Friday morning at the SCV Reunion in Murfreesboro began with the annual Forrest Cavalry breakfast. Very appropriate as this was the 13th of July, Forrest's birthday. Commander Wyatt Willis welcomed the large crowd gathered, more than 70 in attendance. Adjutant Jim Barr encouraged everyone to check the website and to purchase a button as the Cavalry's fundraiser. He indicated the Cavalry had just over $2000 in funds prior to this conventions breakfast meeting.
Commander Willis introduced the guest speaker Shane Kastler, pastor at Heritage Baptist Church in Lake Charles LA and author of Nathan Bedford Forrest's Redemption. He authors the Narrow Road blog and is an NRA and SCV member. Shane was accompanied by his wife and three children.
Pastor Kastler opened by wishing Gen. Forrest a happy birthday but expressed greater happiness that Forrest was born again. Despite his nickname as That Devil Forrest, he was an honorable God fearing man. He got that nickname from Union General Sherman who communicated to his chain of command, "We must kill that devil Forrest even if it costs 10000 men and bankrupts the federal treasury."
Forrest was raised my a Christian mother and taught the Bible from an early age. His father passed away when Forrest was 16 and he became the head of the household, raising his siblings and tending the family farm. When Forrest's mother remarried, he left his childhood home.
Mary Anne Montgomery would become his wife. They met when her carriage became stuck and Forrest happened upon her and her mother. He carried them to dry land and requested permission to court Mary Anne. He soon asked for her hand in marriage. Mary Anne's father was a Presbyterian minister and was initially opposed to the nuptials as Forrest, although respected as a businessman, was known to be profane and was not a Christian. Nonetheless, over time the marriage was blessed.
Mary Anne would attend church every Sunday alone but she would encourage Bedford and was a good witness for him. Forrest was hard working, faithful and never drank liquor. He was courteous to women and forbid coarse language in the presence of women in his camps and was similarly respectful towards religion.
Forrest was the only soldier in the WBTS to go from Private to Lt. General. He enlisted soon after the War started and religion became a big part of his camps. His Chaplain David Kelly was encouraged to preach in camp and Forrest would attend.
Forrest captured a Union Chaplain once and had him brought to his quarters for dinner and requested he say the blessing. Afterward, Forrest released him saying, "I would keep you to preach to the men if you weren't so needed on the other side to preach to those sinners."
Another example of the Christian influence on Forrest was his meeting with 90 year old James Largans during the War. He and his troops spent a night on Mr. Largans farm and the next morning he asked Forrest to walk with him and asked if he could pray for him. After his prayer for Forrest and the Cause, he visibly cried. Nonetheless, his Chaplain Kelley described Forrest as respectful of religion but not a partaker.
After the War, Forrest wrote a letter to his son William beseeching him to pursue work with chaplains, to follow the example of his mother as a Christian gentleman and avoid vices.
After the War, Forrest was broke and although he was a successful businessman before the WBTS and funded the raising and outfitting of his cavalry, he was physically worn out, humbled by the War and his business ventures including the railroad and banking failed.
In November of 1875 after a sermon of Matthew 7:24-27 at his church, Forrest approached his preacher, Reverend George Stainback with tears, leaning against the wall, likening himself to the fool who built his house upon the sand, confessing to be a sinner. Imagine Mary Anne's excitement when Forrest had changed and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, regenerated and born again as Jesus taught.
Rev. Stainback was concerned that this could just be an emotional feeling and display and a reaction to the sermon so he sent him home with instructions to read Psalm 51 and promised he would visit him in a week. This is the story of Bathsheba saying, "Cleanse me. Blot out my iniquities. Create in me a new heart." A week later, Forrest was just as zealous when Stainback came to visit - a true conversion.
From that point on, Forrest exhibited Christian fruits. His old soldiers who visited him marveled at his changed countenance, his meek spirit. The fierceness was gone. Forrest said he was not the same man. He was born again and was baptized.
Jefferson Davis visited Forrest in his last days. Rev. Stainback visited him near death. Forrest said, "I have an indescribable peace. Not a cloud intervenes between me and my Saviour." On October 29, 1877, at death, Forrest said, "Call my wife" and That Devil Forrest entered heaven.