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They may happen once in a lifetime or not at all. They’re God stories, moments of clarity — those occasions when an individual experiences a profound spiritual change. And suddenly, a long-held, deeply ingrained attitude or behavior vanishes and nothing is the same again.
Last month, writer David Cloud shared several anecdotes from Forrest’s early life that demonstrate the extremity of his personality.
Confederate Army Gen. Nathaniel Bedford Forrest, who earned the nickname “The Wizard of the Saddle” for his aggressive — and highly effective — exploits on the battlefield, and subsequently served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, underwent such a fundamental transformation.
When his deeply religious mother, whom he loved, was attacked by a cougar, “he got his gun and his hunting dogs, tracked down the beast, treed it, killed it, and cut off its ears to present to his mother as a trophy of revenge,” Cloud wrote in a heavily researched piece for Way of Life Literature, which publishes Bible Study material.
By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, Forrest had already become one of Tennessee’s richest men. He had earned his fortune through various business ventures, including the ownership of two cotton plantations and a thriving slave trading business.
Forrest “killed 31 men during the war in hand-to-hand combat, had 30 horses shot out from under him, and was wounded four times. In one engagement, he fought four men at once and managed to escape. His brilliant tactics enabled him to defeat the larger Union forces repeatedly. General William Tecumseh Sherman named him ‘that devil Forrest’ and called for his death ‘even if it takes 10,000 men and bankrupts the Federal treasury.’
Although “the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was formed in 1865 … it didn’t prosper until 1867” when it Forrest became its leader.
The KKK, presided over by its new grand wizard, was very active during the 1868 presidential election, and was ultimately responsible for many political assassinations.
“During the election campaign of 1868, there were 336 murders or attempted murders of blacks in Georgia alone to suppress Republican voting,” Cloud wrote.
“Forrest left the KKK … and tried unsuccessfully to disband it,” Cloud wrote.
However, it would still be another six years before he would accept Jesus Christ.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock,” Jesus says in the passage.
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
In a paper titled “When the Devil Got Saved: The Christian Conversion of Nathan Bedford Forrest,” (a summary of his long-form biography titled “Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption”), biographer Shane Kaster wrote that following the sermon, Forrest spoke to the pastor.
He reportedly said: “Sir, your sermon has removed the last prop from under me. I am the fool that built on the sand; I am a poor miserable sinner.”
The pastor “told Forrest to go home and read and meditate on Psalm 51 and see where it led him,” Kaster wrote.
Psalm 51:1-3, reads: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.”
Shortly after his conversion, Forrest spoke before the Pole-Bearers Association, a black civil rights group.
“I came to meet you as friends, and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us,” he reportedly said. “When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment.”
“Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly, and when you are oppressed I’ll come to your relief. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for this opportunity you have afforded me to be with you, and to assure you that I am with you in heart and in hand.”
Following his speech, a young black girl reportedly presented him with a bouquet of flowers, and he responded by kissing her on the cheek.
Two years later, Forrest died at the age of 56, a changed man.
As Forrest lay dying, he reportedly told loved ones there was “not a cloud that separated him from his beloved Heavenly Father.”
This story demonstrates the power of Jesus to transform lives.
Skeptics may scoff at the notion that a divine power can intervene in an individual’s life and bring such radical change, but it is real. I have witnessed it.
And the good news is that anyone can tap this power. All we need to do is ask and believe.