Continuing my series on High Southern Culture.
Much of the force of my argument will not be in downplaying “racism,” whatever that term means (curse thee, Karl Marx, for thy invention). It will assume it and then redirect it.
Many Southern apologists try to downplay the role of slavery in the War. They will say, echoing Abraham Lincoln (“Letter 1858”), that slavery was not the cause of the war. Historically, that is true. Nobody cares. The Yankee Elite have already determined the truth and you best abide by it or end up in a FEMA camp.
Granting that Southrons did some bad things, and I will focus on Forrest in a bit, I would like to open the floor for some equal-opportunity confessions:
Stonewall Jackson pissed on Virginia Law and taught slaves how to read the Bible in his Sunday School class (Letter to John Lyle Campbell, June 2, 1858).
Let’s contrast this with a local contemporary of Jackson, none other than the abolitionist John Brown. If I merely said that Brown killed white, Southern men, women, and children, some sick pervert would likely respond, “Yeah, well, their Southern and they deserved it.” Unfortunately, Brown also killed Northern, Yankee women and children (Otto Scott, The Secret Six). Praise God his raid failed (who knows how many more women and children would have been slaughtered?) and he was captured by Stonewall Jackson! History is exciting, isn’t it?
Now we get to the proverbial fly in the ointment, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Did not Forrest start the KKK and slaughter surrendering blacks and Fort Pillow? The first objection is more easily dealt with. True, he was an honorary leader for a brief moment, but we must realize that the KKK in the 1860s was not the same as in the 20th century. It was a vigilante police force simply because the Reconstructionists refused to protect Southern women. To his credit Forrest disbanded the organization and when he appeared before a Yankee congress to testify, they accepted his presentation of the facts.
But what about Fort Pillow? That Forrest was involved is certainly true. But given that Forrest took over 30,000 men prisoner in war, it seems really odd that he would not do that here. I am only going to summarize the scholarship. There are several outstanding analyses that do a much better job. Long story short, and consistent with Biblical Warfare Terms of Surrender, Major Bradford had numerous opportunities to surrender and only when Forrest’s men stormed the fort did they decide to surrender. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this is going to end. Was Forrest at least somewhat guilty? Probably. But how come Major Bradford isn’t held to account?
But what is most interesting is that Forrest’s men stormed using hand-to-hand combat and revolvers, which when fired at point-blank range it would have left burn marks which are consistent with execution-style marks. But perhaps most damning to the case against Forrest,
Moreover, as the Union defenders fled to the beach, the U.S. flag still flew from Fort Pillow’s flagpole – this is significant since in 19th century warfare “Striking (lowering) the Colors” was the universally accepted signal that a garrison had surrendered and an unmistakable signal to the victorious attackers to stop firing. Had Bradford sensibly lowered the U.S. flag, this would have been a clear indication to all attacking Confederates that the garrison had surrendered.
Unfortunate, but not surprising.
But that’s not the real offense. The real offense is that Forrest found Jesus after the war.
Let’s contrast that with General Sherman’s words. Most people are aware of how his men burned and raped slaves across Georgia. Sherman’s own rationale is just as jarring.
"Gentlemen, Niggers and cotton caused this war, and I wish them both in Hell." Let's end with a contrast. After Nathan Bedford Forrest's speech to the Independent Pole Bearers Whereupon N. B. 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.