A cavalry and military commander in the war, Forrest is one of the war's most unusual figures. Although less educated than many of his fellow officers, before the war Forrest had already amassed a fortune as a planter, real estate investor, and slave trader. He was one of the few officers in either army to enlist as a private and be promoted to general officer and corps commander during the war. Although Forrest lacked formal military education, he had a gift for leadership, strategy and tactics. He created and established new doctrines for mobile forces, earning the nickname "The Wizard of the Saddle".
Forrest was accused of war crimes at the Battle of Fort Pillow for allowing forces under his command to massacre hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionist prisoners. Union Major General William Sherman investigated the allegations and did not charge Forrest with any improprieties.
Popular culture has given Forrest the alleged slogan "I get there firstest with the mostest" (which he probably never really said) and a fictional descendant named Forrest Gump.
Nathan Bedford Forrest in Fort Pillow Edit
While headquartered in Jackson, Tennesee (a town he'd taken twice in two years), General Nathan Bedford Forrest decided to take Fort Pillow in 1864. In his view, the pieces were in place: Confederate General Abraham Buford II was engaging Union forces in Kentucky, and Confederate forces had a grip on Memphis, insuring no aid could come to the fort. The fact that the fort was manned primarily by blacks and pro-Union southerners rankled Forrest. He ordered Robert McCulloch, James Chalmers and Tyree Bell to move on the Fort. This having been done, Forrest quickly realized that he could not simply wait while his subordinates attacked the fort, and decided to catch up to his men. Shortly after arriving at Brownsville, Chalmers presented Forrest with W.J. Shaw, a former prisoner of the fort who agreed to act as a guide for the C.S. forces. Convinced that Shaw was telling the truth, he ordered his men to march.
The Opening SalvoEdit
Forrest arrived a little while after the battle had started. He met with General Chalmers, who confirmed that his men had pushed all the Federal troops back into the fort. Chalmers also cheerfully admitted that he had sharpshooters deliberately targeting Union officers. Pleased, Forrest ordered Chalmers to keep to that course of action, and insisted that Chalmers step it up. He then began to reconnoiter on horseback, much to Chalmers chagrin, when a stray bullet fatally injured his horse. The horse fell, and landed on Forrest, injuring his leg. Despite Chalmer's continued protests, Forrest mounted another horse and finished his reconnoiter. This second horse was also shot and wounded, exasperating Chalmers and Forrest's own aid, Charles W. Anderson. Nonetheless, Forrest was pleased with his survey, realizing that his men had the Union troops right where he wanted them.
He was also mildly surprised by the bravery initially shown by Negro soldiers in the fort. Forrest believed that they did owe their bravery to the comparative safety of the fort, and looked forward to when they met his troops face to face. Forrest was certain that the Negroes would prove incapable of fighting in those circumstances. He also believed it important to keep the notion of black incompetence alive.
When the shelling from the USS New Era proved to be a potential threat, Forrest ordered that the riverbank be taken and held to keep reinforcements from being landed.
A Peace OfferEdit
In the afternoon, Forrest dictated to his aide-de-camp, Charles W. Anderson, a message demanding the surrender of the fort. This was a typical tactic used by Forrest. Although Forrest had no doubt he triumph in a military conflict, demanding a surrender worked well in the past, and so he was willing to try it here. After he dictated the message to Anderson, Forrest selected Captain Walter Goodman to actually carry the message under a white flag. The message, addressed to Major Lionel F. Booth, commandant of the fort, promised that the men would be treated as prisoners of war, and assured Booth that the Confederates had received a fresh supply of ammunition. When pressed by Goodman, Forrest decided that the Negro troops would also be included as prisoners of war, a fact certain to anger his men. Forrest nonetheless was willing to stipulate to that if the fort surrendered immediately.
What Forrest and his mean did not know was that Booth had been killed a few hours before, and that Major William Bradford was in overall command. Bradford stalled for time by requesting an hour from Forrest, signing Booth's name. Concurrent with the arrival of the response, Forrest learned that a steam ship, the Olive Branch, was coming up the Mississippi with reinforcements. Forrest ordered Col. Clark Barteau to send sharpshooters along the bank of Coal Creek to fire on the steamer, and prevent it from off-loading reinforcements. He also ordered Goodman to return to Fort Pillow with a denial of the requested hour, allowing only twenty minutes for the garrison to reach a decision. If the garrison did not surrender, Forrest promised to attack. For good measure, Forrest went with Captain Goodman to confirm that he, Forrest, was in fact present for the battle, and that the Confederates were not engaged in a ruse. Forrest himself received the note from the fort's adjutant, Lt. Mack Leaming, which read "Your demand does not produce the desired effect." Forrest was disgusted with the note's ambiguity, and demanded a plain response: would Booth (whom Forrest still believed alive) surrender, yes or no? Once again, Leaming returned to the Fort, after snapping off a fussily precise salute at Forrest.
As Leaming left, Goodman convinced Forrest to return to the Confederate lines. At this point, Forrest was still hopeful that the fort might yet surrender, a hope he shared with his bugler, Jacob Gaus.
In this, he proved too optimistic. Goodman returned shortly with a note stating the garrison would not surrender. Forrest quickly marshaled his forces, ordering that the sharpshooters on Coal Creek open fire on the New Era whenever it opened up its gunports. He then confirmed that General Chalmers' men were ready. Forrest confirmed that he would not be leading from the front, a fact the surprised Chalmers. When Chalmers pressed the matter, Forrest angrily refused to give a reason. He then gave his bugler, Jacob Gaus, the order to sound attack.
The Fort FallsEdit
Forrest watched through his spyglass, realizing full well that the Union garrison didn't stand a chance. Privately, he denied any responsibility, content that he'd given the garrison ample chance to surrender. As the fort fell and the New Era made its way up-river, Forrest was more content still. As he watched, a Negro soldier made his way to the Confederate lines. The Negro was able to surrender to the Confederates primarily because his captor was out of ammunition. Ironically, the Negro had passed through Forrest's slave pens on at least one occasion. While Forrest couldn't remember the soldier's name, he did remember his face, and the fact that the Negro's good teeth had fetched an excellent price.
The soldier informed Forrest that Major Lionel F. Booth had been killed early in the fighting, and that Forrest had been treating with Major William Bradford. Forrest was astonished; he hated Bradford. Forrest confirmed that the soldier's name was Hiram Lumpkin, and ordered that he be treated fairly while in captivity. He then pondered the situation, realizing that Bradford had fooled him into thinking the more experienced Booth was still in command. Forrest concluded that Booth would probably have surrendered, and wondered if Bradford would try.
After the FallEdit
With the major fighting over, Forrest made his way up to the fort. He watched Federal POWs gathering up bodies. When he saw some of his own troops shooting at a few Federal stragglers, he ordered his men to cease firing and allow the Union troops to surrender. Then he spotted William Bradford. Forrest reproached Bradford for not surrendering the fort. Bradford tactfully explained that he didn't quite trust Forrest's promise of good treatment, and shared his honest belief that the fort could have held. When Forrest learned of Bradford's intent to give his brother, Theodorick, a Christian burial, Forrest, who'd lost his own brother Jeffrey in combat some months before, softened somewhat, and ordered that two Negroes help Bradford dig a grave. He also ordered that as Bradford had given his parole, he should not be mistreated.
However, as the night wore on, Forrest realized that the burial was taking too long. Accompanied by Captain Anderson and Colonel McCulloch, Forrest went to investigate. They found Private Matt Ward passed out drunk near Theodorick Bradford's grave. Ward was able to explain part of what happened, and McCulloch figured out the rest: Bradford had been pretending to drink with Ward until Ward became completely drunk. As Ward was under McCulloch's command, McCulloch took full responsibility. Forrest realized just how clever Bradford was, and forgave Ward (and by extension, McCulloch). Forrest admitted that even he'd been blinded by his sympathy for Bradford's deceased brother. Forrest and his men realized that Bradford would be headed for Memphis, and began a pursuit.
Forrest and an escort rode out the fort's perimeter. Here they met Corporal Jack Jenkins, who told of the sutler he'd let past. Forrest informed Jenkins that the sutler was probably Bradford. Jenkins, much like Ward, was horrified by his error. Realizing how late the hour was, Forrest let the matter rest for the moment, and went back to securing the fort.
Once his men had loaded up everything they could carry, including the firearms and ammunition, Forrest withdrew from the fort, leaving a small group of picketers behind. He actually made camp only five miles from the fort. The next morning, Forrest sent Captain Anderson back to the fort under a flag of truce to allow any riverboats that might be present to carry as many wounded as they could. He also had Anderson give his compliments to General Chalmers.
The day after the battle, Forrest arrived back in Brownsville, where he met his regimental surgeon J.B. Cowan. Cowan gently chastised Forrest for pushing himself so hard. He then asked about Bradford. Forrest indicated he wasn't sure what would happen if they caught Bradford again. In truth, Forrest was privately railing against, not Bradford, or even Fielding Hurst, but his purported colleague, Braxton Bragg, whom Forrest held responsible for losing the Western theater. Forrest didn't share this with Cowan, however.
Two weeks after the battle, Forrest was informed by Charles Anderson that Bradford had been killed while trying to escape. Anderson also admitted that the person who killed Bradford was Jenkins. Forrest understood the implication, but ultimately didn't care. He also learned that the U.S. Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War had interviewed the survivors of the battle. Again, he did not care, as he was content that the C.S. would win in the long run.
Nathan Bedford Forrest in The Guns of the South Edit
Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the greatest Confederate cavalry commanders during the Second American Revolution. Despite having no formal military education and virtually no formal education at all and despite having begun the war as a private, Forrest earned an officer's commission in Confederate cavalry and rose swiftly through the ranks. In 1864, with the help of the new repeating rifles, the AK-47s, his troops successfully fought against the Union troops under the command of General Samuel D. Sturgis just before the capture of Washington City. Despite being heavily outnumbered- Sturgis had more than 8,000 men, versus Forrest's 3,500- Forrest completely routed Sturgis in battle with the new rifles, sending Sturgis fleeing northward in full retreat, leaving behind some 250 wagons and ambulances, and 5,000 conventional small arms.
When Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia captured Washington City, Lee was only able to convince President Abraham Lincoln to surrender when he pointed out Forrest's cavalry could wreck Union supply lines and starve its troops, using Forrest's defeat of Sturgis as an example. As it happened, Forrest actually did what Lee said he would anyway. Upon being notified of the armistice, Forrest acted as if he had not been told, led his men up into occupied Tennessee, and wrecked General William Sherman's supply railroad, adding further humiliation to the defeats inflicted upon Sherman and his army. Though he was vilified for it in the United States, the act earned Forrest great fame in the Confederacy, and the nickname "Hit-'em-Again Forrest." Confederate citizens took to saying Forrest had "hit the Yankees one more time, to remind 'em they was licked."
After the war, Forrest's troops fought against the remnants of the Union colored regiments which remained in the Mississippi River Valley. A commander gifted with great ability to inspire his men by fighting right alongside them in every battle he could, Forrest led his men against the colored guerrillas with extreme ferocity. As fearless and merciless as Forrest inspired his men to be, the former U.S. colored troops matched them in both regards and held out far longer than Forrest had ever believed they would.
Forrest staunchly believed that the preservation of slavery had been the most important cause for the Confederacy. When Robert E. Lee decided to include gradual abolition of slavery in his campaign for President in 1867, Forrest, with the support of the Rivington Men, threw his hat into the ring. While his campaign was based solely on the promise to continue slavery, he and his running mate Louis Wigfall were able to gain substantial traction.
Though having none of Lee's education, breeding, or experience with political affairs, Forrest adapted to politics as swiftly as he adapted to life in the military, and proved a fiercely charismatic and aggressive leader on the campaign trail. Forrest broke with tradition going back to the South's days in the U.S., and campaigned personally in every city and town he could, while Lee remained in Richmond. The race proved very close, and it wasn't until some weeks after election day that is was determined that Lee had won.
Despite the bitter argument the two men had before the campaign, Forrest rode his horse out to Arlington and personally conceded defeat to Lee. Although he maintained he still disagreed with Lee politically, he had no intention of ignoring the fact that Lee had won. Forrest promised to help rally the young nation behind Lee, and in particular promised to ensure his followers respected Lee's victory. The two men parted on pleasant terms.
When the Rivington Men attempted to assassinate Lee at his inauguration on March 4, 1868, Forrest telegraphed Lee soon afterward: "Request your kind permission to rescind my resignation from Confederate States Cavalry so that I may lead against the murderers who would set at naught our Republic and its institutions." Lee sent a simple reply: "Your nation is ever grateful for your service, Lieutenant General Forrest."
Back in the Army and in command of all Confederate forces working to conquer Rivington, North Carolina, Forrest relentlessly hammered at the AWB's lines for several months. Upon realizing the potential of an unusual but promising idea proposed by Henry Pleasants, Forrest made Pleasants a full colonel in the Confederate Army and made him a member of his staff. After Pleasants' scheme was put into action a month and a half later, Forrest personally led his men forward into Rivington, retaking the town and breaking the AWB's hold over the Confederacy forever.
Nathan Bedford Forrest in Southern Victory Edit
Nathan Bedford Forrest was a successful cavalry officer during the War of Secession.. He was known for the speed of his march, the suddenness of his attacks, his personal courage, and his audaciousness.
Jake Featherston regarded Nathan Bedford Forrest positively, as having been "a self made bastard" similar to Featherston himself. That was one of the reasons Featherston allowed Forrest's great-grandson Nathan Bedford Forrest III into his inner circle, while shoving aside generals with a more aristocratic family background.
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