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General N. B. Forrest

Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest

     He was the only soldier South or North to join the military as a private and rise to the rank of Lieutenant General. Two years after Appomattox he became the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and to this day is despised and hated as the engineer of the massacre at Fort Pillow. He has been described as "a soft-spoken gentleman of marked placidity", and as "an overbearing bully of homicidal wrath." Nathan Bedford Forrest, the South's "Wizard of the Saddle" was an uneducated backwoodsman and self made millionaire who inspite of having no formal military training has been described by Lee, Sherman, and other leaders of both sides as the greatest cavalry commander of either army. Perhaps his greatest compliment was paid by his enemy, William T. Sherman, who called him "the very devil" and is reported to have pronounced Forrest "the most remarkable man our civil war produced on either side . . . He had a genius which was to me incomprehensible." Forrest himself summarized his military genius with a few brief words, "War means fighting and fighting means killing." Inspite of his maxim to "get there first with the most men," he faced overwhelming odds on almost every battlefield yet never lost a battle that he personally commanded until his last battle in 1865 when he was hopelessly out manned by cavalry with the new repeating rifles.
     Never one to "lead from the rear" Forrest had twenty-nine horses shot out from under him and personally killed thirty Union soldiers. He was seriously wounded four times, once by one of his own subordinate officers who during an argument shot Forrest in the hip from point blank range. (From various accounts it appears possible that Lieutenant Gould's gun went off by accident. In retaliation, or in self defense, Forrest stabbed his assailant with a pen knife inflicting a fatal wound.)
    It is not my intention here to write a biography of General Forrest. Many others who are much more qualified have already done so. My intention is to peak the readers' interest by pointing out a few of the highlights of this amazing man's career and posting a few quotes by Forrest or about Forrest.

Abel Streight's 1863 Raid into Alabama. On May 3, 1863 at Rome, Georgia Colonel Abel Streight surrendered his force of approximately 1,600 men to General Forrest who at the time commanded fewer than 600 effectives who were completely worn out from riding and or fighting almost every day and most the nights since April 24th. George W. Adair, editor and proprietor of the Atlanta daily Southern Confederacy, says that Forrest had less that 500 men present on the field when he demanded the surrender of 1,467 under Streight, which Adair called "the boldest game of bluff on record ... for cool audacity, it excels all history or imagination."

Brice's Cross Road June 1864. General S. D. Sturgis leading a force of about 8000 suffers one of the most lopsided defeats in history at the hands of Forrest and his 4800 troops. The total Union loss in killed, wounded, or missing/captured was 2240 as compared to a total Confederate loss of 974. In addition Forrest captured 18 cannon, 176 wagons, 5000 small arms,  300,000 rounds of ammunition and sent Sturgis back to Memphis in sheer panic. At one point during the route Colonel Bouton proposed making a stand in the Hatchie Bottom to which General Sturgis replied, "For God's sake, if Mr. Forrest will let me alone, I will let him alone." Unable to save the wagons Bouton set fire to some. "Don't you see the damned yankees are burning my wagons?" Forrest roared at his men.

"Get 'em skeered and keep the skeer on 'em" Forrest to Lieutenant Morton.

"I told you twist Goddammit Know" A note from Forrest to a soldier's third request for a furlough.

"I will order them to make up a force and go out and follow Forrest to the death, if it cost 10,000 lives and breaks the Treasury. There never will be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead." General Sherman to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

"General Forrest, a heavy line of infantry is right in our rear; we are between two lines of battle. What shall we do?" "We'll charge them both ways."

"You can have my sword if you you demand it; but there is one thing I do want you to put in that report to General Bragg -- tell him that I will be in my coffin before I will fight again under your command." General Forrest to his immediate superior General Joe Wheeler.

"I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to. You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me. You have threatened to arrest me for not obeying your orders promptly. I dare you to do it, and I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life." General Forrest to General Braxton Bragg.

Recommending reading includes: The World Wide Web has pages and pages of information about General Forrest. Two of the best sites are:

Nathan Bedford Forrest Headquarters

Forrest Preserve

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