
commissary
of
the
fort
was
supplied.
The
sworn
testimony
 of
a
large
number
of
honorable
and
trustworthy
men
establishes
this
fact
beyond
 contradiction.
To
those
familiar
with
the
two
classes,
black
and
white,
which
 composed
the
bulk
of
the
private
soldiers
in
the
garrison
at
Fort
Pillow,
and
their
 fondness
for
intoxicating
drinks,
especially
so
with
Negroes
just
free
from
 slavery,
it
will
readily
be
accepted
that
they
did
not
fail
to
take
advantage
of
the
 opportunities
to
drink
to
excess.
Their
conduct
during
the
truce
and
the
insane


4


resistance
beneath
the
bluff
bear
out
the
allegation
that
many
were
intoxicated."
 Strange
how
Wills
never
alludes
once
to
this
fact!
 
 


So,
full
of
Dutch
courage
and
secure
in
their
very
strong
position
inside
the
fort,
 the
defenders
had
little
thought
of
surrendering
and
derided
and
taunted
their
 opponents.
Furthermore,
this
helps
explain
the
fact
why
their
belated
attempts
 to
surrender
once
the
fort
had
been
stormed
were
so
confused.
As
Wyeth
 explains,
on
page
327‐328
even
when
the
Confederates
had
scaled
the
walls:
 "THEY
HAD
NO
THOUGHT
OF
SURRENDER
THEN,
AND
IN
DEFIANCE
OF
 FORREST
THEY
LEFT
THEIR
FLAG
FLOATING
FROM
THE
STAFF."
(I
have
used
 capitals
for
the
italics
of
the
original).
A
federal
gunboat
was
close
by
and
the
 Union
soldiers
had
been
promised
"safety
from
pursuit
once
below
the
crest
of
 the
riverbank.
No
man
surrendered
or
tried
to
surrender
above
the
bluff."
Wyeth
 continues:
"The
Confederates
lining
the
embankment,
and
those
of
the
ground
 within
the
fort
‐
twelve
hundred
in
all
‐
from
pistol
and
musket
poured
into
them
 a
deliberate
and
converging
fire
as
they
retired,
and
with
fearful
execution..."
For
 many
of
the
colored
soldiers,
it
was
the
very
last
thing
they
were
expecting:
 "some
of
whom,
either
insanely
intoxicated
or
convinced
from
the
slaughter
that
 had
transpired
that
no
quarter
would
be
shown
them,
and
determined
to
sell
 their
lives
as
dearly
as
possible,
still
offered
resistance
and
continued
to
fire
at
 the
Confederates."
No
one
had
thought
to
strike
the
flag
as
an
obvious
sign
of
 surrender!
 
 


Wyeth
explains
on
page
329
what
happened
next:
"
A
number
who
had
thrown
 their
guns
away,
holding
up
their
hands,
ran
up
toward
the
Confederates
on
the
 crest
of
the
bluff
and
were
spared,
while
others
who
did
this
were
shot
down.
 But
for
the
insane
conduct
of
their
drunken
and
desperate
comrades,
a
great
 many
of
those
who
perished
would
have
escaped."
Even
Wills
cannot
blame
 Forrest
for
the
fact
that
a
lot
of
his
opponents
were
blind
drunk
on
April
12th
 1864.
What
did
Forrest
actually
do?
"This
frightful
scene
of
carnage
was
 fortunately
of
short
duration.
General
Forrest,
from
his
position
four
hundred
 yards
distant
from
the
fort,
as
soon
as
he
saw
his
main
gain
the
parapet
and
leap
 in
among
the
garrison,
rode
at
once
to
the
scene
and
ordered
all
firing
to
cease."
 
 


Fort
Pillow
was
not
like
the
Drogheda
and
Wexford
massacres
under
Cromwell,
 and
it
was
clearly
a
military
target
‐
the
fort
having
been
built
by
the
 Confederates
themselves!
When
Sherman
marched
through
Georgia,
he
was
 consciously
making
'total
war'
against
the
citizens
of
the
South.
There
is
a
whole


5


passel
of
bias
from
Northern
critics
of
Forrest.
Sherman,
Sheridan
and
Grant
 were
also
responsible
for
the
genocide
of
Native
Americans
and
the
North's
 foremost
cavalry
officer
George
Armstong
Custer
was
responsible
for
the
 massacre
of
Black
Kettle's
peaceful
Cheyenne
village
‐
a
great
'victory'
against
 mainly
women
and
children.
For
critics
of
Forrest
to
make
out
that
he
was
the
 devil
incarnate
is
ludicrous
when
the
countless
dead
Indians
are
put
into
the
 scales
of
justice.
Red
headed
Sherman's
hands
were
covered
in
Indian
blood.
 
 


Here
is
a
quote
from
Sherman
in
Angie
Debo's
superb
history
of
the
Indians
of
 the
United
States:
"We
must
act
with
vindictive
earnestness
against
the
Sioux,
 even
to
their
extermination,
men,
women,
and
children."
(Page
252.)
What
a
 charmer
was
this
greatest
and
most
famous
self‐confessed
'madman'
in
the
 Union
Army.
(He
once
said
that
he
looked
after
Grant
when
Grant
was
drunk
and
 Grant
looked
after
him
when
he
was
mad).
In
1866
there
was
talk
of
a
new
 railroad
in
the
Denver
region
overseen
by
General
Sherman
when
the
Indian
 tribes
as
a
whole
were
fighting
for
their
very
survival
and
he
stated:
"God
only
 knows
when,
and
I
do
not
see
how,
we
can
make
an
excuse
for
an
Indian
war."
 (page
228)
His
dilemma
came
from
the
fact
that
the
Indians
in
the
area
at
the
 time
were
peaceful!
Wills
harps
on
about
Forrest's
'racism'
when
only
a
few
 years
later
Sherman
was
concocting
an
extirpation
of
a
whole
people.
It
is
easy
to
 see
just
who
really
was
the
better
man.
 
 


In
his
masterful
three
volume
history
of
the
Civil
War,
Shelby
Foote
has
a
lot
to
 say
about
the
supposed
'massacre'
at
Fort
Pillow.
In
Volume
Three
pages
110‐ 111
he
states
that
after
the
walls
had
been
breached:
"Others,
dropping
their
 guns
in
terror,
ran
back
towards
the
Confederates
with
their
hands
up,
and
of
 these
some
were
spared
as
prisoners,
while
others
were
shot
in
the
act
of
 surrender.
"No
quarter!
No
quarter!"
was
being
shouted
at
several
points,
and
 this
was
thought
by
some
to
be
at
Forrest's
command,
since
he
had
predicted
 and
even
threatened
that
what
was
happening
would
happen.
But
the
fact
was,
 he
had
done
and
was
doing
all
he
could
to
end
it,
having
ordered
the
firing
 stopped
as
soon
as
he
saw
his
troopers
swarm
into
the
fort,
even
though
its
flag
 was
still
flying
and
a
good
part
of
the
garrison
was
still
trying
to
get
away.
He
and
 others
managed
to
put
an
end
to
the
killing
and
sort
out
the
captives,
wounded
 and
unwounded."
 
 


As
Foote
describes,
there
was
then
a
big
to‐do
in
the
North
‘
“to
gather
 testimony
in
regard
to
the
massacre
at
Fort
Pillow”
...
which
resulted
in
a


6


voluminous
printed
report
that
the
rebels
had
engaged
in
"indiscriminate
 slaughter"
of
men,
women
and
children,
white
and
black,
and
afterwards
had
not
 only
set
barracks
and
tents
afire,
roasting
the
wounded
in
their
beds,
but
had
 also
"buried
some
of
the
living
with
the
dead,"
despite
their
piteous
cries
for
 mercy
while
dirt
was
being
shoveled
on
their
faces...
Southerners
might
protest
 that
the
document
was
a
"tissue
of
lies
from
end
to
end"
as
indeed
it
largely
was,
 but
they
could
scarcely
argue
with
the
casualty
figures,
which
indicated
strongly
 that
unnecessary
killing
had
occurred,
although
it
was
in
fact
the
opposite
of
 'indiscriminate."
For
example,
of
the
262
Negro
members
of
the
garrison,
only
58
 ‐
just
over
twenty
percent
‐
were
marched
away
as
prisoners;
while
of
the
295
 whites,
168
‐
just
under
sixty
percent
‐
were
taken.’
(Page
111).
Foote
then
 quotes
the
same
Confederate
sergeant's
testimony
as
Wills
but
then
adds
on
 page
112,
unlike
Wills:
"This
was
not
to
say
that
Forrest
himself
had
not
done
all
 he
could,
first
to
prevent
and
then
to
end
the
unnecessary
bloodshed.
He
had,
 and
perhaps
the
strongest
evidence
of
his
forbearance
came
not
from
friends
but
 from
his
enemies
of
the
highest
rank."
Because
when
"Lincoln
told
Stanton
to
 investigate
without
delay
'the
alleged
butchery
of
our
troops.'
Stanton
passed
the
 word
to
Grant,
who
wired
Sherman
that
same
day:
"If
our
men
have
been
 murdered
after
capture,
retaliation
must
be
resorted
to
promptly.
Sherman
 undertook
the
investigation,
as
ordered,
but
made
no
such
recommendation:
 proof
in
itself
that
none
was
justified,
since
no
one
doubted
that
otherwise,
with
 Sherman
in
charge,
retaliation
would
have
been
as
prompt
as
even
Grant
could
 have
desired."
 
 


So,
for
a
truer
picture
of
Nathan
Bedford
Forrest
read
Wyeth's
biography
and
 Shelby
Foote’s
three
volumes
to
understand
the
wider
background
to
the
period.
 As
for
Brian
Steel
Wills
‐
he
is
a
disgrace
to
the
profession
of
historian
and
a
bigot
 who
prefers
to
see
the
past
through
blood‐tinted
spectacles.
Shame
on
him!
 
 
 John
Tarttelin
B.Ed.
(History),
M.A.
(History),

 Fellow
of
the
International
Napoleonic
Society
(Legion
of
Merit).
 
 ©
2013
 

 A
SOULADREAM
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