Nathan Bedford Forrest
Lieutenant-General Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1865, private of Cavalry in 1861. As Senator Daniel has said, "what genius was in that wonderful man ! He felt the field as Blind Tom touches the keys of the piano. 'War means killing,' he said, 'and the way to kill is to get there first with the most men.' He was not taught at West Point, but he gave lessons to West Point." His career was quite as brilliant and devoted in its allegiance to duty in peace as it was in the conflict of arms.
His father's family had moved from Virginia, before the Revolution, to North Carolina, where every member able to bear arms at that time fought in the cause of independence. His parents moved thence to Bedford county, Tennessee, where he was born July 13, 1821. In 1834 he moved with his father to Marshall county, Mississippi, where the latter soon died, leaving young Forrest to support the widow and family with no resources other than a small hill farm. He undertook this work with such devotion and energy, that while neglecting his own education he provided liberally for that of his brothers and sisters, and going into business at Memphis became able to purchase a large plantation, and at the outbreak of the war was one of the wealthiest planters in Tennessee.
Soon after entering the Confederate service June 14, 1861, as a private in White's mounted rifles, he obtained authority to raise a regiment of cavalry, the equipment of which he purchased at his private expense at Louisville. With great ingenuity and daring he brought these supplies to Memphis after eluding the Federal authorities and defeating a body of troops with a force of seventy five Kentucky Confederates he had called to his aid. With his regiment he joined the forces at Fort Donelson, and after distinguishing himself in the conflict with the Federals, led his men through the enemy's lines when surrender was determined upon.
Joining Albert Sidney Johnston, he was in the heat of the fight at Shiloh, and though wounded refused to leave the field until the safety of the army was assured. Subsequently, the Federals having occupied middle Tennessee, Colonel Forrest made a series of brilliant cavalry movements into that territory that made his name famous throughout America.
Promoted brigadier-general July 21, 1862, he hung upon Buell's flank during the movement into Kentucky, protected Bragg's retreat, and while the army was in winter quarters actively covered the Federal front at Nashville, continually doing damage to the enemy. In 1863, in an effort to break Rosecrans' communications, he entered Tennessee with less than one thousand men, captured McMinnville, and surprised the garrison of 2,000 at Murfreesboro, capturing all the survivors of the fight, including General Crittenden.
General Streight, having started on a cavalry raid to Rome, Ga., was pursued and caught up with, and so impressed by Forrest's demand for surrender, that he turned over his entire command, which was in such disproportion to their captors that Forrest had to press into service all the citizens in reach to assist in forming an adequate guard.
In the great battle of Chickamauga he commanded the cavalry of the right wing, and was distinguished in the fight, but he was so dissatisfied with the incompleteness of this Confederate victory that he tendered his resignation. Instead of its acceptance he was promoted major-general and assigned to the command of all cavalry in north Mississippi and west Tennessee, and the guardianship of the granary of the Confederacy. With a small force he entered west Tennessee and recruited several thousand hardy volunteers, which, with some veteran troops, he welded into the invincible body known as "Forrest's Cavalry."
In February, 1864, General Smith with seven thousand mounted men was sent against him in co-operation with Sherman, but was utterly routed at Okolona and Prairie Mound. In return Forrest rode through Tennessee to the Ohio river, and captured Fort Pillow, Union City and other posts with their garrisons. In June 8,300 Federals under General Sturgis entered Mississippi. Forrest had only 3,200 men, but at Brice's Cross Roads he struck the straggling Federal column at its head, crushed that, and then in detail routed successive brigades until Sturgis had suffered one of the most humiliating defeats of the war, losing all his trains and a third of his men.
Gen. A. J. Smith renewed the invasion with 14,000 men, but retreated after a desperate battle at Harrisburg, near Tupelo. Reorganizing his beaten forces Smith again advanced with reinforcements from Memphis, and Forrest was compelled to foil the enemy by taking half his force and making a sixty-hour ride to Memphis, the daring entry of which compelled Smith's rapid retreat.
Then for a time General Forrest made havoc with the Federal transportation, garrisons and depots in Tennessee, exploits crowned by the capture and destruction of six million dollars' worth of the enemy's supplies and a gunboat fleet, at Johnsonville, "a feat of arms," wrote Sherman, "which I must confess excited my admiration."
After the fall of Atlanta he joined Hood at Florence, and fought at Franklin and Nashville. As commander of the rear guard of the retreating Confederate army, Forrest displayed his most heroic qualities, with hardly a parallel but the famous deeds of Marshal Ney while covering Napoleon's retreat from Moscow.
In February, 1865, he was promoted lieutenant-general, and given the duty of guarding the frontier from Decatur, Ala., to the Mississippi. With a few hundred hastily gathered men he made his last fight at Selma, and on May 9 he laid down his arms. It is stated that he was 179 times under fire in the four years, and he said, "My provost marshal's books will show that I have taken 31,000 prisoners."
After the war he was president of the Selma, Marion and Memphis railroad until 1874. He died at Memphis, October 29, 1877.
By European authority he is pronounced the most magnificent cavalry officer that America has produced.
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Quotes by General Forrest | Photo's Forrest | Forrest and the Slave Trade