idaho native

Nathan Bedford Forrest

226 posts in this topic

While at Chickamauga recently a park employee made the comment that Forrest was a Wizard alright but not a "Wizard of the Saddle". I have trouble agreeing with this comment because I find him so intriguing. Between dusk on April 6 and dawn on April 7, 1862 Forrest kept telling the high command of the Confederate Army that Grant was being reinforced by troops crossing the Tennessee River (Buell) & that they should initiate a night attack before the reinforcements were up. No one would listen to him. Would a night attack have been at all feasible considering the green troops and the terrain on the battlefield? Food for thought.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mr Idaho Native:

NO, not possible.  Not done in the civil war.  At Shiloh, troops not formed, organized, out of ammo, tired, hungary, leaders didn't know where their troops were.  No orders issued to make an attack.  Troops in camp, bedding down, not on the front line. 

NO

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But Ron, what do you really think? :)

I agree about a night attack. Just not a realistic possibility. It's interesting that Forrest suggested it as an option though, along with retreat. It seems pretty clear that he understood what Buell's arrival meant, and that the entire situation had changed from the Confederates' perspective. It makes me wonder what Forrest might have done had he been in command of the army that night.

Something else that's odd about this though. When Forrest finally located Hardee, tells him what he's seen and says that he can't find Beauregard, Hardee just sends him back to keep an eye on things. That's it.

You know, if you think about it, that's just stunning. I mean it's just stunning. He'd just been told that not only was Grant not retreating, but Buell's army was on the scene and crossing the river. The only thing that could have been worse was hearing that Buell was crossing the river behind them. Other than that, it was the worst possible news they could have had that night.

And when Hardee hears it, he basically shurgs and sends Forrest back where he came from. Apparently he didn't even try to find and inform Beauregard. Are you kidding me?

I can't remember exactly where I read it, but maybe the best explanation I've seen for this is simply pure, complete exhaustion. Not just Hardee, but the entire Confederate army, officers included. Not only had they just endured the mental and physical strain of a vicious, day-long battle, but they did so after spending three awful days just trying to reach the Union army and get into position for an attack. The unending strain and fatigue may have started to affect their judgment to some extent. Maybe that helps explain Hardee's otherwise totally mystifying response to the news that Forrest gave him. Or maybe he felt that it was too late by then to really do anything about it.

Even so, the news that the enemy is being reinforced is something that the commanding general might be interested in hearing about. But so far as I know, Beauregard didn't learn about it until sometime the next day, after it had become self-evident.

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I do to find that Hardee's response to Forrestt's info shocking but do you think that part of it could really add up to "Shell Shock" and "what else could we do -we have lack of reinforcements,ammo,and leadership. Also probably moving at nite another factor was it not Stonewall Jackson that was shot by Confederate pickets accidentally 13 month later in night maneveers.so probably not much good could have arisen in making a charge that nitght--only if they'd had fresh troops come.Al;so what do you all think about this--I known Nathan Bedford is a personality either you love him or you dont care anything for him.Do you think it has something about his lack of "prpoer military formal training'?Personally I think of him a very important part of history esp. here in West TN battles and squirmishes.

mONA

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really do think the logistics of Forrests proposal to carry on a night attack considering the circumstances of having fought a battle all day with green troops is/was probably not feasible.  Maybe later in the war with vereran troops it would have been a different story.  They certainly carried out a number of night marches & I think had a few night skirmishes.  The Battle of Franklin certainly continued after dark as did I think the Battle of Stones River.  Forrest might have been able to pull off a night attack, he certainly retreated from Ft. Donelson after dark in freezing weather in winter in a snowstorm with high water in the creeks.  He made it through that one with nerve and pluck.

I would concur people either like Forrest or they do not. Some segments like to malign him for Fort Pillow where he purportedly massacured Union troops that had surrendered or turned a deaf ear to those who were doing it if he actually did not participate.  Since there is evidence to support both sides of this controversy I think the jury is still out on this one.

Sherman, although calling him "that devil Forrest" during the war made some comment after the war that he was one of the best military leaders the war produced on either side.  That is certainly a mark of respect from someone who was in a position to know.

I think Forrest was an interesting and adept military leader.  When you look at where he came from with little formal education and no military training at all he certainly put fear in the hearts of Union commanders in the west throughout most of the war.  He was able to do things that no other military commander could with fewer men.  He raised havoc with union forces and cost the United States millions of dollars in lost, damaged, burned supplies as the results of his raids behind enemy lines.  In this politically correct world we live in we loose site of the realities of what life was like in America in the 1860's and what the pevailing attitudes of the times were for many Americans.  We should judge Forrest in the light of the environment in which he lived in not in accordance with 21st Century morals or attitudes.  He was no more so less perfect than any of the rest of us.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, Forrest isn't one of my favorite people from the war. He was an excellent cavalry commander, no question about that, but I'm not sure that most of what he accomplished wouldn't qualify as simply being a painful thorn in the side of the Union rather than a major threat to their war effort. I suppose that's not his fault, being as he never commanded an army, but I sometimes think the attention he has received over the years is a little overdone. That's my view of it anyway.

As far as Fort Pillow is concerned, I agree that there is conflicting evidence as to whether Forrest was directly to blame. But I think at the least he does bear some responsibility. The garrison at Fort Pillow was roughly half white and half black, and from what I remember reading about it, the majority of white soldiers were taken prisoner while most of the black soldiers were killed. I don't think that was a coincidence or the mere chances of war.

As for judging Forrest within the context of his times and not our own, I think that's very true. I'm not a big fan of political correctness either, although at times it does have its place. But living in a different era is not an automatic pass, for Forrest or anyone else. I understand that to some extent Forrest was the product of the world in which he was raised and lived. That's true for all of us. And I do think we have to try and understand people, and events, within that context, even though it isn't always very easy.

But I think that the study of history is not meant to simply be a dispassionate one. It's not merely about understanding something or someone within their own era. We also have to decide how we feel about it all. Or so it seems to me. Otherwise, what do we really learn from it?

For me, history is a constant balancing act between understanding and judgment. One that I don't always navigate successfully, and I'm sure I'm not alone. But that's the way it is to me. We want to try and understand what happened, and why it happened, or why someone acted the way that they did at a certain point in time. That, to me, is trying to place things in context.

But at the same time, we're going to pass judgment on what we think about these things. We're going to bring our own beliefs, experiences, and prejudices into the picture, whether we know it or not. And I don't think that's wrong. We have to decide what we think about something or someone, even if all we can decide is that we're not really sure just yet. I think it works that way with learning about Forrest, too.

Plus, there were people at that time who didn't care for some of the things he did, or for him personally, and others who seem to have admired him quite a bit. And in both cases they were judging him based on their own 19th Century values and not our modern-day versions. (Not all of which are completely different from each other.) Not everyone shared his attitudes or beliefs, even then, and even within his own section of the country.

Had I lived in his time and been brought up in his surroundings, I might very well have believed the same way Forrest believed about things, and supported the same causes he did. Maybe not - again, not everyone did - but it's very possible that I would have. That's the context of it for me, and I do try to understand that part of it. The 21st Century version of me thinks he was an impressive cavalry commander, but still can't come to admire him as a person. Maybe that speaks to me more than it does to him. And to some extent maybe that's the point. But it does make for a good debate.

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Forrest is not one of my favorite generals either. Upon reflection I do not think he would make it on the top ten list. Wonder who would? That is something to consider a list of the top ten most favorite and lease favorite civil war generals and why. Maybe it is not appropriate for this forum however. Sharon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[user=29]Wrap10[/user] wrote:

Well, Forrest isn't one of my favorite people from the war. He was an excellent cavalry commander

Perry

Perry,

NBF isn't one of my favorites either.

Forrest was more of a "mounted infantry" guy instead of cavalry. He had serious problems acting as a subordinate. And, IIRC, most of his success came when he had independent command.

IMHO, there is a lot of legend/hype chaff to discard when you study Forrest. 

Respectively,

Mike

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good points, Mike. I do think Forrest was a good commander, but sometimes it does get difficult to separate fact from legend. The famous story of Forrest using a Union soldier as a shield to escape after being shot at Fallen Timbers is a good example. I've read that no one has yet found a contemporary source for that story. Maybe it's a true story and maybe it isn't, but I have a hard time believing he actually did that.

Sharon - on starting a discussion of favorite or non-favorite generals, sure, that would be fine. The Campfire forum is meant to be for general discussions, whether about Shiloh or not, so that would be a good spot for it. Or if everyone would like, we could have a discussion like that about generals involved in the Shiloh campaign, from Fort Henry to the fall of Corinth. Either way is fine. And I'm sure we're all big fans of John B Floyd or Gideon Pillow here. :)

Perry

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hello Evryone:

Concerning Nathan Bedford Forrest, I will say that he is one of my favorites. After everything is said about him, he still remains a top level confederate leader. He was a determined leader, something the confederates lacked in many instances.  He was innovative concerning battlefield tactics, very aggressive, used cavalry as well as mounted infantry tactics, horse artillery, and had an excellent understanding of the battlefield. His pluses far outweighted the minuses. 

You already read (above) that Sherman referred to him as "that devil Forrest" but do you know that Grant also had a high regard for Forrest.  Late in 1862, in northern Mississippi, when confederate cavalry was unleashed on his supply lines, he (Grant) immediately asked who was in command of the rebels.  When told it was not Forrest, he ignored the rebel raiders and continued his movements.

A study of mine about confederate commanders in the west indicates that Forrest compiled the highest score of any rebel commander, Cleburne came in second.  I will explain this study further if anyone is interested.  I did this study because I was having trouble understanding who the better leaders were.  The result was that it opened my eyes and allowed a better understanding of the leadership. Another result was that it allowed me to understand how good the mid-level officers were, Such as George Maney, Jones Withers, James R Chalmers, John Bowen, Patton Anderson.  I appreciate much better what these and many others officers did and I enjoy reading about the battles much more than before with this better understanding of the rebel generals.  

Say what you want, Forrest was good.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, N. B. Forrest was one of my favorite commanders.  Being from West TN, I can't help myself. If Forrest had the ability to carry out his plans, like another great commander U.S. Grant, things might have turned out differently.  But, not being from West Point, he had trouble doing that. 

Perry Neal

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will give NBF high marks for being able to motivate. But, to me, he was nothing more than a raider/irregular. Not to say that he wasn't good at that, but he was limited as far as cavalry tactics goes ... in my opinion.  I would give Rebel Horsemen Hampton & Stuart higher marks, one from West Point & the other from South Carolina College (present day University of South Carolina).  These men could work within the confines of military discipline.

No disrespect intended here. I realize that criticizing Forrest is considered blasphemous in some circles.

Mike 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[user=25]Ron[/user] wrote:

A study of mine about confederate commanders in the west indicates that Forrest compiled the highest score of any rebel commander

Ron,

Please explain your criteria. While this interests me, I'm gonna bet that your study is highly subjective.

Respectfully,

Mike Peters

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ron:  I am interested in your study.  I find Cleburne interesting.  I think there is often something really subjective as to why some men are really good leaders and others are not.  Both Forrest and Cleburne and J S Mosby, & J H Morgan & G A Custer and P H Sheridan, amongst others had that inner magnetism or whatever you want to call it that compelled men to follow then even into the jaws of death.  In Forrest's farewell address to his troops which is quite elequent, he said "I have never, on the field of battle, sent you where I was unwilling to go myself".

Sharon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mike:  What would you say about J S Mosby & his partisan rangers and J H Morgan.  They were also raiders/irregulars.  The ultimate raiders were probably the ones in Missouri lead by Quantrill. Not to be disrespectful but Quantrill & his associates might just have been outlaws.  Stuart had many years to prefect his talents.  The jury is still out on what his impact on the battle of Gettysburg was he was not effectively acting as Lee's eyes and ears because he was east of both armies trying to keep track of a captured Union wagon train & skirmishing with Union cavalry.

Sharon

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

[user=45]idaho native[/user] wrote:

Mike:  What would you say about J S Mosby & his partisan rangers and J H Morgan. Stuart had many years to prefect his talents.  The jury is still out on what his impact on the battle of Gettysburg was he was not effectively acting as Lee's eyes and ears because he was east of both armies trying to keep track of a captured Union wagon train & skirmishing with Union cavalry.

 

Sharon,

I would say that Mosby & Morgan were partisan/irregulars & not well-versed in cavalry tactics. Just because someone rides a horse doesn't make them cavalry.

Stuart was a target of the "Lost Cause" movement (Jubal Early & the boys) after the war & many of those myths have become part of the story. Re: JEB & Gettysburg, I suggest you read "Plenty of Blame to Go Around," by cavalry historians Eric Wittenberg & J. D. Petruzzi. It clears a lot of things up.

Respectively,

Mike Peters

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Perry:  I like your picture of Forrest.  I recently purchased a large lithograph of NBF with Morton's Battery at Brice's Crossroads from someone in Virginia.  It is a signed/numbered litho purportedly done by a Russian artist.  Forrest is mounted on a beautiful bay.  It is one of the best renditions I have seen of Forrest in works of this type. 

Sharon 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sharon:

About cavalry raiders, John Hunt Morgan was effective as a raider but his career went down hill with an unfortunate ending.  Some say that his decline started with his marriage.  An interesting view but not a sustainable view.  John S Mosby was very effective because of his leadership abilities and his organizational skills.  He ranks high but was a raider type of leader. I don't consider Sheridan a cavalry officer but as a career officer who was able to lead troops of different branchs of the army.  Concerning Custer, If they who dislike Forrest don't also dislike Custer, then something is missing in their evaluation procedures. True, Custer was aggressive but in a single minded manner.  He made rash cavalry attacks at times. He was an opportunist, more interested in his own career, who used questionable battlefield tactics. I don't wish to discuss Cantrill who was not a military leader. Don't know enough about Hampton to judge and very little more about Stuart but will say both were above average.  I have always thought Stuart was difficult to accept discipline and orders at times but, yes, not as much as Forrest. 

Judge these leaders by their overall careers and not single events.  Judge their relations with superiors and subordinates, ability to read a battlefield and the tactics used.  Consider their care of their men, horses and supplies and differences between them will emerge. As I said before, Forrest will place very high when everything is said. A final note about Forrest, he lead by example from the start of the war and was still leading at the end of the war, he was sustainable and dependable.  This last note will apply to Hampton as well.  Please accept what I have written here not from one who idolizes Forrest but one who has always tried to evaluate fairly.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mike, I take it you've not read to much about Forrest. Limited cavalry tactics? Nothing but a raider? If he'd have had the training that Stuart or Hampton had his career would have ended at Ft Donelson. If not there then at Parkers Crossroads, Any of the others when told  they had the enemy in front and behind would have surrendered, but not Forrest. True that he was unorthodox in a lot of what he did, but it kept the Feds guessing as to what he would do next.

To me what made Forrest so great is because he didn't have the formal military training so he wasn't attempting to over evaluate and then resort to tactics learnt from a book.

If anyone wants to say my views are one sided when it comes to Forrest well go ahead, he does happen to be one of my favorite Generals.

I don't take anything away from what any of the others that have been mentioned have done, each had their own pros and cons. Even Quantrill and Bloody Bill Anderson contributed in their own ways. I know most everyone considers them nothing but outlaws, but if the south would have won it'd be the other way around, You'd hear of what a cutthroat Doc Jennison was and Jim Lane's redlegs were like.

Oops, guess I need to get off my soapbox, anyways whether you like Forrest or not it's hard to take away from his accomplishments. Heck even Marse Robert thought highly of him and never even met him.

Randy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A union general of some renoun once said  if men fight wars in slavish obedience to rules they will fail.  He also said "The art of war is simple enough.  Find out where your enemy is.  Get at him as soon as you can.  Strike him as hard as you can and keep moving on".  While these quotes are attributed to U S Grant  it seems like something NBF would have said and done. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I could read Eric's book.  I have some other books written by him & they are good.  No reason not to try and get a balanced perspective. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sharon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well my favorite officers are first John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest=. Back to Perry saying that people "idolized" him well in the south we kinda just do to some individuals not just in wartime.Ido agree that JHMorgan did begin to let his guard down and did some things very atypical of his pre marrage days so be his end.(You know he had 3 burials and funerals.)Well they may have come off as irregulars and raiders -but war is not pretty and some things just didnt go by the book and deception and trickery did win out quite ofter.Now the Union troops were not without their irregulars in the name of calvary-i.e.Col. Fielding Hurst of Purdy TN, of the 6th Tn calvary USA.If your not familar with his antics goggle him.Avery interesting induvidual who again as we southerners do has developed a mysticcal life about him but I personaaly can tell you the is a very eeirie feeling when visiting his house

Mona.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ron:  Well there is probably something wrong with me because I like both Forrest and Custer, at least the Custer of the Civil War period. Custer seemed to change a bit after the war with his problems in Texas, the Washita Massacre, his court martial and finally the Little Big Horn.  Seems like almost two different people.  Oh well that is a topic for another day.

Sharon

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sharon:

Thanks and you are right.  Your comment made me realize that I, perhaps, was using Custer's  post civil war career when I should have stuck to his CW record.  Maybe he deserves a little more credit then I give him. OUCH IT HURTS ME TO SAY THAT.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mona:  While I thought I had read extensively about the civil war I do not remember reading about Col. Hurst.  A Google search, as you say, turns up interesting information.  Also saw a book on Amazon.com entitled Hurst's Wurst:  Colonel Fielding Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee Cavalry, USA.

Sharon:)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now