Abraham Lincoln, American historical figure of the moment, made an appearance at the event commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Thompson’s Station, but he wasn’t the star of the show. To be fair, he didn’t really belong there. The real Abe Lincoln wasn’t in the habit of attending small Tennessee battles, but then neither was Robert E. Lee, who also was to be found walking the grounds of Homestead Manor.
In this part of Tennessee, people love Nathan Bedford Forrest. We kept seeing his face going by on t-shirts and showing up on commemorative posters and books in the tents. Controversial around the South these days, Forrest is still something of a hero in his native Tennessee. Historian Thomas Cartwright (our favorite speaker at the event) told stories of Forrest’s bravery and raw military genius, how he would scoff at West Pointers and too-hesitant generals, how he and his calvary could whip a Yankee force twice their size.
“Look up Brice’s Crossroads!” Cartwright told us as he was getting low on time. Later on, when a military chaplain re-enactor gave an 1860s-style sermon on David and Goliath, it was hard not to think of Forrest and his men at Brice’s Crossroads.
The Battle of Thompson’s Station took place on March 5th, 1863, a year before Fort Pillow and a few years before Forrest’s affiliations with the KKK. In 1863, he was just a Confederate hero, helping to save the day in his home country by approaching the enemy from behind and capturing their command.
150 years (and a few days) later, a few thousand people got the chance to walk the land where the battle took place. Living history camps were set up on the grounds, and in the distance cannons fired. Historical figures mingled with locals, horses tromped by food trucks, and somewhere on the outskirts Abraham Lincoln stood with his Yankee entourage, looking appropriately solemn and towering above the crowds.