Civil War Buff

      The Civil War in Arkansas

   Home     What's New     Search     People     Places     Units     Groups     Forum     Books     Calendar     About Us



Civil War Round Table of Arkansas

Promote Your Page Too



Our 45th Year  
Meets Fourth Tuesday; January-November 
Founded March 1964 

Second Presbyterian Church

600 Pleasant Valley Drive

Little Rock  
Program at 7 p.m.   
Jan Sarna, President 

Rick Meadows, Editor /   
Dues $20 Per Year 

“Confederate Cavalier, Nathan Bedford Forrest” 


Don Nall 

Don retired to Little Rock from preaching in a number of churches in Arkansas to be closer to his grandchildren. Don is a graduate from Ouachita Baptist University and holds a Doctor of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A long time history buff, Don has been a frequent speaker at area Civil War Roundtables. 



Nathan Bedford Forrest 

Forrest, born in 1821, was the oldest child in a poor family of twelve children and became the head of his family when his father died at age seventeen.  He worked hard and at age twenty he went into business with his uncle in Hernando, Mississippi, just south of Memphis. When his uncle was killed during an argument with four brothers, Forrest avenged his death by killing two of the men and wounding the others with a knife.  He went on to become a successful businessman, plantation owner, and slave trader in Memphis.  By the time the war broke out in 1861, Forrest was self-made millionaire.   

He joined the Confederate Army and fought with unequaled ferocity. In his farewell address at the conclusion of the war, Forrest told his troops to be good citizens, as they had been good soldiers.  Unfortunately, carpetbaggers took advantage of the plight of the post-war South and helped to destroy the favorable resolution that Forrest had promised his men.  He became associated with the Ku Klux Klan in an effort to reverse the damage done to the South by these northerners.  In 1867 he was acclaimed the Grand Wizard of the KKK, but he resigned his post after serving less than five years. Forrest officially disbanded the Klan’s earliest charter in retaliation for the group’s violent attacks on African-Americans.  He abandoned the Klan and made a remarkable speech on rebuilding race relations at a convention in Memphis for an African-American civic organization known as the “Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association “on July 5, 1875.  This group was a predecessor the NAACP. (Courtesy Civil War Historian, January/February 2008)  

From Slave Trader to Freedmen 

Forrest's speech during a meeting of the "Jubilee of Pole Bearers" is a story that needs to be told. Gen. Forrest was the first white man to be invited by this group which was a forerunner of today's Civil Right's group. A reporter of the Memphis Avalanche newspaper was sent to cover the event that included a Southern barbeque supper.

Miss Lou Lewis, daughter of a Pole Bearer member, was introduced to Forrest and she presented the former general a bouquet of flowers as a token of reconciliation, peace and good will. On July 5, 1875, Nathan Bedford Forrest delivered this speech:

"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.


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.)

End of speech.

Nathan Bedford Forrest again thanked Miss Lewis for the bouquet and then gave her a kiss on the cheek. Such a kiss was unheard of in the society of those days, in 1875, but it showed a token of respect and friendship between the general and the black community and did much to promote harmony among the citizens of Memphis.

From Private to General



With no formal military training, Nathan Bedford Forrest became one of the leading cavalry figures of the Civil War. The native Tennesseean had amassed a fortune, which he estimated at $1,500,000, as a slave trader and plantation owner before enlisting in the Confederate army as a private in Josiah H. White's cavalry company on June 14, 1861. Tapped by the governor, he then raised a mounted battalion at his own expense.  
        His assignments included: lieutenant colonel, Forrest's Tennessee Cavalry Battalion (October 1861); colonel, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry (March 1862); brigadier general, CSA July 21, 1862); commanding cavalry brigade, Army of the Mississippi (summer-November 20, 1862); commanding cavalry brigade, Army of Tennessee (November 20, 1862 Summer 1863); commanding cavalry division, Army of Tennessee (summer 1863); commanding cavalry corps, Army of Tennessee (ca. August -September 29, 1863); commanding West Tennessee, (probably in) Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana (November 14, 1863 - January 11, 1864); major general, CSA (December 4, 1863); commanding cavalry corps, Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana January 11 - 28, 1864); commanding District of Mississippi and East Louisiana, Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana January 27 - May 4, 1865); also commanding cavalry corps, Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana January 28 - May 4, 1865); and lieutenant general, CSA (February 28, 1865).  
        When the mass Confederate breakout attempt at Fort Donelson failed, Forrest led most of his own men, and some other troops, through the besieging lines and then directed the rear guard during the retreat from Nashville. At Shiloh there was little opportunity for the effective use of the mounted troops and his command again formed the rear guard on the retreat. The day after the close of the battle Forrest was wounded. After serving during the Corinth siege he was promoted to brigadier general, and he raised a brigade with which he captured Murfreesboro, its garrison and supplies.  
        In December 1862 and January 1863 he led another raid, this time in west Tennessee, which contributed to the abandonment of Grant's campaign in central Mississippi; the other determining factor was Van Dorn's Holly Springs raid. Joining up with Joseph Wheeler, Forrest took part in the unsuccessful attack on Fort Donelson which resulted in Forrest swearing he would never serve under Wheeler again.  
        His next success came with the capture of the Union raiding column under Abel D. Streight in the spring of 1863. On June 14, 1863, he was shot by a disgruntled subordinate, Andrew W. Gould, whom Forrest then mortally wounded with his penknife. Recovering, he commanded a division that summer and then a corps at Chickamauga. Having had a number of disputes with army commander Braxton Bragg, Forrest was humiliated by being placed under Wheeler again. His request for transfer to west Tennessee was granted and he was dispatched there with a pitifully small force. Recruiting in that area, he soon had a force large enough to give Union commanders headaches. Sherman kept ordering his Memphis commanders to catch him.  
        When Forrest captured Fort Pillow a controversy developed over reports of a massacre of the largely black garrison. Apparently a massacre did occur there are numerous Confederate firsthand accounts of it. He defeated Samuel D. Sturgis at Brice's Crossroads and under Stephen D. Lee fought Andrew J. Smith at Tupelo. He again faced Smith during August 1864 and then provided the cavalry force for Hood's invasion of middle Tennessee that fall. Finally the force of numbers began to tell when he proved incapable of stopping Wilson's raid through Alabama and Georgia in the final months of the war. His diminished command was included in Richard Taylor's surrender.  
        Wiped out financially by the war, he resumed planting and became the president of the Selma, Marion & Memphis Railroad, which he helped to promote.   He died, probably of diabetes, at Memphis on October 29, 1877, and is buried there. 

Source: “Who Was Who In the War” by Stewart Sifakis 

In Jack Hurst’s biography on Forrest, Hurst states that Forrest was the only soldier South or North to join the military as a private and rise to the rank of lieutenant general. Forrest disagreed with the teaching of West Point that held that a commander should hold at least a third of his force in reserve. In the battle of Sand Mountain, he even sent forward the quarter of his force which normally held the horses of the others, ordering the animals to be tied to bushes. “If we are whipped,” he explained tersely to a skeptical subordinate, “we’ll not need any horses.”  

Hurst continues by writing that Forrest’s soldiers feared him more than the enemy, and with good reason. Assaulting or shooting them with his own hands when they tried to run from battles, he compelled them to run in the opposite direction.  His favorite military tactic was the charge, which he so trusted that he employed it even on a charging enemy rather than simply await assault.  His aim, he said, was to get to the critical position “first with the most men.” 

At age 55, Forrest was hardly the same person that the South had known as the “Wizard of the Saddle”. His illness caused his weight to drop to a meager 100 pounds. He had accepted at last the Christian faith of his family’s women and begun to sound repentant. Death of a Confederate Icon was near. Writers present at his death and funeral noted many blacks among the thousands of mourners who viewed his corpse and followed it to the cemetery. (PG 9 Hurst). 

Little Rock and Jacksonville Under Siege! 

The Civil War Preservation Trust announces in its 2009 History Under Siege: A Guide to America’s Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields, that Bayou Fourche in Little Rock and Reed’s Bridge in Jacksonville are on the “At Risk Sites.” Further expansion of the Little Rock National Airport threatens the Bayou Fourche site, while development along Interstate 440 and Hwy 161 threatens Reed’s Bridge. Thirty acres of Civil War battlefield land are destroyed every day. Will these battlefields be next?  

The Advertising and Promotion Committee of Jacksonville has supported The Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society in part by funding a brochure about the battle and a portion of the cost to purchase 2 cannons that will be placed at the 7 acre site. An additional $4000 is need within the next two months to fund the purchase of the cannons. Contributions can be mailed to: Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society, 100 Veterans Circle, Jacksonville, AR 72076 

Thank you to Brian Brown and his talk last month on Port Hudson! Our speaker in July will be Drew Hodges, History professor at The University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Mary Anna Randolph Custis 

His talk will be on Robert E. Lee and his women. This includes his wife, Mary Custis as well as his daughters, Annie, Mily, and Agnes.  

Scheduled Speakers for 2009 

August  Ken Barnes, History @ UCA   Brooks-Baxter War

September C. Fred Williams @ UALR   Albert Pike

October Mark Christ, Dept of Historic Preservation Helena

November Bill Shea @ UAM    TBA 

Hope to see you Tuesday night with Don Nall and Nathan Bedford Forrest!