Nathan Bedford Forrest “The Wizard of the Saddle”
“ Historians consider him to be one of the greatest Calvary commanders of all time”
-Thomas Jordan and J.P Pryor The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest's Cavalry Da Capo Press 1996
"The Civil War produced two authentic geniuses - Nathan Bedford Forrest and Abraham Lincoln,"
The best Calvary commander of the civil war and the most feared individual despite the fact he had no military training before the war and entered as a 40 year old private. A “Superhuman warrior” known to be incredible strong. Friend who knew him from before war said he looked unrecognizable in battle his face and eyes would change and he would resemble a “war Indian.” Forrest personally killed 30 confirmed union soldiers more than any other confederate or any american general ever. Given he finished the war a Lieutenant general, that is a major feat. No general as high a rank as Forrest killed as many men since the medieval period. Forrest had 29 horses shot from under him and said “I ended the war a horse up.” During one charge Forrest received 5 bullet holes to his saddle. Once he was scouting ground he got so close he had 2 horses shot from under him before he felt had enough info. Forrest survived multiple wounds doctors said would be fatal both before and during the war.
“War means fighting, and fighting means killing.” -Nathan Bedford Forrest
Forrest grow up poor in Tennessee with little to no education. 6'2 broad shoulders, full chest, muscular limbs, was a sates rights democrat, Forrest did not want union to dissolve so long as states had rights. and had already killed a few men. In 1845 in Mississippi his uncle was killed in a street fight, Forrest than killed two of his uncles murders with a pistol and Bowie knife. He was “mortally wounded” after being ambushed by 4 citizens, yet fought them off killing two and the others were arrested. He may have killed others on two separate occasions and received wounds doctors said would be fatal only to survive. By 1860 Forrest owned two plantations, was a slave trader, and one of the wealthy men in Memphis.
The Civil war/Forrest was Fearless
“Come on boys, if you want a heap of fun and to kill some Yankees.”
-Forrest advertisement in Memphis newspaper for recruits
When the war started Forrest raised his own regiment and paid for their equipment and advertised for recruits in Memphis. In an early war engagement Forrest led a cavalry charge against a union line and single handley engaged multiple troops despite reviving a wound to his back.
“No damn man kills me and lives.” -Nathan Bedford Forrest
Later in the war Forrest was attacked by 4 Calvary soldiers in a mounted fight he killed one but received wounds to his head and arm. Than 3 more federals came at the general shooting and stabbing at him, he used his pistol to block the attacks but his hammer had been hacked away. His escape was blocked on all sides, his horse was than shot [would eventually prove mortal] Forrest than on his injured horse, jumped a wagon that was blocking his retreat. 30 paces down the road he was attacked by another federal with saber, Forrest with a new pistol pulled, shoots and kills the federal.
Once in a Calvary charge Forrest outran the retreating federals following a rout. He found himself surrounded by 100 federals and was shot multiple times, his horse mortally wounded. Forrest used a revolver to clear a path and escaped from the hail of bullets.
“Forrest would fight anyone,anytime”
- Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns
In another skirmish Forrest charged his command up a hill against a force twice his size supported by artillery he took 75 prisoners recaptured 60 confederate prisoners and capture the artillery. In the skirmish he received 15 bullet holes and his horse fell dead with 7 bullet wounds. Later that day, he had another horse hit with solid shot and died from under him. Once Forrest received what doctors thought a mortal wound from a fight with a subordinate. He would heal and return to command.
Once Forrest was surprised and surrounded by union forces. Forrest ordered his men to “charge em both ways” and his men did and were bale to escape.
“Never stand and take a charge… charge them too.”
-Nathan Bedford Forrest
“Get their first with the most”
-Nathan Bedford Forrest
Forrrest received some amazing battle results. Often these were from skirmishes on raids. His tactics that brought such success was to “get their first with the most” a active defensive, sudden assaults on isolated positions, swift heavy blows and the Calvary charge. Forrest was one of the few Calvary commanders who could successfully utilize the Calvary charge in the civil war. Forrest kept an elite “escort” around him of his best 70-130 soldiers that he would use to charge and break the enemy, or to turn the tide of the fight and stave off defeat. Forrest is still studied in some military collages today. Various results from raids, battles and skirmishes are as follows.
“A gifted military genius...he was the profet of mobile warfare. His campaigns [allegedly] studied by German proponents of the blitzkrieg...His operations are more reminiscent of a 20th century panzer leader, such as Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel, than of any commander of his age.”
-Barry C Jacobsen The ten Best Generals of the Civil war
-Sherman sent Samuel Sturgis with a command of 3,300 cavalry and 5,000 infantry with 22 guns to “bag” Forrest command of 3,200 men. Instead Forrest drove the federals 58 miles, captured 19 of the guns, all the federals baggage and supplies, 200 wagons, 30 ambulances, 161 mules, 20 horses, took 2,000 prisoners, 300 killed, 400 wounded, and the complete destruction/disorganization of the larger union force. Confederate causalities wee under 500.
-A raid in Tennessee caused 3,500 federal casualties, 8 artillery captured, 400 horses and mules, 100 wagons, 100 cattle, 3,000 arms stores, destroyed rail, 6 bridges, 2 locomotives, 50 fright cars and captured/destroyed 50 block houses. During the raid Forrest gained 1,000 men from recruitment and from men who deserted from Joe Johnston to join Forrest. Forrest's loses were 300, he returned stronger than left.
-On a raid in West Tennessee a federal newspaper wrote “Forrest with less than 4,000 men has moved right through the 96th army corps, has passed within 9 miles of Memphis, carried off 100 wagons, 100 beef cattle 3,000 conscripts [ men who joined his ranks from population/stranglers etc] innumerable stores, tore up railroad track, cut telephone wire, burned and sacked towns ran over picket lines, with a single derringer pistol and all in the face of 10,000 men [ 7,500 more sent from Kentucky]
-One raid with 1,800 in command Forrest captured 150 federals, killed 25,wounded another 50, captured 200 horses, a few wagons and 2 artillery, tore up railroad and captured rail cars. He rearmed his entire force with better captured weapons than when they went into raid. Forrest Lost 3 killed 5 wounded.
-In one assault Forrest attacked with 1,800 men. He captured 2,200 federals not including killed wounded and he lost only 30 men 150 wounded.
-In another battle the Federal losses were 500 prisoners 10 killed [ 230 soon after]16 wagons 3 ambulances Forrest lost only 1 killed 2 wounded
-With 300 untried troops Forrest led an attack on a depot the results were 400 prisoners and the capture of 1,000 horses 15 wagons 600,000 rounds ammo 100,000 rations cloths etc $500,000 worth overall.
- In one of Forrests charges he took 150 confederates and charged 350 federals while they were crossing a river, this caused a union rout and captured 70 soldiers
-In a month long campaign destroyed rail, 2,500 federals killed or prisoners and came back stronger and better equpied than he left.
-In one action he burned 4 bridges captured 145 federals plus 15-20 killed without a single man killed or wounded in.
-During 4-5 small skirmishes he lost 200 men, but killed 350 captured 2,000 prisoners and captured artillery and wagon
-Once the union set a ambush, but Forrest charged faster than they thought and he turned it into a victory. He captured 30 killed/wounded 20 lost only 2 killed
-Once charged a lined enemy Calvary with superior force and only lost 1 killed and killed 20 and took 50 prisoners.
-On many occasions Forrest had to release prisoners as he had to many to control, often larger than his own force. Forrest once had prisoners help move artillery wagons through rough roads to than be set free.
“Forrest ... used his horsemen as a modern general would use motorized infantry. He liked horses because he liked fast movement, and his mounted men could get from here to there much faster than any infantry could; but when they reached the field they usually tied their horses to trees and fought on foot, and they were as good as the very best infantry
- Bruce CattonThe Civil War* New York: American Heritage Press
Forrest excelled at scouting, ambushing and deception. He would keep the enemy uncertain of his movements, when he was trapped he was able to cross bridges or streams that were though impassable. He once used captured union infantry drums to make his Calvary force appear more numerous and prevented an attack as the union thought there was confederate infantry in the area. He used some of the older men in his command to dress as civilians and give false information to the upcoming federals on the whereabouts of forests command. He had his men were captured federal uniforms to gain information from the enemy
Once while trying to convince a union commander to surrender he made his force of 4,500 appear like 10,000 to the union commander and cause the surrender of the union command. He did things like had his artillery brought up in circles to appear like he had more guns than he did.
Feared by Many
“Follow Forrest to the death if it costs 10,000 lives and breaks the treasury. There will never be peace in Tennessee till Forrest is dead”
-William T Sherman
“the most feared commander of the war... no Union commander was able to effectively come to grips with Forrest’s cavalry during the war”
-Nathan Bedford Forrest civil war Trust
Because of Forrest individual fighting ability, his fearlessness, his aggressiveness, his unpredictable and lighting fast raids and assaults, and his great success. He became widely seen as the most feared commander on either side of the war. In one instance a federal cavalry command was preparing for an attack on a much smaller confederate Calvary command. They than received information it was Forrest command and the federal officer than called off the attack despite the manpower advantage.
“Perhaps the most feared general in American history”
-Barry C Jacobsen 10 Best Generals in American History
“I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself; nor would I advise to go a course which I myself was unwilling to pursue.*
-Nathan Bedford Forrest
Forrest led by example. He would not order his men to do anything he would not so. He often would do a mission when no volunteers would offer. He himself would go on dangerous scouting missions and once crossed a frozen river when none of his men would.
Where Does Forrest Rank in Civil war Generals?
“Having him [forrest] in an army was something like operating in concert with a band of formidable but unpredictable barbarians allies...could be an excellent cavalryman for practicality any purpose if he could be convinced to pursue his commanders wishes”
-Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns University of Nebraska press
So where does he rank? That of course would depend on opinion. He is widely regarded as the best Calvary commander of the war and usually around 5th best overall commander. What Forrest did well was a limited area. He was great when commanding a division or lower and allowed freedom to raid at this he had no peer. However he did not have the impact of generals in the regular army on the major battlefields. Forrest was hard to control and more did his own thing. He once threatened to kill Braxton Bragg the army commander and so was shipped to Mississippi. This in part made it so Forrest could not do what many thought should have been done, work on Shermans supply during his invasion and turn him back like he did Grant in his first attempt on Vicksburg.
“There is no doubt we could soon wipe old Sherman off the face of the earth, John, if they'd give me enough men and you enough guns.”
-Nathan Bedford Forrest 1864
--The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest's Cavalry Da Capo Press 1996
-Great Campaigns The Shiloh Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1996
-Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns Steven E Woodworth University of Nebraska press 1998
-Receding Tide Vicksburg and Gettysburg the Campaigns That changed the civil war Edwin C Bearess and J Parker Hills National Geographic D.C 2010
-How the South Could Have Won the Civil War: The Fatal Errors That Led to Confederate Defeat Bevin Alexander 2008 Crown Forum
"How do you like this are coming back into the union"
Confederate solider to Pennsylvanian citizen before Gettysburg
"No way sherman will go to hell, he would outflank the devil and get past havens guard"
Southern solider about northern General Sherman
"Angels went to receive his body from his grave but he was not there, they left very disappointed but upon return to haven, found he had outflanked them and was already there".
Northern newspaper about the death of Stonewall Jackson