Book Review - Forrest's Fighting Preacher: David Campbell Kelley of Tennessee

Forrest's Fighting Preacher: David Campbell Kelley of Tennessee by Michael R. Bradley (The History Press, August 2011). 144 pp., 6 x 9, Over 25 images, Cover Price: $19.99.

In Forrest's Fighting Preacher, Dr. Michael Bradley offers what is to my knowledge the first book-length biography of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's most trusted confidant, Rev. David Campbell Kelley.

Dr. Bradley earned his PhD from Vanderbilt University and taught United States history for 36 years at Motlow College in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Now professor emeritus, he remains an active author and speaker, having written a number of Civil War books in addition to this biography of the Reverend D.C. Kelley.

In the interest of full disclosure, readers of The Posterity Project should know that Dr. Bradley and I are both under contract with The History Press, and I have corresponded by e-mail with Dr. Bradley about his book and about our upcoming book signing event at the Barnes & Noble in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Oct. 15th. Traci and I are also appearing with Dr. Bradley at an event in Tullahoma on Tuesday, Nov. 8th with the Dr. J.B. Cowan Sons of Confederate Veterans. Dr. Bradley is a life member of the SCV and an immediate past commander of the Tennessee Division of the SCV.

Forrest's Fighting Preacher begins with a brief account of David Campbell Kelley's youth. We learn early on that D.C. Kelley's grandfather fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain and served as a member of the assembly for John Sevier's abortive State of Franklin, among other distinctions. As a child, David Campbell Kelley grew up in a very religious home in rural Wilson County, Tennessee, and his upbringing as the son of a Methodist minister would help to shape his life in the years that followed.

As an adult, D.C. Kelley served as a missionary to China, and returned just one year before the outbreak of the Civil War. During the war, Rev. Kelley served as chaplain and chief of staff to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Confederate Army. Kelley was known as the "fighting preacher" for his willingness to take up arms and bravely fight alongside his men in the most difficult of circumstances. Following the Civil War, Kelley returned to preaching, became a prolific writer on a variety of religious topics, helped to establish Vanderbilt University, and even campaigned for governor of Tennessee, receiving the largest number of votes ever tallied by a Prohibition candidate in the state.

This book is thoroughly researched, sourced, and endnoted, and Dr. Bradley's narrative provides the reader with a fascinating and detailed look into the life of one of the Civil War's more intriguing participants. The book explores key battles of the Civil War from Rev. Kelley's perspective, including engagements at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Mississippi, Nashville, and elsewhere throughout the Western Theater. Very little has been written about the important role that chaplains played during the Civil War as messengers of hope to the troops, and servants to God and country, so Dr. Bradley's book fills an important void in the scholarship. I highly recommend this book.


Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.