Nathan Bedford Forrest on Trial: Part 1

This is going to be the first in a series of posts looking at the testimony that Nathan Bedford Forrest gave to the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States in 1871. 

With the release of Kevin Levin’s new book, Remembering The Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, certain Southern Heritage advocates have become the almost immediate rebuttal of Kevin’s findings. I came into contact with some of those “rebuttals,” and gave a response here. In a round about way, the arguments by heritage advocates have gone on to suggest that Confederates were violent at Petersburg because the USCT cried, “no quarter” when attacking their position. Heritage advocates further argue, that the USCT acted with such violence due to the events at Ft. Pillow. The horrid acts that took place at Ft. Pillow, by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men, are said to be over blown by these same heritage advocates. They state that “Yankees” used the Ft. Pillow story as a rallying cry to make USCT more  violent in battle. From this point, the advocates then give the argument that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s testimony to the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States in 1871 proves Ft. Pillow was hype. This committee also, according to some southern heritage advocates, found Forrest innocent of involvement with the Ku Klux Klan. If you are lost at this point, don’t worry. The only thing we are going to focus on from this point on is Forrest and the trial.

I have read interesting statements, from certain southern heritage advocates, about Forrest’s testimony. The most interesting statement, and subject of this post, is one said to have come from research librarians at the Library of Congress. The statement begins like this:

In 1871 a Congressional investigation was convened to look into Forrest’s alleged involvement with the Klan and to revisit the Ft. Pillow “massacre.” The investigation was chaired by Forrest’s old enemy, William Tecumseh Sherman, who told the press that, “We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try Forrest, convict Forrest, and hang Forrest.”

I kept seeing this quote, and the long follow up below, as proof of Forrest’s innocence. My issue with this quote, and quote from Sherman within, is three fold:

1.) I could not find a reference to Ft. Pillow in the Report from the Joint Committee.
2.) I could not find documentation for Sherman’s supposed statement to the press.
3.) There was no evidence in the Report the showed General Sherman as the chair of the investigation.

I privately messaged one of the members of the Southern Heritage Preservation Group asking for documentation of these statements. This member sent me the correspondence that  he/she had with a librarian at the Library of Congress. (Please refer to this as ‘quote 1′)

Question History:

Patron: I have learned in recent weeks that several quotes I grew up hearing are lies and myths. I understand there was a Congressional Investigation into General Bedford Forrest involvement with the Klan and the Fort Pillow massacre, could I please get the results?

Librarian 1: Dear Mr. {censored}:

Thank you for your query.

That is an often submitted question it appears that either the myth is too strongly imbedded or that the populace would rather believe a myth..

Thank you for your patience.

Reference Specialist
Main Reading Room
Humanities and Social Sciences Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20540-4660
202-707-3399

Librarian 1: Dear Mr. [censored]:

“In 1871 a Congressional investigation was convened to look into Forrest’s alleged involvement with the Klan and to revisit the Ft. Pillow “massacre.” The investigation was chaired by Forrest’s old enemy, William Tecumseh Sherman, who told the press that, “We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try Forrest, convict Forrest, and hang Forrest.”

The outcome of the 1871 investigation was twofold. The committee found no evidence that Forrest had participated in the formation of the Klan and that even the use of his name may well have been without his permission. They also found that there was no credible evidence that Forrest had ever participated in or directed any actions of the Klan.

“The reports of Committees, House of Representatives, second session, forty-second congress,” P. 7-449.

“The primary accusation before this board is that Gen. Forrest was a founder of The Klan, and its first Grand Wizard, So I shall address those accusations first. In 1871, Gen. Forrest was called before a congressional Committee along with 21 other ex-Confederate officers including Admiral Raphael Semmes, Gen. Wade Hampton, Gen. John B.

Gordon, and Gen. Braxton Bragg. Forrest testified before Congress personally over four hours. Forrest took the witness stand June 27th, 1871. Building a railroad in Tennessee at the time, Gen Forrest stated he ‘had done more , probably than any other man, to suppress these violence and difficulties and keep them down, had been vilified and abused in the (news) papers, and accused of things I never did while in the army and since. He had nothing to hide, wanted to see this matter settled, our country quite once more, and our people united and working together harmoniously.’

Asked if he knew of any men or combination of men violating the law or preventing the execution of the law: Gen Forest answered emphatically, ‘No.’ (A Committee member brought up a document suggesting otherwise, the 1868 newspaper article from the “Cincinnati Commercial”. That was their “evidence”, a news article.) Forrest stated ‘…any information he had on the Klan was information given to him by others.’
Sen. Scott asked, ‘Did you take any steps in organizing an association or society under that prescript (Klan constitution)?’
Forrest: ‘I DID NOT’ Forrest further stated that ‘…he thought the Organization (Klan) started in middle Tennessee, although he did not know where.

It is said I started it.’

Asked by Sen. Scott, ‘Did you start it, Is that true?’

Forrest: ‘No Sir, it is not.’
Asked if he had heard of the Knights of the white Camellia, a Klan-like organization in Louisiana,

Forrest: ‘Yes, they were reported to be there.’

Senator: ‘Were you a member of the order of the white Camellia?’

Forrest: ‘No Sir, I never was a member of the Knights of the white Camellia.’

Asked about the Klan:

Forrest: ‘It was a matter I knew very little about. All my efforts were addressed to stop it, disband it, and prevent it….I was trying to keep it down as much as possible.’

Forrest: ‘I talked with different people that I believed were connected to it, and urged the disbandment of it, that it should be broken up.’”

The following article appeared in the New York times June 27th, “Washington, 1871. Gen Forrest was before the Klu Klux Committee today, and his examination lasted four hours. After the examination, he remarked than the committee treated him with much courtesy and respect.”
Congressional records show that Gen. Forrest was absolved of all complicity in the founding or operation of the Ku Klux Klan, and he was certainly never a “Grand Wizard”. These committees had the utmost evidence and living witnesses at their disposal. The evidence precluded any Guilt or indictment of Gen. Forrest and the matter was closed before that body of final judgment in 1872.
The following findings in the Final report of this committee of Congress concluded,
“The statement of these gentlemen (Forrest and Gordon) are full and explicit…the evidence fully sustains them.” (Personal Note: At this time Honor was a big part of their society and daily lives with many duels being fought over just that “HONOR” as much General Sherman would have welcomed an excuse to have hanged Forrest, he too concluded he was innocent).
Later the surviving participates from the battle were individually interviewed “Both white and negro soldiers were interviewed fully supporting General Forrest’s testimony”.
After the war committees determined the rumor was started to ensure the USCT would fight, many white officers felt they (USTC) could not be counted on and they had to either be threaten, coerced or frighten. Apparently they got more than they bargained for as in several engagements the USCT were killing both Confederate prisoners and civilians in retaliation for Pillow and could only be controlled under threat of harm.

I hope that this information is helpful.

ECH
Reference Specialist
Main Reading Room
Humanities and Social Sciences Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, DC 20540-4660

(I censored out the name of the “Patron” but left the Reference Specialist’s initials; you’ll see why in just a second.)

The copy and paste of the correspondence the SHPG member had with the Library of Congress (LoC) did little to satisfy the issues I had with the post. So I decided to email the LoC myself. The exchange between myself and one of the research librarian is posted below.

Question History:

Patron: My question concerns the 1871 Congressional investigation of Nathan Bedford Forrest. I believe it is found in one of the volumes of the “Report of the Joint Select Committee to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, made to the two Houses of Congress” volumes.

Recently there has been a spread of internet historical “facts” that reference this library specifically as well as its reference specialists. Here is the account given by the specialist; I warn you it’s lengthy:

____________

“In 1871 a Congressional investigation was convened to look into Forrest’s alleged involvement with the Klan and to revisit the Ft. Pillow “massacre.” The investigation was chaired by Forrest’s old enemy, William Tecumseh Sherman, who told the press that, “We are here to investigate Forrest, charge Forrest, try Forrest, convict Forrest, and hang Forrest.”

The outcome of the 1871 investigation was twofold. The committee found no evidence that Forrest had participated in the formation of the Klan and that even the use of his name may well have been without his permission. They also found that there was no credible evidence that Forrest had ever participated in or directed any actions of the Klan.

“The reports of Committees, House of Representatives, second session, forty-second congress,” P. 7-449.

“The primary accusation before this board is that Gen. Forrest was a founder of The Klan, and its first Grand Wizard, So I shall address those accusations first. In 1871, Gen. Forrest was called before a congressional Committee along with 21 other ex-Confederate officers including Admiral Raphael Semmes, Gen. Wade Hampton, Gen. John B.

Gordon, and Gen. Braxton Bragg. Forrest testified before Congress personally over four hours. Forrest took the witness stand June 27th, 1871. Building a railroad in Tennessee at the time, Gen Forrest stated he ‘had done more , probably than any other man, to suppress these violence and difficulties and keep them down, had been vilified and abused in the (news) papers, and accused of things I never did while in the army and since. He had nothing to hide, wanted to see this matter settled, our country quite once more, and our people united and working together harmoniously.’

Asked if he knew of any men or combination of men violating the law or preventing the execution of the law: Gen Forest answered emphatically, ‘No.’ (A Committee member brought up a document suggesting otherwise, the 1868 newspaper article from the “Cincinnati Commercial”. That was their “evidence”, a news article.) Forrest stated ‘…any information he had on the Klan was information given to him by others.’
Sen. Scott asked, ‘Did you take any steps in organizing an association or society under that prescript (Klan constitution)?’
Forrest: ‘I DID NOT’ Forrest further stated that ‘…he thought the Organization (Klan) started in middle Tennessee, although he did not know where.

It is said I started it.’

Asked by Sen. Scott, ‘Did you start it, Is that true?’

Forrest: ‘No Sir, it is not.’
Asked if he had heard of the Knights of the white Camellia, a Klan-like organization in Louisiana,

Forrest: ‘Yes, they were reported to be there.’

Senator: ‘Were you a member of the order of the white Camellia?’

Forrest: ‘No Sir, I never was a member of the Knights of the white Camellia.’

Asked about the Klan:

Forrest: ‘It was a matter I knew very little about. All my efforts were addressed to stop it, disband it, and prevent it….I was trying to keep it down as much as possible.’

Forrest: ‘I talked with different people that I believed were connected to it, and urged the disbandment of it, that it should be broken up.’”

The following article appeared in the New York times June 27th, “Washington, 1871. Gen Forrest was before the Klu Klux Committee today, and his examination lasted four hours. After the examination, he remarked than the committee treated him with much courtesy and respect.”
Congressional records show that Gen. Forrest was absolved of all complicity in the founding or operation of the Ku Klux Klan, and he was certainly never a “Grand Wizard”. These committees had the utmost evidence and living witnesses at their disposal. The evidence precluded any Guilt or indictment of Gen. Forrest and the matter was closed before that body of final judgment in 1872.
The following findings in the Final report of this committee of Congress concluded,
“The statement of these gentlemen (Forrest and Gordon) are full and explicit…the evidence fully sustains them.” (Personal Note: At this time Honor was a big part of their society and daily lives with many duels being fought over just that “HONOR” as much General Sherman would have welcomed an excuse to have hanged Forrest, he too concluded he was innocent).
Later the surviving participates from the battle were individually interviewed “Both white and negro soldiers were interviewed fully supporting General Forrest’s testimony”.
After the war committees determined the rumor was started to ensure the USCT would fight, many white officers felt they (USTC) could not be counted on and they had to either be threaten, coerced or frighten. Apparently they got more than they bargained for as in several engagements the USCT were killing both Confederate prisoners and civilians in retaliation for Pillow and could only be controlled under threat of harm.

I hope that this information is helpful.
____________

The above statement comes from this office. The problem I have is that the  “reports of committees of the house of representatives for the second session of the forty second congress” makes zero mention of General Sherman serving as a chair for any such investigation. It is also hard to find where Sherman actually made the statement given. What newspaper or media outlet was used? The report also only references Forrest’s testimony. The investigations, according to the congressional committee, was to investigate the actions of the klan and not Forrest’s connections.

I hope you can clarify these statements and their documentation and I hope that it is merely someone misrepresenting the LOC’s researchers.

Although the LoC website states that it could take up to five days for an answer, I promptly received a reply the very next day.

Librarian 1: Robert:
Could you send me the web link to the referenced LC answer?

Steve Davenport
Reference Librarian/American History Specialist
Main Reading Room
Humanities & Social Sciences Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540-4660

At the time, I had no link to to provide. All I had in my possession was the dialogue sent to me by the SHPG member. So I responded simply with a copy of the email exchange.

 Patron: That will be hard as it is on the private page of a social networking site.

I can however copy and paste it below.

At this point, I copy and pasted “quote 1″ into the email and sent it back. I want to point out that since then, I have located a couple websites with that same information.

  1. Dav Tatum: “A True Confederate”  this is a copy and paste from the original poster on the SHPG page.
  2. knoxnews.com blogs: Nathan Bedford Forrest Rides On – Scroll down but not too far.
  3. Powder and Lead Newsletter : SCV Camp #260 (pg. 15) – This newsletter cites the LoC as the source of its information. It does not list the media specialist however.

Look at how the correspondence (quote 1), the knox news site and A True Confederate end a paragraph with John Gordan’s middle initial; “B.”

After sending the LoC librarian “quote 1,”  I received another prompt reply and was astonished at what was said.

Librarian 1: Robert:

My colleagues and I have looked at the question and the answer allegedly given by LC. I spoke with ECH — she was somewhat disturbed that her name was being used with inaccurate information. ECH does not recall the question and is certain that any answer she would have provided would have referred the person to the text of the Congressional report and testimony; there’s simply too much in that 13 volume, 6000+ pages, report for a librarian to read through and draw out quotes. Several of the quotes are phrased in such a way that makes me believe they in fact came from the books listed below.

A digital version of the complete 13 part “Report of the Joint select committee appointed to inquire into the condition of affairs in the late insurrectionary states, so far as regards the execution of laws, and the safety of the lives and property of the citizens of the United States and Testimony taken” is available at Making of America <http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=ACA4911> Forrest’s full testimony is in pt.13, Florida.

You can see from the report title and by reading some of the the testimony that this committee was not convened to determine Forrest’s role in the creation of the KKK.  The committee was to investigate Klan activities, and vigilante violence generally, throughout the southern states.

General W. T. Sherman had nothing to do with the investigating committee; his brother, John Sherman, senator for Ohio, was instrumental in bringing resolutions to suppress the Klan. Several Enforcement Acts subsequently came about because of national reaction to reports of violence in the South.

Here are several books, in addition to the above link to the report, which may be of interest:

After Appomattox : how the South won the war / Stetson Kennedy.
Gainesville : University Press of Florida, c1995.

Nathan Bedford Forrest : in search of the enigma / Eddy W. Davison and Daniel Foxx ; foreword by Edwin C. Bearss.
Gretna : Pelican Pub. Co., 2007.

Nathan Bedford Forrest : a biography / by Jack Hurst.
Vintage Civil War library ed. New York : Vintage Books, 1994.

A rebel born : a defense of Nathan Bedford Forrest / Lochlainn Seabrook ; [foreword by Clyde Wilson].
Franklin, Tenn. : Sea Raven Press, c2010.

Suppressing the Ku Klux Klan : the enforcement of the Reconstruction amendments, 1870-1877 / Everette Swinney.
New York : Garland, 1987.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Good luck in your research

Steve Davenport
Reference Librarian/American History Specialist
Main Reading Room
Humanities & Social Sciences Division
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20540-4660

It appears, at least according to the reference librarian and American History Specialist Steve Davenport, that some members of the SHPG are misleading others. Sherman’s involvement is non-existent, as well as his supposed quote. The information given about Forrest’s testimony is also false. In addition to this, the correspondence between the SHPG member and the LoC librarian ECH is a lie. Why some people would go through such lengths to mislead others in order to “defend Southern Heritage” is beyond me. I am hoping that this is a bad case of plagiarism as others have noted before, and not an intentional fabrication.

Now that my former issues are resolved, I have new inquiries. These center around the testimony that Forrest gave. For starters; why did he deny involvement with the Klan when evidence says contrary?  If anything, I guess I want to thank the SHPG for their post. My interest is peaked and I will continue look into this subject.

————————————————————-

Emails:

6 thoughts on “Nathan Bedford Forrest on Trial: Part 1

  1. Khepera

    Speaking as an editor, researcher and publishing professional I am appalled at the complete lack of ethics and portrayed by your SHPG correspondent.

    Reply
    1. Rob Baker

      Well, according to the poster of said “information,” he was sick in the hospital while someone ran the research for him at the SHPG. He has since posted on their group page that the information is faulty and thanked me for finding it.

      Reply
  2. Susan Barringer

    Actually on page 12 of that Congressional investigation report, which I have an official copy of – Forrest declines to answer a question about his involvement in the “Klan” – basically pleading the 5th.

    Question: Did you act upon that prescript?
    Answer: No, sir.
    Question: Did you take any steps for organizing under it?
    Answer: I do not think I am compelled to answer any question that would implicate me in anything; I believe the law does not require that I should do anything of the sort.

    Reply
  3. George Purvis

    So what is the point you are trying to make? Forrest was brought up on trial, many Union men including Sherman were not. Regardless if the Sherman quote is accurate or not, Forrest was still found not quilty.

    If Forrest was a member of the Klan or the founder why should he tell anyone. he has a right to plead the 5th.

    George Purvis

    Reply
    1. Rob Baker

      This was actually part 1 of what was to be several posts. To curtail your questions, this is not about a comparison of North vs South, or why Sherman was not put on trial. Also, Forrest was not found “not guilty” because he was not on trial. The commission questioned him in an investigation.

      Reply

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