Changes in the Public Perception of Nathan Bedford Forrest

Describes some of the events that have led to changes in the public perception of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a notorious general from the Civil War.

The life and career of Nathan Bedford Forrest has long been revered by many past and present citizens of the Southern United States. As a Confederate general who led several key battles in the Western theater, his role during the Civil War was quite significant, and he gained much attention and praise for his contributions to the Southern cause. However, during and after the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s, Forrest’s name was removed from the buildings of schools and government buildings in the South; many citizens of Southern cities felt that monuments erected in his honor encouraged racist attitudes in the South. This paper examines some of the changes that have taken place with regard to the written history of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, as well as that of the Civil War in general.
Much of the celebration during the ceremony, however, made racism an unexpressed component of Forrest’s image. The renewed praise of Forrest by southern whites at the turn of the century coincided with a widespread revival of Confederate commemorations throughout the South. Popularly known as the Lost Cause, the new Confederate myth encouraged a memory of personal sacrifice and a model of social order that met the needs of a society experiencing rapid change and disorder (Foster 6). This commemoration of Forrest fit well within the realm of ideas and attitudes that made up the Lost Cause (Bailey 511-513).