On paper, If anyone in the Confederacy should not have been considered for a command position it would be Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Born in 1821, Forrest was one month shy of his 40th birthday when he signed up as a private soldier in Captain Josiah White’s company of Tennessee Mounted Rangers.
During the past thirty-nine years and eleven months, Bedford had attended, in brief segments, perhaps six months of formal schooling. His blacksmith father had died when Bedford was sixteen, leaving him the only bread-winner for his family. He essentially taught himself to read, write, and cypher, but his writing style was unique. He had no use for letters that served no purpose. He may or may not apply the letter “e” to the end of a word, depending on his mood or sense of urgency. “Know” was “no”. Who in the world would ever need those two extra letters? “Fight” was “fit” or sometimes “fite”, again using his own brand of logic.
Before he joined the army, however, he had become a successful businessman. Real estate, farm equipment, tools, and slaves were among the various commodities he dealt with. Even though slave trading was legal, it was a profession that enjoyed a somewhat distasteful reputation, but Forrest made it profitable. He had his own code as to whom he dealt with, and he kept a mental list of people he knew to be cruel masters and refused to deal with them.
His immediate superior during most of the war was General Braxton Bragg, who thoroughly disliked and distrusted Bedford Forrest. Bragg considered him an accidental success, who never should have been even promoted to sergeant, much less colonel or, heaven forbid, general!
How could a person lead a brigade without so much as a single course of instruction in military theory?
Bragg did all in his power to discredit Forrest, as in November 1862, he stripped him of almost his entire brigade of 2,000 seasoned troopers and sent him off on a dangerous raid into West Tennessee with a regiment of raw recruits. Forrest complained that the assignment was “suicide” but, following orders, executed the raid with great success, losing less than 20 soldiers, and bringing the brigade home with even more troopers, recruited along the way.
Forrest’s tactical skill and his inspirational style of management place him in the ranks of the most successful Confederate generals of the Civil War.