Post-war Nathan Bedford Forrest question

gary

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Could anyone else but Forrest have disbanded the KKK without any whip lash?

I can't see Joe Wheeler, JEB Stuart or Wade Hampton being able to do so or with the degree of success that Forrest had. Forrest was both loved and feared by his men. If he gave an order, it was obeyed.
 

larry_cockerham

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I merely offer again my oft stated concern that the klan associated with Forrest was far different from later versions. I believe Watson or Gordon could both have accomplished the same degree of success as Forrest. Forrest was simply the most recognizable body in the corral at the time. He was a man who had earned the respect of the masses in Tennessee with the greatest amount of name recognition, hands down.
 

ole

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Forrest didn't disband the KKK of his day, he simply resigned and recommended that they cease activities. Many of them didn't.
 

diane

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There is some question as to whether Forrest actually had any authority to disband the KKK. He is reckoned to be the first and only Grand Wizard but that was likely more a code name based on his wartime nickname rather than a rank. Morton's account of Forrest's induction into the klan is a little odd - there is a real possibility Forrest was never a member but they thought he was! He did indeed work to support and spread the klan until it became too ugly and, anyway, his purposes were accomplished. By that time it was being dominated by violent racists and other less than desirables. It's hard to say if anybody could have disbanded it by that time. That was the main reason Forrest disavowed them - they were uncontrollable and too radical. (Wade Hampton didn't have much luck controlling the Red Shirts, as an example.)
 

K Hale

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Could anyone else but Forrest have disbanded the KKK without any whip lash?

I can't see Joe Wheeler, JEB Stuart or Wade Hampton being able to do so or with the degree of success that Forrest had. Forrest was both loved and feared by his men. If he gave an order, it was obeyed.
What an odd question. Are you assuming they (or would have, in Stuart's case) belonged to the KKK in the first place?

By the way... the Klan's still around, so... yeah.
 

ole

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It remains that he couldn't, Grand Wizard or not. One can't get disbanded if one doesn't want to be.
 

diane

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That's why Grant worked to get the Enforcement Acts passed, one of which was the Ku Klux Klan Act. Trouble was, he didn't come down hard enough once he got the authority to do so. I don't think he recognized it as an insurgency - if he had, he would have come down on them like a lead wall. (That was another good reason Forrest quit them - he'd already fought his war and wasn't about to help start another.)
 

K Hale

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I think Grant got some bad advice from Sherman and others about not being too hard and risking starting up another war.
 

Rob9641

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Did Forrest ever say anything or leave anything in writing about the KKK after he left it? Did he take any actions for or against it after he left, or was he just washing his hands of it?
 

larry_cockerham

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What an odd question. Are you assuming they (or would have, in Stuart's case) belonged to the KKK in the first place?

By the way... the Klan's still around, so... yeah.

The group that included Bedford Forrest was localized to Tennessee under Gordon and Watson. Forrest was a 'figurehead'. Any documents proving any of their activities would be worth considerably more than their weight in gold. I've read that there was a letter written by Forrest with the disbandment order, but I ain't seen it, and rather doubt that anyone else has recently. There would have been no reason for Stuart or others outside Tennessee to have been involved with the first group. It was purely a 'survival' mechanism for returning soldiers who had no voice in a non-existant local government. They were self-appointed militia trying to keep peace and keep folks alive until order could be restored. Forrest was trying to concentrate on re-starting his business ventures, not play cop. I suggest a read in Dr. Bradley's Nathan Bedford Forrest's Escort and Staff and John Watson's The Artillery of Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry. Aside from these books there ain't much else to check that I've seen. Jack Hurst wrote quite a bit on this subject in his Biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest. The other source would be any surviving records of the Congressional committee that investigated his klan activity. For whatever reason, they turned him loose. The thing he couldn't escape was his broken body and the ravages of disease. Dead at 56.

Please don't compare any group that is around today to these men. They don't deserve that.
 

larry_cockerham

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It remains that he couldn't, Grand Wizard or not. One can't get disbanded if one doesn't want to be.

The seeds, of dubious value, continued to sprout. Nathan Bedford Forrest II (grandson) was grand wizard of the klan in Georgia in the 1920s. That fact has caused much very undue grief for Bedford I. Those two should NEVER be compared. Bedford III, himself a Lt. General in the U.S. Army Air Corps had very good sense (a West Point graduate), but he too died way too early over Germany.
 

larry_cockerham

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Did Forrest ever say anything or leave anything in writing about the KKK after he left it? Did he take any actions for or against it after he left, or was he just washing his hands of it?

Washing and ducking as he backpeddled. His only recorded comments of which I'm aware were to the Congressional committee. These gentlemen were a bit tight-lipped. Remember, please that there was no local law enforcement at all during this brief period in Tennessee. The activities of the group were probably such that they couldn't make everybody happy all the time. Folks tended to create their own justice, so big speeches were not a consideration.
 

larry_cockerham

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Forrest and Watson had been through the depths of hell for almost three years. They didn't need a stenographer and membership cards to recognize each other. They had shared a trust for their very lives. Forrest was the acknowledged leader of the Confederate soldiers in Tennnessee whether he wanted to be or not. The same was true of the other returning soldiers. If Forrest said jump, they were likely already off the ground.
 

ole

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Talking about Forrest and the Klan is very much like Lincoln's observation about shovelling fleas.

If you want to believe that Forrest was a vile bastard, of course he conspired to murder freedmen or whip them into submission.

If you want to believe that Forrest was carved from pure gold, he knew, saw and did nothing.

Somewhere, between those extremes, is Forrest.
 

5fish

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Could anyone else but Forrest have disbanded the KKK without any whip lash?

I can't see Joe Wheeler, JEB Stuart or Wade Hampton being able to do so or with the degree of success that Forrest had. Forrest was both loved and feared by his men. If he gave an order, it was obeyed.

i disagree with your assumption.... He may have back down in face of the federal and Tennessee government pressure but the KKK did not go away. In the 1870's the Mississippi plan which was basically white militias terrorizing the Black and Tans so to bring white confederate rule to the south. Hampton was one of those southern leaders that rode in the power under the Mississippi type plan in South Carolina.

Forrest did nothing more the back down and the slummy KKK drifted in the background for a short time...Forrest did nothing amazing here but save his own skin..
 

larry_cockerham

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i disagree with your assumption.... He may have back down in face of the federal and Tennessee government pressure but the KKK did not go away. In the 1870's the Mississippi plan which was basically white militias terrorizing the Black and Tans so to bring white confederate rule to the south. Hampton was one of those southern leaders that rode in the power under the Mississippi type plan in South Carolina.

Forrest did nothing more the back down and the slummy KKK drifted in the background for a short time...Forrest did nothing amazing here but save his own skin..

That likely was a factor. He spent little time documenting his time with the klan. I suspect he felt he didn't need to, but that thought will be met with scorn by those with differing viewpoints. Forrest died with the truth in his head; we'll never know. All we can do is judge him by his collective actions. I suspect the good outweighed the other stuff that he must have witnessed. I've never nominated him for sainthood, just saluted his actions, the ones with witnesses.
 

diane

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There is a private letter Forrest wrote to someone who was either a klansman or considering joining up and in it he said his support of the klan was 'the worst mistake of my life'. He also called it 'the orneryest organization this country ever produced'. When he left it, his purposes for being in it were accomplished - Brownlow was off to Congress, the 15th amendment was law, the Democrat party was back in control, and there was more law and order. Grant was president as well - that wasn't a goal and Forrest didn't think much of him as president but he knew he was a darn good general!

No matter what one wants to think about Forrest, one can find ample evidence to support it! He didn't leave a huge pile of letters behind, diaries, journals or much of anything else to give a good idea of who he was and what he really thought. Most of what we know about him is second-hand, verbal information from those who knew him or had been present at events. For example, his set-to with Bragg would be completely unknown if Cowan hadn't been there. Forrest said little when he did speak, as in the Jordan and Pryor book - the gambler played his cards close to his chest! At the time he joined the klan, he wasn't too interested in the freedmen as he completely believed they would see they were better off on the plantations and 'come home', as he put it. As events turned out, they didn't return and he realized the Old South he knew was gone forever. He also realized racial harmony was essential, that the freedmen had a stake in the place of their birth just as he did, and he supported their civil rights. He was the first Confederate general to publicly acknowledge their citizenship and that they, too, were Southerners. That's a far cry from what the klan was saying.

Myself, I don't believe Stuart would have been with the klan even if Virginia had had the problems Tennessee had. They very much would have liked to had him, too, and they claimed Lee secretly supported them. Lee wouldn't have touched them with a telephone pole and they knew better than to even approach him! For Forrest, though, things were pretty scary. He was shot up from the war, not a young man anymore and he had to start all over from where he'd come from. He had no education to fall back on such as Stuart or Lee had. It's a bit difficult to judge him too harshly for doing as he did in the circumstances he was in.
 

larry_cockerham

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There is a private letter Forrest wrote to someone who was either a klansman or considering joining up and in it he said his support of the klan was 'the worst mistake of my life'. He also called it 'the orneryest organization this country ever produced'. When he left it, his purposes for being in it were accomplished - Brownlow was off to Congress, the 15th amendment was law, the Democrat party was back in control, and there was more law and order. Grant was president as well - that wasn't a goal and Forrest didn't think much of him as president but he knew he was a darn good general!

No matter what one wants to think about Forrest, one can find ample evidence to support it! He didn't leave a huge pile of letters behind, diaries, journals or much of anything else to give a good idea of who he was and what he really thought. Most of what we know about him is second-hand, verbal information from those who knew him or had been present at events. For example, his set-to with Bragg would be completely unknown if Cowan hadn't been there. Forrest said little when he did speak, as in the Jordan and Pryor book - the gambler played his cards close to his chest! At the time he joined the klan, he wasn't too interested in the freedmen as he completely believed they would see they were better off on the plantations and 'come home', as he put it. As events turned out, they didn't return and he realized the Old South he knew was gone forever. He also realized racial harmony was essential, that the freedmen had a stake in the place of their birth just as he did, and he supported their civil rights. He was the first Confederate general to publicly acknowledge their citizenship and that they, too, were Southerners. That's a far cry from what the klan was saying.

Myself, I don't believe Stuart would have been with the klan even if Virginia had had the problems Tennessee had. They very much would have liked to had him, too, and they claimed Lee secretly supported them. Lee wouldn't have touched them with a telephone pole and they knew better than to even approach him! For Forrest, though, things were pretty scary. He was shot up from the war, not a young man anymore and he had to start all over from where he'd come from. He had no education to fall back on such as Stuart or Lee had. It's a bit difficult to judge him too harshly for doing as he did in the circumstances he was in.

One of the better descriptions and opinions I've ever read. I wish I had your skills for organization of thought. Or better yet, more thoughts to organize. Thank you.
 

Rob9641

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There is a private letter Forrest wrote to someone who was either a klansman or considering joining up and in it he said his support of the klan was 'the worst mistake of my life'. He also called it 'the orneryest organization this country ever produced'. When he left it, his purposes for being in it were accomplished - Brownlow was off to Congress, the 15th amendment was law, the Democrat party was back in control, and there was more law and order. Grant was president as well - that wasn't a goal and Forrest didn't think much of him as president but he knew he was a darn good general!

No matter what one wants to think about Forrest, one can find ample evidence to support it! He didn't leave a huge pile of letters behind, diaries, journals or much of anything else to give a good idea of who he was and what he really thought. Most of what we know about him is second-hand, verbal information from those who knew him or had been present at events. For example, his set-to with Bragg would be completely unknown if Cowan hadn't been there. Forrest said little when he did speak, as in the Jordan and Pryor book - the gambler played his cards close to his chest! At the time he joined the klan, he wasn't too interested in the freedmen as he completely believed they would see they were better off on the plantations and 'come home', as he put it. As events turned out, they didn't return and he realized the Old South he knew was gone forever. He also realized racial harmony was essential, that the freedmen had a stake in the place of their birth just as he did, and he supported their civil rights. He was the first Confederate general to publicly acknowledge their citizenship and that they, too, were Southerners. That's a far cry from what the klan was saying.

Myself, I don't believe Stuart would have been with the klan even if Virginia had had the problems Tennessee had. They very much would have liked to had him, too, and they claimed Lee secretly supported them. Lee wouldn't have touched them with a telephone pole and they knew better than to even approach him! For Forrest, though, things were pretty scary. He was shot up from the war, not a young man anymore and he had to start all over from where he'd come from. He had no education to fall back on such as Stuart or Lee had. It's a bit difficult to judge him too harshly for doing as he did in the circumstances he was in.

People's lives are always far more complicated than we think. Do you have the letter or a link to it? Where did you get the information?
 
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