Lastest With the Leastest

Since Professor Wills has a way of relating episodes that transforms the dramatic into the soporific and turns the concrete into the abstract, this first biography of Forrest to be written since 1944 is probably the last that anyone should read. An unrelenting tendentiousness warps his interpretation of even the most transparent matters, so that the essential simplicity of Forrest escapes the attention of the historian, as does the tragic conflict of the Civil War.

Professor Wills' way of interpreting action is more likely to cause this volume to be slammed shut than to be scanned. The mini-tale of the captured Captain S. L. Freeman on page 108 is a salient example: "Following a brief struggle, the Confederates succeeded in recapturing their artillery pieces, but failed to liberate Captain Freeman. Their failure cost him his life. As he ran along in the hands of his captors, they apparently did not believe that he was running fast enough, as one of the Union cavalrymen shot him through the head and rode away." Thus the murder of Captain Sam Freeman is blamed on the Southerners who couldn't extricate him from federal hands and not on the Yankee who pulled the trigger. Such a logic would produce some striking results, if universally applied.

But here such a logic is mostly restricted to the interpretation of the mind, motives, and actions of Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom even Sherman called "the most...

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