Nathan Bedford Forrest

Character Key Number: 
320
Display Name: 
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Sort Name: 
Forrest, Nathan Bedford
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 
Yes
Biography: 

Historically, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a slave dealer before the Civil War, one of the Confederacy's most successful cavalry officers during the war, and a founder of the Ku Klux Klan after the war. Although the KKK appears in several fictions (for example, Absalom! and The Mansion), none of the eleven fictions that mention Forrest connect him with it, or make any reference to his actions after the war. The majority of them locate Forrest in the context of his role as a military thorn in the side of the Union forces in the war's western theater - not surprisingly, since much of the fighting he directed took place very close to the part of Mississippi where Yoknapatawpha is supposed to be. John Sartoris' troop of irregulars, for example, serves under his command, at least indirectly, in Flags in the Dust, the Unvanquished stories, and Requiem for a Nun. When Charles Bon is buried in Absalom!, Theophilus McCaslin cheers "Yaaaa, Forrest!" (122). The narrator of "Shall Not Perish" notes that his great-grandfather would holler "Forrest," among other names, while dozing "in his chair under the mulberry in the yard or on the sunny end of the front gallery or in his corner by the hearth" (112). Forrest's name also lurks in names of two Gowrie's in Intruder in the Dust and on the (probably counterfeit) authorization papers that the outlaw Grumby carries, and it occupies second billing in the title Faulkner gave the short story "My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek." In that story Forrest appears in person, "a big, dusty man with a beard so black it looked almost blue and eyes like a sleepy owl," playing the improbable role of assistant match-maker (691). That story alludes to his life before the war in Memphis, but does not mention slaves. In Go Down, Moses, however, the plantation ledgers that Ike McCaslin reads record, in Ike's uncle's hand, that one of the slaves his family owned was "bought from N.B. Forest at Cold Water 3 Mar 1856 $265. dolars" (250). Since Faulkner's time "Nathan Bedford Forrest" has become for many an admonitory figure, but in the Yoknapatawpha fictions as a whole he sits on a pedestal among the heroes of the Confederacy.