Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 1 decade ago

What do people out there know about Natan Bedford Forrest the great Confederate general of the Civil War?

I would like to know opinions. Forrest is arguably the greatest American commander of calvary that ever lived. He has also been termed the greatest Confederate general after Lee by some. He has been called one of only two authentic natural geniuses of the Civil War era, the other Abraham Lincoln. What are you folks opinions? Would you like a Forrest today as a field commander in the "War on Terror"?


My family fought with Forrest hate to tell you this, but Forrests way of fighting directly foreshadowed later Blitzkrieg tactics in WWII and he as well understood the meat of this war we are fighting now. His own war, and any war. He put it in plain english "war means fightin', fightin' means killing." Yes I wish a natural genuis at war was in todays military. It is too much another federal Beucracy. Natural genuises at war only come along once in several generations in any country. They equeal national treasures in time of society in danger. I will add a few more facts after I get a few more answers. But today someone with a third grade formal education could not be a private. Think on that and what Forrest achieved at this point. He was also not the founder of the KKK and no more a natural killer than Stonewall Jackson or Sherman. Probably no more a racist than Sherman at least...

Update 2:

Yes the orginal KKK did consider itself a resistance group. In Tennessee especially. It was more of a way of continuing a Civil War by a faction that lost and did not consider itself militarily defeated than anything. It had nothing to do with the KKK from the 1920's on and very little to do with KKK in the deep south in the 1870's. Groups like the Knights of the White Cammilia for example were considered seperate from it in Tennessee. I won't deny it had racist overtones from the start. But the orginal goal of the KKK in Tennessee was to resist the reconstruction government of East Tennessee union governor "Parson" Brownlow and military governor George Thomas. As for charges Forrest started the practice of executing prisoners in Tennessee he was a long way from the first and worst. Brownlows son James Brownlow commanded the 1st Tennessee Union Calvary and boasted in his reports of taking no prisoners when he fought Tennessee Confederates......

Update 3:

By the way the first recorded incident of troops delibrately executing prisoners in Tennessee did not happen with state regt. from eithier side. The fourth United States Regulars were considered one of the best Union calvary Regt. in Tennessee by both sides. They were not state volunteers, Union or Confederate. Regular Army. At Brentwoods Station fight they captured prisoners from Forrest. In counterattack Forrest was close to taking them back. They forced the prisoners to run on afoot as they galloped away, under threat of being shot if they did not. A captain Freeman was middle aged and over wieght. He could not run fast enough and protested the threat was contrary to civilized practice. His captor shot him through the head. He also tried to kill a surgeon who was also prisoner. That started it. Many of Forrest's men never took another prisoner from the 4th Regulars. They did the same and they fought each other till wars end......

Update 4:

It is basically a case of the pot calling the kettle black......

Update 5:

Charles V you got a thumbs up for being honest. My home county produced regt. for Forrest and the Union. To really understand the Civil War means understanding and accepting it was not just a war between states. It was a war between sections of states, counties side by side, sections of counties, sections of communties, friends and family. More in the south than the north. There is no one you hate as much as former friends or kin who are in the wrong uniform. That is the bare bone facts of Civil War. Goodspeeds "History of Tennessee Counties" written in 1870-80's says simply about my home "by wars end it was being conducted largely by mounted men who had ceased to take prisoners". It was never way most movies portray it. The closest accurate movie by Hollywood was about Missouri a few years ago, "Ride With the Devil", everything that happened there happened in the Tennesee river valley as well.....

Update 6:

Fort Pillow was garrisioned a third by Tennessee unionist whites and two thirds by Tennessee union black troops. Many of Forrests men were from the same victinity. The white unionists were guilty of murder and torture of Forrest troops home on furlough. The commander was killed in the first fighting. The officer who took over had personally killed the brother of one of Forrest men home on leave and captured. The body was multiated. He was given the chance to surrender and refused. The fort was stormed and taken. The flag came down. Half the garrison ran for the river bluff and kept firing. Forrest was two miles in the rear. A shell had knocked him from his horse and stunned him. There is not any question his men ran wild. They were being fired on by troops that supposed to have surrendered. Forrest was the one who rode up and stopped the killing. got his own men in hand...

Update 7:

I am not proud of it. Still most the troops who stormed it were from Missouri and Alabama. Only one Tennessee regt. actually stormed it. Russells. After the fight more than 200 rifles were picked up under the bluff along with three already opened cases of ammuntion found. The Unions own reports admitted that the unionist who took over had sent word to the captain of the gunboat New Era in the river he was going to fall back to the bluff and continue fighting as soon as the Confederates were over the walls. He also passed out the forts whiskey supply to his troops white and black before the storm. The majority were drunk! The Confederates did go wild after they stormed it, the flag came down, and they were still being fired on. But Forrest was not actually in the fort then. And he is the main reason any prisoners at all were taken. He cursed and beat his own men to heel....

Update 8:

After the fight he was accused of occupying it overnight, burning prisoners alive, and burying them alive. Actually the New Era was in the river and transports loaded with fresh union troops in sight. Forrest dystroyed the cannon, took the small arms and prisoners and evacuated it before sun down. By night his closest troops were ten miles away! There were never any proven incidents of burying prisoners alive or burning them. The north investigated and admitted it. There was a mascarre by troops than ran wild under provacation. Forrest did take his black prisoners south again to slavery. The white went to Andersonville and most died there. Finally the unionist commander was under guard and tried to escape and recaptured. The next day he was sent south under guard of a section that included the brother of the man he killed. He was taken safely out of sight and given a horse and running start. Shot out of the saddle. Sheridan's troopers did exactly the same to Confederate troopers in Va.

Update 9:

Yes Forrest did threaten to kill Bragg after Chickamauga. He blamed him for the fact the union army escaped to Chattanooga after two days of hard fighting in which @ half of both sides were casualties. Forrest led his men dismounted as infantry in that battle. Actually he rode to Braggs tent with an aide. Dismounted, nodded to the guards went in and cursed Bragg for @ thirty minutes calling him a coward repeatedly, saying he would never serve under his command again, and if he tried to force him would personally kill him. Forrest killed thirty-one union troopers in hand to hand combat in four years and had thirty horses shot from under him. I can recall Vietnam era officers who I wish had been treated the same and am sure there are more than are a few in todays army. I don't blame him. Just sorry for Tennessee he did not shoot Bragg in his tracks! Again I would not mind someone like that in todays war......

Update 10:

And to conclude. Forrest turned on heel, strode out of Braggs tent. Bragg did not say a word or move a muscle. None of his guards did as well. Forrest mounted and rode off with his aide still in a black fury. After a couple of miles he broke into whoops of laughter. His aide told him he had taken a real risk....forrest kept laughing and said "he won't do a thing or say anything. He don't dare!".....

Update 11:

Sorry I really need to add one thing. Patton would probably not be taken in todays military. Even with his West Point education. He was no where as effective as Forrest when you consider the difference in their educations and the material they had to fight with. Both were incredibly brave personally and never ducked personal combat. But the only known incident of Patton killing enemy troops in combat was as a fresh lieutenant straight out of the point with Pershing in Mexico chasing Villa. Forrest by contrast was in combat again and again in person first to last. and ironically enough his last personal fight was when he and his escort surprised a patrol of the 4th Regulars in 1865.....Half were killed fighting before the rest surrendered. In spite of the hate his men had for that regt. they were allowed to...but I don't doubt the fact his last personal fight was against them gave him immense satisfaction. As a native Tennessean it would me if I was him!

5 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    Forrest was one of only two non West Pointers to rise above the rank of major general in the Confederate service. Like Wade Hampton, who led the cavalry in Lee's Army after Stuart's death, Forrest became a three star general. Hampton was the richest man in the south though, and had started as a colonel. Forrest was born dirt poor and was a self made man, who had prospered in the slave trade. Forrest originally enlisted as a private.

    He is abused today for the slaughter of black Union troops after the capture of Fort Pillow, which his men began spontaneously, and all testimony is that Forrest ran around furiously knocking up rifle muzzles and brought an end to the killings, but this is overlooked today. He is also arraigned for "starting" the KKK, which, as noted, began as a sort of "resistance" among former Confederates, who were disenfranchised, while illiterate freed slaves were encouraged to vote Republican. When the KKK turned violent, he ordered it disbanded, and then resigned, which is also overlooked today.

    He had threatened to kill Braxton Bragg, and the Confederacy would probably have been much better off had he done so. Bragg continually removed units from Forrest's command after Forrest recruited them, to give them over to Joe Wheeler, who though nothing like as effective as Forrest, was a West Pointer like Bragg. Had Forrest been allowed free rein to use the forces who enthusiastically enlisted to serve with him the course of the war would undoubtedly have been altered.

  • 1 decade ago

    Unfortunately, I'm not sure if a cavalry officer's talents would be transferrable to the current situation.

    To be fair, and I know this is a bit controversial, but the original KKK was more of a resistance group to Northern occupation than an outright racist group. As many southerners, they considered themselves an invaded land, a subject people, an occupied country with a collaborationist government foisted upon them. They were ready to do what was necessary to kick the occupiers out, which included striking out at what they saw as the central icon of the invasion: black people living free, and in many cases, holding political authority over those who once owned them.

    I am a New Englander, btw, not a southerner.

  • 1 decade ago

    Forrest was a self made millionaire before the war, and was a fighter, no doubt. He was also responsible for the massacre at Fort Pillow, and was involved is the beginnings of the KKK a racist ,bigoted group.Would I want him involved as a field commander, sure, but in this days armed services, his hands would be tied by congress, oversight committees, and politics. During the civil war he was left virtually alone to do his thing.

    Source(s): history
  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Greatest commander of cavalry that ever lived...not so sure about that. Don't forget Gen. George S. Patton. This man was brilliant on the battlefield. Other than that, I agree with you everything you've written. And YES I wish we had a commander like him in Iraq.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Brilliant cavalry officer! Not much of a human being. Founder of the KKK.

    No, I would not choose to serve a racist elitist in today's war on terror.

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