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General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

A summary of some of his remarkable achievements.

Bishop Gailor, of Tennessee, contributes to the Sewanee Review for January, 1901, a very readable sketch of the military career of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate cavalry leader, of whom General Sherman once wrote: ‘After all, I think Forrest was the most remarkable man our civil war produced on either side.’

Forrest's first engagement, at Sacramento, Ky., illustrated the tactics that he followed with such marked success throughout the war—dismounting about one-third of his men in front as skirmishers, and then attacking with the others in two divisions on flank and rear.

Passing over the surrender of Fort Donelson, to which Forrest refused to be a party, and which Bishop Gailor characterizes as ‘disgraceful,’ the next important action in which Forrest had a part was Shiloh, where he captured a battery, and on the retreat to Corinth he ‘saved the Confederate army from destruction by checking Sherman's advance.’

Forrest's subsequent exploits are thus related by Bishop Gailor:

‘Within three weeks, however, he was again ready for action, and made a raid into Middle Tennessee that astounded his enemies, and 22 [338] so began the marvellous career of audacity and success that ended only with the civil war. With 1,500 men he swooped upon the fortifications at Murfreesboro, destroyed the railway station and the forts, took 1,200 prisoners, including two brigadier-generals—Crittenden and Duffield—destroyed $700,000 worth of stores, captured sixty wagons, 500 mules and horses, one battery of artillery, and escaped in safety with the loss of but sixteen killed and twenty-five wounded. The country swarmed with Federal troops, and Forrest's escape reads like a chapter in fiction. General Buell wrote:’ Our guards are gathered up by Forrest as easily as he would herd cattle. Why don't you do something?

After checking Buell's advance upon Bragg, who had marched into Kentucky, Forrest was again relieved of his command (November, 1862), and was ordered back to Tennessee to raise and equip another, if he could.

‘By December 1st a new brigade of 2,000 men had gathered around him at Columbia; but they had virtually no arms, ammunition or other equipment, and the only source of supply was the enemy's garrisons. Forrest accordingly ventured to cross the Tennessee river, though it was patrolled by gunboats, and marched with his small brigade into West Tennessee in the face of more than 12,000 Federal troops. He eluded pursuit, captured Colonel Ingersoll and his command, near Jackson, captured the garrison at Forked Deer creek, then captured Trenton and its garrison, and again Union City with its garrison, and destroyed immense quantities of stores. Being surrounded finally by three brigades, he attacked one after the other, and made his escape in safety, taking with him 500 recruits, full supplies of arms, ammunition, horses, and clothes for his men, together with five pieces of artillery, eleven cannon, thirty-eight wagons and teams, and 1,500 prisoners.’

In his account of Forrest's raid into West Tennessee, in 1863, Bishop Gailor quotes the words of ‘a northern correspondent,’ who wrote:

‘In the face of 10,000 Federal troops, Forrest, with less than 4,000, has marched right through the Sixteenth Army Corps, nine miles from Memphis, carried off 100 wagons, 200 cattle, 3,000 conscripts, destroyed several railroads and many towns.’

In his successful attack on General William S. Smith, Forrest stated that he had 2,500 men engaged against 7,000. [339]

Summarizing General Forrest's personal characteristics, Bishop Gailor says:

‘He was a man of immense physical strength and size, and as resolute and audacious in personal encounters as in open battle. His temper was terrific when aroused, and his language was often violent and profane, but never vulgar or obscene. He detested uncleanness, as he despised wanton cruelty and oppression. In the midst of the battle, when his own life was in peril, he was known to rescue a woman and a child from danger and carry them to a place of safety. While he thrashed a scout with hickory switches for giving him second-hand information, he degraded one of his best officers for trifling with the affections of a woman. He was unlearned, but not illiterate. A pen, he said once, reminded him of a snake; and his spelling was consistently wrong, but his natural eloquence could move his troops to enthusiasm. He did not know the first principles of the drill, being astonished at the effect of a trumpet-call upon disciplined soldiers, and yet, in his general plan of battle he instinctively adopted mature tactics of Napoleon. He exercised an authority as a general that was absolutely intolerant of the slightest variation or disobedience, and yet he was the genial companion of his subordinates, and was foremost in exposing himself in every battle. He had twenty-nine horses killed under him, and with his own hand slew thirty men.’

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