It was that same William Sherman who said of him after the war: "After all, I think Forrest was the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side."
To know the history is to accept that statement as fact.
"Remarkable," of course, being a rather elastic word.
For, while Confederate Lt. General Nathan Bedford Forrest was - and is - considered to be a strategic and tactical genius on the battlefield, his biography also has its dark side.
Before the Civil War Forrest, among other endeavors, was a slave trader. And during the war - a case can be made - he allowed himself to become a war criminal. Then there's the small matter of Forrest being a cofounder of the Ku Klux Klan.
So what to do with this guy?
If you're a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, you honor the man and work to have his name emblazoned on a license plate. If you're a member of the NAACP, you do everything to prevent it.
The battle is joined. All these years later:
Haley Barbour in KKK plate uproarMe? I come down on the side of the NAACP.
By Kasie Hunt, Politico
In the latest racially charged incident in his home state, Haley Barbour on Tuesday drew fire when he refused to condemn a proposal honoring a Ku Klux Klan leader and Confederate general on a state license plate.
"I don't go around denouncing people. That's not going to happen," Barbour, who is considering a run for the White House in 2012, said when asked about the plate, the Associated Press reported. "I know there's not a chance it'll become law."
The state NAACP has denounced the proposal from the Mississippi Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who went on to become an early leader of the KKK.Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, ripped the planned license plate "absurd," blasted Forrest as a "racially divisive figure," and has called on Barbour to denounce the plan. [link]
To know of Forrest's legacy is to be disturbed. While he was indeed a military genius, he pushed beyond the rules of war and exhibited marked - and unacceptable - cruelty toward his enemies, and not just at Fort Pillow, and not just toward his military foe, but even toward civilians in western Tennessee who he deemed to be enemies of the Confederacy. It's a chapter in his biography that doesn't get much attention. But should.
For what it's worth, I have a print of Forrest at the battle of Parker's Crossroads on the wall behind me here in my office. It depicts the military genius at his most audacious. That part of his history, I think, should be admired. And feared.
But it's the entirety of his life that has to be considered when someone today starts talking about honoring the man. In the many chapters written, only one signals acts to be praised. Far too many deserve our eternal condemnation.
Let him rest, fellas.