Nathan Bedford Forrest


Who: Nathan Bedford Forrest.

What: Cavalry commander in the Confederate Army.

Where: Born Chapel Hill, Tennessee; died Memphis, Tennessee.

Why: Despite having no military education, Forrest was one of the greatest cavalrymen in the Civil War.

When: Born July 13, 1821; died October 29, 1877.

“Come on boys, if you want a heap of fun and to kill some Yankees” – Forrest’s call to arms in 1861.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was born poor. Eldest of twelve, his father died when Forrest was 17 making him head of the family. He entered into business, swiftly becoming a millionaire dealing in cotton and slaves. At the outbreak of war in 1861 he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. Seeing how ill-equipped the Confederates were, he decided to raise a unit of his own at his own expense, and was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel. He and his command quickly gained notoriety, breaking out of the Ulysses S Grant’s Union siege at Fort Donelson in February 1862, fighting at the Battle of Shiloh and earning the nickname ‘The Wizard of the Saddle’. Over the course of the war he reportedly had 29 horses shot out from under him. At Shiloh, he single-handedly charged into the Union lines, a point-blank musket shot to the spine physically lifting him out of his saddle, before hoisting a Union soldier up on to his horse to use as a shield, dumping the poor man once out of range. By 1863 he was raiding Union supply lines around the Vicksburg Campaign. In May he convinced Colonel Abel Streight’s far superior forces to surrender by marching his smaller force around the same hilltop several times, giving the appearance of larger numbers. He then fought with distinction in the Battle of Chickamauga but his reputation was then stained when his men reportedly massacred more than 200 black Union soldiers at the Battle of Fort Pillow.  After the war he settled in Memphis. He was an early member of the Ku Klux Klan, but was not a founder. He disbanded the first Klan in 1869, and died in Memphis in 1877.

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