By Frederick H. Lowe, BlackmansStreet.Today
Painting of Civil War battle of Fort Pillow, where Black troops were massacred; Photo of Nathan Bedford Forrest
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee proclaimed Saturday, July 13, a day of honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest the Confederate General who ordered the massacre of Black Union troops who tried to surrender during Civil War battle at Fort Pillow.
Confederate soldiers under Forrest’s command killed an estimated 200 to 300 Black soldiers, many of them former slaves, during the battle of Fort Pillow in Henning, Tennessee, which occurred on April 12, 1864. The Union troops surrendered and should have been taken as prisoners of war, but Forrest ordered all them killed.
The massacre angered the North, and Northern politicians refused to participate in further prisoner exchanges. Forrest claimed his men didn’t do anything wrong.
At the end of the Civil War, after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, VA, General Forrest had his troops camped in the Black Belt areas of west Alabama. There is a monument commemorating the dissolution of the Confederate troops in Gainesville, Alabama (Sumter County) several months after Lee’s surrender.
After the Civil War, Forrest returned to his home in Pulaski, Tennesse and organized the Klu Klux Klan. From 1867 to 1869, Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, a white terrorist organization, opposed to reconstruction.
Forrest died in 1877, but his name surfaced again in the 1994 hit movie “Forrest Gump,” starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Field, who played Hanks’ mother, named him in honor of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Gov. Lee’s proclamation makes no mention of Forrest’s key role in the creation of the KKK, nor does the declaration make mention of the fact that Forrest was a traitor who betrayed his country in the name of racism.
Instead, the proclamation only refers to Forrest as a “recognized military figure in American history and a native Tennessean.” Gov. Lee claimed he signed the proclamation honoring Forrest, who was also a slaveholder, because state law required him to.
A statue of Forrest, flanked by Confederate Battle Flags, is located in Nashville, the state capital.