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Lot 49: Rare Signature of N. B. Forrest, Brilliant and Feared Confederate General
Presidential Letters, Free Franks & Speeches: Washington to Bush + Important Autographs in History, Science & the Arts
26 October 2016
New York, NY, USALive Auction
Description: FORREST, NATHAN BEDFORD. (1821-1877). Brilliant and feared Confederate general notorious for the Fort Pillow Massacre and his post-war leadership of the Ku Klux Klan, the founding of which was long and incorrectly attributed to him. CS. (“N B Forrest”). 1p. 16mo. Memphis, N.d. ********** Forrest was a successful Tennessee cotton broker and slave trader who used his wealth to raise a Confederate cavalry unit when the Civil War started. After escaping General Grant’s capture of Fort Donelson, Forrest led his troops at the Battle of Shiloh, fighting fiercely and innovatively, earning the nickname “the wizard of the saddle.” He became feared for his lightening raids on Grant’s supply depots and captured hundreds of Union prisoners at the Battle of Chickamauga, where he earned the rank of major general. Forrest’s military prowess was admired by his men and feared by his enemies, but his reputation suffered after leading his troops in one of the most controversial episodes of the conflict. ********** In April 1864, he demanded the surrender of and, eventually, overtook Union forces at Fort Pillow, near Memphis, which counted among its numbers 262 members of the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Nearly 500 Union troops were killed by Forrest’s men. Afterwards, the Union insisted the men had surrendered and that Forrest’s soldiers, inflamed by racial hatred, had committed a war crime by continuing to fight and kill rather than take prisoners. Forrest claimed that the fort had not capitulated to his demand for surrender and that his men were fighting armed combatants and abiding by the rules of war. The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War opened an inquiry and concluded (and modern historians agree) that Forrest and his men had slaughtered the garrison after it had surrendered. “The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct — intentional murder — for the vilest of reasons — racism and personal enmity,” (An Unerring Fire, Fuchs). The event served as a rallying point for black Union soldiers. Nonetheless, Forrest continued to distinguish himself with the Confederate Army of the Tennessee until the war’s conclusion, earning the rank of lieutenant general and recognition as an innovative military strategist. ********** Forrest’s livelihood had been destroyed by the abolition of slavery. He moved to Memphis and speculated in the railroad business beginning in 1866, but was ruined by the Marion & Memphis Railroad’s failure. Forrest spent his final days running a prison farm on an island in the Mississippi. But he is remembered for another chapter in his post-war career: his leadership of the Ku Klux Klan. Founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1866, the KKK headed an anti-Reconstruction vigilante movement. The secretive organization used violence and intimidation to prevent blacks from exercising their new right to vote, killing thousands of people across the South and prompting the federal government to curb their practices by passing the Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871. Forrest became its national leader, the Grand Wizard. “The myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest as the founding father of the Ku Klux Klan has been perpetuated to the extent that it is now accepted as fact. However, contrary to popular belief, Forrest did not originate the Klan, nor had he anything to do with its formation, (Nathan Bedford Forrest: In Search of the Enigma, Davison). In fact, “after only a year as Grand Wizard, in January 1869, faced with an ungovernable membership employing methods that seemed increasingly counterproductive, Forrest issued KKK General Order Number One: ‘It is therefore ordered and decreed, that the masks and costumes of this Order be entirely abolished and destroyed.’ By the end of his life, Forrest’s racial attitudes would evolve — in 1875, he advocated for the admission of blacks into law school — and he lived to fully renounce his involvement with the all-but-vanished Klan,” (americancivilwardotcom). ********** Prior mounting traces on the verso; otherwise very fine. Autographs of Forrest are very rare.