Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest

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This entry is part 2 of 2 in the The Lives of Confederate Generals

It would make for a very lengthy book to go into the virtues and faults of the countless famous commanders on both sides of The War Between The States. Suffice it to say that some were professional officers; some were civilians that proved to be great military talents under the stress of war; — and taken in total, some proved to be great; some proved to be merely “adequate”; some proved to be grossly inept; and some proved to be un-moral, lousy bums.

In the whole war, one soldier-General proved to be no less than a genius of warfare. That man’s name was Nathan Bedford Forrest. He rose from a private to a Lieutenant-General; was under fire 179 different times; had 29 horses die under him; captured 35,000 Union soldiers; destroyed or captured such enormous amounts of Union supplies during Grant’s operations to destroy the Confederate Western Front, that Grant said to Sherman, field commander in the West: ‘Forrest must be driven out, but with a proper commander in West Tennessee there is force enough now.” Sherman wired Grant back: “I have sent (General) Sturgis down to take command of that calvary and whip Forrest.” Sturgis finally met Forrest at Brice’s Cross-Roads (Guntown), Mississippi, and received an appalling defeat in a battle-classic that Marshal Foch in France in World War One lectured American officers upon, as a battle of classic movements. In 1864 Sherman was planning his ‘‘march to the sea” through Georgia. Grant wired him: “It will be better to drive Forrest from Middle Tennessee as a first step.” Sherman wired back he was afraid to divert enough of his army to do so, lest he not be strong enough to make the Georgia invasion. So Grant dispatched 30,000 men under Generals Thomas; Rousseau; Schofield; Steedman; Croxton; Webster; Granger; Washburn; and A. J. Smith, — “to hem Forrest in, for there will never be any peace in Tennessee until Forrest is dead.” Sherman said further: “His (Forrest’s) cavalry will travel one hundred miles in less time than ours will ten…I can whip his (the Confederate) infantry, but his cavalry is to be feared.” Yankee General Rousseau said to Sherman by wire: “Forrest struck the (rail) road at Athens (Tennessee), and destroyed it to within a few miles of Pulaski (Tennessee), where I repulsed him on the twenty-seventh. He is here to stay, unless driven back and routed by a superior cavalry force. Infantry can cause him to change camp, but cannot drive him out of the State.” Rousseau said further of Forrest’s attacks upon his vastly superior forces: ‘This is much more than a raid; I regard it as a formidable invasion, the object of which is to destroy our lines, and he will surely do it unless met by a large cavalry force, and killed, captured, or routed…he must be caught. He will not give battle unless he chooses to do so.”

Forrest fought from the Mississippi to Georgia; he followed no book rules of warfare; he created new rules of war; — he raised his own forces; he equipped them from the enemy’s supplies; he used his cavalry as lightning-fast mounted infantry, carrying no sabers but sawed-off rifles and revolvers; — he carried his light artillery right up to the forward skirmish lines; he won countless times against “superior” forces; he was never “out-done”’ or baffled by any forces other than ones of immediately overwhelming superior numbers; he was truly idolized by his men; he terrified the enemy; he fought back and forth across a terrain larger than the British Isles; — he was hated and resented and envied by the “West Pointers” of General Officer rank in the Confederate States Armies! His fabulous abilities were unrecognized by the nincompoop Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, because Davis’ “pet and toady” — General Braxton Bragg (who “fouled up” the C.S.A. Army of Tennessee, which was composed of men from all over the Deep South), — resented Forrest’s superior ability. Forrest was in the War to win, — and he brought along no bureaucracy or cronyism. The South needed him in high command! — He never got it!… But at long last, when it was tragically too late, Lee was asked at Appomattox after he surrendered, — who, — in his opinion, was the greatest soldier in the Confederacy. Lee replied: “A man I have never seen. His name is Forrest.”

Forrest was a greater soldier-General than “Jeb” Stuart ever dreamed of being (he being the Chief of Cavalry of the Army of Virginia). Forrest was a greater soldier-General and cavalryman than General Joseph Wheeler ever dreamed of being (he being Chief of Cavalry of the Army of Tennessee; and a “West Pointer” as was “Jeb” Stuart; also Wheeler was a General of United States Cavalry in Cuba in 1898.) 

White Men of the South, and White Men of all the United States, — if you value your race (and your damned enemies value theirs), — and if you got it in you to name one more saint, — you should call him “Saint Bedford”!!!

The following is a summary of the service history of Nathan Bedford Forrest compiled from:

Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. “Civil War High Commands”. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. p. 240.

Confederate Service (abridged):

  • ● Born: Bedford County, Tennessee 13 July 1821
  • ● Moved to Mississippi, 1834. Occupation: stockman and blacksmith
  • ● Wounded: in a street fight by a pistol shot, 1845
  • ● Moved to Tennessee, 1851
  • ● Wounded: in the shoulder in a steamboat explosion, 1852
  • ● Returned to Mississippi, 1858. Occupation: planter and slave trader
  • ● 12 April 1861, Confederate troops fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. Most historians mark this as the beginning of the war.
  • ● Private, Confederate States of America (CSA) 14 June 1861
  • ● Lieutenant Colonel CSA Forrest’s Cavalry Battalion, October 1861
  • ● Wounded: when his horse collided with another, Sacramento, Kentucky 28 December 1861
  • ● Colonel CSA January 1862
  • ● Wounded: in the legs, Fort Donelson, Tennessee 15 February 1862
  • ● Wounded: in the left hip and back, near Shiloh, Tennessee 8 April 1862
  • ● Brigadier General CSA 21 July 1862
  • ● Wounded: in the shoulder when he was unhorsed at Munfordville, Kentucky 17 September 1862
  • ● Wounded: when his horse fell, Fort Donelson, Tennessee 3 February 1863
  • ● Awarded “The Thanks of Congress” (CSA) – 1 May 1863: for “gallantry and successful enterprise” and “especially for the daring and skill exhibited in the capture of Murfreesboro on the 13th of July last [1862], and in the subsequent brilliant achievements.”
  • ● Wounded: shot in the left hip during an argument with Lt. Andrew Wills Gould, CSA, who Forrest then mortally wounded, Columbia, Tennessee 14 June 1863
  • ● Wounded: Tunnel Hill, Georgia 11 September 1863
  • ● Major General CSA 4 December 1863
  • ● Awarded “The Thanks of Congress” (CSA) – 17 February 1864: for “meritorious service in the field, and especially for the daring, skill, and perseverance exhibited in the pursuit and capture of the largely superior forces of the enemy near Rome, Georgia in May last [1863], for gallant conduct at Chickamauga, and for his recent brilliant services in west Tennessee.”
  • ● Wounded: when his horse fell, Fort Pillow, Tennessee 12 April 1864
  • ● Awarded “The Thanks of Congress” (CSA) – 23 May 1864: for the “brilliant and successful campaign in Mississippi, West Tennessee, and Kentucky, a campaign which conferred upon its authors fame as enduring as the records of the struggle which they have so brilliantly illustrated.”
  • ● Wounded: in the right foot, Old Town Creek, Mississippi 15 July 1864
  • ● Awarded “The Thanks of Congress” (CSA) – 6 December 1864: for his battle at Brices Cross Roads, Mississippi on 10 June 1864
  • ● Lieutenant General CSA 28 February 1865
  • ● Wounded: in the head, arms and shoulders, Ebenezer Church, Alabama 1 April 1865
  • ● 9 April 1865, Robert E. Lee surrenders his troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
  • ● 10 May 1865 Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest is paroled from a POW camp, Gainesville, Alabama
  • ● After the war, Forrest worked as a planter and as the president of the Selma, Marion, & Memphis Railroad
  • ● Died: Memphis, Tennessee 29 October 1877

Originally self-published by James R. Venable, 1971

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In Dixie Land, where I was born in,
early on one frosty mornin’,
Look away, look away, look away Dixie Land.

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