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[364]

Forrest's men rank with Bravest of brave.

By Dan W. Baird.
When General Bragg returned from his Kentucky campaign Forrest furloughed his Middle Tennessee troops, with instructions to visit their respective homes and to secure as many recruits as possible. In recruiting they were highly successful, and when the Wilson county contingent joined the main command at Lavergne, November 2, 1862, Company C, of Starnes' Fourth Tennessee Regiment numbered about 180 men and boys, the majority of them wholly untrained either in cavalry or infantry tactics. On the same day they were furnished with arms and accoutrements, such as they were, Enfield rifles, Belgian muskets, shotguns and what were called ‘Mississippi rifles,’ probably because these guns were made in Nashville, Lebanon and various other towns.

Early next morning the command moved toward Nashville on the Murfreesboro Pike a few miles, when our regiment turned to the left, crossed the railroad under the bridge over a dry branch and were formed in line behind a rail fence. On the other side of the fence was a stubble field, in which Freeman's Battery of six brass Howitzers was engaged in a lively duel with a Federal battery which was out of our sight beyond a slight rise. The men of the Federal battery evidently saw our line, for an occasional shot or shell passed over our heads among the tree tops.

With the exception of frantic rearing and plunging of the new recruit horses, the men sat in their saddles like veterans, watching the actions of the artillerymen with absorbing interest. After about half an hour a Federal shell—a percussion shell— struck a corner of the fence about the middle of the line of our company, and exploded, throwing rails high in the air. I looked around to see how many were killed and saw about a hundred of our recruits riding pellmell down the hill to the railroad [365] bridge. As the piers of the bridge were only about eight feet apart, they could not all get through quick enough and many of them galloped along the railroad fill until they found a place to cross over. The rest of the company remained until the batteries ceased firing and were ordered back to camp. Just as we turned to form into column by twos, a boy about 18 years old fell from his horse near me. There had been no small-arm firing heard, and it was a mystery where the minie bullet came from that struck him down. In assisting his comrades to place him on his horse—for he did not belong to our command—I took good notice of his face, an extremely handsome, boyish one, though covered with the pallor of death, and I can recall its lineaments now.


Missing recruits.

When we reached camp we found about twenty or thirty of our recruits missing. They had gone home and we learned had scattered the report all over the upper part of Wilson county to the effect that the Southern Confederacy was whipped and the army gone to demnition bowwows, and that there were a million of Yankees in Nashville, and every one of them carried a double barreled, self-cocking cannon. That is what the other boys told on them after they were brought back. Except the unmerciful ‘guying’ by their comrades nothing was said or done to them. It is a curious fact that the recruits gathered up or rather those who voluntarily attached themselves to the various companies in which they had friends and relatives, were never sworn into the service. I lived to see these same boys who ran away from one shell make the best soldiers and the most stubborn fighters that any army ever contained. I formed an opinion then that I hold still, that Forrest never attached as much importance to exact drill and strict discipline as most successful commanders. I doubt if he knew enough of Hardee's tactics to drill a squad properly. If a soldier would stay at his post and fight whenever and as often and as long as necessary, he was satisfied.

That same night a soldier—a stranger—came to me and asked how badly hurt did I think the young man was that I had assisted to place on his horse. I told him I thought he would die. [366]

‘Did you see the wound?’

“No,” I replied, ‘but I saw the death pallor on his face.’

Another soldier by his side said:

‘I don't think so, because I left the field hospital since dark and one of the lady nurses told him he was resting quietly and the doctors said he was doing as well as could be expected.’ The two friends went to see him next morning. He was dead.

This incident and some others similar gave me a reputation that brought me into bad repute with our chief surgeon, Dr. Swanson. A few days after the incident a young man named Grandstaff was on camp guard duty. He had set the butt of his shotgun on a low stump and was twirling it around when it slipped off the stump, the hammer, or hammers, struck the top of the stump, the gun was discharged and one or both loads passed through his right shoulder, entering the armpit and came out between the point of the shoulder and the neck, grazing his ear and singeing his hair. Being on duty nearby I was among the first to reach him. I took a good look at his face and saw on it the ‘death pallor,’ Drs. Swanson and Gooch dressed the wound where the boy fell and he was removed to a nearby house.

Next day Lieutenant D. W. Grandstaff came to me and said there was a wagon in camp from his neighborhood, and that if he knew his brother would die he could hold the wagon over till next day and send the remains home for interment at once by his friends without trouble or cost The lieutenant was overcome with grief, as it was his only brother, and he a mere boy about 16 years old and the pride of his mother. He begged me, with tears streaming from his eyes, to give him my candid opinion as to his brother's chances to get well. For a long time I declined to say, but yielding to his pleading at last, I told him to hold the wagon till next day.

Dr. Swanson heard of it. He was an exceedingly hot-tempered man and the most comprehensive, exhaustive and fluent ‘cusser’ in Forest's entire command. Having ‘cussed’ me ‘out,’ he assured Lieutenant Grandstaff that his brother had a fair chance to recover. The wagon was permitted to go home. The young man died the next day. [367]

We lay around to the south of Nashville with headquarters at various places, Nolensville, Franklin, Spring Hill and Thompson Station, doing outpost and picket duty, which involved some fighting every day.

Most of us thought we were having a hard time, but we found before the year ended that we were, in reality, having the best time of our lives. Food and forage were plentiful, the men and horses in good condition, and, as a matter of fact, most of us preferred a scout or a fight to lying in camp and doing camp duty—for if there is anything a cavalryman hates worse than another it is doing camp guard duty. And it really was of no practical service, for if a soldier wanted to spend a day off to see ‘his girl’ and get a good dinner, all he had to do was to see a friend on guard duty. But even that was unnecessary, for the officers were very lenient and would sign a pass without a question w-hen there was no prospect of fighting on hand. Even Colonel Starnes and General Forrest would countersign a private's pass upon a plausible request.

It was the best army, the best material and the strangest mixture of men that composed any army that history gives any account of. It was essentially a volunteer army. Young men whose parents were wealthy slave owners, and who had never blackened their own shoes or brushed their own clothes in their lives, served as private soldiers under a captain whose father was, perhaps, a tenant on his father's farm. When in camp and off duty the company officers were called by their first names, and even by their nicknames if they had one, and nearly every cavalryman had one. Yet these sons of rich men obeyed orders from their officers as promptly and more cheerfully than the privates in the United States regular army under officers educated at West Point.

This class of soldiers needed but little knowledge of military tactics. On the contrary, it is my opinion that a perfect drill would have detracted from their fighting value. A regiment of well drilled men was simply one fighting machine. A regiment of Forrest's troops was composed of so many hundreds of individual fighting machines, each endowed with sufficient [368] intelligence to take advantage in a fight of every obstacle, as a stump, tree, fence, or rise in the ground, to shield himself from the enemy's fire and enable him to deliver his own fire with deliberation and accuracy. Starnes' men did not much fear to charge a line of Yankee infantry who fired by volley by word of command. It looked to be probable that every one of our men would be killed or wounded, but these terrible volleys were often without any effect, as the Confederate lines were open, and all the men who could were behind some obstacle, and when they could deliver their fire it was effective.

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N. B. Forrest (5)
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