Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the most acknowledged and accomplished leaders during the Civil War. The Confederate general had no previous military training but what he lacked in experience he more than made up in assets.
Forrest had amassed what a fortune in the years prior to the war. Through plantation ownership and slave trading, the charismatic leader had a net worth of 1.5 million.
With that type of funding it was little wonder to his colleagues that the hard-nosed Forrest funded his own mounted battalion out of Tennessee.
Forrest by no means used his money to earn an easy spot in the Confederate army, quite the contrary; he enlisted as a private in 1861.
Born in Tennessee in 1821, the mountain living Forrest family raised Nathan to be loyal, honest and most of all, a fighter. It is said that when Bedford was a boy his Dad would take him out to the woods to hunt for that night’s dinner. Bedford would usually be the one that killed the animal.
Hunting and fishing along the banks of The Mississippi River, Forrest learned how to use the horse as a primary means of transportation. The horse would prove to be the equivalent of motorized vehicles for Forrest in the Civil War. Married to his childhood sweetheart, Forrest was considered by many to be cruel and ruthless to his enemies but fair and equal to his friends.
During the Civil War, Nathan Bedford Forrest used his cavalry troops to win battle after battle and in this fashion made himself the most efficient horseman of the war. Yet, Forrest was not just limited to mounted troop military encounters, the general also won decisive victories as a leader of infantrymen.
One example of this is the battle of Shiloh where Forrest commanded ground troops to a highly decorated rebel victory. The general is held as one of the most brilliant war figures of the Civil War.
There were many celebrated victories for General Forrest and some very dark times as well. When Forrest sacked Fort Pillow he was accused of slaughtering a largely black garrison. Although a massacre was recorded and verified by numerous first-hand accounts of the action at Ft. Pillow, Forrest went to his grave claiming that he never gave any order for the attack on the surrendering troops.
One thing that is true and verifiable is Forrest and his temper. General Forrest was not the one to cross for his attacks are legendary for their bloodiness and sheer terror. Still, Forrest was a military genius, equaled only by the likes of Lee, Grant and Jackson. He led many great Confederate victories and if not for his cavalry troops, many a southern battle could have gone terribly wrong. The south lost the war but in terms of leaders birthed from that war, the south lays claim to some of the best.
After the war, Nathan Bedford Forest settled down with his wife and children in Memphis along the muddied banks of The Mississippi. He tried his hand at various enterprises none matching his previous and none comparing to his war heroics.
Suffering from diabetes, Forest died on October 29, 1877. Pneumonia was the only enemy Forrest could not defeat.