Confederate Dreaming With Jack Kershaw

This is for those of you who are interested in the mind and imagination of Jack Kershaw, who is responsible for the Nathan Bedford Forrest equestrian memorial in Tennessee.  This is commonly referred to as the ugliest Civil War monument ever erected.  His interpretation of Forrest, which you can hear in the video, is is truly disturbing, but no doubt reflective of an older generation.

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28 comments… add one

  • Andy Hall May 3, 2012

    Jack Kershaw would be very upset about this post, if he weren’t so busy looking for a glass of ice water.

  • Andy Hall May 3, 2012

    My earlier comment was snarky. Well-deserved, but snarky.

    More seriously, that’s one strange-ass video, and the Hawaiian luau music overlaid with howling wolves doesn’t help. Kershaw’s long background in surrealist art — yes, I’d call it surrealist — does help give a better perspective on why that statue looks, um, the way it does. I do think it’s a missed opportunity that the interviewer went all the way back to the 1930s to find a newspaper story about Kershaw’s artistic endeavors, but somehow overlooked his long support of Jim Crow segregation, and his explicit assertion that slavery turned out to be a good thing for those enslaved.

    Kershaw’s historical assessment of the Reconstruction-era Klan is odious, but at least he has intellectual honesty to reject the notion that Forrest was some sort of uninvolved figurehead, stating unequivocally that “the Klan was led and directed by Nathan Bedford Forrest.”

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2012

      I’ve never known you to be snarky, Andy. :-)

      The video is a wild ride. The interviewer also failed to touch on Kershaw’s relationship with James Earl Ray, which adds another element of the bizarre to his career.

    • Jonathan Dresner May 3, 2012

      I just have to speak up in defense of the honor of Hawaiian music: that’s slowed and distorted bluegrass, I’m quite sure. It certainly bears no resemblance to the actual music of Hawaii, slack-key, ukulele, or otherwise.

      That was a deeply disturbing experience, by the way. The use of the music and images is really quite hostile, it seems, to the narrative. The fact that the interview is now part of the StoryCorps project is also a little concerning: I’d hate to see that oral history archive become an historical time bomb. “The Ku Klux Klan saved America….” wow.

      • Andy Hall May 3, 2012

        My apologies for impugning Hawai’ian music, even by association. Let’s call it, um, surreal bluegrass. ;-)

  • Eric A. Jacobson May 3, 2012

    Forrest beat every West Point general he ever confronted, huh? What a joke. I’m positive A. J. Smith (class of 1838), who administered a good old fashioned pounding at Tupelo and James H. Wilson (class of 1860), who dismantled Forrest after Nashville, would disagree. Add to that Edward Hatch (a non-West Pointer like Forrest), who whipped Forrest at Franklin. Stuff like this is exactly what was wrong with Civil War interpretation for decades.

    • Kevin Levin May 3, 2012

      Yes, clearly any value attached to listening to Kershaw’s understanding of the Civil War has very little to do with history.

      • Marc Ferguson May 4, 2012

        Kevin,
        Yes, while watching this my thought was that Kershaw should read a legitimate history of the American Civil War. His understanding of its history appears very limited, not to mention distorted and biased.

    • Andy Hall May 3, 2012

      One of the hoary tropes about Forrest is that “his tactics are still taught at West Point today!” I’ve often wondered about that, and I doubt it’s true, at least in that way it seems to be meant. Certainly Forrest figures into CW history classes (along with several dozen other prominent generals), and a citation of his get-there-first-with-the-most sort of aggressiveness surely gets a mention or two. But a significant part of the military curriculum devoted to any CW leader’s battlefield tactics, to prepare young officers to serve in Kandahar? Color me skeptical.

      Wayne Hsieh probably could address this.

    • Ken Noe May 3, 2012

      Ultimately, he’s just mimicing Shelby Foote. I’m more struck by the odd assertion that Sherman wasn’t involved in any battles except Shiloh. Vicksburg and Chattanooga weren’t battles? Oh, and the howling dogs are just weird.

      • Ken Noe May 3, 2012

        By the way, the interviewer, Sondra London, is better known as “the Queen of Serial Killer Groupies.”

        • Kevin Levin May 3, 2012

          Thanks for the information, Ken, but I am not sure how I feel about you knowing this little fact. :-)

        • Andy Hall May 3, 2012

          I feel like I should be more surprised by that than I am.

      • Margaret D. Blough May 4, 2012

        Ken-It also might be news to Atlanta and its surrounding area that there was no battle at Atlanta & Sherman just rode in.

    • Allen May 4, 2012

      Oh please, Eric. Hatch’s success against Forrest at Franklin had more to do with seven-shot Spencer rifles than anything else. Wilson’s success had more to do with a nearly 7 to 1 numerical superiority (and those Spencers) than generalship, and Stephen D. Lee was in command of the Confederate forces at Harrisburg (aka Tupelo). Not Forrest.

      As for the music bed to this clip, sure, it’s weird. But it’s not hawaiian or bluegrass, but rather a combination of steel guitar and wolf and possibly whale sounds which bears a resemblance to what is known as “Earth Music” produced by an artist named Paul Winter. I’m sure others work in the same genre.

      • Andy Hall May 4, 2012

        “. . . but rather a combination of steel guitar and wolf and possibly whale sounds which bears a resemblance to what is known as “Earth Music” produced by an artist named Paul Winter. ”

        Makes sense, as I’ve heard Jack Kershaw was a fixture at the Oregon Country Fair and Burning Man for years. ;-)

      • Eric Jacobson May 6, 2012

        Yes, of course, anything to diminish the role of the Federal soldiers and officers who actually beat Forrest in an effort to keep the legend alive. Kershaw’s statement about Forrest beating every West Point general is incorrect. Period. Also, Wilson never had 7 to 1 odds so please right back at you. Let’s not distort facts to make a point. As for Tupelo, S. D. Lee was in overall command and Forrest was right there getting likewise smacked around by A. J. Smith.

        • Allen May 6, 2012

          Forrest doesn’t need me to keep his legend alive, Eric. Just so you know. As for Harrisburg (the town wasn’t called Tupelo then, but you know that), the battle plan was Lee’s. Period. I’ll grant you the 7-1 thing. My mistake, I misread my source regarding Selma and compared Federal troop strength (13,500 est.) to Confederate casualties (2,700 est.) instead of troop strength (5,000 est.). My bad. That’s only 2.85 fully equipped and fed yankees to 1 under-equipped and ill-fed Johnny Reb. I’ll give Wilson his due. He got better as the war progressed. Didn’t hurt him any that his enemy getting weaker and weaker.

          Wanna quibble about another of Kershaw’s statements? When he said Sherman never fought a battle? I’ve thought about that some, and it has the ring of truth about it. I’m not the real scholar you are, of course, but in what I’ve picked up about Sherman here and there I’ve never seen an account of him firing a weapon or leading a charge. Sure he directed battles. Commanded during battles. But maybe he didn’t “fight”. If that’s the case (and even if it isn’t), your final score is Forrest 31, Sherman 0.

          • Eric Jacobson May 7, 2012

            Allen, I’m sure Kevin has better things to do than post our debate, but I’ll say a few final things. Tupelo certainly was a town in 1864. A simple check of the OR will show you that. Harrisburg was a small town west of Tupelo that no longer exists. Why you seem reticent to admit that Smith roughly handled Forrest (and Lee) at Tupelo is beyond me. But it is a fact. Plus I never referenced Selma in regards to Wilson (you did), but nonetheless I’m glad to see you admit you had your numbers wrong.

            Now as to Sherman not fighting battles. So what?? Neither did Lee or Grant, usng Kershaw’s theory and presumably your own. Forrest did fight on the front line(s). Hooray for him. The same could be said for Wade Hampton, yet I don’t see the overwrought love affair with him as with Forrest, and Hampton deserves far more credit as a true cavalryman than Forrest. So your silly score, while amusing, is irrelevant.

          • Eric Jacobson May 7, 2012

            In fact Allen, you might even want to read a little more about how Edward Bouton’s troops USCT troops manhandled Forrest and subsequently Forrest attacked A. J. Smith’s rear elements only to repulsed again. The latter combat led to Forrest being wounded.

            • John Buchanan May 8, 2012

              Forrest, West Point, et al….

              I just checked the curriculum at the USMA. In American History there is 1 course on the ACW and it is a survey course…nothing else. In the Military History major there are no ACW courses…its a broad spectrum through history. Any and all courses discussing the American military and leadership stress 20th Century leaders since they apply more to today’s fight.

              And the classroom leadership course (as opposed to the day to day life as a cadet leader) discusses theory and application of leadership. Its the almost identical course as taught to second year ROTC students. No mention of military leaders is mentioned.

              So I am afraid that dog just don’t hunt.

              And if USMA wanted to reach into its moldy past to look at battlefield leadership it could certainly find a better character for America’s future leaders than one Nathan B. Forrest.

              May I offer Benjamin Grierson, anyone?

              • Andy Hall May 8, 2012

                “May I offer Benjamin Grierson, anyone?”

                I’ll second that.

                • Dan Weinfeld May 8, 2012

                  The speaker at our Civil War series in White Plains NY in June will be Major Joseph Scott from USMA. His topic will be the Peninsula campaign, but I’ll try to squeeze in a question about Forrest’s place in the USMA curriculum. Any other questions need to be answered?

  • Keith May 3, 2012

    I had no idea they dropped acid in the Old Confederacy.

  • Lyle Smith May 3, 2012

    This is weird stuff for even an older generation.

  • Pat Young May 4, 2012

    They did the audio at Public Radio’s Story Corps? Wonder what other crap is in those archives.

  • Marc Ferguson May 4, 2012

    Is Kershaw’s interpretation of Forrest reflective of an older generation? It sounds painfully similar to many things I hear today on internet discussion boards, so I suspect that his star is still quite bright among the current generation of Southern Heritage groups and supporters. I would challenge those who claim that the CBF is misunderstood to watch the documentary “Eyes on the Prize” and reflect on the context within which the CBF is carried and displayed:

    http://www.amazon.com/Eyes-The-Prize-Americas-1954-1965/dp/B0031WNYHK/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1336146660&sr=1-1

    • Andy Hall May 4, 2012

      It’s a comfortable, self-affirming conceit among Southron Heritage types that the CBF has only been used as a symbol of hatred by fringe, extremist groups like the Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads — the “few bad apples” excuse. Funny, this person doesn’t look like a klansman.

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