Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Confederate Veterans on Forrest: “Unworthy of a Southern gentleman”

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on August 20, 2013

OldForrestI was looking around recently for some background to the famous Pole-Bearers address given by Nathan Bedford Forrest in July 1875 at Memphis. In his speech to the Freedmen’s group, Forrest emphasized the importance of African Americans building their community, participating in elections, and both races moving forward in peace. Just prior to making his remarks, Forrest was presented a bouquet of flowers by an African American girl, and responded by giving the girl a kiss on the cheek. This single event is sometimes cited as proof that the former slave dealer and Klan leader “wasn’t a racist” or some similar nonsense, as if that modern term had much import in mid-19th century America.

I’ll have more to say about the Pole Bearers speech another time, but if you ever wondered how Forrest’s actions that day were perceived by at least some of his former comrades in gray, now we know. They weren’t happy about it, and went to considerable efforts to say so – publicly. From the Augusta, Georgia Chronicle, July 31, 1875, p. 4:


Meeting of Cavalry Survivor’s Association.
A called meeting of the Cavalry Survivor’s Association was held at the Irish Volunteers’ Hall last evening. The amended constitution as reported by the committee, was unanimously adopted.
Captain E. Eve said: “Comrades, we are ordered to meet to revise out constitution and by-laws; it is in the hands of an able committee ably, I trust, they have perfected their labors, but while here assembled there is one incident that has transpired upon which I wish to throw your disapproval and have recorded in our archives, although performed by as gallant a cavalryman as ever used sabre over an enemy’s brain; yet let us prove that the old esprit du corps still lives, and that we endorse no action unworthy of a Southern gentleman. I speak of the address delivered before a black and tan audience by Gen. N. B. Forrest. With what a glow of enthusiasm and thrill of pride have I not perued the campaigns of Gen. Forrest’s cavalry, their heroic deeds, their sufferings and their successes under the leadership of one whom I always considered (in my poor judgment) second only to out immortal Hampton? And now to mar all the lustre attached to his name, his brain is turned by the civilities of a mulatto wench who presented him with a bouquet of roses. We would rather have sent him a car filled with the rarest exotics plucked from the dizziest peaks of the Himalayas or the perilous fastness of the Andes than he should have thus befouled the fair home of one of the Confederacy’s most daring general officers. What can his object be? Ah! General Forrest!
Wherefore be it
Resolved, that we, the Survivor’s Association of the Cavalry of the Confederate States, in meeting assembled at Augusta, Ga., do hereby express our unmitigated disapproval of any such sentiments as those expressed by Gen. N. B. Forrest at a meeting of the Pole Bearers Society of Memphis, Tennessee, and that we allow no man to advocate, or even hint to the world, before any public assemblage, that he dare associate our mother’s, wives’ daughters’ or sisters’ names in the same category that he classes the females of the negro [sic.] race, without, at least, expressing out disapprobation.
The resolution was unanimously adopted and ordered spread on the minutes.


Geez. Sounds like they were mad, huh?




10 Responses

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  1. Sam Collins III said, on August 20, 2013 at 2:40 am


    You are good. Keep up the great work of finding these things.


    Sent from Windows Mail

  2. Foxessa said, on August 20, 2013 at 11:12 am

    In the light of South Carolina’s disappointment with the CSA constitution — it was too weak, and didn’t go far enough — that such an action would be so viewed is to be expected. I guess.

  3. terry said, on August 20, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    You call this evidence of hatred and racism? Fake is what I call it. Where is your references? This is not even good forgery work.

    And surely does not portray Gen. Forrest’s attitude. You accept one single incident of a fake newspaper article purporting to be from the Survivor’s Association of the Cavalry of the Confederate States as absolute proof of racism, or that someone is mad, but refuse to consider the one single incident of Forrest’s behavior.

    Go ahead and show your hypocrisy.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 20, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks for taking time to comment. You wrote:

      You call this evidence of hatred and racism?

      No, I didn’t call it that.

      I offer it as evidence that at least some Confederate veterans were quite upset with Forrest’s actions at the Pole-Bearers meeting. I’d never come across that before, and it seemed worth mentioning. One often reads about Forrest’s address, but not much about other Confederates’ reaction to it.

      Fake is what I call it. Where is your references? This is not even good forgery work.

      It’s real, Terry. I provided a reference and a link to a digitized copy of the article. Look it up yourself.

      You have a nice day, Terry.

  4. Bob Nelson said, on August 20, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    It’s certainly understandable that former Confederates would be angry given Forrest’s prior profession as a slave trader, his role as an icon of the Confederacy and his position in the KKK. Still, it’s not that far out of whack. Remember his farewell speech to his men. “You have been good soldiers,” he said (or something to that effect), “you can be good citizens.” Falls into the realm of John Gordon and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain trying to bind up the nation’s wounds. And I think that’s a noble sentiment.

  5. Eric A. Jacobson said, on August 21, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Good work Andy. This is a great find, but as has already been displayed by Terry, facts don’t matter at all to folks who have their minds made up. I wonder if Capt. Eve had black Confederates in his unit? Also, I had to chuckle when Eve said Forrest was second to Hampton. Now that’s rich. Here in Tennessee I hear about Forrest all the time (he was the best, etc, etc), and I often respond that as a pure cavalryman I could rattle off two or three who were better, and Hampton is a name I always mention. So far (at least among the Forrest fans), I’ve only had about three or four who had even heard of Wade Hampton. How sad. Anyway, great find!!!

  6. Jim Schmidt said, on August 21, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Great post, Andy…the Klan connection of Forrest came at an intersting time as I had just this week finished reading the short Sherlock Holmes tale “The Five Orange Pips” in which the KKK and a barque named the “Lone Star” are featured…keep up the great work. Jim

  7. Allie said, on March 23, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Wow, they called a little girl a “wench” and accused the General of lusting after little girls. Someone dig these guys up and wash their mouths out with soap!

  8. Paul Beatty said, on May 16, 2016 at 10:11 am

    Is this really that shocking? We can’t judge those from the past by our contemporary values. I’m sure our descendents will think us just as backward.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 16, 2016 at 10:26 am

      No, it’s not shocking. Not at all.

      But, it’s common among the present-day heritage folks to cite this event as evidence that Forrest was some sort of early advocate for civil rights of African Americans. One thing they never mention is how Forrest’s actions in this case “played” among other Confederate veterans and southerners generally.

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