"I got there first with the most men." (Nathan Bedford Forrest)
Despite the fact that the Civil War was fought nearly 150 years ago, it remains a polarizing topic for the country to this day. And nowhere is this more evident than in the life and legacy of Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the war's most controversial soldier.
When the war broke out, Forrest enlisted in the army and was instructed to raise a battalion of cavalry. A self-made man with no formal military training, Forrest spent the entire war fighting in the Western theater, becoming the only individual in the war to rise from the rank of private to lieutenant general. By the end of the war, Forrest was known throughout the South as the "Wizard of the Saddle", and anecdotes of his prowess in battle were legendary. In addition to being injured multiple times in battle, Forrest has been credited with having killed 30 Union soldiers in combat and having 29 horses shot out from under him.
History has properly accorded Forrest his place as one of the most courageous soldiers of the Civil War, and he attained a number of command successes in the Western theater of the war. But Forrest was also at the head of Confederate troops accused of massacring a Union garrison comprised mostly of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, and he was also a prominent slave trader, an overt racist, and likely a leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. When he died in 1877, in part due to various war wounds, he was the nation's most notorious unreconstructed rebel. John E. Stanchack, an editor of the Civil War Times Illustrated, aptly noted in 1993, "Everything...about [Forrest] is bent to fit some political or intellectual agenda."