General Nathan Bedford Forrest

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 Confederate General

Born:July 13, 1821, Chapel Hill, Tennessee
Died:October 29, 1877, Memphis, Tennessee
Buried:Forest Park, Memphis, Tennessee


•  While CSA General Forrest was not a resident of Madison County, his influence and reputation in the area was large. He is mentioned often in the Civil War diaries which included rumors of victories and losses, described people under his command, or offered details of his Madison County activites. - Editor's Note

•  "Grateful Huntsvillians, on May 11, 1863, presented a horse to hero General Nathan Bedford Forrest." - Record

•  May 16, 1863 A bay horse was presented to Brig. Gen. Nathan Forrest from the citizens of Huntsville in appreciation of his outstanding military service. Mayor Coltart, Col. J. J. Donegan, and Rev. Dr. Kelly spoke on behalf of the citizens. - Pruitt

•  Nathan Bedford Forrest, now Major General, commanded cavalry regiments of North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, raising and equipping one cavalry unit at his own expense. With successful and daring raids, he truly seemed to strike terror in the hearts of the Federals. General Forrest was already a legend before he tricked Col. Abel Streight into surrendering his Union forces to less than half the number of the Confederates in May that year. Once the news and the story of the battlefield deception by Forrest were known, the state went wild with excitement. In admiration and appreciation the leaders of Huntsville had presented the 'gallant General Forrest with King Phillip, a fine horse worth $800 and 'of the best Virginia stock." - Clay & Rohr

•  Probably because of Gen. Forrest's popularity, "Forrest" became a popular first name for children after the Civil War. - Editor's Note

•  May 3, 1864: While evacuation continued, Mary Jane Chadick wrote in her diary: "There is a great panic among them in town. They are looking for Gen. Forrest, having heard that he crossed the river yesterday at Florence. They are removing the ammunition from our neighborhood to the courthouse." - Pruitt

•  The local (Madison County, AL) diaries recording the events of the civil war describe a frightening time before and after Sept 30th 1864. The two armies seemed to be preparing to bring the fighting to the city of Huntsville. Generals from both sides sent word that women and children must get out of town. The Union General Granger said if the Confederates come within 300 yards of the fort, "I have orders to fire every house in town within half an hour."
     In her book, Nancy Rohr said, "For the townspeople this night and day probably were the most frightening of the War. Rumor proclaimed Gen. Forrest intended to capture Huntsville. General Forrest had left Tupelo mid-September with 3500 men. He attacked Athens, the Sulphur Branch railroad trestle, threatened Pulaski and now returned to the Tennessee River area. Indeed one of his staff officers, Brig. Gen. Abraham Buford, appeared at Huntsville demanding that General Granger surrender.
     General Abraham Buford, supposedly the advance of General Forrest's army, led this threatened attack with 1500 men. Now coming down Winchester Road on the evening of September 30th, Buford and his men approached the fortified town. In the fading light holding a borrowed lantern and under a flag of truce, a Rebel colonel approached the military authorities with a note that demanded surrender of the 'city, fort, and garrison.' Furthermore if the surrender did not occur before nightfall, the citizens must leave because the town would be fired upon. Although unknown to the Union men, any citizen of Huntsville would have likely recognized the bearer of the message. The messenger was Col. David C. Kelley, formerly the minister to their First Methodist Church. Lieutenant Sam Kneeland, adjutant for USA Gen. Granger, delivered the official written reply: 'You can come and take it as soon as you get ready.' This response noted that most people in town were for the Southern cause and questioned whether or not more than a couple of hours would be better to secure their safety outside of town.
     Yankee General Granger's reply also threatened to burn the entire city rather than surrender. As Mrs. Chadick wrote, panic-stricken civilians immediately fled in all directions as the news spread. Many people not fortunate enough to be sheltered by Mrs. Geoige Steele (or someone else outside of town) spent the night where they hoped to be safe?away from the Fort and into the rain-soaked fields and woods. Messages passed back and forth between the officers of both sides and the hours dragged on. Many civilians finally gathered personal possessions and simply fled farther, going to the mountains or south to cross the river into Dixie. Others, like Mrs. Chadick, decided to wait it out even though they were just below the guns of Patton's Hill. The storm, the darkness, and the fear of the unknown all compounded the terror.
     A second message was delivered at midnight, also assumed to be from Gen. Forrest at his camp in the middle of Pulaski Pike: 'I expect to attack you tomorrow from every rock, house, tree and shrub in the vicinity... [and] now bid you prepare yourself for the fray.' 450 The night passed and the dawn light showed the two sides still in position. At noon that day the Confederate cavalry under Gen. Buford mounted and rode west, their mission completed.
     From Clay diary on Sept. 29h 1864: Many anecdotes are told of Forest at Athens by the enemy. He took several hundred prisoners there and at other points, and has completely destroyed the railroad between here and Pulaski, burning the bridges, destroying trestle work, etc. and says when he has done with this wad, the enemy is welcome to it for six months! A Fed said yesterday Forrest was a dashing-looking officer and the most taking one in his ways he had ever seen. It is plain the enemy fear him."
     From Rohr's diary commentary: "Colonel Lyon, in command at Huntsville, considered they would give a good account of themselves if attacked by Forrest. They had a first rate fort, considerable artillery and a gallant little garrison to defend the fort. However, 'Forrest is playing the smash in here," Lyon wrote. 'He first struck the railroad at Athens,' a complete surprise, and he captured the garrison there without much of a fight. The Federal reinforcements who arrived from Decatur were just in time to be captured also. Then north of Athens the Confederates captured two regiments and burned the Sulphur Trestle Bridge. Forrest's men next captured the bridge at the Elk River, burned it, and then turned toward Pulaski or Fayetteville ? but no one was sure which. At this point Maj. Gen. Granger telegraphed Lyon: 'Strengthen Huntsville all you can. Use every available cotton bale for traverses in the fort to defend against enfilading fire. Thoroughly barricade the streets. Defend all approaches to the fort as completely as possible.' If Granger appeared anxious, perhaps it was because he had just lost 3000-4000 men, and his family was inside that gallant little garrison." - Clay & Rohr

•  "Nathan Bedford Forrest (July 13, 1821 - October 29, 1877) was a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. He is remembered both as a self-educated, innovative cavalry leader during the war and as a leading southern advocate in the postwar years. He served as the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a secret vigilante organization.
     A cavalry and military commander in the war, Forrest is one of the war's most unusual figures. Less educated than many of his fellow officers, Forrest had amassed a fortune prior to the war 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 division commander by the end of the war. Although Forrest lacked formal military education, he had a gift for 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 conduct a massacre upon hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionist prisoners. Union Major General William T. Sherman investigated the charges and did not charge Forrest with any improprieties. In their postwar writings, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee both expressed their belief that the Confederate high command had failed to fully utilize Forrest's talents." - Wikipedia

•  May 7, 1857: May 7 - An advertisement in the Southern Advocate, placed by Memphis resident Nathan B. Forrest stated, "Dealer in Slaves, No. 87 Adams St., Memphis." The ad states that he regularly receives slaves from North and South Carolina to be sold at his "Negro Depot" and it is "complete and commodious and promises to furnish customers A-1 servants and field hands." - Pruitt

•  "During the Civil War, William Richardson Jr. (1839-1914) enlisted as a private, and rose to captain in the 50th Alabama Infantry. He was wounded, captured, and as a prisoner escaped, became a spy, and was recaptured. As such, he was then sentenced to be shot. According to the family stories, Nathan B. Forrest rescued him. Later Richardson became a Judge and succeeded Gen. Joe Wheeler in Congress." - Record

•  The Captain Frank Gurley's story is tightly woven with the life and efforts of Nathan Bedford Forrest. In Steenburn's book about Gurley, Forrest is mentioned 154 times. If you have a special interest in Gen. Forrest, you would enjoy the book "The Man Called Gurley" - Steenburn

•  "Confederate Madison County hero, Frank Gurley, returned from the war and was elected Sheriff in November and was promptly arrested by Federal troops, with Andrew J. Schrimsher appointed in his place. Gurley had been placed on trial in February 1864, but Jefferson Davis sent word that General Forrest had seven hostages for release of Gurley. He had been released." - Record

Related Links:

•  Clay & Rohr - Echoes of the Past: Old Mahogany Table Stories, by Virginia Clementine Clay, Edited and Annotated by Nancy M. Rohr, 2010, pages 23, 46, 52, 57, 70,92, 103, 128, 152, 160, 161, 162, 170, 173, 175, 187, 197, 198, 200, 201, 202, 204, 206, 210, 216, 220, 224, 225, 240, 241, 249, 272, 274, 283, 290, 297, 298, 344.

•  Phelan Archive - Article titled "Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and the KKK" by Ben Phelan. (Archive version)

•  Pruitt - Eden of the South: A Chronology of Huntsville, Alabama, 1805-2005, by Raneé G. Pruitt, Editor, 2005, pages 36, 47, 51, 52, 69.

•  Record - A Dream Come True: The Story of Madison County and Incidentally of Alabama and the United States, Volume II, by James Record, 1978, pages 135 & 140.

•  Steenburn - The Man Called Gurley, by Colonel Donald H. Steenburn, 1999.

•  Wikipedia - Biography

The Following Pages Link to this Page:
•  Clay & Rohr
•  Phelan Archive
•  Pruitt
•  Record