Crossed flags General Nathan Bedford Forrest Chapter #2597

United Daughters of the Confederacy®

Cicero, Indiana, founded 1996

A Brief Biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest

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Nathan Bedford Forrest

General Nathan Bedford Forrest
Digitally restored image provided by Trish Garrett


Nathan Bedford Forrest was born on July 13, 1821 in Chapel Hill, Bedford County, Tennessee. Though born into a poor family, by 1861 he had become one of the wealthiest men in the South as a planter and slave trader. He enlisted as a private in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, raised a battalion of mounted troops at his own expense and was elected lieutenant colonel in October 1861, and ultimately rose to the rank of lieutenant general--the only man to do so from either side of the conflict.

Taking part in the defense of Fort Donelson in February 1862, Forrest asked for and received permission to lead his 700 men out before the surrender. He was elected colonel of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry just before the Battle of Shiloh in April of that year, and two months later, in June 1862, he assumed command of a cavalry brigade in the Army of Tennessee. The next month, he captured the Union garrison with its stores at Murfreesboro, and on July 21, 1862, Forrest was promoted to brigadier general. With a fresh command, he succeeded in severing Grant's communications in west Tennessee in December, and in May 1863 he saved the railroad between Chattanooga and Atlanta.

Forrest was in the Chattanooga campaign until a quarrel with General bragg led him to request and receive an independent command in north Mississippi and west Tennessee. He was promoted to major general on December 4, 1863. By this time, his fame as a cavalry leader had become legendary, and his exploits continued until the end of the war. In April 1864, he captured Fort Pillow. In June of that year, he brilliantly routed a superior force at brice's Crossroads, and the following month he stood off General A.J. Smith at Tupelo. These lightning blows of Forrest's caused Sherman great alarm. In November and December 1864, Forrest served under General Hood in the Tennessee campaign and was in command of all cavalry. On February 28, 1865, he was promoted to lieutenant general. General Forrest was finally overwhelmed by greatly superior forces at Selma, Alabama, in April 1865.

Despite a lack of formal military education, Forrest was known for his keen tactical skills including the use of fast-moving cavalry and "hit and run" attacks. He reportedly had 30 horses shot from under him, and personally killed 31 men in hand-to-hand combat, saying "I was a horse ahead at the end." After the close of the war, he returned to his life as a planter, and was president of the Selma, Marion, & Memphis Railroad for some years.

Nathan Bedford Forrest and his twin sister Fanny were the second and third oldest children of William and Miriam (Beck) Forrest. In 1845, Forrest married Mary Ann Montgomery, daughter of a Presbyterian minister. They had a son, William Montgomery Bedford, and a daughter, Fanny A., who died when she was five years old, much like her namesake aunt. Forrest's great-grandson, Nathan Bedford Forrest III, (April 7, 1905 - June 13, 1943) was a brigadier General of the United States Army Air Forces. He died in service to his country as well, but had no children. Nathan Bedford Forrest III was the first American general to be killed in battle in Europe; his remains are buried at Arlington National Cemetery on grounds that formerly belonged to his great-grandfather's commander, General Robert E. Lee.

Forrest is particularly honored in his home state of Tennessee, where his birth date of July 13 is officially observed and 32 historical markers have been placed. He died in 1877 from diabetes and is interred in a city park in Memphis bearing his name.


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Last updated 10/29/2008