“Forrest Was Known As a Very Humane Slave Trader”

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Image by Abdul Vas

It comes down to this: Southern heritage advocates are their own worst enemies.  We can see this clearly at work in last night’s decision on the part of the Memphis City Council to change the names of three parks named in honor of the Confederacy.  Forrest Park is at center stage.  In an interview with a local news reporter, Lee Millar of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had this to say in defense of Forrest:

Forrest was known as a very humane slave trader…. He never split families.

That, my friends, is a morally bankrupt position.  What I find truly startling, however, is that anyone would go ahead and actually make this point on television for public consumption.  Millar certainly deserves some kind of award.  At least H.K. Edgerton decided to leave the costume at home.  Their only hope last night was that the state government would step in with legislation that would make it illegal to change the names of parks named after military leaders.  You gotta love the irony in that.  :-)

Regardless of whether they like it or not, it’s time for Confederate heritage advocates to adopt a new strategy.  No one should have been surprised by the council’s decision, least of all the SCV.  They should have from the beginning jumped on board with a name change that added Ida B. Wells to the park.  Now they stand to lose Forrest completely from the landscape.

And when you say idiotic things about “human slave traders” you deserve to lose it all.

26 responses... add one

I’ve run across that assertion from Forrest apologists many times. I have never understood where they get that from. Even the advertisement you posted yesterday states that Forrest got his slaves from Kentucky, Missouri and Virginia. Did he make sure that he only sold unmarried orphans?

Every slave was a member of a family – every slave sale split a family. Forrest was no different than any other slaver.

It is a truly bizarre claim. It’s even more bizarre as a point that is intended to win support. It’s an opinion that should only be expressed in like minded company.

Should we assume that Mr. Millar has gone back to the primary sources and checked every sale to verify his statement or is simply passing on a legend he once heard? And does his claim hold true to the extended family or is it just the nuclear family that merit his mock sympathy?

Not that these questions, which I dare say can not be answered, even matter. The slave trade in and of itself is a crime against humanity. No qualifying adjective in front of it can suggest otherwise.

Forrest broke up families. Calling for the murder of somebody’s husband, father, son or brother at Fort Pillow is cetainly breaking up a family.

You might consider reacquainting yourself with the facts regarding Fort Pillow. Regardless of how many black union soldiers may have been killed there before, during, or after the surrender of the fort, Forrest no more ordered any of them “murdered” than you or I did.

I believe it because it is the truth. Mr. Cheeseboro’s terminology is unsupported by the evidence. Further, your own response is off point and overly broad. Is Sherman personally responsible for the ransacking of the State Chapel in Milledgeville, or the burning of the Ursaline Convent in Columbia? Was Eisenhower, as Supreme Commander of allied forces in Europe, personally responsible for the firebombing of Dresden and the deaths of 22-25,000 civilians? The arguable answer, by your standard, is yes.

The answer is, yes, if we are talking about responsibility of command, but I fail to see what point you are trying to make here. The firebombing of Dresden was not deemed to be outside the acceptable rules of warfare by the 1940s. The German execution of surrendered soldiers at Malmady was.

Forrest himself acknowledged the massacre, by describing the Mississippi River as “dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for 200 yards.” It was his hope that what happened at Fort Pillow “will demonstrate to the northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.” There are multiple accounts by southerners penned at the time which demonstrate that a slaughter took place. In fact, as they did following the Crater they boasted of it.

It doesn’t matter whether Forrest actually gave an order. In fact, one could argue that he didn’t have to. Regardless, he is responsible for what the men under his command did at Fort Pillow. I suggest you take a look at the essays in Gregory J.W. Urwin’s ed. Black Flag Over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War (2004).

Nice recap of one side of the story, Kevin. Seems like the word massacre is thrown around with a fair amount of enthusiasm by the losing side of many battIes. The figure I have for Union prisoners taken at Ft. Pillow is 226, 54 of whom were black. Forrest’s troopers must have been off their game that day to leave so many living witnesses. I might take a look at the book you recommend. Wonder if the author includes anything on Fort Blakely…

Your problem is not with me. Like I said, the primary sources are littered with reference to a massacre made by Confederates who were there.

Some of you choose to ignore the culture of the day, the laws of the period and the attitude that existed among most whites in the north and south then that slaves were of an inferior race. Slavery and racism are repugnant and unacceptable to us now, but your comments indicate an ignorance of history, perhaps for convenience or to serve an agenda. If you research Forrest you may be dismayed to find that he did not order the carnage at Ft. Pillow, but instead had offered surrender terms to the Yankees that were rejected. Have you ever read this quote by Forrest the racist?
“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

It wasn’t Forrest who said this…but our own Abraham Lincoln, before he became our 16th US President during the Fourth Debate with Stephen A. Douglas at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858
(The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume III, pp. 145-146.)

It turns out that the evolution of Lincoln’s racial outlook is well known. Did you also know that by the end of his life Lincoln seriously considered pushing for the vote for some African Americans? Thanks for the comment.

My wife’s family had many slave owners. Not sure how humane they were! Just an unreal comment by Mr. Millar.

Thank you Kevin for the updates on this story out of Memphis. Love the blog.

I understand Forrest surrendered in May of 1865 after participating in a battle at or near the Confederate armory in Selma. My Civil War ancestor’s unit was at Macintosh’s Bluff above Mobile in early May pursuing defenders from the forts in Mobile who had escaped upriver. After Mobile fell they escorted Forrest and the Confederate Navy from the mouth of the Tombigbee into occupied Mobile. It wasn’t like they captured him. More like they thumbed a ride on one of his boats.

Contemporary accounts of the Fort Pillow massacre:

“The slaughter was awful. Words cannot describe the scene. 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. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery, and at one time had partially succeeded, but General Forrest ordered them shot down like dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”
(by a Confederate cavalryman from Tennessee)

“The river was dyed with the blood of the slaughtered for two hundred yards. The approximate loss was upward of five hundred killed, but few of the officers escaping. My loss was about twenty killed. It is hoped that these facts will demonstrate to the Northern people that negro soldiers cannot cope with Southerners.”

(quoted by U. S. Grant from Forrest’s own despatches)

Maybe he was a “compassionate slaveowner”, though.

I see the KKK is talking about a huge rally. Wouldn’t it be nice to see just who is in the KKK?

I think it’s a good question to ask whether or not the Fort Pillow massacre was an unacceptable atrocity of war or an acceptable atrocity of war. We have to deal with such questions even today.

The evidence suggests it was an acceptable atrocity of war. Unlike Champ Ferguson, Nathan Bedford Forrest wasn’t brought to trial and then hanged. Forrest was a free man after the war and freely traveled up North. Champ Ferguson, on the other hand, apparently killed too many white people the wrong way in comparison to Forrest. So he was put on trial, convicted, and hanged for it.

And of course Robert E. Lee wasn’t prosecuted for what his soldiers did to black soldiers at Petersburg.

Forrest probably would only have been in trouble if he had shot Lincoln himself or been the commandant of Andersonville Prison.

I am not sure what it means for an atrocity to be “acceptable” based simply on whether commanders were prosecuted. What point is made in drawing such a distinction? Acceptable to who?

You mentioned acceptable rules of warfare up above in regards to the bombing of Dresden and the Malmedy Massacre. That got me thinking about whether or not the massacre at Fort Pillow was acceptable under the rules of warfare during the Civil War.

Acceptable would mean allowed to happen without any kind of consequence to the perpetrators. As far as I know, and maybe I’m wrong, but no Confederate soldier was punished by either Confederate authorities or U.S. authorities in regards to the massacre at Fort Pillow.

If the United States (so acceptable to Americans) wasn’t willing to punish Confederate leaders or even soldiers for massacring black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Petersburg, or wherever than it was arguably an acceptable kind of warfare. These events were just atrocities of war because there were no consequences for such actions.

On the other hand we have the likes of Champ Ferguson, the Lincoln conspirators, and Henry Wirz who were held accountable for their actions or perceived actions. What they did or were thought to have done was considered unacceptable at the time and they suffered the consequences.

The United States and Americans drew a distinction in such a way.

Given that it was acknowledged as a massacre on both sides than I guess we could say that it was acceptable since no one went punished. I still don’t think that gets us very far as opposed to the denial that one occurred at all.

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