September 22, 1876, Covington, Tennessee
Soldiers of the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, ladies and gentlemen:
I name the soldiers first because I love them the best. I am extremely pleased to meet with you here today.
I love the gallant men and women with whom I was so intimately connected during the late war. You can readily realize what must pass through a commander's mind, when called upon to meet in reunion the brave spirits who through four years of war and bloodshed fought fearlessly and boldly for a cause they then thought right, and who, even when they foresaw, as we all did, that the war must soon close in disaster, and that we must all surrender, yet did not quail, but marched to victory in many battles, and fought as boldly and persistently in their last battles as they did in their first.
Nor do I forget these many gallant spirits who sleep coldly in death upon the many bloody battlefields of the late war. I love them, too, and honor their memory. I have been often called to the side, on the battlefield, of those who had been struck down, and they would put their arms around my neck, draw me down to them and kiss me and say: "General, I have fought my last battle and soon will be gone. I want you to remember my wife and children and take care of them, and I want every one of you to remember them, too, and join with me in the labor of love.
Comrades, through years of bloodshed and many marches you were tried and true soldiers. So through the years of peace you have been good citizens, and now that we are again united under the old flag, I love it as I did in my youth and I feel sure that you love it also. Yes, I love and honor that old flag now as do those who followed it on the other side, and I am sure that I but express your feelings when I say that should occasion offer, and our common country demand our services, you would as eagerly follow my lead to battle under that proud banner as ever you followed me in our late great war.
It has been thought by some that our social reunions were wrong and that they would be heralded to the North as evidence that we were again ready to break out into civil war. But I think they are right and proper, and we will show our countrymen by our conduct and dignity that brave soldiers always make good citizens and law-abiding and loyal people.
Soldiers, I was afraid that I could not bear the thought of not meeting with you, and I will always try to meet with you in the future. I hope that you will continue to meet from year to year, and bring your wives and children with you, and let them and the children who may come after them enjoy with you the pleasure of your reunions.
Nathan Bedford Forrest