"In his first fight, northeast(sic) of Bowling Green, the forty year old Forrest improvised a double envelopment, combined it with a frontal assault-classic maneuvers which he could not identify by name and of which he had most likely never heard..."
Shelby Foote, The Civil War
Uneducated but not illiterate, Nathan Bedford Forrest was a natural tactician who earned the praise of his enemies. Both Grant and Sherman feared this man who entered the Confederate forces a private and left a general. The stories of him are legend.
With Fort Donelson supposedly surrounded he stormed from a meeting where the commanding officers were preparing to surrender and led his cavalry and a number of infantry out of the area without a shot being fired at him.
At Pittsburg Landing(Shiloh) he charged and routed a line of Union skirmishers by himself in defense of the retreating rebel army.
In Murfreesboro, Tennessee he freed a garrison jail of locals imprisoned, according to the Union commander, for attacks on patrols near their farms. Advised to leave after the successful escape the colonel replied, "I did not come here to make half a job of it, I want them all" and proceeded to demand unconditional surrender of the entire garrison. The Union commanders had more men, guns and an entrenched position but surrendered anyway, unaware that Forrest was bluffing.
During Braxton Bragg's retreat through Tennessee he used Forrest repeatedly as his rear guard. Later, protecting the Confederate right during the battle of Chickamauga he won the accolades of Bragg's staff when his men dismounted and attacked as infantry, pressuring the Federals to retreat from their position near the creek to one more in line with other Union troops at the LaFayette Road.
Immediately after the battle it was Forrest who reported the Federals were in full retreat to Chattanooga and the Army of Tennessee should attack, sound advice that Bragg ignored. This widened a rift between Forrest and his commander. Bragg, who was having problems with most of his subordinates after Chickamauga ordered Forrest to "turn his troops over" and report to Gen. Joseph Wheeler, fully aware that Forrest had vowed never to fight with Wheeler again. An angry Forrest confronted Bragg over the orders, threatening the Commander of the Army of Tennessee with bodily harm. Bragg never reported the incident because he realized that Forrest was too important to the cause to be jailed for insubordination. Forrest was assigned to an area further west.
His engagement of Federal troops at Brice's Crossroads on June 10, 1864 is considered by many the perfect battle. Union Major General Samuel D. Sturgis, with 8,000 men was marching south into northern Mississippi to block the cavalry from attacking Sherman's supply lines. When Sturgis ran into Forrest's dismounted horsemen he assembled a perimeter around the crossroads. Forrest flanked him on both sides, the same double envelopment that worked so well near Bowling Green. The bluecoats ran. A bridge over the Tishomingo Creek became a roadblock for the retreating army and ever-vigilant for such opportunity, the Confederate general pounced. Sturgis would later write "What was confusion became chaos..." as the rebels pounded the fleeing blues. With less than three thousand men Forrest had destroyed an enemy more than twice the manpower.
Assisting Confederate General John Bell Hood in the abortive Nashville Campaign, Forrest could see the end was near for the Confederacy.
After the Civil War, Forrest lent his name to a group of enforcers of the Democratic Party known as the Ku Klux Klan. Disenchanted with the activities of the group he ordered it to disband in 1869, which did not happen. The Klan and Forrest went separate ways but the stigma of his days as slave trader, the Fort Pillow incident and his brief association with the Klan would forever raise questions about one of America's greatest tactical minds.
Noted Civil War author Robert L. Willet's latest book, the Lightning Mule Brigade, details Col. Abel Streight's raid on Rome, Georgia in which General Forrest pursued, engaged, and defeated a much larger force. Mr. Willet has written a story about the attack for About North Georgia.
Biographies Biographies of famous, not so famous and infamous people from the North Georgia area or who had an effect on North Georgia The Civil War in Georgia Beginning with the Great Locomotive Chase and the battle of Chickamauga, to the Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea