Post-war Nathan Bedford Forrest question

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TerryB

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One must remember "innocent until PROVEN guilty". While not innocent, I certainly have never thought Forrest was guilty.
Not commenting on his guilt or innocence, just saying that if you take the 5th, which someone suggested he might have done, you have to say that every time they ask you a question. You can't pick and choose. I'm glad he did answer, even if evasively in some cases, because it gives us a window we wouldn't otherwise have.
 
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diane

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Well, considering the klan was trying to at least undermine if not overthrow the government of Tennessee and deter freedmen from exercising their civil rights, participation in such a group might be deemed a violation of his parole. Violating his parole would nullify the general amnesty for Confederate officers in his case and there was that nasty little warrant for his arrest for treason that was issued by a Union judge in Memphis. (A local marshal was given the job of arresting Forrest and, no doubt after he got done rolling on the floor laughing, he wrote 'Not within this jurisdiction' (or something of the sort) on the back of the warrant. Three Union armies hadn't been able to bring Forrest in, so I don't suppose one little ol' Tennessee marshal and his posse was going to do it either!) So, to my mind, given all the circumstances and situations and various reasons, it's just to give Forrest the benefit of the doubt and say he may have broken the law but he did it because he thought it the best (and maybe only) thing to do. When men like Fielding Hurst were made judges and most ex-Confederates were disfranchised it was hard to effect a change for the better through the legal system available. It doesn't give him a halo but it doesn't give him horns either.
 

Independence

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Well, considering the klan was trying to at least undermine if not overthrow the government of Tennessee and deter freedmen from exercising their civil rights, participation in such a group might be deemed a violation of his parole. Violating his parole would nullify the general amnesty for Confederate officers in his case and there was that nasty little warrant for his arrest for treason that was issued by a Union judge in Memphis. (A local marshal was given the job of arresting Forrest and, no doubt after he got done rolling on the floor laughing, he wrote 'Not within this jurisdiction' (or something of the sort) on the back of the warrant. Three Union armies hadn't been able to bring Forrest in, so I don't suppose one little ol' Tennessee marshal and his posse was going to do it either!) So, to my mind, given all the circumstances and situations and various reasons, it's just to give Forrest the benefit of the doubt and say he may have broken the law but he did it because he thought it the best (and maybe only) thing to do. When men like Fielding Hurst were made judges and most ex-Confederates were disfranchised it was hard to effect a change for the better through the legal system available. It doesn't give him a halo but it doesn't give him horns either.
Be careful diane,I was absolutely vilified on here a short while back for bringing up such points.........
 

K Hale

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So, to my mind, given all the circumstances and situations and various reasons, it's just to give Forrest the benefit of the doubt and say he may have broken the law but he did it because he thought it the best (and maybe only) thing to do.
Isn't that the mindset of everybody who breaks the law? :smile:
 
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diane

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No, most just do it because they can! (Or they think they can.) :cannon: It's that old ethics question - is it always wrong to steal? Would you steal a can of milk for a starving baby? Does it stop being wrong because it's for a good cause? No, it's always wrong - but you'd probably steal the milk for the starving baby anyway.
 

K Hale

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No, most just do it because they can! (Or they think they can.) :cannon: It's that old ethics question - is it always wrong to steal? Would you steal a can of milk for a starving baby? Does it stop being wrong because it's for a good cause? No, it's always wrong - but you'd probably steal the milk for the starving baby anyway.
If I did, I would absolutely say I thought it was the best thing to do. If I hadn't thought so, I'd have done something else. The same is true of anyone who breaks the law; they always think it was the best way to get what they wanted. If there were some way that were easier or better, that's what they'd have done instead.

However, I would NOT say it was my "only choice." :smile: I hate that phrase, and it's never true.
 

Nathanb1

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Not commenting on his guilt or innocence, just saying that if you take the 5th, which someone suggested he might have done, you have to say that every time they ask you a question. You can't pick and choose. I'm glad he did answer, even if evasively in some cases, because it gives us a window we wouldn't otherwise have.
Can you imagine being his lawyer? Trying to get Forrest NOT to say something he wanted to say would be a nightmare. BTW, in his testimony, he's not just protecting himself (which I'm sure was paramount); he's also protecting a lot of men who would gladly have died for him, like John Morton. So evasiveness isn't just evidence of his own guilt.
 
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diane

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That's true! You always have the choice. Now, take Robert E. Lee. If stealing a can of milk just because you could was wrong, then stealing it because your baby was starving is wrong, too - I don't think he would have done it. Some would say now that's plain foolishment - the child's life is more important than your ethical well-being. But, if you've lived your whole life by honor then it would be a betrayal of your entire life.

Of course, Forrest's situation wasn't at all as simple as stealing something for a good reason. As Nathanb1 points out, there were other people to consider. He wasn't somebody to hang others out to dry to save his own skin, nor was he going to stick his head into a noose. He was dodgy for reasons other than his own safety. There were all sorts of ramifications, none of them very desirable, if he'd given a completely truthful answer to all the questions put to him. I rather suspect those questioning him knew that as well. Besides, he did want to go back home to Memphis without somebody putting a bullet in his back when he got there! (That would be the only way they'd take him out, too.) That would have been just a peripheral concern - it wasn't possible to scare Forrest by threatening to kill him. You could make him mad, but you couldn't scare him!
 

K Hale

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That's true! You always have the choice. Now, take Robert E. Lee. If stealing a can of milk just because you could was wrong, then stealing it because your baby was starving is wrong, too - I don't think he would have done it. Some would say now that's plain foolishment - the child's life is more important than your ethical well-being. But, if you've lived your whole life by honor then it would be a betrayal of your entire life.
In addition, there are other options for seeing that the child gets fed aside from stealing milk. Some of them aren't pleasant, but neither is stealing. And like every other choice in life, it comes down to what one's priorities are.
 

TerryB

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Can you imagine being his lawyer? Trying to get Forrest NOT to say something he wanted to say would be a nightmare. BTW, in his testimony, he's not just protecting himself (which I'm sure was paramount); he's also protecting a lot of men who would gladly have died for him, like John Morton. So evasiveness isn't just evidence of his own guilt.
It would be interesting to know what went on behind the curtain of that time in history, but I take no position on anyone's guilt for the very reason that no one was put on trial and convicted that I know of. We do, however, know that Parson Brownlow was no better a man than those he would have liked to hang, he just happened to be on the winning side.
 
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Nathanb1

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In addition, there are other options for seeing that the child gets fed aside from stealing milk. Some of them aren't pleasant, but neither is stealing. And like every other choice in life, it comes down to what one's priorities are.
In land deals, for instance.
 
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K Hale

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In land deals, for instance.
Absolutely. And in that case, the priority was making as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, without leaving some sort of victim in one's wake, except perhaps the federal government. Is there anything more red-blooded-American than that?
 

larry_cockerham

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Well, considering the klan was trying to at least undermine if not overthrow the government of Tennessee and deter freedmen from exercising their civil rights, participation in such a group might be deemed a violation of his parole. Violating his parole would nullify the general amnesty for Confederate officers in his case and there was that nasty little warrant for his arrest for treason that was issued by a Union judge in Memphis. (A local marshal was given the job of arresting Forrest and, no doubt after he got done rolling on the floor laughing, he wrote 'Not within this jurisdiction' (or something of the sort) on the back of the warrant. Three Union armies hadn't been able to bring Forrest in, so I don't suppose one little ol' Tennessee marshal and his posse was going to do it either!) So, to my mind, given all the circumstances and situations and various reasons, it's just to give Forrest the benefit of the doubt and say he may have broken the law but he did it because he thought it the best (and maybe only) thing to do. When men like Fielding Hurst were made judges and most ex-Confederates were disfranchised it was hard to effect a change for the better through the legal system available. It doesn't give him a halo but it doesn't give him horns either.
Seems to me that in late 1865 in Tennessee, there was really no law to interfer with. That was precisely the problem. This was a land devastated by war both physically and economically.
 
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diane

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larry_cockerham,

Yes, I would agree. The Union Leagues were encouraged by Brownlow and his administration to punish the former Confederates, and Johnson didn't interfere. (Forrest had hard feelings for President Johnson.) Forrest was not allowed to peacefully go back to his plantation - he was always being visited by Union troops (some of whom genuinely just wanted to meet the famous cavalryman, by the way) and double-checked by the Freedmen's Bureau every time he hired a black person. (Once they found a violation in the living quarters, which was corrected pronto.) After they arrested Semmes and tried to charge him with piracy despite the amnesty promise, Forrest's friends tried to spirit him off to Europe or Mexico. Instead he told Brownlow, more or less, if you want me you know where to find me - on my farm trying to make a living!

I might have a harsher judgment of Forrest if it wasn't for two things - Tennessee was a mess at the time he made the decision to join the klan. He really thought there might be a second revolt and this was one way to have a military force at hand if needed. It's a case of walking around in his boots for a while, then think what we might do. The second thing is Forrest did a 180 degree turn-around when he became a Christian. For a man of his background, thinking and society it was nothing short of amazing. As to his testimony for Congress, when he got back to Memphis allegedly a klansman who had formerly been on his staff rather anxiously asked him what he said. Forrest reportedly smiled and said cryptically, "I lied like a gentleman." Kind of uncertain what he meant by that, if he said it!
 

larry_cockerham

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I wouldn't say the "turn around" was a full 180 degrees with respect to any changes that occurred after he "accepted" the church. He was a teetotler, only cursed on occasions when, in his opinion it was certainly called for, and then only for dramatic effect or to draw rapid attention from which a decision on the part of the cussee was needed and was very kind to ladies and children and most men, aside from a few he skewered on the battlefield. He kept a chaplain at hand after he became an officer and utilized his services before meals and on Sundays when service attendance was mandatory.
I wouldn't be surprised if many a prayer weren't summoned by Forrest before and after his many encounters with the enemy. This was a man of considerable civility as evidenced by the numerous references we have from at least a dozen folks who saw him during his life. One must take the 'total' of this man's record and evaluate that, being careful of the sources and motives of the variations in the reports. After about 15 years of starting from scratch on his history and recorded events and references, I have found very little to fault him at least after 1860 and I can understand the climate for his actions prior to that. He should get some points. St. Peter should have at the very least granted him an interview.
 
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