Nathan Bedford Forrest

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Nathan Bedford Forrest

The United States Army, in its doctrine, lists nine basic principles. As stated in

Field Manual 100-5 these include objective, offensive, mass, economy of force,

maneuver, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity. 1 Napoleon had 115

maxims, Sun Tzu had 13 principles, but Nathan Bedford Forrest’s advice was the utmost

of simplicity, “Git thar firstest with the mostest men.”2 As we look at the challenge

facing our nation’s military today, our leaders would do well to look at Forrest’s

campaigns and strategies as a guide.

. Forrest won respect for risking his life while trying to save his aging uncle.

Subsequently, Forrest won the affection of Mary Montgomery who, in 1845, became his


In 1851 Bedford moved to Memphis. He won several elections as an elderman

and prospered as a businessman. When he closed out his business in late1859 war was

eminent. He was involved in his own cotton business and was busy putting his family

affairs in order. His net worth was 11/2 million dollars and he was netting $30 thousand

a year for his cotton. While he was a slave trader during this period, Colonel Adair

described his actions as “Forrest was kind, humane, and extremely considerate of his

slaves. He seemed to exercise the same influence over them that in a greater degree he

exercised over the soldiers who served him as devotedly as if there was between them a

strong personal attachment.5

On 14 June 1861, he enlisted in Memphis as a soldier in Captain White’s

Tennessee Mounted Rifles Company.6 This unit would become a subordinate unit of the

Seventh Tennessee Calvary Regiment. Forrest was the unit’s commander when the war

ended. Friends of Forrest’s approached Governor Harris and General Polk, which

subsequently resulted in an authorization allowing Forrest to raise a battalion of

mounted rangers. By October of 1861 he had eight companies of men comprising a

total of 650. Most arrived with pistols and shotguns, as well as horses, which resulted in

Forrest still attempting to obtain rifles for them when the unit was ordered to Dover as

reinforcement for what was to be Fort Donelson. As Colonel Tate described then to

General Johnston, “Colonel Forrest’s regiment of cavalry, as fine a body of men as ever


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... York: Simon & Schuster), Volume 2, 607.

9. Wyeth, 27.

10. Robert E Corlew, Tennessee, A Short History. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press,1989), 307

11. Wyeth. 61.

12. Ibid., 100-101.

13. Ibid., 184.

14. Edwin C. Bearss, Forrest at Brice’s Cross Roads. Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1979), 28

15. Thomas Jordan & J.P.Pryor, The Campaigns of Lieutenant General N.B.Forrest. (New Orleans, 1868),

16. Wyeth, 241.


Bearss, Erwin C. Forrest at Brice’s Cross Roads. Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1979

Brasher, Justin “Forrest’s Headquarters” and “NBFHQ” 2001 (a website)

Corlew, Robert E. Tennessee: A Short History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1989

Current, Richard N. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985.

Jordan, Thomas and Pryor, J.P. The Campaigns of Lieutenant General N.B. Forrest .New Orleans, 1868.

Matloff, Maurice, General Editor, American Military History. Washington D.C.: Office of the Chief of

Military History. United States Army, 1969.

Wyeth, John A. MD, Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1975 reprint

of 1898 ed.
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