Bedford Forrest on Duty & Honor

Worrying about Recalcitrant Southerners After the War and the Advice of General Bedford Forrest to His Men on Duty and Honor – May, 1865

The Civil War ended quickly with only six weeks separating Lee’s surrender and the Union’s President proclaiming the end of the war. Many Union politicians and military leaders worried that small groups of rebels would take to the woods or hills in armed resistance against the peace. After Union General William T. Sherman was forced to revise his more generous terms of surrender to Confederate General Joseph Johnston, to comply with the terms concluded between Lee and Grant, he bitterly wrote: “Now . . . instead of dealing with six or seven States, we will have to deal with numberless bands of desperadoes, headed by such men as Mosby, Forrest. . . and others, who know not and care not for danger and its consequences.”

In these fears, they miscalculated the leadership for peace that was forthcoming from numerous Southern political and military men including Bedford Forrest. In his farewell circular to his men, dated 9 May 1865, he stated, in part:

‘Soldiers:. . . . The cause for which you have so long and manfully struggled, and for which you have braved dangers, endured privations and sufferings, and made so many sacrifices, is today hopeless. . . . Reason dictates and humanity demands that no more blood be shed. . . . It is your duty and mine to lay down our arms, submit to the ‘powers that be,’ and to aid in restoring peace and establishing law and order throughout the land. The terms upon which you were surrendered. . . manifest a spirit of magnamity and liberality on the part of the Federal authorities which should be met on our part by a faithful compliance with all the stipulations and conditions therein expressed. . . .

Civil War, such as you have just passed through, naturally engenders feelings of animosity, hatred and revenge. It is our duty to divest ourselves of all such feelings, and, so far as it is in our power to do so, to cultivate friendly feelings towards those with whom we have so long contested and heretofore so widely but honestly differed. . . You have been good soldiers, you can be good citizens. Obey the laws, preserve your honor, and the government to which you have surrendered can afford to be and will be magnamimous.’

[Source: as quoted in R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, THE COMPACT HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR [New York: Warner Books, Inc., c. 1960, 5th edition 1993]: 458 – 59.]

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