In a comment on my previous post, I was taken to task for pointing out the simple fact that Nathan Bedford Forrest, former Confederate General and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, disbanded the Klan a couple of years after its founding, when it proved itself to be a terrorist organization. In no way was I defending the Klan; far from it. I was simply pointing out an inconvenient truth that most historians would rather ignore.

Forrest was clearly no angel, but he did in fact disband the Klan, when it got out of hand, and a fair rendering of history should make that clear, which is all I was trying to do. If Forrest is to be reviled as the first Grand Wizard of the Klan, then he should be respected for disbanding it two years later.

If Forrest is rightly reviled for the massacre at Fort Pillow, he should also be respected as perhaps the greatest general and tactician either side produced in that bloody war. That was certainly Grant's opinion of him. Forrest may also have been the bravest, since he often fought at the head of his cavalry.

Yes, Forrest was a slave owner, but so were the majority of the Founders. That is no defense of Forrest, and it certainly is no defense of slavery, it is simply a fact. We need to try to understand by what twisted logic Thomas Jefferson could declare “all men are created equal”, and yet continue to enslave 200 human beings. This is the best I could come up with on that account in my book The Disappearing Cemetery:

Thomas Jefferson

Virginia beckons, even now

Dark earth upturned to heaving plow

A reverence for the land, I vow

To this I did my life endow

I gave my all to one true cause

To free this land from tyrant’s claws

But now am fallen for my flaws –

How swiftly dies polite applause

My enemies exaggerate

And draw dark marks upon my slate

So I am come to expiate

These charges laid on me of late

Indulge my pen, Good Sir, I pray

For speaking fills my mouth with clay

A man of parts in disarray

But once a god – or say they say

Yes, once a god – with lower “g”

The author of Our Liberty

But fallen now in history

For having failed to set slaves free

Or else for that on which fools dwell

Concerning love – how gossip sells!

No gentleman would kiss and tell

May gossips die and rot in Hell!

Forgive me this intemperate plea

But that has been my curse, you see

A man of Reason – nth degree

Yet Passion made a slave of me

Ill-chosen word, I must admit

And yet, that is the heart of it

For master must himself submit

To that which he would sooner quit

So of two minds, where should be one

How else explain the deeds I’ve done?

By my own hand I am undone

My shining star a sinking sun

I claim my sins, I’ll not deny

Nor Reason ever answer ‘why?’

But Phoenix rose, and so shall I

To shine again in starry sky

But let the sinless cast first stone

And judge me not on sins alone

Pray, let my greater deeds atone

Let not good be interred with bones

For I have learned this much, my Friend

That marble statues are not men

Though Good and Evil both portend

'Tis Good that triumphs in the end

When we turn historical figures into saints or satans, we cheat ourselves and posterity. In doing so, we turn them into caricatures and cartoons, rather than view them as men and women, with all their human foibles and flaws. We would do well to follow the example of Andrew Jackson's first biogrpaher, who called him an “atrocious saint”.

The same could be said of Forrest, as I tried to make clear with this poem in the same book:

Nathan Bedford Forrest

So you come to seek me out to learn what makes me tick

So you think a man who kills and likes it is plain sick

So what of you who comes to poke inside another’s head

And picks the flesh from off his bones and desecrates the dead?

First of all, I will admit, I did enjoy the fight

Particularly because the side I chose was in the right

You Yankee boys were quick to give the South all of the blame

But yo’r the ones who changed the rules when you tired of the game

I was not born of time and place to get to make the rules

I grew up poor and put upon by wealthy, privileged fools

But I was hard and held my ground and figured out a way

To play somebody else’s game and, by God, make it pay!

Then came some gentleman to say, “The game is over now;

You can no longer earn your bread upon some black man’s brow.”

While he sat idle at his desk and rode some poor man’s back

I saw no diff’rence save that one was white and one was black

I took to arms to keep my place, as any man would do

If being robbed of all his wealth and all his children’s, too

All that I earned through my device they wished to take away–

Damned right, I fought! And so would you, no matter what you say

By grace of God, I fought and lived, and not with timid heart

I grabbed the battle by the throat and tore their troops apart

I fought the war as I had fought to make my place in life

My saber running red with blood and plunging deep my knife

So now you come to seek me out and think you’re justified

In painting me maniacal and filled with foolish pride

But I did as all others did in that unholy Hell

And I submit my only sin was doing it too well

I confess, that after writing that, I looked up from the page and thought, "Where the hell did that come from?" I can't help but wonder if I was putting words in someone else's mouth, or they were putting words in mine. Be that as it may, I am not an apologist for Forrest, and certainly not for slavery. Evil is evil period, and it's hard to think of an evil worse than slavery, though extermination of a people may qualify.

Be that as it may, if we are to understand why there is still so much resentment over that war in the South a century and a half later, we would do well to acquaint ourselves with what the other side believes about those terrible times.

What went on before, during and after the Civil War was awful, but the history of that time is skewed. Like they say, history is written by the winners. If we are to learn from history, it must be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Views: 371

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 12:08pm

I'm calmly awaiting the incoming that is sure to come

Comment by Ron Powell on February 11, 2019 at 12:19pm

You won't have to face it alone....

Comment by alsoknownas on February 11, 2019 at 12:34pm

Tom,

I'm glad to see you were not driven off the site as I thought may have happened. You have the heart and soul of an artist, compelled to observe and report, which oftentimes is misconstrued by those who lack the same inclination, to in turn lash out.

I've grown terribly tired of it here and find that to ignore those most inclined to do it, to be a better way.

I fail at times to follow my instincts, write what I mean to write and then wait for the "incoming". It comes in waves but most typically in small bits demeaning my intelligence ( any idea how often that happens in real life to me? it doesn't) or accusations of misogyny or racism.

I give credit to you for standing up for yourself.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 11, 2019 at 12:46pm

“Atrocious saint” is good. There isn’t really any other kind. If we don’t accept saints who are atrocious, we don’t get any. If you find someone close to unremittingly good, you then have the problem of whether they can do anyone else any good, at least in significant numbers. 

Sins are still sins, but sometimes it’s a question of babies and bathwater. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 12:52pm

Ron  Thanks I needed that

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 12:54pm

AKA   As usual, you and I are on the same page. I've got a lot going on in my life at the moment, and recently I did give serious thought to saying fuck-it to this outpost. But I operate on the James Clavell dictum "Nolo bastardum carborundum".

Comment by Tom Cordle on February 11, 2019 at 12:59pm

Kosh   Yes,  and to my way of thinking, Jefferson is a perfect example of how a good man can have some serious flaws. I think that old saw about letting the perfect get in the way of the good applies, as happened in the 2016 election, and thus did we end up with Orange Julius Caesar instead of Hillary. 

Comment by Ron Powell on February 11, 2019 at 1:42pm

"Jefferson is a perfect example of how a good man can have some serious flaws."

Or

"...How a flawed man can do some serious good...."

There is a school of historical thought that suggests that the authors and men who signed the Declaration of Independence were all drunk on beer and wine, high on hemp, and  suffering from sleep deprivation, including Jefferson.

Comment by koshersalaami on February 11, 2019 at 1:55pm

That would make a good case for increased use of hemp and beer

Comment by Ron Powell on February 11, 2019 at 2:19pm

Anyone who was "driven off this site" due to.the criticism of their flawed thinking and/or their expression of it, has neither the inclination, nor the courage, to "get it right"...

Those are the folks who sincerely believe(d) that they had/have it right and are/were threatened by challenges to their self-righteous views of themselves and their opinions.

The people who have the courage of their convictions and the strength to learn from open. honest, and candid discourse,  discussion, and debate are still here making a sincere effort to 'get it right'...

If your criteria for continuing as a viable and contributing member of this community had any validity at all, I should have been "driven off this site" long ago.

I don't believe that I have been in full and complete agreement with Tom on everything he has written here, but I admire and defend his willingness to take the 'incoming' on issues he believes in and will stand with him in that regard whenever the situation or circumstance call for me to do so...

What I'd like to know is, why do so many here feel it necessary to be popular in an echo chamber?

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