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  • Writer's pictureKirk Jenkins

A Memorial Tribute to Colonel James Brown Forman

From the Louisville Daily Journal, January 30, 1863


To the Editors of the Louisville Journal:

January 26, 1863

GENTLEMEN: If you do not deem it too unworthy, will you publish, one more humble tribute to the memory of Kentucky’s youngest Colonel, James B. Forman, from one who knew him?

He showed, from early youth, remarkable promise. Always seeking the society of, and appearing equal to, those much older than himself, no one ever imagined, until told, how young he was. From the age of sixteen, indeed, he seemed – in conversation, in business capacity, in intellect, and in strength and decision of mind – a man, and won “golden opinions” of his ability from his superiors in age and experience. His principles were firm and unwavering. He understood perfectly his own disposition and capabilities, and thus anything he undertook was successfully performed. His influence over those for whom he cared was unbounded, and his insight into the characters and motives of those he met was so keen and true that it was marvelous.

He detected the fallacies in the “doctrine of secession” from the first; and, what is more noticeable, he never for an instant succumbed to the insidious and – to so many young Kentuckians – irresistible appeal to their love for the South. It is well known that sectional attachment is especially characteristic of the young; they are never cosmopolitan in feeling; one section, one place is home, and is better than all others to them. This is one reason why the cry of ‘The South’ has attracted some of them more than that of ‘The Union.’ Many said, ‘We think the so-called right of secession radically wrong, but we are Southerners – we love the South, whatever her faults, better than the North, and, if war comes, we will be on her side, right or wrong.’ But young Forman’s faults were (in substance): ‘I love and sympathize the South as much as you, but I am a true Southerner. If the South does wrong, I say, try to win her back with kindness. But – that failing – I am ready to go with sword in hand, thought still with love in heart, to force her to submit to rightful authority.’

I shall never forget once hearing him read to a party of young friends Daniel Webster’s immortal speech on the ‘American Union.’ As he read that closing sentence of matchless eloquence commencing: ‘When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time, the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and disordered fragments of a once glorious Union,’ his voice trembled with emotion; and as he finished with the soul-inspiring ‘Liberty and Union, now and forever, once and inseparable,’ it was full of triumphant enthusiasm. His hearers were many of them Southern sympathizers, but not a word was spoken – all were impressed.

When Kentucky, having tried in vain to mediate, declared herself unconditionally and unalterably for the Union, and called her sons ‘to arms’ to enforce the laws, and drive the invaders from her soil, he obeyed the call. Giving up home, friends, and all the comforts to which he was accustomed, he went to serve his country, actuated by the purest and highest patriotism.

An article had been already published in your columns, narrating his successful career in the army. He gained quickly the love and respect of his comrades in arms; and was rapidly promoted until he attained, shortly before the battle before Murfreesboro, in which he fell, the high position of Colonel of the 15th Kentucky, as a reward for distinguished ability and personal bravery. His name will be always associated with the battle of Chaplin Hills, in which he played so noble a part. How were the hearts of his friends thrilled with pleasure and exultation as they heard the story of his daring courage in the rescue of the flag of the regiment on that memorable day!

And now that in this, his second battle, he has lost his life, let us not ‘mourn as those without hope,’ but, while sincerely lamenting his early death, remember that he himself was willing to lay down his life even for his country’s welfare. ‘Life is noble only when it is held cheap by the side of honor and of duty.’

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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