On America's Sickness

by Judson Hammond

26 September 2004

[From Instauration October 1998]

Ronald M. Cohen died on April 21, 1998. You probably missed the news. Even if you had heard about his death, it probably didn't ring a bell. Ronald Cohen was hardly a household name. But his career as a Hollywood screenwriter, bereft as he was of talent, holds a lesson for us. Cohen began his writing career in the early 60s when he sold a script to Steve McQueen for the Wanted: Dead of Alive TV series. For inexplicable reasons he found the Western genre particularly to his liking. In the late 60s he scripted two forgettable Westerns, Blue and The Good Guys and The Bad Guys. More typical of the filmmaking of his ethnic brethren, Cohen couldn't resist interracial themes. He wrote the pilot for American Dream, a 1981 TV series that portrayed an upper-middle class white family moving into a black neighborhood in Chicago. For his artistic labors, he was nominated for an Emmy. The sitcom, however, was short-lived.

Before his death, Cohen was still up to his old tricks. His script for Last Stand at Saber River, a TV movie with Tom Selleck, netted him a Western Heritage Wrangler Award. The film was the highest-rated made-for-cable movie ever. Although this sounds like damning with faint praise, Cohen's handiwork demands a closer look.

Cohen's script was based on a 1959 Western novel by Elmore Leonard, who started out writing paperback Westerns before his name became synonymous with modern crime thrillers, a number of which (52 Pickup and Rum Punch) featured the realistic, that is to say, unflattering portraits of Negro thugs.

As potboilers go, Last Stand at Saber River is not bad. Unusual for a paperback original almost 40 years old, the book is still in print, probably because of the author's name-brand status rather than the work's intrinsic merits. Even in this early effort, Leonard's craftsmanship is evident, even if it does fall far short of great art. As luck would have it, I was reading the novel at the time the movie showed up on television. This provided me with a rare opportunity to see how the novel had been transformed by a scriptwriter while it was still fresh in my mind.

The story deals with one Paul Cable, a Confederate veteran who returns to the Arizona territory towards the end of the Civil War only to find tha this ranch has been commandered by some Yankee sympathizers. When they refuse to leave, Cable's only option is to fight. Since he was trained in the art of war by General Nathan Bedford Forrest, he obviously will not go quietly.

In the novel there is no political sermonizing, no Yankee or Reb bias one way or the other. Cable, a devout believer in the Southern cause, gallops east to lend a hand. The teleplay, however, asserts that he deserted his family. A purported child, who died in his absence, is created to instill guilt. The opening chapter of the book specifically mentions wounds to Cable's hip and thigh. In cohen's movie, he has merely been"shot in the butt," doubtless to symbolize the foolishness of the Southern cause.

Given the widespread cultural illiteracy in America, the name Nathan Bedford Forrest probably doesn't ring many bells in the minds of the average dolts glued to the tube. But if you're Ronald Cohen, you can't resist a chance to "educate" your audience. There was no way Cohen could drag in Forrest's role as founding father of the Ku Klux Klan because teh story takes place before that seminal event. The book implies that Cable couldn't have had a better teacher than General Forrest. Cohen could not let that pass. Instead, Forrest is described by one of Cohen's characters as a "murderous son of a bitch," because of what he did at Fort Pillow where, according to the script, he "executed" 300 Union prisoners, most of them black.

Not being a Civil War buff (my contention is that Reconstruction holds more relevant lessons for contemporary Americans than 19th century military tactics), I was totally ignorant of Fort Pillow, so I scurried down to the public library to find out what the fuss was about. Not surprisingly, historians exonerate General Forrest from any uncivilized conduct at Fort Pillow.

Originally built by the Confederates in 1861, Fort Pillow was 40 land miles (or 80 river miles) north of Memphis. It was taken by Union forces in 1862 and used as a warehouse. Marauders from the fort regularly set out to pilfer horses and supplies, and persecute Southern civilians in the surrounding area. Of the 557 Union soldiers in the fort, 295 were white, 262 black. A number of the white soldiers were Confederate deserters and Southern unionists (the latter sometimes referred to as Tennessee Tories).

On April 12, 1864, Forrest laid siege to the fort. Thanks to the marksmanship of the Southern riflemen, the Union troops soon found themselves overmatched -- even though half the Confederates were recruits of less than four months. Fort Pillow had some heavy guns, but they were largely useless against the close-in position of the Confederate troops. At one point Forrest offered his foes the opportunity of honorable surrender. He was rebuffed. The Confederates attacked again and 20 minutes later the fort was theirs. The final tally of Union casualties was 206 killed, 130 wounded.

The Northern press played up Fort Pillow as the biggest atrocity of the war. The U.S. Congress and the Union Army held investigations of dubious integrity. The testimony was ex parte, often contradictory, and a big chunk of it emanated from illiterate Negroes. Rumors and hearsay were given the weight of gospel. But an atrocity and a villain were necessary, for many Northerners were tired of the war and Lincoln's reelection was far from assured. By characterizing Fort Pillow as a massacre, rather than just another battle, the agit-proppers hoped to stir up anti-Southern sympathy. That they had to lie to do so was of little import.

The carnage at Fort Pillow was more the result of Union incompetence than Confederate cruelty. After the commanding officer, Major Lionel Booth, was killed by a rebel sharpshooter, the fort was left in the incapable hands of Major William Bradford, who escaped from the fort during the battle.* As a result of the officer shortage, teh Union soldier's suffered from a "who's in charge" syndrome. Outnumbered and in an indefensible position, no one could be found who had the authority to surrender. The Confederates battled on so long as there was any resistance. Finally, mercifully, a Southern soldier cut down the Union flag and the Confederate soldiers ceased firing. There never was a formal surrender on the part of the Union Army.

It didn't take long for news of the "atrocity" to circulate in the North.

It was said that Forrest slaughtered old folks, women and children. In fact, they had all been evacuated. The only civilians in the fort were volunteer combatants.

It was said that Forrest violated the flag of truce to deploy his men to greater advantage. In fact, his men were already well positioned and the only troop movements he ordered were to prevent Union gunboats on the Mississippi from landing and disgorging more artillery and infantry during the truce.

It was said that Forrest ordered the slaughter of the Negro troops In fact, Fort Pillow marked the first major conflict between Negro troops (about half of whom were runaway slaves) and the Confederacy. Needless to say, it was not Forrest's policy to kill blacks. If possible, he would return captured slaves to their owners. Failing that, he would put them to work on Confederate public works projects. During the siege the Negroes had imbibedlarge quantities of whiskey, ale and beer. They taunted the Confederate soldiers in words and gestures (a 19th-century version of trash-talk). Their drunkenness made them easy pickings. Some of the Negroes who managed to flee the fort threw themselves in the river and drowned or were shot while trying to escape.

It was said that Forrest buried Union soldiers alive after the battle. In fact, the Union dead were interred by Union burial details. If perchance they were buried alive, it was not Forrest's doing.

It was said that Forrest burned Negroes alive. After the battle the Confederates did set fire to cabins and tents inside the fort, but the only Negroes in them were already dead.

It was said that Forrest had a policy of inducing Negroes to fight to the death. In fact, individual Negroes would surrender, then pick up their weapons and start fighting again. The Confederates had no choice but to continue the melee.

If Forrest had intended a massacre, it is odd that he would order that the Union wounded be given provisions and medicine. They were evacuated on boats going up river. The prisoners of war -- by their own admission -- were well treated after the battle.

The complete story of the siege of Fort Pillow is available in much more detail from other sources. The worst source is Ronald Cohen.

The siege itself illustrated Forrest's famous dictum, "War means fighting and fighting means killing." Jews like Cohen always have a hard time coming to grips with this idea -- unless the war involves Israel. When we allow someone from that tribe to interpret our own mythology -- and that is exactly what the Western genre is -- then we deserve what we get. My advice is to read those screen credits carefully and check those writers, directors and producers for suspicious names. Their penchant for spin goes far beyond tales of the Holocaust and anti-racist tracts. Indeed, if it is so important to perpetuate lies about a siege that took place more than 134 years ago, how can we expect to get the truth about more recent events?

Cohen is gone but there are plenty more where he came from. Small wonder the entertainment business is so attractive to Jews. It allows them to combine two of their favorite pastimes: rewriting history and making a financial killing! Such a deal!



For Further Reading

Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest by John Allan Wyeth, MD. Morningside Bookshop (Dayton, Ohio), 1975.

"First with the Most" Forrest by Robert Selph Henry, Greenwood Press (Westport, Conn.), 1974

Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company by Andrew Lytle, Green Key Press (Seminole, Fla.), 1984

* Major Bradford was later captured -- unwounded. After giving his word of honor that he would return after being allowed to attend the burial of his brother, who was killed during the siege, he escaped again. He wa captured the next day and shot under mysterious circumstances, perhaps while trying to escape, perhaps in cold blood. As a prominent Tennessee Tory, Bradford received little respect from the Confederate soldiers.

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