Major General
Nathan Bedford Forrest

Born: Chapel Hill, Tennessee, July 13, 1821
Died: Memphis, Tennessee, October 29, 1877

"War means fighting and fighting means killing"


Nathan Bedford Forrest and his twin sister, Fanny, were the first two of 11 children born to a poor backwoods blacksmith and his wife. Bedford, as his family called him, worked hard as a child to help support the large family and received little formal education.

In 1834 the family moved to Mississippi and settled on a wilderness homestead, where Bedford's father died three years later. Only 16 years old with an again-pregnant mother, Forrest, as the eldest son, became responsible for providing for the family. He struggled at farming for five years, made the homestead marginally profitable, and then moved to Hernando, Miss., to go into the horse-trading business with his uncle. Within 10 years, the illiterate young backwoodsman had proven himself an astute businessman and had prospered as a horse trader.

In mid-1845 Forrest courted 19-year-old Mary Ann Montgomery, whose guardian was a minister. When asked for permission to marry his ward, the preacher responded, "Why, Bedford, I couldn't consent. You cuss and gamble and Mary Ann is a Christian girl." "I know it," replied Forrest, "and that's just why I want her." Mary Ann's guardian officiated at their September 1845 wedding.

In 1851 Forrest moved his family to Memphis, Tenn., and started a new vocation as a slave trader and real estate broker. Within 10 years, Forrest had become one of the wealthiest men in the South, owning 3,000 acres of farmland and 42 slaves.

When Tennessee seceded from the Union, Forrest, then almost 40 years old, enlisted as a private in a mounted company. Tennessee's governor asked Forrest to raise a regiment of cavalry. This he did quickly, armed and outfitted it at his own expense, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel and commander of the regiment.

In October 1861, Forrest and his men moved to Fort Donelson, where they remained until the approach of Union forces under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. When the fort's commanders decided to give up the fight, Forrest took his men and escaped from the besieged fort the night before the surrender.

Fascinating Fact: Of Bedford's six brothers and four sisters, only five brothers lived to adulthood.

Heroes in Gray Forever

Picture of General Forrest's boyhood home

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Nathan Bedford Forrest Trivia

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Facts About The South

Emancipation Proclamation

Throughout his political career, President Abraham Lincoln had opposed slavery as a moral wrong. but he knew slavery was sanctioned by the Constitution and he respected the law. Besides, the border states that remained in the Union were slave states, and the war effort could little afford to repay their loyalty with the freeing of their slaves.

Several of Lincoln's military commanders had attempted to emancipate the slaves in their districts, but each time Lincoln countermanded the orders. Utilizing the broad range of powers the Constitution gives presidents during national emergencies, Lincoln was able to issue the Emancipation Proclamation as a measure to help the North win the war.

Slavery was an asset to the South's war effort in that it provided a readily available labor force for the Confederate armies and allowed production to continue on the home front while the men fought the battles. Telling the slaves that they were free could possibly incite them to rebel against their masters, thus opening a new front in the prosecution of the war.

Also, once Lincoln took this major step, any hopes the Confederate states may have had of foreign intervention on their side were immediately dashed. Once slavery became a central issue in the war, England and France could no longer contemplate aiding the Confederacy.

Still, Lincoln could not bring himself to lose the good faith of slave owners in the loyal states of Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, and Missouri; therefore, he did not free their slaves. Nor did he free any slaves in New Orleans, northern Virginia, and much of Tennessee, the South Carolina coast, and other areas of the Southern states already under federal control.

Lincoln's emancipation proclamation freed only the slaves in rebellious areas of the country; areas administered by the Confederate government where, ironically, Federal government had no control.


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