A Cult within a Cult (Note: This is Not a Review of “A Rebel Born”)

By Colin Woodward

The other day in Barnes and Noble, I came across a book called A Rebel Born: A Defense of Nathan Bedford Forrest by Lochlainn Seabrook (Sea Raven Press, 2010). The book, which weighs in at a hefty 800 pages, contains, shall we say, a spirited defense of the famous Tennessee cavalryman, who before the war was a millionaire slaveholder. After the war, Forrest became a prominent leader of the Ku Klux Klan, which then was a far more violent an organization than it is today.

While I’m not planning on reading the book (though, if anyone wants to send me one, I’d happily review it), I did mention it to a friend who is working on a project on Forrest’s place in Civil War historiography. Unfortunately for the author, I didn’t purchase A Rebel Born. Yet, it stuck out as a good representation of one of the many genres within Civil War studies: the non-academic pro-Confederate tome. If the Civil War enthusiast is something of a cult member, then neo-Confederate diatribe makes up something of a cult within a cult.

As is sometimes the case in the cult of the Confederate apologist, one writer will publish several books on the subject, such as the case with Walter Kennedy, who has penned The South Was Right!, Red Republicans and Lincoln’s Marxists, Was Jefferson Davis Right?, and Myths about American Slavery (the latter which contains the phrase “War of Northern Aggression” in its second sentence). Upon picking up Seabrook’s book, I had never heard of Sea Raven Press. When I googled it, though, I quickly learned that it is the vanity press of prolific author Lochlainn Seabrook, who has published not only many works about the Civil War, but also Christianity, the Celts, prostitution, ghosts, and, of course, UFOs. He also has apparently recorded 3,000 songs stretching over 250 albums (I was not able to find one of his albums on amazon.com, though there are MP3 downloads of his available there). Mr. Seabrook has opened for Ted Nugent, among others. And he assures us that his written works have been endorsed by “racially inclusive pro-Southern organizations” (in case, perhaps, you were tempted to think that a defender of Nathan Bedford Forrest might be someone likely to endorse white supremacy) and is a member of “multicultural multiracial” organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, National Grange, and the Civil War Trust. Good to know.

You don’t have to flip far into the book before you can catch a glimpse of Lochlainn Seabrook dressed as Forrest in full reenactor gear. His book website further establishes his pro-Confederate credentials. He apparently is the 2011 winner of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal.  His site also contains some impressive genealogical gymnastics in its claim that Seabrook is a seventh generation Kentuckian and a fourth generation West Virginian. Though, I wonder how he feels about the fact that neither Kentucky nor West Virginia were Confederate states. Jefferson Davis was born in Kentucky, it’s true. But so was Abraham Lincoln.

Despite having published works on genealogy, Seabrook is liberal with the term “cousins,” and he also claims, despite his roots in Kentucky and West Virginia, to be the descendant of “dozens of Confederate soldiers.” I also wonder how a professed Southern Agrarian parses the belief in keeping the South rural with his musical connections to Nashville, which is the largest capital city in the former Confederacy.

Seabrook’s book A Rebel Born is interesting for many reasons. For one, I can’t understand why anyone would want to defend a man like Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was so nasty that he couldn’t even get along with his fellow Confederates. Seabrook, however, is not alone among historians for embracing the man who promised recruits a “heap of fun” killing Yankees. The deceptively staid Shelby Foote admired Forrest. “The Most Man in the World,” as Foote called him, was a semi-literate slave trader who at one point threatened to kill his superior officer, Braxton Bragg. Forrest was a brilliant tactician, no doubt. But nothing he did decided the war one way or another. Forrest’s role in massacres at Fort Pillow and Brice’s Crossroads (or Tishomingo Creek) doesn’t brighten his reputation—personally or militarily–either.  Forrest Gump, who was named after the general, is a cuddly fictitious character. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a not-so-cuddly thug.

The 1864 Fort Pillow massacre, as depicted in Harper’s Weekly.

The fiction writer Madison Bell wrote a strange novel, Devil’s Dream, about the very strange Forrest. It contains more sex than one would expect from a Civil War novel. I’m sure Seabrook sticks more to the facts, but one wonders if 800 pages is necessary in order to do that. In any case, Forrest represents the darker side of the Confederacy. And books like A Rebel Born are an outgrowth of the bizarre Right wing movement that has emerged in this country, especially in the South, in the last twenty years. This movement firmly defends the Second Amendment while it toys with discarding the 14th. It takes its form as the Tea Party and the Virginia Flaggers and Fox News. Academic historians don’t take books like A Rebel Born too seriously, except as another entry in the strange historiography of the Civil War. Yet, such books are out there on the shelves.

Seabrook’s writings on the Confederacy, oddly, have a readership that is likely on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The converted among the “heritage groups” will want to be preached to, while skeptics will look at A Rebel Born with disturbed fascination. I am among the latter. But, I’ll congratulate the author on one score: he got his book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. That’s no easy task for anyone.

Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is the author of Marching Masters, Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.

35 thoughts on “A Cult within a Cult (Note: This is Not a Review of “A Rebel Born”)

  1. What is the point of a review when you state beforehand that you’re not even planning to actually read the book?????

  2. The point of the post wasn’t to review the book. It was to discuss the author himself and his motives for writing it.

  3. The only confusing part of the review is “…he also claims, despite his roots in Kentucky and West Virginia, to be the descendant of “dozens of Confederate soldiers.” As far as I know, the two states together had about 55-60,000 Confederate soldiers, most of whom were probably not celibate. So his claim seems quite possible.

    • I was born and raised in WV. Your facts are wrong ! More than 3/4 of the counties in WV fought for the Confederacy, the Union West Virginia regiments were made up of Ohio and PA volunteeers ! Documentation is available for anyone who wants to see it !

      • This is from wikipedia.

        There has never been an official count of Confederate service in West Virginia. Early estimates were very low, in 1901 historians Fast & Maxwell placed the figure at about 7,000.[23] An exception to the low estimates is found in Why The Solid South?, whose authors believed the Confederate numbers exceeded Union numbers.[24] In subsequent histories the estimates rose, Otis K. Rice placed the number at 10,000-12,000.[25] Richard O. Curry in 1964 placed the figure at 15,000.[26] The first detailed study of Confederate soldiery estimates the number at 18,000,[27] which is close to the 18,642 figure stated by the Confederate Dept. of Western Virginia in 1864.[28] In 1989 a study by James Carter Linger estimated the number at nearly 22,000.[29]

        The official number of Union soldiers from West Virginia is 31,884 as stated by the Provost Marshal General of the United States.[30] These numbers include, however, re-enlistment figures[31] as well as out-of-state soldiers who enlisted in West Virginia regiments. In 1905 Charles H. Ambler estimated the number of native Union soldiers to be about 20,000.[32]

  4. I was confused, too. It could very well be that there are many Rebels in them thar family trees. I guess we’re left to assume that his KY and WV family was full of pro-Confederates, though I’m sure there were probably just as many, if not more, Unionists.

  5. A couple of comments — for not reading the book you seem to have written a pretty good review of it — where did you get your information? Also — it is not necessary to have Unionists in a family from West Virginia or Kentucky. Your comment that you are sure that he had many, if not more Unionists, may well be a bit of wishful thinking on your part.

    • The author of the Forrest book I discussed (not reviewed) has his own website, where I got most of my information.

  6. It’s just that even after 150 years we still don’t like yankees and the cause for which they fought for. No yankee grave ever said they fought to free the slaves….they all say to preserve the union. Well we don’t like being in the yankee union. Period….until you understand that you will always have that deer in the headlight look.

    • John,

      Thanks for your comments. That’s an interesting point you make about the Union soldiers. It’s true that most didn’t want to be associated with abolition…. Obviously, someone such as you, with a “Rhett Butler CSA” email address, has strong feelings about the Civil War. I wonder what state you’re from–SC perhaps? In any case, I can’t imagine most southerners today have any interest in secession, nor do they know much about Confederate history–and certainly not enough to see an us vs. them when it comes to North/South. Too many people are addicted to their Iphones to care about their roots, history, heritage, whatever you want to call it. I think then it comes to the importance of history, I’m on your side. By the way, the two most conservative guys I knew in (a Deep South) grad school were from New York and California respectively. Of course, I’ve met my share of unreconstructed southerners, too.

  7. Forrest was not a “thug,” but was a skilled cavalry commander. His troops were composed of blacks as well as whites, and he respected his men, who would do whatever he asked of them, to the best of their ability. He also had a sense of humor, and could handle himself in social situations, as seen in the following example: “At a dinner party during the War for Southern Independence, a gentleman asked General Forrest, ‘Why is it that your hair has turned gray and yet your beard has remained dark?’ To which Forrest replied, ‘ Probably because I tend to work my brains more than my jaws.’ ” If you want a list of “thugs” from the War for Southern Independence, you should start with the likes of w.t. sherman or Benjamin Butler.

  8. A book “review”….and you don’t even read the book. Well, I for one WILL buy it, read it and, horror, decide for myself. There were plenty of sociopaths in that conflict, and most wore blue (Hunter, Jim Lane, Sheridan and Sherman to name a few). Consider the source, the same snotty pseudo-intellectuals who laughed at Tina Fey as she mocked Palin, only to discover as Putin rolled into Crimea she was right. Leftists are all about polemics, history has been reduced to a catechism of race class and gender. Thanks for the recommendation Che. Anything else I shouldn’t read?

  9. Hey Southern Historian,
    Why is my name required to leave a comment while your name is never
    mentioned? Why are you anonymous? That to me is very strange in a public
    Forrest, by the way, was one of the most interesting men of the war. With no military
    training he brought his own army to the conflict and was the most fearless and feared
    of the Western commanders. General Lee, who never met Forrest, thought him to be
    the South’s finest soldier. And at his end, he was preaching brotherhood to a black Memphis
    civil rights group. A fascinating man. And you may be wrong about Ft. Pillow. He was on the other
    side of the fort from the river when the incident occurred, and was said to put a stop to it. He was brought before the post-war House of Representatives (no friends there) and was basically acquitted. A genuine badass who had something like 27 horses shot from under him. Really.

    Ben Jones

    • If you read more current posts about my book, you will easily know who writes this blog.

      • Well Colin,
        This morning I checked back to see if you had responded to my query and (duh) clicked “about” and read your brief bio. Preparing to send a mea culpa, I then see your comment above. So the burden of finding your name falls to the reader who is instructed to “read more current posts about my book”. This is either an early morning over-reaction to an honest question or an egocentrism run amuck. Or amok. Or whatever. But that ain’t how the world works, Colin.
        It is simple enough to sign your name. Then someone might actually buy your book.
        “Southern Historian” is a grand thing to be, I think. But it is not conferred by a degree. It is a life’s work.
        Ben Jones

  10. Ben, thank you for clicking the “about” button. I don’t want this to be about me, I want it to be about content. Despite what you say, this is not a public forum. This is not a town hall meeting. Comments are published with my approval. It’s extremely depressing when things degenerate into ad hominem attacks, so I have to be careful.

    By the way, my book is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble if you want to read more about my thoughts on Forrest. You can also get it through your local library.

  11. And despite what you say, Colin, offering opinions on an internet blog is anything but a private matter. Yes, you monitor the responses, but then public meetings always have some built in rules, and as often as not a sergeant-at-arms. I certainly agree with you about ad hominem attacks. They are rarely attractive and in the internet world, where anonymity is often a guise for various pathologies, a certain amount of discrete editing is advisable. But since I came across your blog while doing research on Google, it ain’t like one has to call for reservations.
    What is the name of your book? I will check it out on Amazon. The name of my book is “Redneck Boy in the Promised Land” which you can also find on Amazon. Or probably on E-Bay for 19 cents.
    My local library is not likely to have your book. There are only 134 people who live in our town…..
    Are you a Southern Historian or an Historian of the South? Or both??

    Ben Jones

  12. Are you seriously Ben Jones from The Dukes of Hazzard? If so, that is so cool. I used to love that show when I was a kid. I didn’t know about your book. I think I’ll buy a copy. Great title. My book is Marching Masters; Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (UVA Press). The book is cheapest on Kindle and hopefully cheaper once the paperback comes out.

    I didn’t know you were a congressman. I wish you had beaten Cantor. I would imagine playing Dizzy Dean (Arkansas’ own) is more fun than politics, but I could be wrong.

    They were filming the Dukes of Hazzard movie at LSU when I was there. The original show was way better. Jessica Simpson and Willie did a good job, though, I thought.

    I’ll never be considered a true southerner, being from the North originally. But I’ve lived most of my adult life in the South (Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana). I also married into a southern family.

    • Hey Colin,
      I will order “Marching Masters” today, but I must tell you the title sounds like what is now
      called “revisionism”. My folks all marched, and got shot up, and died, and they owned no slaves.
      In fact, one branch was “non-white”, folks from a “tri-racial isolate” in Southeastern North Carolina.
      One of those boys was killed during the Seven Days campaign. (You have probably found that
      Southerners generally know a bit more about “The War” as it is the crucible event of the Southern experience.) And since we were pretty much destroyed, the scars haven’t quite healed…..

      I am the only person I know who is a life member of the NAACP and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

      Although I make no claim to being a historian, I think that the great challenge for anyone who is going to write about such an event is to try to fully understand why all sides did what they did when they did it. We shouldn’t approach past events with an agenda, but with a sincere desire to understand “where peoples heads were at”. It seems to me that until recently, there was no such historical partisanship as to who was right and who was wrong. Now my ancestors are being demonized with great ease by history dudes out to prove their p.c. creed.

      And if you’ve got a buck in yer pocket, you are carrying around a picture of one of Virginia’s biggest slavers. But you know that…..

      The “Dukes” sustains. The movie really sucked, I thought. A waste of money that mocked our show rather than honored it. “Ol Diz” was a hoot. I even did a musical version.

      I was in Congress when the Berlin Wall came down, Desert Storm happened, and Tiananmen Square went down. It is all in the book. Good luck with yours.

      Ben Jones

  13. Hey Colin,
    I received my copy of “Marching Masters” today.
    My fears were compounded on the first page of your book. What a terrible insult and an aberrant piece of ‘history’. This is beyond revisionism, where politically motivated “historians” of left and right cherry-pick research to load up an argument. This is politically spun fiction, and although you will probably never understand what you have done here, rest assured that you have done a disservice to the greater truth of American history and to the Southern experience.
    No, you are not a Southern Historian or an Historian of the South. Stick to music criticism.
    Shame. Perhaps a naive blindness, but nevertheless a shame.
    Ben Jones

  14. Thank you for buying the book. Sorry you didn’t like it. You might want to read more than one page, however, before rendering your judgment. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that you have a set notion of what history is or should be and don’t like opinions that differ from yours. That’s fine. But it’s obvious you haven’t read much Civil War history. I’m not the first person to talk about the bloodshed at the Crater or the role slavery played in the struggle.

    One thing I must take real objection to is your notion that any of what I wrote is “fiction”–unless you mean that in some kind of postmodern sense of there being no “real” past. I don’t think you mean that, though. I have mountains of research to back up everything in this book. Yes, I left some things in and took others out. That’s called making an argument. This is a monograph, not a collection of edited letters. I argued. That’s what historians do.

    You say “revisionism” like it’s a bad thing. And honestly, you sound like you’re quoting someone other than yourself. Maybe someone on TV. The reality is, history is constantly being revised and improved upon. I don’t know how many books have been written in the last fifteen years on Gettysburg, for example, or Fort Pillow, or the Crater, or the memory of the war. A lot. There is no standard history of anything by which no other history can diverge.

    I think the best way to critique a book is to write another one. If you don’t think your side of the story is being told, then tell it and get it peer-reviewed. Or self-publish it. But I don’t think commenting on blogs–anonymously or otherwise–is the best use of your energy if you truly have something important to say.

    I can appreciate a strong reaction to my book. Really. I don’t want people to ignore it. The irony of what you say is that you sound a lot like the Confederates in this book (if you had read it all, you’d see that). So, in a way, you’ve proved my point about all this.

  15. “what history is or should be and don’t like opinions that differ from yours.” So-called southern Historian should practice what he preaches. I never knew it was possible to review a book that the reviewer has not read. But that is twenty-first century internet for you. It is possible to publicly have an opinion on anything even when it is based on judging a book by its cover.

    • I don’t know how much clearer I can be when I say, in the title of the post, it is not a review but a discussion of Forrest and the Forrest cult.

      If someone wants to send me a copy to review, I’d be happy to do so.

      Phil, care to send me one?

  16. southernhistorian,
    You should probably change the name of your blog to something more truthful i.e. antisouthernhistorian, since you fail to discuss the pro-South version of the War for Southern Independence. You mimic the contemporary emphasis on the single issue of slavery, as the only reason for the war, which is, of course, preposterous.

    You, as most other contemporary “historians,” fail to address the desire for independence from the malfunctioning Union, by a majority of Southerners, because they no longer trusted their Northern counterparts to uphold the requisites of the federal Constitution. While Southerners continued to abide by the federal Constitution, Northerners failed to do so, making a mockery of the founding document, and opening the door for Southerners’ decisions to secede from the Union. Once the decisions were made to secede, based on Mankind’s God-given right to self-determination, A. Lincoln and his cronies chose to deny this God-given right to their Southern counterparts (which, by the way, is the founding principle of the United States), and chose war over peace. By making this decision, A. Lincoln destroyed the original “union by choice,” and set the stage for the “union by force” with which we live today. (So much for A. Lincoln’s claim to go to war to “preserve” the Union).

    The “great experiment in self-government” had failed, and the United States joined all other “empires” of the world, by forcing millions of its citizens to accept a government, instead of choosing a government…that sacred right that the Revolutionary Generation had fought for, and eventually established, with the founding of the United States. My Revolutionary War Veteran ancestors would never understand how one group of Americans, could possibly deny another group of Americans, their God-given right to self-determination. Quite frankly, I have no answer for them. Do you?

    • I do have an answer. But I’ll keep this short.

      You have put forth the antebellum states rights argument. You say “self-determination.” To do what? It was the Confederacy’s determination to keep slavery. What was it that Confederates hated about Lincoln? It was his stance on slavery. There was no other issue at stake in 1860 that was nearly as divisive. Lincoln took a firm stance against the expansion of slavery into the New Mexico territory. This stance resulted in war. Men from South Carolina fired on federal troops stationed in South Carolina, which started the war.

      As president, Lincoln took an oath to uphold the Constitution. He was enforcing the law. Lincoln wasn’t prepared to let an armed rebellion to overpower his authority, anymore than the British were in 1775. Or Andrew Jackson was in the 1830s.

      The Founders were not anarchists or southern nationalists. And you may be interested to know that the American Revolution began in Massachusetts, not the South. But Massachusetts wanted to stay in the Union in 1861. The Confederacy did not. Maybe your ancestors chose the wrong side the second time around.

      I am unaware of a “God-given right” as expressed in the Constitution. The South also believed they had a “God-given right” to own slaves. I guess, as Lincoln said in his Second Inaugural, God had his own purposes during the war. And God must have been okay with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, too, as they are still in place. Or perhaps we are governments of people, not gods.

      If you think enforcing the law is empiricist, it says more about your problems with authority than anything else.

  17. I chanced upon your review and found myself needing a little help, could you expand on the action at Brices’ Crossroad? If I might push my luck I would be interested in what you felt about the parole system used during the war? Do you feel that they had that much integrity to actually have abided by these rules? Signing a parole notice promising not to take up arms until they were exchanged by the proper authorities. I can’t imagine that working today. Anyway would appreciate your opinion.

    • For Brice’s Crossroads, I would check out wikipedia. I wish I knew more about the parole system. From what I know, it worked fairly well until later in the Civil War. The Confederates captured at Vicksburg, for example, were paroled. However, Grant stopped the system in 1864–partly because of the refusal of Confederates to recognize black troops in the Union army as POWS, partly a decision by Grant to deny any further manpower to Confederates. I think parole fell out of favor as the war became more of a “total war,” i.e., one of attrition. I can’t imagine the parole system working today. But maybe some variation of it is still used. I don’t know.

      • Thanks. I could not find anything about a controversy, or a hint of any charges or an action that was questionable having to do with Brices’ Crossroad.

        As to Pillow I like everyone else read the Congressionals concerning Forrest and the current claims he lied, perjuring himself. I don’t think that to have been the case, many people feel anyone in our past were not as smart, cunning or literate as the individuals examining or studying the past. They hung Wirz with a trial that the press and public knew was based on lies; so they did not really need a reason to have hung Forrest. If they could have proven anything or made up something semi believable like Champ Ferguson or Wirz Forrest he would have hung. The Confederacy, press and clearly the North would never have gone to his aid.

        I find it fascinating both sides recognized and utilized the parole system allowing a soldiers word to avoid combat until properly exchanged. I mean Grant did it at Appomattox. So we clearly relied on integrity and honor in the middle of a war. We have an individual who while a great soldier was not a gentleman, he had dirty hands and had killed several men over nothing more than honor or his word.

        “I think the public will justify me in denouncing, as I do, Gen. Judson Kilpatrick as a blackguard, a liar, a scoundrel and poltroon. If he is the heroic figure he would have the Northern people believe him, my friend, Gen. Basil W. Duke, at Louisville, Ky., is authorized to receive on my behalf any communication he may choose to make”.

        So since we love to vilify the South and her people we toss not one but two Congressionals both which found him innocent aside.

        I have looked everywhere for the source of this incident and attached narrative
        “On September 25, 1864, federal forces attacked the little village of Marianna, Florida. They were resisted by a home guard militia unit consisting of very young teenaged boys and a few elderly men, whom they easily defeated. The federal forces consisted of a battalion of Maine cavalry, the Thirteenth Massachusetts Volunteers, and two companies of what the Southerners termed “ferocious Louisiana negroes.”
        The black Union volunteers followed up their victory by throwing the wounded Confederate teenage boys into a church and burning them alive. The white federal soldiers from Massachusetts intervened to try to stop the massacre of surrendered Confederates. The behavior of these black Unionist troops shows that many Southern blacks did not have the same love for their masters and the South that neo-Confederates such as Charles Kelley Barrow, James Ronald Kennedy, and Walter Donald Kennedy like to relate to their avid fans”.

        The way I understood what really happened was after the Battle of the Crater, in July the USCT s were broken they had been fired upon by their own troops, their officers deserted them, whites in both the North and South wanted them kept in bondage. The army took an incident that is still confusing today, Fort Pillow and made it a war cry. This is what the USCT used as a war cry at Marianna when their officers could not handle them; they (the officers) became upset, transfers were requested and dendied. At the time they could trade post with others of the same grade and many offered additional incentives to get a replacement. With limited chances to find new positions they start discrediting Fort Pillow stating it was not the blood bath somewhere led to believe; that makes a fair investigation 150 years later almost impossible. I know both Union and Southroners present at Pillow gave sworn testimony that the events as told today did not happen”.

        I don’t care either way and being a no body nothing I say will mean anything but to constantly avoid fact makes everyone in the same boat as neo-Confederates.

  18. “He apparently is the 2011 winner of the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal.”

    Just to clarify (and you won’t see this explained on the Searaven Press website, for obvious reasons), the Jefferson Davis Historical Gold Medal is awarded by individual UDC chapters, and there are many presented around the country each year. I’m not sure whether UDC chapters are even limited in the number they can award in a given year. It’s a nice recognition to receive, but it’s not nearly as exclusive as Seabrook makes it sound.

    • Thanks, Andy. I should read all of Seabrook’s book one of these days… Ben Jones eventually found out way more about me than he ever wanted to. Which reminds me, I need to blog about Ben’s book (Redneck Boy in the Promised Land). Ben is an interesting guy, and his book isn’t bad at all. Very readable. But he’s a little touchy about his heritage, to say the least.

  19. He also went after Bill Clinton in the 90s and supported the impeachment. Ben has some issues with authority.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s