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Nathan Bedford Forrest (July 13, 1821 – October 29, 1877), called Bedford Forrest in his lifetime, was a cotton farmer, slave owner, slave trader, Confederate Army general during the American Civil War, first leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and president of the Selma, Marion, & Memphis Railroad.
Prior to the outbreak of the war, Forrest amassed substantial wealth as a cotton planter, horse and cattle trader, real estate broker, and slave trader. In June 1861, Forrest enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was one of the few officers on either side during the war to enlist as a private and be promoted to general officer and corps commander without any military education or training. An expert cavalry leader, Forrest eventually was given command of a corps and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname "The Wizard of the Saddle". His methods subsequently influenced many future generations of military strategists, although the Confederate high command failed to fully utilize his talents until it was too late to win the war.
Forrest's cavalry captured more Union guns, horses, and supplies than any other single Confederate unit. Forrest proved to be a belligerent nemesis for both Union Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Forrest played pivotal roles at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, the capture of Murfreesboro, the pursuit and capture of Colonel Abel Streight's Raiders, Brice's Crossroads, and the Nashville Campaign. Forrest's raids in Western Tennessee in 1862, hampered implementation of Grant's notorious anti-semitic General Order #11.
In April 1864, in what has been called "one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history," troops under Forrest's command massacred Union troops who had surrendered, most of them black soldiers, along with some white Southern Tennesseans fighting for the Union, at the Battle of Fort Pillow. Vilified in the North as a war criminal, Forrest was blamed for the massacre in the Union press, and the news of it strengthened Northern morale. In June, Forrest achieved a notable victory at Brice's Crossroads, but was followed by a Confederate defeat at Tupelo, in July, where he was wounded in battle. Forrest was in chief command of the cavalry during the Nashville Campaign. In February 1865, Forrest was promoted to Lieutenant General. After Robert E. Lee was defeated and surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, the war came to a conclusion. In May 1865, Forrest surrendered at Selma, was paroled, and he returned to his cotton plantations. During Reconstruction, Forrest's citizenship rights were restored with the pardon he received from President Andrew Johnson on July 17, 1868, but he never could escape the Northern label of "Butcher of Fort Pillow".
Forrest joined the Ku Klux Klan, apparently in 1867, two years after its founding, and was elected its first Grand Wizard. At the time the group was a loose collection of local groups that used violence and the threat of violence to maintain white control over the newly liberated and enfranchised slaves. While Forrest was a leader, the Klan, during the Election of 1868, suppressed voting rights of blacks and Republicans in the South through violence and intimidation. In 1869, Forrest became disillusioned with the lack of discipline among the various white supremacist groups across the South, ordered the dissolution of the Ku Klux Klan and its costumes to be destroyed, and withdrew from the organization. Lacking coordinated leadership and facing strong prosecution by President Grant and the newly established Department of Justice, the members of this first incarnation of the Klan absconded, and it gradually disappeared.
In the last years of his life, Forrest publicly denounced the violence and racism practiced by the Klan, insisted he had never been a member, and made repeated public speeches in favor of racial harmony. As an effort of reconciliation, during a meeting with African Americans in 1875, Forrest took flowers from a black woman, something that was considered abhorrent in the South during Reconstruction. Although scholars admire Forrest as a military strategist, he has remained a highly controversial figure in Southern history, especially for his role in the attack on Fort Pillow, his 1867–1869 leadership of the Ku Klux Klan, and his political influence as a Tennessee delegate at the 1868 Democratic National Convention.

Source: Wikipedia


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