I am in the process of reviewing the final edits of my Crater book. As I made my way through chapter 1 I came across one of my favorite quotes that appears in the section that explores how white Southerners assessed reports of the massacre of black Union soldiers. The quote comes from the Richmond Examiner, which appeared on August 2, 1864:
We beg him [Mahone], hereafter, when negroes are sent forward to murder the wounded, and come shouting “no quarter,” shut your eyes, General, strengthen your stomach with a little brandy and water, and let the work, which God has entrusted to you and your brave men, go forward to its full completion; that is, until every negro has been slaughtered.—Make every salient you are called upon to defend, a Fort Pillow; butcher every negro that Grant sends against your brave troops, and permit them not to soil their hands with the capture of a single hero.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that some of the men in the Fourth Division charged into battle screaming “No quarter” and/or “Remember Fort Pillow.” Reports of this battle cry can be found in the letters and diaries of Confederate soldiers who were present during the battle as well as those who were not. They can also be found in many Southern newspapers, including the Examiner. It is fairly easy to judge who was positioned to hear such a battle cry, which raises the question of why the reference is so pervasive in southern accounts.
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Ethan Rafuse recently shared a writing assignment that he was given by “America’s Civil War” magazine to come up with a list of six Civil War generals that we “like to hate.”
Civil War buffs love to blame particular generals for lost battles and campaigns—McClellan, Bragg, McDowell, etc. Why do we like to hate them so much, and do they deserve it? Pick a couple from each side and examine what made them pariahs—and whether hindsight should rehabilitate their Images. Pick three from each side, 500 or so words on each, and a 500-word intro for about 3,500 words.
I guess the editor could have framed the question around major mistakes made in the field by Civil War generals, but the choice to inquire as to why some military figures engender such a visceral reaction in some is potentially interesting. Perhaps we should take one step back for a little perspective. Is there anything comparable in America’s other wars? Anyone out there hate Henry Knox, Winfield Scott, John J. Pershing, Omar Bradley, or William Westmoreland?
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From the dust jacket:
Nathan Bedford Forrest remains a controversial figure in American history. Because of his days as a slave trader and his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, the Confederate general is equated with racism. However, many may be surprised to know that he spent the latter days of his life as a pious Christian and an outspoken advocate of African Americans. This spiritual biography follows Forrest on his journey to salvation, focusing on the lesser known aspects of his life. Recalling his youth in the South, his experiences as an unyielding Civil War general, and his final years devoted to his renewed faith, eleven chapters span Forrest’s enigmatic life. Firsthand accounts from the diary entries of those who knew him and photographs reveal an obscure side of the soldier, a side that is often omitted from history books. His radical transformation provides the message that positive life changes are possible.
Who is the Author?: Shane E. Kastler is an ordained Southern Baptist minister who has devoted his life to preaching the gospel of Christ. He received his B.B.A. from Northeastern State University, where he became heavily involved in both the church and campus ministries. Afterwards, he earned his M.Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, one of six seminaries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Upon graduation, Kastler received the LifeWay Preaching Award, which is presented to a graduate who has excelled in the study and practice of preaching. Having served as senior pastor of the nondenominational First Christian Church of Pleasanton, Kansas, he continues to preach and write. He contributes a weekly religious column, “Seeking Higher Ground,” to the Linn County (KS) News in addition to maintaining two Internet blogs. Kastler lives with his family in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
…and I decided to pursue an M.A. in history instead – silly rabbit.
By now most of you have heard that the Duval County School Board has decided not to change the name of a Jacksonville High School after Nathan Bedford Forrest. The sometimes divisive debates over the naming and renaming of public buildings and other sites cuts to the core of the close link between history and politics. In the case of the South these debates reflect drastic changes in the face of local and state government following the civil rights movement. They are debates over how a community uses its public spaces to reflect its shared history. Historians have written extensively in recent years concerning the way in which local and national memory has been shaped by Jim Crow politics and a belief in white supremacy.
The debate in Jacksonville is just another example of what happens when a broader spectrum of the citizenry is allowed to take part in conversations about who should be remembered and why. This has nothing to do with overturning the heritage of the South; in fact, it is entirely about forging a more inclusive memory and one that can be pointed to as reflective of a community's values. The two black members of the school board voted for changing the name of the school while the majority voted to retain it. I obviously know nothing about what went into the decision of the other members, but I have to wonder if they understood what the name might mean to a predominantly black community and even the few black students who actively voiced their concern such as senior, Cardell Brown. Did they bother to consider how their school came to be named after Forrest or why public places such as schools tended not to be named after Forrest until the civil rights movement?
While Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Kirby Smith and others were all commemorated with schools, community centers, and parks during the height of Confederate commemoration, Forrest's name remained closely tied to the KKK. In fact, the most powerful "klavern" or local Klan was the Nathan Bedford Forrest Klavern #1, located in Atlanta during the 1940s and 50s. On the eve of the opening of the school students voted to name it Valhalla, while the booster club bought football uniforms outfitted with Vikings. The decision to name the school after Forrest was a last-minute decision, although the superintendent warned that the decision might prove to be a mistake just three years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of school desegregation. Was this really a coincidence?
It was a vote that led to the naming of the school, a vote to retain it, and it will only take a vote in future to change it. There is nothing sacred about the names of our public buildings. They reflect the people who either have control of local government or choose to be involved.
Well, if you attended high school in Jacksonville, Florida (of all places) after 1959 you probably did. How did a high school in Florida end up being named after a Confederate general from Tennessee? It turns out that when the school opened in 1959 various interest groups, including the United Daughters of the Confederacy, competed to win the chance to name the school. The UDC won and the school was named for Nathan B. Forrest. It was an ideal name for a school in the South at the height of “Massive Resistance” against a burgeoning Civil Rights Movement.
On November 3 the Duval County School Board will vote on whether to change the name of the school. Of course, not everyone is happy about such a possibility given their commitment to ensure that our youth model their lives on such upstanding Americans as Forrest:
Bodie Catlin, owner of a truck accessories retailer who speaks publicly about Confederate history, has been an outspoken supporter of keeping the school’s name and said Forrest was a man of his time who was “nice” to his slaves.
“They loved him,” he said. “The only people [in favor of the name change] are people from the North who don’t care about our heritage and some that think the whole war was fought over slavery.”
It’s always those damn northerners who are getting in the way. Stay tuned for further updates.