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Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography Paperback – March 15, 1994

4.3 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nathan Bedford Forrest was the only soldier to rise from the rank of private to general during the U.S. Civil War. At once "a soft-spoken gentleman of marked placidity and an overbearing bully of homicidal wrath," Forrest is best remembered for the combination of brilliant military leadership and flamboyant bravery that drove his Confederate cavalry troops from victory to victory on the battlefield. His subordinates feared him (he shot those who turned tail), as did his enemies (he rarely lost a fight). General Sherman once said that Forrest must be "hunted down and killed if it costs 10,000 lives and bankrupts the [national] treasury." Detractors point out that Forrest never has been exonerated from the Fort Pillow massacre, in which many Union soldiers, most of them black, were slaughtered after attempting to surrender. Following the war, he went on to found the Ku Klux Klan. Late in life, however, Forrest disavowed racial hatred and called for black political advancement. Author Jack Hurst has written the essential biography of a complex and compelling man who was arguably the Civil War's most remarkable soldier. (Movie trivia: Forrest Gump's mother named her son after this general.)

From Library Journal

Hurst presents a balanced, well-documented study of Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom many consider to be the most brilliant general of the Civil War. Hurst, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune , explores Forrest's entire career more thoroughly than other writers, devoting the first part of the book to Forrest's prewar occupation as a slave trader and the last to Forrest's involvements with the Ku Klux Klan and state politics as well as his attempts to regain the fortune he lost during the war. The author presents a detailed study of Forrest's wartime campaigns, from his brilliant exploits in battle to his controversies with his commanding officers and the debacle at Fort Pillow. With his guerrilla tactics Forrest revolutionized the way armies fought, but he was never fully accepted by his fellow generals because of his lack of military education. Overall, this is an outstanding study of one of the Civil War's more controversial generals. Essential.
- W. Walter Wicker, Louisiana Tech Univ., Ruston
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 15, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067974830X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679748304
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Nathan Bedford Forrest is perhaps the most intersting figure of the Civil War. He was a failed business man, until he became a slave trader, who entered the war as a private and quickly rose to the rank of general. His military campaigns are legend as well as the ruthlessness of thier execution. He was the first Grand Wizard of the Klan as well as an individual who in his later life developed a more enlightened attitude toward blacks.
Hurst presents all of the above in a very descriptive manner. What is truly complementary to Hurst is that he presents a fairly evenhanded story of Forrest. His discussion of the Fort Pillow Massacre, in which Forrest's command killed hundreds of surrendering black Union soldiers, is the best example of Hurst's approach. While not attempting to excuse Forrest's conduct in any way, Hurst does put the massacre into the proper historical prespective.
The main fault of the book is its lack of maps. Many of Forrest's campaigns are complicated and difficult to understand because of the almost complete absence of maps. There are only 2 battle maps.
All in all it is a fine book.
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Format: Paperback
Overall, a first-rate biography, both from a military and from psychological and spiritual sense.
Though it indeed lacks maps, the knowledgeable student of the War for Southern Independence will find those included to be sufficient. The work is not, as some have intimated in these reviews, unfair or essentially negative in its presentation of the man, Forrest.
On the contary, Forrest fans will find it delightfully free of the anti-Forrest rancor which politically correct historical revisionsists are so famous for. Hurst understands that the so-called "distasteful activities" were 100% legal at the time, and presents them without undue bias. Forrest is in no way presented as any more racist than his contemporaries, and shown as he was, significantly more compassionate toward African Ameicans than many in these reviews would suggest (Did they even read the book? -- one wonders).
His celebrated ruthlessness in a fight is balanced by a historically well-established backwoods chivalry which markedly contrasts this uneducated but brilliant man (6 mo. total formal schooling), with some of his contemporaries such as the war-criminal-by-his-own-admission, Sherman. The admiration which he earned from his troops is also well-documented, though he accurately is depicted in this work as having shot both deserters and cowards in battle.
Forrest's amazing ability to size up situations at a glance, to see the unseen part of the field, and to comprehend distances and the geometry of operational and tactical logistics is well- covered.

Several longstanding misconceptions are properly laid to rest in this work, among them, that Forrest founded the Kuklos Klan - He did not.
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Format: Paperback
The generals of the Civil War are remembered in contrasts. Sherman, Sheridan and Grant, were...well, common. They were hard drinking men, willing to sacrifice any number - thousands of men - believing the ends justified the means. They were not tall, handsome or dashing, so maybe that is why the Generals of the confederacy live so vividly in our imaginations. A lot of the Southerns were gentlemen, they were the epitome of the genteel South - or at least how we often see it in our imaginations, when we can divorce the spectre of Slavery from that vision. They were men in grey, who rode off to fight for what they believed, and no one more so than Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Only Forrest does not fit that stereotypical Southern Gentleman. He was born in a log-cabin (as was Lincoln and Jefferson Davis); he was a failed businessman same as Grant. He was hard living, coarse like Sherman and Sheridan. And quite possibly one of the most complex figures to come out of the period. He did not fight in the Army of Northern Virginia under Lee, which keeps him out of the general attention of those learning about the Civil War. His first notable occurrence in the Civil War was the Fort Pillow Incident, where - still today we do not understand what happened - how black and white men supposedly surrendering were put to death by Forrest's command. Jefferson David never understood Forrest's guerrilla-like methods of fighting - but one could not dispute the results. He believed calvary men were not as JEB Stuart, dashing figures leading gallant charges, but were fighting men who used horses to get from point A to point B, "the firstest with the mostest" as he is often misquoted saying. As such, military tactics are still questioned and studied today.
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Format: Paperback
The "Wizzard of the Saddle" gets his due in this well written and researched biography.
The life story of a man who possessed a genius for battle and was quite comfortable as a slave trader, committer of atrocity and founder of the Ku Klux Klan is fascinating. A common thread runs through all those roles: Nathan Bedford Forrest's willingness to do whatever it took to achieve his goal and a ferocious ability to focus on that course of action without regard to any distractions -- including morality or humanity.
Forrests genius for battle is explained in detail. His ability to organize men, motivate them and then use them as an instrument for war was surpassed by few in our Civil War (and perhaps by none when considering brigade and division sized engagements). That a man unschooled in war could possess such an innate grasp of the success factors required to win battles lends credence to the thought that successful leaders are born rather than made (as does George McCllelan's ineptness on the battlefied -- from a man who was overschooled in the art of war). Forrest also accomplished his remarkable record (winning outright almost all of his engagements) often with inferior forces. His maxims "get their first with the most" and "war means fighting and fighting means killing" summarize the focus that guided his war making philosophy. Certainly a product of his times, his pre war life as a slave trader and post war role as KKK founder also reflect his singlemindedness. A man without means, he was determined to create wealth and position for himself and his family -- an no route offerred a more certain path to success than that of the slaver in the antebellum South.
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