Way back in the year 2000, when
William Vodrey was President of our Roundtable, Shelby Foote was our
big name speaker. You can argue that Ed Bearss or Bruce Catton are
bigger name Cleveland CWRT speakers but Shelby Foote was by far the
Foote repeated frequently was that the American Civil War produced
two geniuses: Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lincoln
has stood the test of time but Forrest made one serious error,
effecting the outcome of the Civil War, which has been ignored by
This summer I visited Fort Pillow,
Tennessee. Fort Pillow is located 50 miles north of Memphis. The
Fort was on the Mississippi River. The river has now moved two miles
The Fort itself was built as an
outer defense for Memphis but when Island #10 in the Mississippi
River was taken by Union Forces the fort was abandoned by the
No important Civil War battles were
fought at Fort Pillow. History treats the attack on the Fort by
Nathan Bedford Forrest on April 12, 1864 as a racial act. There was
no military reason for the attack and later Forrest founded the Ku
Klux Klan after the war this conclusion seems to fit. History missed
that the Fort Pillow attack was important to the outcome of the
Look at the map of Tennessee, it
shows Forrest at the western end of Tennessee when a critical Civil
War event was happening in eastern Tennessee. Forest attacked Ft.
Pillow on April 12, 1864. Three weeks later William T. Sherman left
Chattanooga for Atlanta. Reading Sherman’s autobiography will tell
you that Sherman was very worried all during the Atlanta Campaign
about Forrest cutting his single railroad supply line.
Sherman need not have worried as
Forrest was at the other end of the State. Forrest had no military
reason to attack Fort Pillow. Despite the ferocity of the attack,
Fort Pillow was of little significance to the Confederate Army.
Nathan Bedford Forrest's troops abandoned it within hours of the
massacre. Letters at the Fort from his friends back in Memphis asked
Forrest, to teach the black troops at Fort Pillow a lesson.
He did have a very important
military reason to attack Sherman on his way to Atlanta. William T.
Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864. Historians have said
the capture of Atlanta was the number one that reason Abraham
Lincoln was reelected in the November of 1864. The reelection of
Lincoln ended any Southern hope for a negotiated settlement of the
In mid-November, after Lincoln’s
reelection, Sherman started his famous March to the Sea and captured
Savannah. In January of 1865, Sherman’s Army moved north from
Savannah. First he forced the Confederates to abandon Charleston. He
then captured both capitals of South and North Carolina.
April 1, 1865, Sherman’s now in
North Carolina near the Virginia State border. He had a reinforced
army of 90,000 men. He executed a plan devised between him and
General Ulysses S. Grant. He was preparing to march north and trap
Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia now in Petersburg and
Richmond. Between both Union Armies, Robert E. Lee saw he was about
to be caught in a vise and marched west. Ten days later Lee
surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. The American Civil
War was effectively over.
Sorry Shelby Foote, Nathan Bedford
Forrest, who used his army for personal reasons when The South
needed him at a critical time in the Civil War, cannot be called a