Man's great-grandfather rode with Forrest
By SCOTT BRODEN
Ray Goad is glad to tell the true history — not myths — about how
his great-grandfather rode with Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The 79-year-old Goad has read many books about Forrest and has followed stories
on the recent controversy about whether the university should continue using
the Civil War cavalry leader's name on the Army ROTC building at MTSU.
"I have seen what I think are extremes on both sides of this question,"
Goad said. "I don't deify Nathan Bedford Forrest because my great-grandfather
rode with him. But on the other hand, I think when you try to eliminate history
or revise history, that's not right either."
Goad was 5 when his great-grandfather, Elijah Hanks Watson, died in 1932.
"He and I were great buddies," Goad recalled. "The earliest
recollections I have are going out in the springtime with him, and we'd go hunker
down against the house in the sunshine just sitting there soaking up the sun.
I remember the night that he died. It tore me up."
Goad was not old enough then to absorb any of his great-grandfather's stories
about the war. He learned this years later from his grandmother, Rosetta Watson
Haywood; his older sister, Lucille Goad Kerr; and his uncle, Earl Haywood.
"One of the tales that my great-grandfather passed down was they would
ride sometimes just for days on end without stopping to sleep," Goad said.
"And he recalled this one campaign when they were riding along mountain
trails in single file, and they would fall asleep in their saddle and fall off
the horse, and they'd run back to the horse to get back up."
That description matches a route that Forrest traveled when he was on the trail
of Union troops through mountainous terrain from North Mississippi all the way
to Georgia before capturing the enemy, said Goad, who's confident that his great-grandfather
must have been part of that pursuit.
"That's the only campaign where it would fit," Goad said.
His great-grandfather, though, did not ride with Forrest in the early part
of the war, such as when the general captured Murfreesboro from Union control
July 13, 1862.
Goad has researched state archives about his great-grandfather and learned
how Watson appeared in court after the war to verify that another Confederate
veteran had served for the Maury (County) Light Artillery. That unit early in
the war was stationed at Fort Donelson near Dover, Tenn., and it faced a siege
by Union troops led by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
The fort's commander agreed to surrender, but Forrest refused to comply and
led his cavalry and others through high water to flee from Grant's superior-sized
"A lot of troops in Fort Donelson didn't want to surrender either, so
they followed Forrest along with his regular cavalry," Goad said. "My
great-grandfather was one of those who followed Forrest out of there on foot."
Goad concluded his great-grandfather must have joined the Forrest cavalry after
escaping Fort Donelson.
Records do suggest that Forrest inspired troops beyond his own cavalry to escape
from the larger Union force, said Derek Frisby, an MTSU Tennessee and U.S. history
Part of what made Forrest a legend with many men was that he'd disregard what
the generals were telling him to do when they were outnumbered.
"Forrest was smart enough to know when to retreat and when to press the
issue," said Kirby, noting that Forrest continued to fight several weeks
after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee chose to end the war by surrendering in
Although Forrest often retreated before larger Union forces could capture his
cavalry, he was also known for bluffing the Northern officers into thinking
his forces were larger than they were.
"Forrest was really good at that," Goad said.
In addition to deceiving the enemy on the battlefield, the general was also
known for winning battles by getting to key locations first with the most men.
Forrest's influence as a military leader should be appreciated but not exaggerated,
"It's kind of hard to know what truth is when you're looking back that
far," said Goad, who's concerned about how writers and others sometimes
can be unethical in how they present history to increase book sales. "I
think in a lot of cases like this we don't need to be nit-picking things that
divide us as a society. People get up in arms over the silliest things."
Some still resent what happened, yet the Civil War ended as it should have,
"I think slavery is, was and always will be wrong," Goad said. "It's
wrong to own another human being. I think my great-grandfather believed that.
I don't know why he fought in the war. A lot of young men fight in wars that
they didn't understand."
Goad hopes MTSU students and others will come together to better understand
"If we let history divide us, we are not learning from history,"
Goad said. "This country has been divided many times in the past, and not
just in the Civil War. If we don't learn from that, we are really going backwards
instead of forward. We need to remain focused on trying to make this society
better for everybody."
Copyright ©2006 The Daily News Journal.
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