Saturday, June 8, 2019

Nathan Bedford Forrest on Memorial Day 1875

These days the most unreconstructed neo-Confederates don't much revere Robert E. Lee. Lee, after all, surrendered his army and then called on the rest of the South's officers to do the same. This triggered a cascade of surrenders across the South, despite calls from Jefferson Davis and other firebrands to fight on, and some have never forgiven Lee for it. No, the current hero of neo-Confederates is Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was not an aristocrat like Lee but a self-made millionaire who never lost his downhome speech, which is probably why he was never considered for command of a Confederate army despite his record of success. This makes him a more appropriate hero for Trump-loving populists than a gentleman like Lee. Plus, instead of quietly retiring after the war he joined the Klan and rose into its leadership, continuing the fight for white supremacy. But even Forrest was eventually worn down, and he ended up resigning from the Klan when Klansmen started killing white southerners for political reasons. By 1875 Forrest, too, was preaching reconciliation. Dead Confederates found this item in the Galveston Daily News for June 3, 1875:
In Memphis, last week, a number of Federal officers and soldiers participated at the decoration of Confederate graves. As a result, Generals [Gideon Johnston] Pillow and Forrest addressed a letter through the Memphis papers to surviving Confederate soldiers and veterans of 1812, Florida and Mexico, requesting them to participate in the Federal ceremonies on Sunday last [i.e., on Memorial Day]. From this letter the subjoined is extracted:

“However much we differed with them while public enemies, and were at war, we must admit that they fought gallantly for the preservation of the government which we fought to destroy, which is now ours, was that of our fathers, and must be that of our children. Though our love for that government was for a while supplanted by the exasperation springing out of a sense of violated rights and the conflict of battle, yet our love for free government, justly administered, has not perished, and must grow strong in the hearts of brave men who have learned to appreciate the noble qualities of the true soldier.

“Let us all, then, join their comrades who live, in spreading flowers over the graves of these dead Federal soldiers, before the whole American people, as a peace offering to the nation, as a testimonial of our respect for their devotion to duty, and as a tribute from patriots, as we have ever been, to the great Republic, and in honor of the flag against which we fought, and under which they fell, nobly maintaining the honor of that flag. It is our duty to honor the government for which they died, and if called upon, to fight for the flag we could not conquer.”
The strange position of Confederates vis-a-vis the original American Revolution and the government it spawned shows clearly here. After all many Confederates believed that they remained the truest American patriots even when they warred against the government in Washington. You can also see the post-war reconciliation in full flower here, the movement that culminated with the Memorial Bridge in Washington being built on a direct line from the Lincoln Memorial to Robert E. Lee's house.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

A house divided against itself cannot stand, but divisions aren't undone by polite lies and politics. There should have been no reconciliation. The conscripts deserved clemency, but every willing confederate volunteer should have been permanently exiled.

The cancer was never cut out, despite much flowery speech, and untold millions have paid for it. The sickness cannot be cured with moderation and shows of goodwill.

It should have been removed when we had the chance, uprooted entirely. But we let it lie dormant, and then we let it regrow quietly, and now it is once again as strong as it ever was, and long has been. Huge swathes of the population stand ready and willing to reinstate racial slavery at the first real chance they get, and we bafflingly call them American citizens and give them equal protection under the law while they fight to undermine democracy and decency in the name of racial hatred.

There is no coexistence possible with those who seek to destroy others for their own gains. They are beyond the reach of reason, beyond denency, beyond compromise. They deal eternally in bad faith, and they rely upon the misplaced mercy of the righteous to allow them to sereptitiously prey upon the innocent. We must learn the hard lesson that some people are beyond reforming, and must be kept away from society.