His first battle.After having seen some service in marching and scouting, but with little time or inclination for drill, on the 28th of December, 1861, Forrest, with three hundred men, met the enemy for the first time, about four hundred and fifty strong, near Sacramento, Kentucky. This fight deserves especial notice, not only because of its success and the confidence inspired in the raw Confederate cavalry, but because it displayed at once the characteristics and natural tactics which were subsequently more fully developed and made Forrest famous as a cavalry leader. He had marched his command twenty miles that day, when he found a fresh trail where the enemy's cavalry had passed. Putting his command at a gallop, he traveled ten miles further before he struck the rear guard. His own command was badly scattered, not half up with him; but without halting, he rushed headlong at them, leading the charge himself. When he had driven the rear guard on to the main body, and they turned on him with superior force, he quickly dismounted his men and held the enemy in check until his command came up, and ordered them to attack in flank and rear. This movement was successful, and the retreat of the Federals soon began. Quickly mounting his men, he commenced one of his terrible pursuits, fighting hand-to-hand with pistol and sword — killing one and wounding two himself — continuing the chase for many miles, and leaving the road dotted with wounded and dead. His Major, a celebrated preacher and subsequently an equally celebrated Confederate Colonel, D. C. Kelly, saw him then for the first time under fire, and thus vividly describes the wonderful change that always took place in his appearance in a fight: “His face flushed till it bore a striking resemblance to a painted Indian warrior's, and his eyes, usually so mild in their expression, blazed with the intense glare of a panther's about to spring on his prey. In fact, he looks as little like the Forrest of our mess table as the storm of December resembles the quiet of June.” Those who saw him when his brother Jeffrey fell, who was born after the death of his father, and who was educated and almost idolized by his brother, say that the blaze of his face and the glare of his eyes were fearful to behold, and that he rushed like a madman on the foe, dealing out death with pistol and sword to all around him — like Hector fighting over the body of Patroclus:
Yet, fearless in his strength, now rushing onThis first fight, as I have said, illustrated the military characteristics of the man, and justified the remark of General Dick Taylor, that “he employed the tactics of Frederick at Leuthen and Zorndorf, without even having heard these names.” First, his reckless courage in making the attack — a rule which he invariably followed
He dashed amid the fray; now shouting loud,
Stood firm; but backward not a step retired.