Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"He Leaves a Fame Which Malice Cannot Touch"

Nathan Bedford Forrest

On October 30, 1877,  The Memphis Appeal reported the death of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  It was reprinted on Nov. 4, 1877 in The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, a New Orleans newspaper.

 "He will sleep by beloved kindred who have gone before, and by the side of the beautiful little daughter he loved so well, and only the quiet stars will keep watch over his grave; but he leaves a fame which malice cannot touch, which florid panegyric cannot burnish, and which will be brightened by countless ages."

Elmwood Burial Record

How wrong that reporter was.  Nathan Bedford Forrest was moved from his "final" resting place in Elmwood Cemetery on November 11, 1904 to grace a city park that would bear his name with a statue of him astride a fine horse.  His fame for many has turned into infamy with plenty of malice spewed his direction.    Florid speeches don't burnish his name but votes by city council members to strip his name from a park in Memphis certainly will diminish him through the ages.  As it did when they removed a marker bearing the name of Forrest and paid for by the Sons of Confederate Veterans volunteers.

And to what end?  Memphis heritage includes the Civil War and slavery. Those of us with ancestors that served in the Confederacy have every right to acknowledge them and their contributions to this country.  They fought for what they believed in which is more than a lot of people can say.  Rewriting history does not change the events.  Renaming parks because it's easier than acknowledging where we come from is a sign of people with no regard for the past and no vision for the future.  

What next?  Now that the park has been renamed will the City Council decide it's an inappropriate venue for the mortal remains of N.B. Forrest?  Will they banish him back to Elmwood to rest once again  with his loved ones?  If they do, perhaps the General will have the last laugh after all.  It's about time he was able to rest in peace.

The Death of General Forrest.

A perturbed spirit has at last found rest.  General Nathan Bedford Forrest, he who was a pillar of strength to the southern people in their struggle for independence, whose life was as stormy as the tempestuous sea, and whose valor, patriotism and brilliant achievements have made his name and fame imperishable, has ceased to be a dweller of the earth.  he breathed his last about seven o'clock last evening, at the residence of his brother, Colonel Jesse A. Forrest, on Union street, in this city.  To those who have for several weeks watched with sympathetic apprehension the condition of General Forrest, the announcement of his death will not be a surprise.  They saw the pulse of life beating weak and low in his fevered veins, and knew that the ebbing tide would soon cease to flow.  But to the many who have for years been accustomed to see his erect figure, his towering form, perfect in its majestic manhood and symmetrical beauty, the intelligence of his death will bring a shock of surprise and sorrow.  

For the past three years General Forrest has made President's Island, two miles below the city, his home, where he was extensively engaged in planting, and mostly with convict labor.  he embarked in the enterprise with all the energy of his enthusiastic nature, and close attention to business and long exposure impregnated his system with malarial poison which superinduced chronic inflammation of the bowels, and which, for six months, has baffled the combined skill of our best physicians.  So robust in mind, so vital in nature, and so strong and fresh in his manhood was General Forrest, that he never despaired of his recover until Sunday morning last.  He seemed to think that the indomitable will which had so often conquered on the field of battle could hold in check even an enemy as remorseless as death, and he was hopeful until Sunday morning, when he consented to be removed to the city, where he could die among his friends.  He was greatly fatigued by the trip, and gradually grew worse until he expired.  Over twelve months ago General Forrest joined the Cumberland Presbyterian church, and since that time he has been an exemplary christian.  His pastor, Rev. Dr.George Tucker Stainback, visited him Thursday last and found him happy in the blissful knowledge that he was prepared for eternity.  

General Forrest was born on the thirteenth day of July, 1821, and was therefore a little over fifty-six years of age.  His birthplace was near Duck river, in  what was then Bedford county, Tennessee, but which has since been made a part of Marshal county.  His twin sister grew to beautiful womanhood, and marrying a young gentleman by the name of Glover, she removed to Texas, where she died in giving birth to her first child.  In 1834 William Forrest, the father of the subject of this tribute, moved to Tippah county, Mississippi, where he died in 1837, leaving seven sons and three daughters.  N.B. Forrest being the eldest of the children, he was compelled to labor for the support of the family, and was therefore deprived of an opportunity to receive even a rudimentary education.  In 1836 and 1837 he had an opportunity for attending school, which he turned to a good account, as he rapidly learned to read and write, and the value of figures, in which he was an expert in his immense business transactions.  In 1841 N.B. Forrest removed to Texas, but soon returned to help take care of his mother and her large and helpless family.  In 1842, he removed to Hernando, Mississippi, and in 1845 he became involved in a personal encounter with the Matlocks and their overseer, in which he first displayed that indomitable courage, coolness and determination which were so conspicuous in his subsequent brilliant military career.  On the twenty-fifth day of September, 1845, N.B. Forrest was married to Mary Ann Montgomery, who still lives, universally beloved by all who know her, and who has ever been a fond and affectionate wife.  

In 1852 the deceased removed from Hernando to Memphis where he has ever been recognized as a prominent business man and useful citizen.  He was often elected Alderman from his ward, and no man was more enterprising or safer in council.  Successful in all individual undertakings, he applied the same sound judgment to the affairs of the city, and was therefore, always a useful member of the city council.  When the war was declared between the States, General Forrest, by economy, thrift, and his practical good sense, had accumulated an immense fortune, and would soon have been a millionaire.  In June, 1857, General Forrest added to the reputation he had already made by rescuing from the infuriated mob, John Able.  There are many still living who will bear testimony to his heroic bearing on this occasion.  He cut the rope which the mob had tied around the neck of Able, and marched the prisoner back to jail amid the blandishments of knives and pistols, and the howls for murder. General Forrest is the last of seven brothers, with the exception of Colonel Jesse A. Forrest, of this city.  He has a half-brother and a half-sister still living.  

We shall not attempt, in this hasty obituary, to go into a history of General Forrest's military career.  The writer of this was at his side for nearly three years, and had ample opportunity for sounding the length, the breadth, the depth, and the greatness of the man who has made an imperishable fame as a military genius.  From the battle of Shiloh to his surrender at Gainesville, in every successive engagement he added new laurels to his fame, and posterity will do justice to his memory.  He was born a military hero, just as men and women are born poets.  Though not familiar with history, he seemed to understand the methods of the Crusaders, and would adopt the tactics of Saladin or Coeur-de-Lion as the exigency required.  He knew nothing of the cunning strategy of the wily Fabins or the daring of Hannibal, but he adopted the policy of either by intuition when the emergency presented itself.  General Forrest was accused of a rashness which amounted to audacity; but in this his character was greatly misunderstood.  he never went into a fight impetuously.  he was deliberate in maturing his plans, but after having determined upon them, he went into the fight determined to win, and often secured victory by his own personal momentum, which in battle was  irresistible.  There was much beauty in General Forrest's private life.  If he was aggressive and unyielding, he was tender-hearted as a woman.  His devotion to his sick soldiers, his servants, or any one depending upon him for comfort, had the consecration of religious fervor in it.  His love for his was pathetic in its fullness.

Posterity will do greater honor to the memory of General N.B. Forrest than those who now drop a tear or a flower upon his grave.  There was so much of the storm in his life that many who have lived and acted upon the stage with him are not prepared to judge him correctly.  The future will recognize him as a grand figure in the history of the republic.  Born in poverty, his life had been one of brilliant success.  Either he was born under an auspicious star, or endowed with rare abilities.  The world seldom present such an example of unbroken triumphs.  He was a self willed man. had he not been his career would have been a failure.  He resolutely stood by his convictions.  he wore no coward's heart.  he carried his principles upon his sleeve, and never sought to hide his faults by dissimulation.  He provoked opposition and never bowed to the fury of the storm he had created.  If his culture was not abroad, his instincts were quick and unerring.  He was an apt pupil in the school of human nature.  Possibly it were well he was not crammed with the learning of past ages.  Had he been encumbered with the routine of red-tape and the teachings of West Point, he might have been as unsuccessful as the scientific graduates whom he outstripped in the race to greatness.  The scholar lives too much in his closet, depends too much on on what he has learned to always correctly act when thrown on his native resources.  So long as the war lasted General Forrest was foremost in the fight, but since he surrendered his sword he has been conservative in his politics, opposed everything extreme in his comrades, and has urged peace and obedience to law, and on many occasions has expressed a willingness to enlist in defence of our common country.  As a soldier he was ever agonized by the pinch of hunger, the want of clothing, the torture of sickness, and the corroding cares which his men had to endure.  He was sometimes harsh to them; but his grand deportment on the field, by the camp-fire, on the march, and in the midst of battle, inspired the soldiers under his command with a confidence in his judgment, his sincere and ardent patriotism, and they attributed his severity to the eccentricity of a genius they were ever ready to follow.  

Neither ambition nor vain glory could have achieved such prodigies of valor as General Forrest performed.  Nothing bu a love for the people who now mourn his death--a love as pure as that which animated the ragged and shoeless Continentals at Valley Forge, and stained the frozen soil with their blood--could have cheered General Forrest and his compatriots during four long years of danger and suffering.  Death had no terrors to General Forrest.  he died with the serenity of a philosopher.  Last summer, at Bailey Springs, he spoke of his readiness to meet his God and his inward cravings for rest from the battle of life, which to him had been fierce and full of bitterness.  Though he was extremely anxious to live for useful purposes and to make another fortune, which he saw in sight, for his wife and only son, to his confidential friends he invariabley touched in the still hours the same Aeolian chord that murmured of failure, the nothingness of life, and death as a desire.  But enough.  We leave to history the duty of committing to an imperishable record a faithful detail of those brilliant military achievements which in after years will become a precious portion of the legacy of this great republic.  The fame of N.B. Forrest will ever reflect luster upon the American name.  Posterity will keep bright the splendor of his heroic deeds.  His statue may not now occupy a niche in the American Pantheon; no "Painted Porch" is his like that of Athens, where, for a half a thousand years, the descendants of the men who had followed Miltiades to victory might trace the glories of their Marathon; no gleaming castles, as of old, with the light flaming though gorgeous windows to illuminate his name and his battered flags of victorious battle; no gran historic abbey, like that of England, which marks the resting place of princes, kings and soldiers who have inscribed their names high upon the deathless roll of fame, awaits his death and burial in Elmwood; nay, none of these await the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest to morrow.  he will sleep by beloved kindred who have gone before, and by the side of the beautiful little daughter he loved so well, and only the quiet stars will keep watch over his grave; but he leaves a fame which malice cannot touch, which florid panegyric cannot burnish, and which will be brightened by countless ages.


Memphis Oct 31--The funeral of Gen. Forrest took place at noon at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.  Rev. Dr. Stainback, who had been a private soldier under Forrest, officiated.  Not only the church, but the street for squares was crowded with people.  Among the pall bearers were ex-President Jefferson Davis, Gov. Porter, Hon. Jacob Thompson and Col. Galloway, Dr. Cowan and Major Rambant of Forrest's staff and Capt. J. Donaldson.  

The General was dressed in his old uniform at this own request, and as the casket containing the remains was carried into the church, it was almost impossible to keep back the crowd, so anxious were all to take a last look at his face.  After the service was concluded the funeral cortege took up the line of march up Second and down Main streets, and was composed of mounted ex-Confederates preceding the hearse.  Music, Odd Fellows, Chickasaw Guards, Bluff City Grays, Memphis Light Guards, Memphis Artillery, ex-Confederate soldiers, ex-Union soldiers, civil organizations, Mayor and City Council, Fire Department and citizens on foot.  Business was suspended during the funeral service and thousands of persons lined the sidewalks to witness the honors paid the deceased.  The remains were interred at Elmwood, with the Odd Fellows' rites and  military honors.

No comments:

Post a Comment