Civil War-dated ALS signed “N. B. F.,” three pages on two adjoining sheets, 7.75 x 12, April 15, 1865. Written on the day of his surrender to Union forces at Gainesville, Alabama, a letter to his son, Lieutenant William M. Forrest, in full: "Loving you with all the affection which a fond father can bestow upon a dutiful son, I deem it my duty to give you a few words of advice. Life as you know at best is uncertain, and occupying the position I do it is exceedingly hazardous. I may fall at any time, or I may at no distant day be an exile in a foreign land, and I desire to address you a few words which I trust you will remember through life. You have heretofore been an obedient dutiful son, you have given your parents but little pain or trouble, and I hope you will strive to profit by using suggestions I may make.
I have had a full understanding with your mother as to our future operations in the event the enemy overruns this country. She will acquaint you with our plans and will look to you in the hour of trouble. Be to her a prop and support. She is worthy of all the love you bestow upon her. I know how devoted you are to her, but study her happiness above and beyond all things. Give her no cause for unhappiness. Try to emulate her noble virtues and to practice her blameless life. If I have been wicked and sinful myself, it would rejoice my heart to see you leading the Christian life which has adorned your mother’s. I have heard with pain and astonishment of your matrimonial engagement. My dear son, let me beg you to dismiss all such thoughts for the present. You are entirely too young to form an alliance of this sort and the young lady upon whom you seem disposed to lavish your affections is unworthy of you. There are insuperable objections to her, which I would name if I thought it necessary to induce you to change your mind. Take the advice of a father and abandon such all thought of marrying. You must wait until your character is formed and you are able to take a proper position in society. You will then be the better prepared to select a suitable partner. At the proper time you will have my consent to marry and my blessing upon the union.
What I must desire of you my son is never to gamble or swear. These are baneful vices and I trust you will never practice either. As I grow older I see the folly of these two vices and beg that you will never engage in them. Your life has heretofore been elevated and characterized to a high-toned morality, and I trust your name will never be stained by the practice of those vices which have blighted the prospects of some of the most promising youth of our country. Be honest, be truthful, in all your dealings with the world. Be cautious in the selection of your friends. Shun the society of the low and vulgar. Strive to elevate your character and to take a high and honorable position in society. You are my only child, the pride and hope of my life. You have fine intellect, talent of the highest order. I have watched your entrance upon the threshold of manhood and life with all the admiration of a proud father, and I trust your future career will be an honor to yourself and a solace to my declining years. If we meet no more on earth I hope you will keep this letter prominently before you and remember it as coming from Your affectionate father.” In very good condition, with scattered dampstaining (not affecting readability), and old mounting remnants on the reverse of the final page. Accompanied by a custom-made presentation folder.
Almost exactly a year after his involvement at the massacre of Fort Pillow, Lieutenant General Forrest and his cavalry corps were defeated by General James H. Wilson at the Battle of Selma on April 2, 1865. Forrest managed to escape the surrender, but a Union victory so deep into southern Alabama presaged the inevitable downfall of the Confederate army. A week later, General Robert E. Lee yielded to U. S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, signaling the end of the Civil War. Incapable of knowing at the time, Forrest wrote this heartfelt letter on the very day President Abraham Lincoln succumbed to an assassin’s bullet. Uncertain of his immediate future, Forrest offers his son William, his aide-de-camp since the war’s beginning, guidance for a world without him. Three weeks later, on May 9th in Gainesville, Forrest offered his official surrender. Due to the Union’s refusal to prosecute Confederate soldiers, Forrest’s fear of losing his only son was soon extinguished. The two were reunited and Forrest sent William to study law at the University of Mississippi under the tutelage of L. Q. C. Lamar. Seeking inspiration, William left law practice and traveled west to drive a stagecoach and run a ranch, later returning to Memphis to successfully own a company that built railroads and levees. Dating to one of the most significant months in American history, this is an absolutely magnificent letter from father to son, written by a man many historians consider to be the Civil War’s greatest tactician.
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