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The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest (The American Crisis Series: Books on the Civil War Era) Hardcover – December 28, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: The American Crisis Series: Books on the Civil War Era (Book 16)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.; 1ST edition (December 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0742543005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0742543003
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,119,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Journalism professors Ashdown and Caudill, authors of The Mosby Myth, give an even-handed account of the life of the controversial Confederate cavalry leader, but the focus of this engaging monograph, the latest in The American Crisis Series of Civil War-era studies, is more on the legend than the facts. Lost Cause apologists, they find, have celebrated Forrest as an untutored military genius and backwoods avatar of Southern chivalry, while Northern detractors and African-Americans view him as the epitome of brutal Southern racism, noting his pre-war slave trading, the Fort Pillow massacre of black Union prisoners by troops under his command and his post-war involvement in the Ku Klux Klan. To Agrarian intellectuals he was an "idealized yeoman farmer" championing an organic ante-bellum society against the soulless industrialism of the North, a guise that could make him either "the Southern equivalent of a fascist Aryan Superman leading a rebellion of the volk" or an insurgent against the centralizing fascist state. To writers like Faulkner he embodied a cherished but defeated and compromised Southern honor. In contemporary terms, he has become both an emblem of defiant Southern machismo, eclipsing the aristocratic Robert E. Lee himself, and the namesake of Forrest Gump, America's favorite historical naïf. Delving into newspaper reports, obituaries, biographies, fiction, cinema, monuments, children's books and comic books, the authors offer a sophisticated but accessible reading of the transformations of Forrest's life into myth. If they find his character too protean to yield a stable interpretation, theirs is nonetheless a fascinating survey of the shifting cultural meanings of the Civil War. 26 b&w illustrations and maps.
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This book is a fascinating compilation of material that focuses on Forrest and the mythology engendered by this controversial man. . . . The authors have contributed a solidly-researched volume to the existing literature on Forrest that helps explain the general's status as an icon of the white South. (Civil War News)

The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest is a provocative examination of the Confederate cavalryman's powerful and controversial legacy. Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill demonstrate that the Forrest Myth is alive and well and is liable to be so for many years to come. (Brian Steel Wills, University of Virginia's College at Wise)

This valuable book reveals the complexities and variations of the conflicting interpretations of the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest. With a great deal of new information and fresh insight, the authors demonstrate why, for many, Forrest is a symbol of Southern pride, courage, and untutored military genius, and for others, he is the butcher of Fort Pillow and founder of the Klan. (James Ramage, Northern Kentucky University, author of Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan)

Unlike some Civil War generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest, the 'Wizard of the Saddle,' did not need to foster the creation of his own myth; he simply rode through the war in the West like a hurricane. Ashdown and Caudill narrate his life at breakneck speed, then take us step by step through the process by which the fascinated public turned the man into myth. We needed this book. And here it is. (David Madden, Louisiana State University, author of Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War)

This wide-ranging interpretive work—which draws on the disciplines of history, journalism, American studies, and literature—is the first of its kind to deal with Forrest. (Library Journal)

This book-length analysis will generate passions on both sides of the Forrest image. (James I. Robertson Jr. Roanoke Times and World News)

The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest is a critical analysis of the popularity of the Tennessee cavalry men. . . . It's essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil War. (Greg Langley The Advocate)

The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest presents a good, if not in fact comprehensive, accounting of Forrest's various reincarnations as a mythical figure in American culture for nearly a century and a half. The authors' compilation of the general's assorted roles as a literary character is quite impressive. (Harry S. Laver, Southeastern Louisiana University H-War)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mary A. on September 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Let me see if I can clear up some of the misinformation floating around about this book:

1. This book is not, nor does it claim to be a history of Nathan Bedford Forrest. It is an always-compelling, often-convincing retelling of the emergence of an American myth. The authors are at places concerned with "facts" and "truths," but more to the point they focus on how something seemingly as concrete as "fact" or "truth" morphs into mythology. In this quest, they've chosen their subject well, as hardly a figure in American culture lends itself so favorably to such an effort.

2. The authors use well-known literary devices to draw out their subject. They do not call Forrest a comic book character but use the analogy to illustrate a point. They do not liken him to Forrest Gump but merely note the power of NBF's legacy, a legacy so enduring that many a Southern lad has been named "Forrest" in tribute.

3. There is no "bias" against Forrest in this book, nor is there a "bias" for him. For many Southerners, this is a cardinal sin in and of itself. An earlier review claimed the book is full of "manufactured lies." To the contrary, Ashdown and Cawdill are deft in their handling of "facts." They are careful to note where historic information on Forrest is conflicting and describe how this disparity is used to feed competing myths. But, full of lies? Such a claim should always be accompanied by direct quotes from the book.

4. The first-half of the book is indeed the better half, as the second part seems rushed and largely superfluous. Forrest's fame and infamy prevail. We hardly need a laundry list of books and movies to confirm this fact.

Anyone who comes to this book with an agenda - to either praise or bury Forrest - is likely to be disappointed and possibly even incensed when they find nothing to feed their zeal. Objective readers, however, will be well-rewarded.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Hufford on June 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
We all know that some fictional characters become "real"...James Bond...Sherlock Holmes...heck, you'll never convince me that Nero Wolfe isn't real, and that if I go to 918 West 35th. Street, I won't find him. Conversely, sometimes real people, who lived real lives, become so shrouded in myth and legend that they become "fictional"...Houdini...Babe Ruth...Patrick Henry [a Nurse once engaged me in a hot arguement about him; I never did convince her]... Nathan Bedford Forrest......

This book is an attempt to show him in both aspects. This is NOT a biography of the greatest Cavalry officer who ever lived, and doesn't pretend to be. There is a good, basic, sketch of the high points, and that's sufficient here. Forrest was well and truly real, but a lot of myths have grown up around him. A good portion of those are addressed. For example, the stories of his semiliterate English are exaggerated. Unlike Yogi, he really said the things he said, but not nearly as badly as we've been led to believe. Several novels have used him as a fictional character, but, interestingly, he's never made it to the silver screen. [the portrayl in "Birth of a Nation" is so far off as not to count].

The Civil War continues to generate passions; many of us think if its personages as a living presence. Nathan Bedford Forrest remains controversial, and real, to this day. If you want a full biography, there are several good ones. If you want to look at some aspects of his life that you hadn't thought of before, this volume is a good place to start.
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2 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Cajun fan on November 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is culled from old newspaper clippings. Early American
journalism was very biased and short on research. Garbage in, garbage out. The really good books on Forrest include Wyeth's outstanding That Devil Forrest and Morton's book about Forrest's Artillery. Morton was his chief of Artillery and later served as Tennessee's Secretary of State.
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11 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bomojaz on February 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Let me attempt to tell you something about this book without trying to make it yet another episode in the continuing (after 140 years) saga of the Civil War, which, obviously, in some minds (the world's bloodiest battlefields by far) still rages as ferociously today as it did, say, on a hillside outside a once-peaceful little town in Pennsylvania on a warm July afternoon in 1863.

The book tries to explain how Nathan Bedford Forrest, the man and some of his exploits, became mythologized by various forces (newspaper accounts, biographies, personal reminiscences, popular histories, novels, and movies) down through the years[...]

The first half of the book is by far the best. Where the first half looks carefully at how Southerners and Northerners both looked at Forrest and took from his life-story what best suited them (the South: his fearless personal bravery, his victories in battle, his backwoods reputation and man-of-action personality, his defense for the Lost Cause; the North: his racial butchery at Ft. Pillow, his hate-filled association with the KKK, his guerrilla warfare tactics rather than the "manly, honest" standard tactics practiced by the "better" generals), the second half becomes just a cursory summary of all the books and movies that featured Forrest as a main character.

It's obvious that Forrest still has the ability to touch nerves in this country, especially in the South. The authors attribute Sherman as saying there would never be peace in Tennessee until Forrest was dead; maybe there's still some truth to that.
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