47 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2003
Nathan Bedford Forrest was one interesting character. A self made millionaire, most definitely an entrepreneur by today's standards, he was a maverick in every facet of his life. Shelby Foote called him the only genius, other than Abraham Lincoln, that the Civil War produced: High praise indeed.
It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to paint him with the brush of evil and dismiss him. Slave trader, first Grand Dragon of the Klu Klux Klan, the Ft. Pillow massacre, these are not the calling cards of sainthood. But if we try to view life as he saw it, if we can empathize with him enough to where we can react to his environment, during his times and with his skill set, then maybe we can come close to understanding Mr. Foot's comment.
The Southern High Command did not develop senior generals well. They anointed 8 at the start of hostilities. Without exception, those that weren't killed or injured were still in charge of things at the end of the war. Forrest was one of the few who earned the right to fill the ranks of those who fell.
Independent, devoted to the cause and goal driven he pounds his way to the top. One of his key adversaries, William Tecumseh Sherman, gives him his finest accolade with the words 'that Devil Forrest'. He is a tenacious fighter and good at his job. Judge for yourself, but no one on either side fought under greater hardship, with fewer resources, while amassing a string of truly pivotal victories than he did. No Lost Cause apologia here, Forrest is the genuine article, a true Confederate war hero. You may not wind up liking him but you will wind up respecting him.
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2004
I'm torn on this review. I'm a new student to the ACW, but new enough to still know that NBF is one of the more intriquing characters of the war. I thought I did my research well and picked the right book to read about him by choosing "That Devil Forrest."
Well, I'm a little disappointed. Not because the book is bad, but more because it wasn't what I quite expected and mostly because I read it out of place (more later on this). The focus is 95% on the military side, which is not all bad. After all, that's what makes him the wizard of the saddle. But the problem is I found the account very dry at times. Much of it is rehashing Official Records and what others have said in their memoirs. I never got the feeling of being there, in the middle of the battle, with bullets zipping by my ear. The only way I can describe it is a very nuts and bolts reading of what troops went where and what troops did what, with a little bit of prose thrown in. Certain chapters are handled better than others, but from time to time I found myself drifting away from engagement to engagement because there wasn't much to make it unique.
Now, I realize not every one can write like Catton or Foote, but considering Wyeth did ride in Forrest's cavalry, I was hoping for a little more from that POV.
As far as the details of the engagements, they are extremely well done. Clearly you will walk away from this book understanding how many casualties he infliced, what companies and who their leaders were who rode on particular missions, etc. It is truly a micro history and if you are unfamiliar with the bigger battles that may have intiated NBF's specific participation (i.e. Shiloh, Murfressboro, etc.) you might get a little lost in the details.
I think I need to read more of a true biography first, and then follow up with "That Devil Forrest" to fill in the military details. That would make a very good one two punch.
So, in short, if you're fascinated by Forrest, but know little of him, I wouldn't start with this book. I think you'll get lost in the details. However, if you have a thorough understanding of the ACW and good back ground info on Forrest the man, I think you'll find this book a good compliment if you're after the details. Another high point is the footnotes and references are impecable. Although the author has a very clear biased opinion about his feelings toward Forrest, he does back up the numbers so to speak.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2000
This is one of the first Civil War books I've read. It's hard to imagine I'll ever find a more thrilling one! Forrest is a hero beyond compare. It's amazing how Wyeth's dry, barebones delivery so clearly lets one read the amazing human spirit between the lines. These bare facts alone tell a tale more thrilling than any I've come across to date. Of course, sometimes our good doctor tips his hand with feeling and fervor about honor and good work, but he never seems biased, nor overloading our hero with praise. He relies heavily on clippings of official reports from both sides. I would say the Northern leadership appreciated him more than the Southern leaders. The "unlettered soldier" sure seems to have been screwed over by the old boy's network many times in response to his victories and saves. There's frustration, but also a sufficiency of comeuppance and a steady faith in virtue as its own reward. Forrest's occasion for nearly throttling Bragg was unforgettable: "If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life." Forrest was big, strong, scary and his men loved him. He raised multiple armies from nothing and equiped them by way of victory, only to have them taken away, re-officered and such. He was quick to temper and just as quick to apologize if need be. God's own democrat, as they say. A rare general who fought at the front every time. Killed 30 himself. An early innovator in guerilla war. Used flying batteries at the front. Used rumor and deception. He did much of his own reconnaisance behind the lines. When charged, he never took a charge but charged back, saying he believed a charging man was worth 3 standing. His famous saying "get there the firstest with the mostest" seems to be typed differently here. Likely his grammar cleaned up? It never says he was illiterate, but was he close to this? Anyway, I'd never heard of him until now. Perhaps being a Northerner had something to do with it? My loss, until now. Despite being shafted often, it seems like he was able to always keep his 'escort' of about 80 plus a few brigades thru most of the story as he builds and loses armies to his rivals. I sense more great drama involving those who stayed loyal to him throughout. If ever split from him awhile they seem to come back to him like a magnet. I'm hoping to find that side covered by Lytle's 'Critter Company.'
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 1999
This book, written by a Civil War veteran, gives great insight into one of the most interesting military commanders ever. It should appeal to anyone with an interest in the effects a strong personality can have on history. Forrest's ability to quickly assess a difficult situation and act efficiently and dramatically is astounding. Also of great interest is the extremely difficult circumstances endured by soldiers and civilians alike during this terrible period. While the book is written by a Southerner, the author's perspective is one of a diligent historian and deals frankly with the controversies that surrounded General Forrest. Anyone who reads this book should find their time extremely well spent.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2002
First published in 1899 as "The Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest", this renamed and updated account is not only full of facts, but the presentation of them is made most readable.
Motivational interest in this subject for me lies in the fact that a Great grandfather was a member of the Kentucky Brigade under service with Gen. Forrest in several of his most famous battles, i.e.- Tishomingo Creek (Brice's Cross Roads). This book was the first I'd read concerning Gen. Forrest's life and career. Since then I've read and studied much concerning Gen. Forrest, even travelling to some of the battlegrounds associated with his military campaigns. I think that Allen Wyeth treated the subject of Gen. Forrest with the respect and dignity due such a great man, without white-washing the controverial portions of his nature and career. He brings Gen. Forrest to life with startling clarity in this original account, full of subject material gleaned from actual eyewitnesses and other people from all walks of life who were acquainted with him. Enough time had gone by when the book was first published to gain an even better perspective on the life & career of this most remarkable soldier and man.
Truly the very nature of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is emboided in this book by highlighting his well known theory put into practice that: "The time to whip the enemy is when they are running."
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2004
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I've read the dry memoirs of a few Civil war heroes. Grant, Sherman, Sheridan. They're fine. But if you want the real guts'n'drive factor of this war, this doctor's story of Forrest is what you're after. As another reviewer has mentioned, when you get into other major characters you actually find less good action, more weakness, time-wasting. Forrest has his flaws, but more along the lines of all of ours. Hold a grudge if you like, but give the story its due. This has it all, in spades.
The doc is a passionate storyteller but doesn't prejudice the tale. He's written to a fine line.
The other major biographer, Steel, is known as the fairest (and the most recent and "professional"), but with him we get excessive DRYNESS. Who needs that. Moreover, Steel bends over backwards to discredit the hero Forrest, giving more than equal time to every potshot against him. This is called fairness. The shots never hit their mark even with Steel, yet he gives them their due and their due dilutes, taints and distracts the story. ---Even more so than Forrest's own flaws do! (Touche'.)
Wyeth is a clean historian yet lets the story's vigor come through just right. The adventures of Forrest will keep you riveted from start to finish. There's no other way to put it.
Forrest's covering of Hood's (?) final retreat was, in that day, declared to be the inevitable future subject of EPIC poems. We haven't seen any such thing, sadly. But that's the scale of this story. It would still be worth the effort, I think. A movie anyone?
Of course, every angle is worth savoring---including the old partisan Lytle's "Critter Company" bio.
But enjoy the doc. --JP
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
have nearly every book written on Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was a complex man, a man that should stand out more amongst the 'peacocks'. Who, having had any knowledge about the War Between the States, does not know JEB Stuart? Forrest did not believe in plumbed hats, jackboots or riding around the Union army to prove a point to the Union troops and his Father-in-law. He believed war was fighting and fighting means killing, and his brilliant military tactics demonstrated this. I think by being raised on both sides of the pond, Forrest first fascinated me because I saw much the same 'force' in Forrest I admired in William Wallace. They were common men, men who were willing to give all in a cause they believed, men that were driven by fighting at 110% and never giving quarter. Many of Forrest's tactics of near guerrilla fighting came from Lighthorse Harry Lee's tactics against the British in the Revolutionary War (Robert E. Lee's daddy by the way!!), a character in himself and much in the vein of Mel Gibson's Patriot. The North despised Forrest - why?? Because he was SO EFFECTIVE. One wonders, what the outcome of the War Between the States would have been had Forrest commanded the Army of the Potomac instead of Lee. Grant and Sherman hated him - Grant giving him the label of 'that devil Forrest', while Sherman admired him - grudgingly - considering him "the most remarkable man our civil war produced on either side", and by Lee `the most extraordinary man the Civil War produced'. Historian Shelby Foote called him one of the two great geniuses of the period (Lincoln being the other). Sherman moaned in disgust that Forrest's men could travel 100 miles faster than his troops could 10. Forrest 'liberated' more guns, horses and supplies than any other single Confederate unit. He did not play at war. He rose from the rank of private to a Lieutenant General - the ONLY man to do that in the Confederate army, but he was just as a complex man before and after the war.
Perhaps, you will not come away liking Forrest, but you cannot doubt his sheer genius, his driven power and his ability to spur men to match his dedication and willingness to give all - just as Wallace did.
There are many books that give interesting views of Forrest, but I hold a special spot in my respect for this book, for unlike the others that were written with the distance of time and careful study, this was written by John Allan Wyeth - a surgeon who died in 1922. Wyeth served as a private in the Confederate army until his capture two weeks after Chickamauga. This was written by a man who lived through the war, not an arm chair historian. So his view is unique, more vivid than any other writer or biographer on Forrest. The text is base almost solely on accounts of military papers and records and the people who knew Forrest personally.
So if you have come searching for information on Nathan Bedford Forrest, you collection MUST have a copy of this work.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2001
If you happen to be looking for a great book on the South during the Civil War, be sure to read this book. I myself am not a Civil War buff, but I sincerely enjoyed reading this. It gave me insight into the life of a Southern general who I had previously known only as "the man Forrest Gump was named after." I had a rather large bone to pick with the producers of the movie after having read this book. He was a man of unmatched military genius, and a man of character. He was never a part of the Ku Klux Klan as he was portrayed in the movie, and they had no right to claim that as the sole accomplishment of his life. The book is an impressive piece of work, whether you are a history buff, or if you are just looking for a good read. Check this one out!
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2001
A painstakingly researched record of the campaigns of Forrest. I recommend this book highly to the serious student of military history. It is well-written, well-documented, and moves along like the man himself -- quickly and effectively.
Though not definitive regarding his personality (other works give a more complete picture of the man himself), it still fills in important details of his tactical and operational brilliance for anyone seeking to get at the "whole story" of the exploits of the finest cavalryman the English-speaking world has yet produced...
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2008
If you havent read this book your knowledge of Nathan Bedford Forrest is incomplete. Forrest was one of the most interesting characters involved in the war. His story is told by many but none better than John A. Wyeth. Even if you aren't a WBTS buff you will find it a facinating account of a very unique individual. The top Generals on both sides of the conflict considered Forrest a very gifted military leader.
Dale Roberts author of Tales of Travis Hawkins McCleod