Nelson Winbush with his Confederate veteran grandfather.
As Confederate cavalry reenactors thunder down East Main street Saturday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s successful raid on the Rutherford County Courthouse, spectators may see an elderly black gentleman in the crowd wearing a confederate flag necktie, looking on in pride.
He is Nelson Winbush, the grandson of a black confederate veteran who rode with Forrest, and he is an advocate for historical accuracy and honesty when it comes to the telling and retelling of our Civil War heritage.
Winbush’s grandfather, Louis Napoleon Nelson, was recruited as a slave by Nathan Bedford Forrest, but fought as a free man of color during the last 18 months of the war.
He was a Private in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry under Forrest and fought at pivotal battles such as Shiloh, Lookout Mountain, Bryce’s Crossroads and Vicksburg.
At Shiloh, he served as a chaplain even though he couldn’t read or write, which was a position never held by any “colored” Union soldier, and he consistently attended 39 United Confederate Veterans reunions.
He attended his final reunion in 1934, and a Sons of Confederate Veterans Chapter in West Tennessee is named in his honor.
Nelson remembers sitting on his grandfather’s knee listening to his Civil War stories until the age of five.
Winbush, 83, was born in Ripley, Tenn., the son of Isaac and Ganelle Winbush.
He grew up in his grandfather’s home, and left the ancestral residence in 1955 to take a job as a teacher in Kissimmee, Fla.
When his grandfather died, the casket was draped with the Confederate flag, and Winbush has since become a champion of the Confederate battle flag and its proper place in history.
He characterizes recent controversies over the display of the flag and the opposing sides of the debate as “just dumb.
“Neither side (of the debate) knows what the flag represents,” Winbush said. “It’s dumb and dumber. You can turn it around, but it’s still two dumb bunches.”
Winbush still actively and proudly speaks about his ancestor’s service during the war and the lessons he learned sitting at his grandfather’s knee.
“At Shiloh, my grandfather served as a chaplain even though he couldn’t read or write,” said Winbush, who bolstered his points with photos, letters and newspapers that used to belong to his grandfather. “I’ve never heard of a black Yankee holding such an office, so that makes him a little different.”
Winbush said his grandfather, who also served as a “scavenger,” never had any qualms about fighting for the South.
He had plenty of chances to make a break for freedom, but never did.
Winbush said Southern blacks and whites often lived together as extended families, adding slaves and slave owners were outraged when Union forces raided their homes. He said history books rarely make mention of this.
“When the master and his older sons went to war, who did he leave his families with?” asked Winbush, whose grandfather remained with his former owners 12 years after the hostilities ended. “It was with the slaves. Were his (family members) mistreated? Hell, no!
“They were protected.”
According to Winbush, more than 90,000 blacks, some of them free, fought for the Confederacy.
In fact, field reports submitted by Union officers involved in Forrest’s Murfreesboro raid reported a multitude of black confederate soldiers riding into town with Forrest on that fateful day in 1862.
Winbush has come under fire by various groups over the years for his controversial views.
The NAACP and similar organizations have criticized Winbush for his support of what they believe are neo-Confederate causes; they think he misunderstands the history of the South.
But Winbush contends those groups misunderstand the history of the South.
Winbush has said in the past that he would have fought by his grandfather’s side in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest.
“People ask why a black person would fight for the Confederacy. (It was) for the same damned reason a white Southerner did,” he said.
Sons of Confederate Veterans' to re-enact Forrest's Raid
On Saturday, the streets of Murfreesboro will ring once again with the hoofbeats of a mythical Confederate general on the 150th anniversary of his daring raid on the Rutherford County Courthouse.
Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest reached near godlike status in Rutherford County on July 13, 1862 when his famed cavalry corps surprised the federal garrison in Murfreesboro, resulting in a complete surrender by Union forces under Gen. Thomas Crittenden and the rescue of over a dozen prominent Murfreesboro and Woodbury citizens who were to be hung simply for suspicion of confederate sympathies.
Folks have the opportunity to witness living history when the Murfreesboro Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans hosts the Armies of Tennessee in a re-enactment of the raid at 9 a.m. July 14 on the Historic Square in Murfreesboro.
2012 is the year of anniversaries for Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, with MTSU’s centennial, Murfreesboro’s bicentennial, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and the 35th anniversary of Uncle Dave Macon Days.
The raid will follow a living history encampment at Oaklands Historic Mansion, where the National Convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will celebrate Forrest’s birthday with a black-eyed pea and sweet potato supper on the grounds the previous evening.
Troops will assemble at 8:30 a.m. for their march to the courthouse where federal troops will be encamped on the west side of the Square.
The entire re-enactment will serve as a kickoff for the 35th Uncle Dave Macon Days Motorless Parade, which will begin immediately afterward.
The reenactment of these events is expected to draw a large crowd to the downtown area including Sons of Confederate Veterans National Conventioners, along with visitors to the Saturday Farmers Market and Uncle Dave Macon Days Motorless Parade.