Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption

I read Doug Kutilek’s review of what appears to be a wonderful little book. It tells the story of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Christian conversion and his renunciation of his racist views around a decade after the war and a few years before his death. The following review is taken from Doug’s occasional email newsletter, “As I See It,” volume 18, number 8 for October to December. Thought I would share with the readers.

forrestNathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption by Shane E. Kastler. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2010. 176 pp., hardback.

Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877), the legendary Confederate cavalry officer in the American Civil War who was the terror of Union armies for four years, has been the subject of numerous biographies and studies. We reviewed one of the more famous accounts, that by Robert Selph Henry, “First with the Most” Forrest, in the very first issue of As I See It 1:1. We followed this up with an article in As I See It 3:6, “The Conversion of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, CSA,” about Forrest’s embracing Christianity late in life, a thing mentioned only in passing in most Forrest biographies, with few or no details.

This present biography of Forrest, while tracing his life in a well-written and succinct account admittedly dependent on other earlier accounts, does so with an eye constantly on the influences that ultimately led to Forrest’s life-transforming conversion in late 1875. It could be properly sub-titled “A spiritual pilgrimage from profane sinner to humble saint.”

Forrest’s mother and his wife were lifelong devout Christians, and always prayed regularly and fervently for Forrest’s conversion (and protection during the war—a multitude of such prayers were definitely answered). While he respected their faith, he long felt that religion was only for women. During the war, numerous pastors and preachers served in Forrest’s command and regularly preached and taught the Bible in camp, often with Forrest in attendance. Near the end of the war, Forrest wrote a letter to his soldier son, urging him to NOT follow his own sinful ways (though he neither used tobacco nor drank alcohol nor was ever unfaithful to his wife, Forrest was an inveterate gambler, was known for his volcanic temper, and his profane language—except in the presence of women).

After the war, through a series of financial failures (in stark contrast to his consistent ante bellum business successes), Forrest was brought to the end of himself. He encountered one of his former soldiers who had been converted to Christ with a clear change for the better of the man, and began regularly attending church with his wife. After a sermon by the pastor on the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:24-27, the parable of the two builders, Forrest clearly saw himself as a man who had built his life on the sand, as a sinner facing eternal personal calamity. Confiding these things to the pastor, the pastor urged him to go home, and read through Psalm 51, one of David’s Psalms of repentance and confession of sin. At their meeting the next day, Forrest confessed that he had trusted Christ as savior and was at peace with God.

Though he lived less than two years after that event, he was clearly a different man. Among other things, he spoke briefly at a banquet given in his honor by some of the black populace of Memphis. In his remarks, he spoke of his desire to see the blacks attain success in life and the full exercise of their rights. Among other things, he said:

Many things have been said about me which are wrong, and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.

When presented with a bouquet of flowers by a black girl, he stooped and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Were this incident widely known, Forrest would be a symbol of reconciliation between the races, rather than there being demands by the uninformed calling for the removal of a statue in his honor from a Memphis park.

Forrest is a prime example that there are no hard cases with God, that no one living, no matter his age or the depths of his sin and corruption, is beyond the reach of God’s saving and forgiving grace (or the prayers of believers), if he will humble his heart, assume full responsibility for his sins and seek God’s mercy. I am sure that Forrest would confess, in the words of Paul, “This is a true statement worthy of complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”

The author Shane Kastler is a Southern Baptist pastor, currently serving a church in Louisiana. His research is thorough, his writing readable, and his documentation and bibliography adequate.

Doug Kutilek

2 thoughts on “Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Having just finished an audio book biography of Stonewall Jackson that refer to his faith and life, this is amazing to hear of Forrests’ conversion and change of views.

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