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A Battle from the Start: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest Paperback – October, 1993

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wills, a history professor at Georgia Southern University, effectively synthesizes archival and other printed sources in this first modern biography of the Confederacy's greatest cavalry leader. The narrative approach employed reflects the subject's marginal literacy, which forces us to see Forrest (1821-1877) largely through the eyes of his contemporaries. He emerges as a product of the Southern frontier, a self-made man of limited vision, iron will and an ungovernable temper. Forrest, a onetime slave dealer, viewed blacks as commodities. This attitude shaped his wartime treatment of black POWs as property rather than men, and facilitated his central postwar role in the Ku Klux Klan. A master of tactical ruses and deceptions, Forrest led from the front; he killed as many as 30 men in personal combat. His raids and battles had a high nuisance value, but were never integrated into an overall strategy. They remained correspondingly sterile, the work of an unusually gifted amateur of war. Illustrations not seen by PW. History Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

With his Civil War exploits the stuff of legend, Forrest's reputation as a Confederate military genius has long merited scholarly reappraisal, which Wills (Georgia Southern Univ.) provides in this exhaustively researched life. Driven to succeed, Forrest achieved military fame through unconventional thinking and bold action, although his reputation was tarnished by the slaughter of black soldiers following his victory at Fort Pillow. Wills shows that his subject followed self-interest in promoting both the welfare of black workers and the Ku Klux Klan's goals. Ironically, Forrest freed his slaves during the war and never acknowledged Klan affiliation. An authoritative work for Civil War and Southern history collections.
- Lawrence E. Ellis, Broward Community Coll. Lib., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Perennial; Reprint edition (October 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060924454
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060924454
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,583,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Todd E. Newman on February 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Being a fan of Forrest I was happy to see that Wills went to great pains to only write about true occurrences that he could back up with documentation. Wills covers the myths and potentially wrong information developed by this great commander over the years and dispels them by trying to be fair and accurate in what took place. Myths can become larger than life and Forrest is no stranger to such talk over the years. Such potentially false information of Forrest isn't conveyed in this book.
Wills' coverage presents Forrest from early adulthood pre-war life all the way up until his death in 1877. His battlefield coverage may not be as complete as other books on Forrest although he does cover many campaigns and exploits of this great Southern leader. I felt Wills had skipped some exhaustive detail as found in other books about Forrest post-war career such as his involvement with the KKK, political world and business ventures. Wills covers these but keeps the information quick, informative and focused. Wills tries to realistically look at Forrest and present better facts which I appreciated. Any fan of Forrest owes it to them to read this book to get new and fair insight into a rather large and sometimes mythical character that struggled through life in multiple hardships, conflict and destiny.
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Potter on December 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is considered the best history of Forrest. It's a Northern book, basically. This may well be the best approach to take on this character, otherwise he does tend to get out of hand. Forrest is still infamous, especially for Fort Pillow. Wills goes after him for all he's worth but in the end doesn't come up with anything. It's a decent exoneration. Forrest was cleared of Pillow officially and historically despite low-blows from a propagandizing North that hasn't let up on him yet (see "Forrest Gump"...and most any public Northern remark about Forrest even today). Forrest had slaves and as much guilt there as other Southerners, but the special venom reserved for him in the North is odd. I found other quotes of Forrest refering to slaves not as property but as a working class to be noteworthy, but they aren't much considered anywhere. It actually seems like he was better than many Southerners in this regard, but still gets picked out for special hatred. Forrest's race "rep" relates his infamy but actually didn't have all that much bearing on the bulk of his amazing military career. In some ways it adds to his interest---he seemed to take a decent if fiesty independent stance there as everywhere else in his career. Anyway, someone who's infamous needs to be looked at more closely than usual. So Wills doesn't give an inch. Most of Forrest's astounding exploits are delivered not only dryly but begrudgingly. You often have to read between the lines to sense what really happened. Great achievements will be mentioned with a line but minor, almost-unrelated harping is given as much play as possible. Even so, the greatness of the drama and character of Forrest comes thru. Now, the Lytle bio is a good read but sappy.Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Borowy26 VINE VOICE on October 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the most determined and talented cavalry officers that fought for the Confederacy. As a man of the frontier and a prosperous slave trader (at a time when such a profession was disreputable even in the Deep South), he lacked the West Point training and polish of his better known contemporaries in the Eastern theater of operations, but he more than made up for that with purposeful tenacity. He successfully ambushed a superior Federal force at Brice's Cross Roads and achieved a notable victory.

William Tecumseh Sherman labeled him "that Devil Forrest" as he had to divert soldiers from his columns to check Forrest's harassing tactics which slowed his March to the Sea. Forrest was steadily promoted throughout the war until he held a general's rank. He continued to fight until 1865 when further resistance was futile. Forrest was in Alabama when his remaining troops followed their commander in laying down their arms. Forrest did not quit the fight until the bitter end.

This was a fairly good biography and it lead me to read another similar title that had been published many years previously in 1931, Andrew Nelson Lytle's "Bedford Forrest and His Critter Company." Forrest was as tough as nails as a fighter and I still vividly recall reading about how he continued riding a wounded horse by placing one of his fists over the animal's bleeding neck to stanch the flow of its life's blood. Having escaped his pursuers, Forrest dismounted and the stricken horse dropped dead immediately.

I was fortunate to attend a meeting of the Civil War Round Table at the Union League Club in Chicago when Professor Brian Steel Wills delivered a guest lecture on Forrest's military career. While I enjoyed the book, I think that if the subject continues to interest you that you owe it to yourself to read other books on Nathan Bedford Forrest in addition to this one. This is a good title to begin with, however, and I recommend this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leeper on September 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Humble beginnings, an uphill battle, and making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. All of these phrases help illustrate the proverbial card that Nathan Bedford Forrest was repeatedly dealt and how he succeeded through tenacious card playing and bluffing.

Like many of the books on Forrest, the author covers Forrest's having to provide for his family out in the frontier after his father died, the highlights of his exploits in the Confederate arm, as well as his dealings with the Klan. The early life shows what Forrest will have to do with his military units as he had to fend for himself in terms of men and materials. Even with the disadvantage of shortages, he found a way to get materials (sometimes paying from his own pocket and other times taking from the enemy) to provide for his men, and he bluffed his way through many skirmishes by deceiving his adversary into believing that Forrest had more troops than he did.

As with other biographies on Forrest, the author discusses the connection to the Klan, but he highlights that Forrest was never explicit in stating that he was or wasn't a part.

If you have read other biographies, then this book will not provide a whole lot of new material. However, it is an intriguing read.
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