Following his taking of Corinth, Mississippi in July 1862, Federal General Halleck was reassigned to Washington DC and General Ulysses S. Grant was restored to the position of Western Field Commander with the objective of neutralizing the ‘Gibraltar of the Mississippi River’, Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was thought the task would be rather simple if the Union army could just follow the route of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as far south as Jackson, Mississippi, and then proceed west to Vicksburg, using the M&O road as their supply line.
Confederate Brevet Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest was assigned by his commander, Confederate General Braxton Bragg to take his battalion to West Tennessee, where the M&O Railroad ran, and disrupt Grant’s plans wherever and whenever possible, including the destruction of the railroad.
Promoted on July 21, 1862, to brigadier general, Bedford Forrest was given command of a new Confederate cavalry brigade. In November 1862, his veteran troopers were reassigned by General Braxton Bragg to another officer, against Forrest’s protest, and he was obligated to recruit a new brigade. The new brigade was composed principally of about 2,000 inexperienced recruits, most of whom lacked weapons, but were leavened by a few of Forrest’s loyal seasoned troopers.
Bragg ordered a series of raids to disrupt the communications of the Union forces under a battalion commanded by Union General Jeremiah P. Sullivan, reporting to General Grant, whose planned strategy was to capture the city of Vicksburg.
Forrest protested that to send such untrained men behind enemy lines was suicidal, but General Bragg insisted, and Forrest obeyed his orders. He arrived in West Tennessee in November 1862 with about 2,000 mounted troops and launched his campaign of destruction.
Bedford Forrest’s strategy was unique. His brigade was designed and mostly used a ‘hit-and-run’ arm against strategic installations such as small garrisoned towns, railroad junctions, and supply or ammunition depots.
First, he never stayed in one place very long. He traveled quickly as a unit, his horses consuming all the grass that there was to be eaten, denying any pursuing cavalry the feed they would need for their mounts to catch up with him.
Secondly, his attack on an enemy installation would be bifurcated. He initially sent in a token force to attack one face of the enemy and then quickly he would send his major force to a different side of the installation, capturing enemy troops and doing as much damage there as he could, his enemy’s forces having been diverted. He might then make his captives somewhat comfortable, trying to convince them that the size of his unit was much larger than it actually was, and he would then release them.
Another strategy was to set up camp just beyond rifle range of the enemy encampment and, using available forestation as a shield, he would send one or two companies to circle the major segment of his brigade several times to pretend he had re-enforcements coming in from some distant outpost. He would then send into the enemy camp a courier under a flag of truce. The courier would negotiate a surrender by the enemy, proposing “. . .to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.”
General Sullivan had been given specific orders to capture or kill Bedford Forrest but was completely flummoxed. General Grant had assigned him this mission with 2,000 infantrymen and a cavalry detachment of about 120 to scout for the brigade. Sullivan situated his army at Jackson, Tennessee, along the M&O Railroad, but his troops were not able to pursue Forrest. Ground troops are good for one thing; fighting on foot, and trying to chase Forrest’s 2,000-man cavalry was a little too much for Sullivan’s 120 cavalrymen.
General Sullivan finally confronted Forrest up near Columbus, Kentucky, but Forrest simply turned and scooted south, escaping back across the Tennessee River.
- Nathan Bedford Forrest – Tennessee Raids https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Bedford_Forrest#Tennessee_Raids
- M & O Ralroad History – https://www.liquisearch.com/mobile_and_ohio_railroad/history