Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Nathan Bedford Forrest and Treason Charges

In September 1864, a grand jury in Union held Memphis indicted a number of the town's men including Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The idictment read in part:
". . .that Nathan Bedford Forrest, late of the said district being an inhabitant of and resident within the United States of America and owing allegiance and fidelity to the said United States of America, well knowing the promise but not weighing it regarding the duty of his allegiance and fidelity . . . was a traitor . . . withdrew the allegiance and fidelity and obedience which every citizen of the United States of America ought to bear toward his Government . . . by conspiring, contriving and intending by all the means in his power to aid and assist . . . the said Confederate States of America by the prosecution of said rebellion, insurrection and war, to wit:

On April 21, 1864, and divers other days and times before as well as after that day at the county of Shelby within the jurisdiction of this court . . . wickedly devising and invading the peace and tranquility of the United States of America to disturb and to stir, move, excite, aid and assist in the rebellion . . . with force and arms unlawfully, falsely, maliciously, and traitorously did raise and levy war . . . and the said Nathan B. Forrest on August 21, 1864 at the County of Shelby with a great multitude of persons . . . [did] arm and arrange and appear in a war like manner, that is to say with guns, swords, pistols and other war like weapons . . . contrary to the form of the Statutes in such cases and against the peace and dignity of the United States of America." (Quoted from Brian Steel Wills, A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest)

Apparently, little came of this indictment at the time as the war was on. But, as the above writ of habeas corpus indicates, Forrest was again indicted for treason in September 1865 by Salmon Chase, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

In the spring of 1866 Forrest appeared before the Memphis court in regard to the 1864 indictment and posted a $10,000 bond. Although he prepared for the case and had to again post the bond amount the following fall, the trial never took place.

It appears, too, that the September 1865 treason charge went without arrest and trial. The U.S. marshal who was to arrest Forrest responded - probably wisely - that "Defendant not to be found in my district."

Although Forrest did not end up in a Memphis court for treason, he did end up in court in Coahoma County, Mississippi in 1866 for killing a freedman worker with an ax on his plantation after an argument arose apparently because the freedman was abusing his wife in the quarters. In October 1866, Forrest was acquitted of manslaughter by the court's jury.

Image courtesy of the National Archives.

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