History Podcasts

#45: Nathan Bedford Forrest: Racist KKK Founder or Misunderstood Military Genius?-Sandy Mitcham

#45: Nathan Bedford Forrest: Racist KKK Founder or Misunderstood Military Genius?-Sandy Mitcham

Few historical figures are as infamous as Nathan Bedford Forrest. If he is remembered at all today it is for being the founder of the Ku Klux Klan in the wake of the Civil War. Many of us learned this “fact” from the opening scenes of Forrest Gump, in which our protagonist describes his namesake as

“dressing up in they robes and they bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something… momma said the forrest part is to remind me that we all do things that… well… just don't make no sense”

But the life of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is far more complicated. Our guest, Sandy Mitcham, has written a book on the Civil War general called Bust Hell Wide Open that delves into his legacy. At fourteen he became the head of his impoverished family, responsible for feeding eleven on the rough American frontier. By thirty-nine he had established himself as a successful plantation owner worth over $1 million. And at forty years old, Nathan Bedford Forrest enlisted in a Tennessee cavalry regiment-and became a controversial Civil War legend. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname The Wizard of the Saddle There is even a widespread belief that Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox” of World War II fame, came to America before the war to study Confederate cavalry tactics, especially those of Forrest.

The legacy of General Nathan Bedford Forrest is deeply divisive. Best known for being accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow and for his role as first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan-an organization he later denounced-Forrest has often been studied as a military genius but never before investigated as a fascinating individual who wrestled with the complex issues of his violent times. Bust Hell Wide Open is a comprehensive portrait of Nathan Bedford Forrest as a man: his achievements, failings, reflections, and regrets.

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest

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