HeroesVillains and Villains
On Monday, Rep. Ted Poe took to the House floor to discuss foreign policy matters. To make a point, the Texas Republican invoked the words of Civil War Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest: “Git thar fustest with the mostest.”
The Carpetbagger says:
Poe’s spokesperson told Roll Call, “The reference to Forrest was used in an historical context comparing the request to Congress for support of the Confederate troops to the request that is being made today by our Generals in Iraq.”
Now I'm no civil war historian but I don't think that Forrest, a Confederate general, ever made a request to "Congress" for trooop support because things were a bit strained at the moment, as I recall.
Nathan Bedford Forrest is a figure still revered throughout the south. His roadside statue in Brentwood, Tennessee (above), executed by shall we say a less than gifted artist, somehow captures the spirit of the man who was born poor and became exceptionally wealthy as a Memphis slave trader before the war (the statue frightens my young cousin Ben every time he drives by).
The thing Forrest was most famous for at the end of the civil war was his role as the Butcher of Fort Pillow. Before the battle, according to Union officer Captain W.A. Goodman who bore a note from Forrest to General Chalmers, Forrest agreed to treat all Union troops as prisoners of war if they agreed to surrender. Said Goodman:
When the note was handed to me, there was some discussion about it among the officers present, and it was asked whether it was intended to include the negro soldiers as well as the white; to which both General Forrest and General Chalmers replied, that is was so intended.
Chalmers did not agree to surrender and Forrest attacked. Said Sergeant Achilles V. Clark of the Confederate Twentieth Tennessee:
The poor deluded negroes would run up to our men fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy but they were ordered to their feet and then shot down. The white men fared but little better. Their fort turned out to be a great slaughter pen. Blood, human blood stood about in pools and brains could have been gathered up in any quantity. I with several others tried to stop the butchery and one time had partially succeeded but Gen. Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs, and the carnage continued.
Accounts vary but several have black Union soldiers being buried alive and nailed to boards and tortured before they died. The total number is also in dispute, but one Forest trooper, W.R. Dryer, said that "the fort was defended by about 450 blacks and 250 whites. We captured about 40 Blacks & 100 Whites and killed the remainder."
Forrest's report, filed three days after the battle was over, said he hoped it would "demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners."
Forrest used the butchery of Fort Pillow to justify further killings of black soldiers throughout the war. Adopting typical racist victimization posture, he wrote to the Federal Commander in Memphis, Washburn that he had heard reports "that all the negro troops stationed in Memphis took an oath on their knees, in the presence of Major-General Hurlbut and other officers of your army, to avenge Fort Pillow, and that they would show my troops no quarter." He went on to tell Washburn that he had conducted all his wartime operations "on civilized principles," and proceeded to use the "oath" (which Washburn confirmed they had taken) as an excuse for further slaughter. He really had no choice, you see.
Never mind that Poe is a flaming idiot and Forrest never uttered the quote in question with regard to requesting funding or other (Forrest apparently said some version of this when asked about his success on several occasions, but the cracker talk seems to have been inserted by enterprising journalists after the war). A southern congressman uttering an approving quote from Nathan Bedford Forrest, who went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and was largely responsible due to his reputation throughout the South for growing its ranks exponentially, is completely unacceptable.