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Lot 25: Forrest, Nathan Bedford. Dramatic Civil War-date autograph letter signed ("N.B.F"), 3 pages
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
25. Forrest, Nathan Bedford. Dramatic Civil War-date autograph letter signed (“N.B.F”), 3 pages (12 x 7 7/8 in.; 305 x 200 mm.), 15 April 1865 - the day of his surrender to Union forces at Gainesville, Alabama, to his son, Lieutenant William M. Forrest; water staining and small splits to horizontal folds, mounting remnants on verso of third page.
The very same day of Abraham Lincoln’s death, Nathan Bedford Forrest, fearing reprisals for the President’s assassination, writes what he considers to be his last words of affection and advice to his only son.
At the time of this letter to his son, Forrest did not know whether he would be imprisoned or executed, having just been defeated by the Federal Cavalry. This coupled with Lincoln’s assassination left Forrest in great fear of what the immediate future held.
Forrest writes 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 your mother 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 unsuperable 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 N.B.F.
This letter constitutes an incomparable testament of Forrest’s most intimate sentiments toward his son as he faced an uncertain future.