Battle of Brice’s Crossroads – Forrest’s Greatest Victory (Lecture)

Battle of Brice’s Crossroads – Forrest’s Greatest Victory (Lecture)

January 3, 2020 100 By Kody Olson


I’m very humbled to have everybody here today.
When I put this program together several months ago they sent a – well, actually, I put
it together 30 minutes ago, I finished it. When I submitted the idea for this program
several months ago I went to the – they sent out an email saying if there’s books on the
topic and everything submit them to the bookstore and they’ll get them in for the visitors to
possibly buy and I went to the bookstore manager and told her I’m doing something on Nathan
Bedford Forrest and she said well it’ll never sell. I was like, okay. Forrest doesn’t sell
here. Actually, based on that assumption I walked in there, so don’t everybody break
down the door when you get out of here, but I always begin the conversations with this.
How much is this? I have two biographies that they got in. One is by Brian Steel Wills,
it’s called “The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman: Nathan Bedford Forrest.” It
is predominantly on the Civil War although it’s got some pre- and post-war. This other
one is by Jack Hurst. This is the brown book it’s $17.95, this one’s $20. Jack covers the
most in the pre-war and the post-war. So if the Klan really interests you this has the
most on that time period even down to minute details like where he’s sworn in and all that
stuff. So the pre- and post- war, when this book first came out I was mesmerized by it,
because all the biographies, as they should, have focused on the war, but this one actually
had something outside. Is there a guy buy the name of Bill Sach here? Did he happen
to make it? Bill Sach, I think I’ve got the name right. Who is it? Alright, well tell
your brother that I got his email or his posting with the video suggesting that I enter to
a wrestler’s theme song called the Nature Boy. Ric Flair, you know what I’m talking
about, yeah! You will apologize to him for me not being able to comply with that, I did
go to the Foundation and asked if fireworks were allowed inside the building, but I didn’t
get anywhere with that. So if you would like to see what I’m talking about, you can go
to YouTube and type in Ric Flair intro. So I’ve got – my name is Matt. I guess I should
do the – if you don’t know, I’m a park ranger here. I think I know about everybody in the
room here today which is kind of cool. That’s Gettysburg for you. It kind of gets to feel
like family sometimes doesn’t it when you see the same faces again? It means springtime
is coming. So the Park Service – I’ve always been dinged in my career for not having a
theme. So Matt can never get his act together to have a cohesive idea to bring to the audience
to bring them closer to the resource. So in order to do that, I have come up with a theme,
and it is the following: sometimes we all do things that, well, don’t make sense. Now
that might not make sense to you right now, but it will make sense here shortly. I’ve
got a lot of material to cover here and I’ll try to fly through it. You all know how I
like to meander though, in and out of the theme right here. What I’m going to tell
you about today, ladies and gentlemen, is obviously Nathan Bedford Forrest, the guy
on the screen right here. Nathan Bedford Forrest is kind of – I’m sure it happens in the
North – but in the South there are regional heroes, such as in Alabama, for some reason,
portions of Alabama are big Joseph Wheeler fans, a cavalryman. It might be Pelham, the
artilleryman from Fredericksburg; he’s big in some parts of Alabama. In northern Mississippi,
you have Nathan Bedford Forrest, you could say that. Nathan Bedford Forrest, though,
nationally, is one of the more controversial figures today and then to come out of the
Civil War. He was controversial during the war, he was controversial after the war, and
he is controversial today. Nothing gets the debate juices flowing faster than mentioning
the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest. I’m going to start out with combat. What you’re
about to hear is going to seem like it’s straight out of a wild west novel. If you do not know
anything about Nathan Bedford Forrest, you’re going to think that all of this is fiction,
and part of it, kind of like William Wallace, a lot of legend, I should say, has grown up
with Nathan Bedford Forrest, it has. What is fact from fiction? At the battle of Shiloh
did he really get shot at point blank range amidst the Yankees and pull a soldier up after
that behind him for a shield? I doubt it. I bet he was saying, “Ouch, that hurt!”
But that’s the type of stuff. Nevertheless, Forrest is a fascinating character. He is
very reserved in front of ladies, he is very hot tempered in combat to the point where
he almost loses his common sense. And he has this vernacular, this drawl, which kind of
makes him interesting too. He can’t read, he can’t write, and yet he is going to learn
through his backwoods and his own personal character how to fight warfare in the 1860s.
We’ll start with something probably most of you have never heard of before and this is
the Meridian Expedition of 1864. The Meridian Expedition is conducted in January and February
of 1864. Sherman actually returns, William T. Sherman, actually returns here to Vicksburg,
Mississippi, this is the bottom left of the map, and this is a precursor to his Georgia
Campaign and his march across Georgia. He’s going to go here to Vicksburg and he’s going
to march straight across the state of Mississippi to Meridian and he’s going to destroy the
railroads and the infrastructure of Mississippi along the way. He has about twenty thousand
men in order to do that and in true Sherman fashion, you can see, he takes two routes
there and back to maximize the destruction. His plan, though, and we’ll get into Nathan
Bedford Forrest right here, is to have seventy-five hundred cavalrymen under William Sooy Smith
come down to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, remember, it’s all about railroads, and come
through this area and rendezvous with him at Meridian. The two combined forces could
then go into Alabama, possibly to Selma, or they could go south to Mobile. Remember, Mobile
is still an open port for the Confederacy. So that’s where we are. Sherman is marching
across here. He is supposed to rendezvous with Sooy Smith around the 1st of February.
What ends up happening? William Sooy Smith gets off late. He awaits like two or three
thousand cavalrymen to come in which slows him up, and he does not get his column moving
until February 11th. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Now, they quickly, when Smith’s column came
into Mississippi, they quickly digressed into looting and pillaging. They completely went
wild. He estimated that when he reached the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, he had burned already
between one and two million bushels of corn alone. Also following him, you have to remember,
and I’ll show you this on the map in a second, the area which he’s coming to in northeast
Mississippi is called the Prairie Belt or the Black Prairie. It’s named that because
of the soil, it’s a very dark soil, but it’s very conducive to growing good crops, and
the Confederacy, just like the Shenandoah Valley, is getting a lot of food out of northeast
Mississippi. So they want to destroy that, the Federals do, that is. So Sooy Smith is
coming down through there. When you’ve got a lot of agriculture there, you’ve obviously
going to have corn, you’re going to have your food produce, etc., but you’re also going
to have cotton. And when you have all this you’re obviously going to have a lot of slaves.
When Sooy Smith’s column comes through north Mississippi, thousands of slaves start following
the Union army through there. Well now he’s got a problem, because they’re on horses and
these slaves are on foot. So what do you do with them? He’s already running behind time.
Boss-man wants him down at Meridian ASAP and he’s got thousands of slaves that are following
right now. And what are the slaves doing, and what are the Union soldiers doing? You
can’t control everybody. When they’re about to leave the farm, they’re lighting the houses
up. The Union soldiers, when they come to forage, they’re burning the barns down, etc.
Between the two, there’s a lot of destruction going on in north Mississippi at this time.
Now, coming to meet him is seventy-five hundred men is a guy by the name of Nathan Bedford
Forrest. Forrest did not have half the strength of the Federals, nor did he initially know
the objective of the Union forces, but he guessed Smith would eventually move towards
Meridian to join with Sherman, and he guessed correctly. What he is wanting to do, and I
apologize to the people in the back, I know you can’t see anything on this map, but, it’s
the only map I could find with the detail. Right here, for those of you up front where
the red dot is, here is the railroad to orient you. Here is Meridian, here is Columbus, Mississippi,
and West Point is right in here in this area. This is the Black Prairie area right through
here. Right here, ladies and gentleman, is Houston and that is the hometown of yours
truly. Houston, Mississippi thank you, thank you very much. Elvis actually played there
at the VFW. The VFW had the chance to lock him in for a three year contract and didn’t
do it, because they didn’t think anybody would want to hear him. Some of the old timers swear
that he left a matinee one day when the kids came out in Houston and across the street
was Elvis Presley on the back of a pickup truck just playing right there. Alright, so
that has nothing to do with anything but I told you I would digress at some time. Sooy
Smith’s column is coming through here, they’re going to get to Okolona which is right here
in this area, once again, following the railroad. Okolona was the depot right in this area to
collect all the supplies for the Confederate army. Matt used to drive from Houston, which
is dry, over here to Okolona. About twelve miles right through there and he would wait
outside the liquor store until some nice adult would come along and make a purchase for him.
That’s where it all happened right there, Okolona. A lot of good times over there. Always
good fights too between the two towns, you didn’t want to stay long. So Sooy Smith’s
column is coming down here. Forrest is coming across Mississippi from the west to the east,
and he’s wanting to catch Sooy Smith. Now this is hard to see, but once again, it’s
the only map I have. There are streams running through here. When you get around Columbus,
Mississippi it gets to be a bottom land, and Forrest knows the territory. You can never
put a price on knowing the territory and knowing your enemy, and knowing the strength. So when
Forrest is coming down through there he figures, he guesses that Smith is heading to Meridian,
so what he decides to do is send his forces on either side of Smith’s column and lure
the Union cavalrymen towards Columbus. He’s going to box them in though on these rivers
and these creeks down here, and when Smith gets in that lowland he’s going to jump him
because you can’t move fast when you’re in mud, and that’s exactly what he’s up against.
Smith is beginning to feel the presence. He reaches West Point, Mississippi on February
20th and it took him nine days to get down there, and he gets to West Point and he and
Forrest’s advance command start skirmishing. Now Smith loses his nerve at this point. This
is a picture of Ellis Bridge. This is Highway 50 coming out of West Point and about a mile
behind this picture is my uncle Mike’s beer store, Mike’s Quick Stop. He’ll sell you
everything you need, right there; pack of smokes, anything, and they are cheaper than
Pennsylvania. So this creek is flooded at the time and this is the only place to get
across it. Smith gets to, well not specifically to the bank right here, but this is the best
shot I can get. He gets here and this is open at the time, it’s being farmed I suppose,
and he looks across through there and he sees the Confederates and he doesn’t know their
force, he loses his nerve, and he decides to turn back. He has got Forrest outnumbered
by two to one. Of course, I know that, he doesn’t, but the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest
was worth enough to scare him off. Now Forrest always had a feel, if you know what I mean,
a touch, for what was going on on the battlefield and he sensed that Smith was giving up the
fight before it had begun. This is the Ellis Bridge Monument. I actually went to that dedication.
It’s a skirmish I don’t know why it rated a monument, but there you go. I was there
and it was weird. As the Union troops start to withdraw, one of Forrest’s division commanders,
brand new division commanders, James Chalmers, got a chance to see Nathan Bedford Forrest
for the first time in combat, and this is what he wrote. “I had considerable curiosity to observe
General Forrest, but up to nine o’clock that morning, he had not appeared upon the
scene. Suddenly, out of a cloud of dust, accompanied by an orderly, he came dashing up the road
toward the bridge. As he approached me and reined up his horse, and in rather a harsh,
quick tone he asked me what the condition of affairs was at the front. As I had not
been on the firing line and did not know anything definite, except that the firing indicated
quite a severe skirmish, I replied that Colonel,” this is his brother, “Jeffrey Forrest had
reported nothing to me beyond the fact that there was some skirmishing going on at the
front, and I added that I thought it was a very severe affair. Forrest said quickly and
with evident impatience, ‘Is that all you know? Then I’ll go there and find out myself.’”
Now Forrest is always, you’ll hear this throughout the program, but I may not emphasize it, wherever
Forrest goes, Forrest has between sixty and a hundred men that are his personal escort.
I don’t know if you’ll call them a bodyguard, but they are handpicked men picked for their
fighting prowess. These men do not shirk, they are the best of his command, and to get
into Forrest’s personal escort was a high honor, kind of like the old guard with Napoleon
except a lot smaller. So anyway, Forrest dashes off with his escort, he gets to the firing
line, and he just charges, barrels right on ahead into the field into this wood line.
Guns blaze, smoke comes up, saddles are emptied, and Forrest comes galloping back up to Chalmers,
reins up his horse, and all the empty saddles are coming back. He turns to Chalmers and
he says, “Yup they were in there sure enough, weren’t they?” It’s like a novel. To back
up a little bit, on the other side of the bridge, when he first crossed on his way to
the front line, Forrest encountered a frightened soldier running away from the battle. Forrest
proceeded to jump down from his horse, grab the man by the neck, hurl him to the ground,
and then pick up a piece of brush and start whipping him on the behind. He then, after
he got through with him, pulled him up to his feet, faced him to the front, and said,
“Now, goddamn you, you go back there and fight. You might as well get killed there
as here, for if you ever run away again you’ll not get off so easy.” Forrest would later
write, “The Federals are retreating, Smith is retreating from here.” He would later write
in his report, “It is not my intention to attack them or to bring on a general engagement,
but to develop their strength position and movement.” What did I tell you? Forrest
is trying to draw them in. However, since Smith was retreating, “being unwilling that
they should leave the country without a fight I ordered the advance of my column.” In Forrest’s
words, in his home jargon right there, the “skeer” was on. Forrest always had a rule
that once you got the “skeer,” the scare on the enemy, you kept it on the enemy. If
you have a superior force and you get that force moving. If you’re fighting, let me put
it in simpler terms; if you’re fighting somebody bigger than you, and you get them down, don’t
ever let them get up. That’s not a good rule. There are no rules in fighting, alright?
Once you get your opponent going you want to keep pushing them right there, and he sensed
that. Now Forrest started pursuing them on February 10th, we’re on the right hand side
of the map over there at the top, and he starts pushing them back towards Okolona. He stopped
the pursuit as nightfall came on and on February 22nd he would have his column moving again.
Smith’s column moved pretty much throughout the night. Forrest’s column got a few hours
of sleep. Smith is trying to get out of there; Forrest is reserving his force’s strength,
as they got to the outskirts of Okolona. Forrest always, and you’ll see this throughout this
program, when he met an enemy, he would hit them in the front while he swung around to
the flank. He could always get a superior force to move if he could get astride their
flank. Once again, once you get the “skeer on ‘em, keep the skeer on ‘em.” When they get to the outskirts of Okolona,
the Federal forces are deployed right there, Forrest and them skirmish only briefly enough
for Forrest and the rest of the command to ride around the town. The Union troops withdraw
from Okolona, they form on the other side, this is kind of a running battle. Forrest
personally rides up to one of his brigade’s, Bartow’s. He asks Colonel Bartow, “Where
is the enemy’s whole position?” Bartow replied, “You see it general, and they are preparing
to charge.” “Then we will charge them,” and away he goes. Forrest attacked, and to
show you he’s human, he gets repulsed. He quickly took a regiment, though, upon reforming
his men, that brigade, around the Federal flank and the chase was on again. Smith tried
to reform his rear guard two more times, but Forrest stayed on top of him, attacking and
outflanking him each time. Sooy Smith managed to reform his lines again, for a third time,
a couple miles down the road, but by now Jeffrey Forrest, the general’s youngest and favorite
brother, along with also being a brigade commander under his older brother, had taken over the
pursuit along with the other Confederate troops. What is he doing? Forrest is bringing up fresh
troops and pushing them. Push, push, push. Have you ever seen a cow dog in action? The
dog’s probably thirty pounds and the cow’s probably fifteen hundred but what’s the dog
do? Just eats that cow’s tail up until it goes to where he wants it to. Think of a Chihuahua;
a lot of bark to it. Now while leading the attack, Forrest’s brother is hit in the throat
and mortally wounded. Yeah, that had to be bloody. Forrest rode up around this time to
find his brother laying on the ground. Dismounting, he took his brother in his arms and “was melting
with grief.” Another account said he was just saying “Jeffrey” over and over again while
he was sitting there crying. This moment “was of short duration, however. In placing the
dead man’s hat over his face, he called for Major Strange of his staff to take charge
of the body, and looking around, called in a ringing, passionate voice to the bugle to
sound the charge once more. The lull in the fighting had given the Federals time to regroup
and Forrest and his command ran up against five hundred Federals standing along the crest
of a plantation named after the Ivy family.” Forrest was in a rage over his brother’s death.
In fact, Dr. Cowan, J.B. Cowan, was sent to fetch Forrest because they thought he might
be on a suicide mission. Cowan spurred his mount forward and “in about a mile as I rounded
the short turn in the road, I came upon a scene which made my blood run cold. There
in the road was General Forrest and his escort and a few of the advanced guard of the Forrest
brigade in a hand-to-hand fight with Federals enough to have pulled them from their horses.
At that moment, another Confederate brigade rode up under Bob McCulloch. The soldiers
hesitated at seeing the number of Federals in their front but when they did, McCulloch
waved his bloody hand above his head shouting, ‘My God men, will you see them kill your
general? I will go to the rescue if not a man follows me.’ His men did follow him.
By the time they had driven the Federals back, Forrest had killed or wounded three enemy
soldiers.” Now the Federals made one last stand, and I’ll show you how different people
paint it; same battle, different artist. “The Federals made one last stand with three long
and separate lines of cavalry. They charged the vanguard of Forrest’s advance, most of
whom were dismounted. As the Federals charged, Dr. Cowan urged Forrest to get out of the
road. ‘Doctor,’ Forrest replied, ‘If you are alarmed, you may get out of the way. I am
as safe here as there.’ A few minutes later, Forrest’s horse went down, struck by five
balls with another three ricocheting off the saddle. Unscathed, Forrest remounted and rode
another a hundred and fifty yards before this one was killed. By this time, his favorite
mount, King Philip had arrived. This horse would become very animated seeing the color
blue and would rush at the enemy with its mouth open and its ears turned back.” In fact,
in the post-war years when the Memphis police came to visit Forrest, for some reason at
his house, King Philip was still alive. He was in the stable and the horse went ballistic
when the policeman showed up in blue uniforms. The policemen remarked to Forrest, “My God,
general, even your horse hates the Yankees.” So galloping through there, the Federals charged
three times and they are barely repulsed. “By this time, with the last line charged,
hand-to-hand combat was on very freely. Major Thomas Tate of the general’s staff had locked
horns with a Federal and Tate had just found that his carbine was jammed, and he flung
it in desperation at the Federal soldier. Figuring he was a goner, he was greatly relieved
when the looming figure of Forrest rode up and almost decapitated the man with one blow
from his sword. The Confederates repulsed the final assault and Forrest galloped on
ahead.” He found a Union hospital where a surgeon had run off in the midst of an amputation
leaving a saw in the middle of the guy’s leg. Oh, you want something better? The guy was
conscious. Forrest dismounts from his horse, goes and gets, I suppose it was laying there,
a bottle of chloroform, which is your anesthesia, and applies it to the soldier to knock him
out, and then he tells Dr. Cowan to finish the operation from there. Now once again,
fact from legend. The legend has it that Forrest finished the operation. I don’t think so but
I think he did apply chloroform. Now the battle of Okolona results in 144 Confederates killed,
wounded, and missing compared with Smith’s loss of 388. Forrest explained it this way,
his small loss, or half the loss: “We kept so close to them that the enemy overshot our
men.” Now Okolona, and this is the great thing about being in a rule – this is always a bad
word for
a Southerner. RURAL. RULE. RURAL area. Ru-EL, madam. Yes, a farming community! – is that
this land is all pristine. The problem with the battle of Okolona or the series of engagements
is that it’s running, it’s moving, it’s fluid. It’s not as open as it once was so it’s
hard today to get a fix on exactly where Jeffrey was shot and Ivy Plantation and so forth but
it’s pristine. It’s kind of neat to see that rolling countryside. Now I’m going
to back up a little bit right now and we’re going to go back to the beginning, and I’ll
tell you where Forrest’s roots are coming from. Now most of you have probably heard
of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nathan Bedford Forrest has been on everything. Movies, magazines,
books, I showed you a couple here. It gets to the point of saturation, but I’m sure
he’s a good sell if you slap him on the cover of a magazine. I imagine that the vast majority,
though, of everybody’s perceptions here have been influenced by one thing. “My mama named
me after the great Civil War hero General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related
to him in some way. What he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan, and
they all dressed up in their robes and bed sheets and they acted like a bunch of ghosts
or spooks or something and they even put bed sheets on their horses and ride around. Anyway,
that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Mama said the Forrest part was to remind me that
sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.” The real Forrest, to
back up, is just dirt poor. He’s born in Tennessee in 1821 in the backwoods that was
unforgiving and violent, in its own nature. He was named after his uncle; Nathan, and
the county he was born in; Bedford. Nathan Bedford. His father was a blacksmith and his
mother looked after eleven children. All the women go “ooooo.” Only five sons reached adulthood
and like his parents Forrest was large, standing at 6 foot 2. What made him even more imposing,
ladies and gentleman, in combat, is he would charge and he would stand up in the stirrups
on his toes, that’s the way he fought. So you take a 6′ 2″ man and put him on King Philip
and I’m sure he’s something to behold upon a battlefield. Forrest only received three
months of formal schooling growing up, however, life taught him more lessons that taught him
well. He was gathering blackberries along with the rest of the kids and they encountered
a rattlesnake and while the rest of the kids ran Nathan picked up a stick and killed the
snake. He had learned “the value of the offense.” Another learning experience occurred
when Bedford confronted a pack of dogs. In the past he and his friends had tossed rocks
at the mean dogs as they galloped past the house. On this occasion, the horse balked
and threw Nathan to the ground, the boy, to the ground. Bedford, Nathan Bedford, sprang
up ready to fight. To his surprise, he found the dogs had run off. What did this teach
him? The element of surprise. The element of surprise coupled with a show of offense
had completely thrown his enemy off. As a teenager, Bedford found work in his uncle’s
tailor shop. One day, five rowdy guys came in drinking pretty heavily. They started to
pester Forrest to drink with them. Growing tired of their taunting, he picked up a pair
of shears that he was working with and pulled them apart holding each half in one hand.
Bedford then proceeded to charge which sent the five boys tumbling out the front door.
He had learned the advantage of the offense from that. Now this is kind of interesting.
Forrest moves to Memphis in 1851 where he dabbled in real estate, livestock, and also
slave trading. His slave market grew to be one of the largest in Memphis and with that
money Forrest became a millionaire. Between farming and buying and selling slaves – I
can’t really – I’m not an expert on slavery or anything like that. I suppose he would
just get a commission from buying and selling. My understanding is that the way the market
worked the Deep South had cotton, and Kentucky and places like Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri
were – they didn’t need that many slaves – so it’s supply and demand. So what would they
do? People would buy them in Kentucky and bring them to Memphis and sell them for a
higher profit. Of course, Forrest is making a commission off of that. If you think about
where he began, with his humble beginnings, it’s amazing that by 1858, he had risen from
the lowest rungs of society to the top tier. Of course, he had done that on other people’s
backs; it’s a heck of a way to make a living. He even won a seat on the Memphis board of
Alderman. Now Forrest is going to enter the war late by most standards. he’s going to
wait until June when Tennessee leaves the Union to join the Confederacy. Nathan Bedford
Forrest will enter the war as a private. Forrest’s connections in Memphis, though, got him a
commission to raise a cavalry outfit and by October of ‘61 he was a lieutenant colonel
and by the end of the war, he would be lieutenant general. That’s quite a rise from private.
There are many stories to tell about Nathan Bedford Forrest during the war, and we could
spend all day and we may do it yet. You going to write that one down? Never know what people
find funny. I’ll pick you out a couple highlights. Fort Donelson, which is at the Cumberland
River, about twelve miles from Fort Henry, which is on the Tennessee River. It’s basically
north of Nashville, Tennessee. Forrest is in command of a regiment of cavalry. Forrest
is involved in the fighting when the Confederates try to break out. General U.S. Grant has surrounded
Fort Donelson, the Confederates counter-attack, they actually open up an escape route, and
once again, the Confederates this time lose their nerve and they withdraw back into their
fortifications after winning the battle. Nathan Bedford Forrest is – what is the job of cavalry?
He’s supposed to go out and reconnoiter, he’s supposed to find intelligence. He comes
back to headquarters to find the three top Confederate generals talking about surrendering,
this is at nighttime, and he is just aghast that this is actually happening. He argues
that escape route is still open that there’s a back road that is only flooded for about
a hundred yards waist-deep and we can take the command out tonight. But the generals
have had enough and they decide to surrender. Forrest, still being present during the conversation,
curtly informed everyone present “That I did not come here for the purposes of surrendering
my command.” And a few minutes later he had his officers assembled and he stated to them
“Boys, these men are talking about surrendering, and I am going to ride out of here and bust
hell wide open.” And rode out he did. With every Confederate
soldier that he could get on horseback, two to a horse, some of the soldiers came out.
Was it the majority of the garrison? Not even close, but the road was open and Forrest,
once again, took the initiative. He didn’t take what people told him, his subordinates,
his superiors or anybody else, about what was happening. He went and found out the situation
himself and he acted. Forrest was at the Battle of Shiloh, the end of the battle. Remember,
the battle of Shiloh is two days. What happens, briefly, the Confederates win the first day,
the Union wins the second day. The night of the first day, Forrest goes up front in the
woods, he scouts out, he can see Union reinforcements coming ashore on the Tennessee River. He goes
back and throughout the night he is trying to find somebody in command, somebody who
will order the Confederate army to attack before it’s too late. Nobody knows Forrest,
he’s not a known quantity, and here’s this colonel standing in front of them advocating
making a night attack. Nobody listens. Not Bragg, not Beauregard, nobody else. What happens?
Next day the sun comes up and U.S. Grant, he counter-attacks and the Union wins the
battle. Forrest was, to me, kind of like a Patton in the sense that most of the soldiers
respected him as a fellow soldier but on many accounts, on a personal level, just flat hated
his guts. He would kill you as fast as he would kill the enemy. And there is really
no better illustration of that than this next story. In May of ’63, he was pursuing some
Union raiders under Abel Streight. For some reason, this Union commander had the bright
idea to outfit his men with mules, and he has about fifteen hundred men. Forrest has
about maybe half that. Forrest catches up with him, he pounds it. Just like Okolona
folks, he pounds it night and day, constantly nipping at him, constantly at his heels. The
Federals will get no sleep as long as Forrest is on their trail. They will have to stay
awake and in the saddle. Eventually the Federals tire out and what does Forrest do? He pins
them up, and then he does one of his favorite tactics. He flies a white flag and he sends
it in and says something like, “In order to save the useless effusion of blood, I demand
the surrender of your command.” So Streight’s sitting there, he doesn’t know how many Confederates
are out there, and Forrest is bluffing, he doesn’t have enough men to take Streight.
But during that whole time Forrest taught his command – and I don’t know what the command
would be called – he basically taught his command to make circles. He said it might
come in handy one day. And so what did he do while he’s talking to Streight? There’s
a hill behind them, and what did he do? He put the Confederates into a circle and that
circle started coming and going over the top of the hill and Streight’s sitting there watching
all that over Forrest’s shoulders and he goes, “My god how many artillery pieces do you have?
I’ve counted eighteen so far.” Forrest never even blinks he goes, “I reckon that’s all
that’s kept up.” Streight surrenders to a force about a third of the size and when he
finds out that he’s been snookered, he demands to have his arms back and Forrest pats him
on the back and he says, “Come now general, all is fair.” Now, to show you going back
to the original point about how his men could hate his guts. During this raid, this man
right here, A.W. Gould, I’ll call him “gold” for simplicity, is a captain under Forrest.
He’s in command of a couple of cannons for Forrest. Well, Streight is ambushing, before
the surrender. He’s setting up ambushes, the Confederates are pursuing hard, and they’re
running into these ambushes, and eventually, Gould is going to lose two cannons. Forrest
is infuriated. There is nothing that makes Forrest angrier than to lose some cannons
or to lose period. And he decides that this young gentleman has to go so he decides to
transfer him out of his command. By this time, Forrest’s command is up, this is a few months
later, his command is up in Columbia, Tennessee, home of James K. Polk. Well Gould hears about
it and he comes to see Forrest, and Forrest steps out into the hallway, they’re in a building,
and Forrest says, “yeah you’re out of here,” and Gould says, “The man that accuses me
of cowardice cannot stand,” or something along those lines and he proceeds, he’s got
a duster on, to start to pull a pistol out of that duster to shoot to kill Forrest. Forrest seeing what’s happening, reaches for
the duster and for the hand, and as he does, the gun goes off inside the jacket. The bullet
comes and hits him in one of the shoulders, I forget which one. But it hits him in one
of the shoulders right there. Now that’s got to hurt to get a pistol ball like that at
point blank range. While he’s wrestling with the man’s gun hand right here, he was left
handed, while he’s wrestling with it, Forrest reaches down and picks up a pen knife, and
with his teeth, he opens it. And while he’s wrestling with this guy over this gun, he
takes that pen knife and hits him in the side with it, right between the rib cage – I don’t
know how big the pen knife was – and the two men fall apart. Gould goes across the street,
Forrest lays down, the doctors are summoned, et cetera, there’s a whole bunch of commotion
going on in this area, as you can imagine. Gould is taken across and apparently where
Forrest hit him, I don’t understand anatomy, but blood is just coming out at every heartbeat;
he must have hit him right in the right spot, wherever he hit him. So anyway, the doctor
has got two fingers over Gould’s wound across the street. The other doctor goes to see about
Forrest. Now Forrest has been hit and the bullet comes up. I’ve got the actual medical
term. You all are going to have to hit me. He was, excuse me, he was hit in the abdomen
which was ultimately fatal. Peritonitis. So the doctors are laying there, excuse me, Forrest
is laying there, and the doctors say to him, “You’re going to die.” Forrest gets up
off the table and he yells, “Get out of my way.” I won’t put the exclamation points,
“Get out of my way. I’m mortally wounded and will kill the man who has shot me.”
His clothing in disarray, you can imagine, he hobbled into the street and borrowed, took,
two pistols from some of his troopers, screaming the whole time, “Lookout, lookout.” The
crowd parted and Forrest walked into the building across the street and started shooting at
Gould with those two pistols. He was going to kill him before he died. You see what I’m
talking about? Sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense. Gould heard him coming. He tumbles
off the table, rolls out the backdoor, and Forrest is shooting at him as he goes out
the back. The unfortunate thing about the whole thing is that when Forrest shot through
the backdoor, there was a building out there and the ball hit the brick wall and ricocheted
into another soldier’s leg, which cost him his leg, but other than that though it was
fine. Forrest went out there and cornered Gould, who was on the ground at that time,
and Forrest came up to him and kicked his foot with his own boot and he could tell that
Gould was a dying man and he just said – just like that his temper went away. From there,
he was taken to the Galloway House where he expected to die. He didn’t kill Gould, I don’t
guess he hit him, but he figured he was dying anyway. Now the doctors are going to look
at Nathan and they’re going to follow the track of the ball, you all are going to have
to help me again, and they found that the ball had entered the abdomen but it had been
deflected by the gluteal muscle. Where is that? No, it’s not your gluteus maximus. Top
of the hip? Thank you, doctor. And it ricocheted. The doctors told the general that his wound
was not serious. It was little more than a flesh wound for you Monty Python fans. They
offered to cut the bullet out but Forrest refused saying, “No it is nothing but a
damn little pistol ball, let it alone.” Forrest did, though, at that point order the
doctors down to the Nelson House Hotel to take care of Gould and despite the efforts
of the doctors, Gould would die two weeks later. He was 23 years old. All right, one
more story, we’ll get back to ‘64, but this is a great one. Who’s this man? Braxton Bragg. Just because
I like all of you, I got him in color right. I found him about ten minutes before this
presentation. Battle of Chickamauga, that is around Georgia right? Right outside of
Chattanooga. Confederates win Chickamauga. Forrest is with the Army of the Tennessee
at the time; Bragg is in charge of the army; Forrest is a subordinate, he never worked
well under other people. Forrest – the Confederates win the battle in part due to James Longstreet
and the Confederate 1st Corps that was here at Gettysburg. Bragg has scored a stunning
victory, but he doesn’t know what he has. Forrest goes to Bragg and he urges him to
pursue the Federal army. “Keep the skeer on ’em.” I don’t know if he said those exact
words but that’s what he meant to tell Bragg in so many words, and Bragg lets the fruits
of victory slip away from him. Several months go by and Bragg and Forrest didn’t get along.
I don’t know anybody that got along, really, with Bragg. Forrest in angst just says about
Bragg, “What does he fight battles for?” He just can’t understand the man. If you’re
not fighting for a total victory why are you fighting? When Bragg later issued orders transferring
many of Forrest’s men away from him, the general, Forrest had had enough, and he went to see
General Bragg. He walked into Bragg’s tent and Bragg offered his hand. Forrest didn’t
shake it. Bragg sat back down in his chair behind his desk and Forrest proceeds to take
his finger and puts it right in his face. He said to him, “I am not here to pass civilities
or compliments with you, but on other business. I have stood your meanness as long as I intend
to, and you have played the part of a damned scoundrel and a coward, and if you are any
part of a man, I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not
issue any more orders to me for I will not obey them. And as I say to you that if you
ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”
Yeah. Needless to say, Forrest got a transfer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Nathan
Bedford Forrest made it back to Mississippi for the Battle of Okolona. Is it tying all
in? So Forrest, in the spring of ’64 – now we’ve had the Battle of Okolona, now we’re
going past the Battle of Okolona – in March of ’64, Forrest set off on a raid from west
Tennessee and Kentucky. Along the way, he captured – this is what a typical raid would
do for him – he captured 612 Federals and killed 79 while wounding another 102. His
personal loss, his own command loss was 15 killed and 42 wounded. Now coming back to
Mississippi through west Tennessee, he picked out one last target. “There’s a Federal
force of about five hundred or six hundred men at Fort Pillow which I shall attend to
in a day or two as they have horses and supplies which we need.” This was on April 4th. Now
Fort Pillow is right here and this is the Mississippi River. Memphis is at the bottom
of the map. Fort Pillow is part of the original river defenses, part of the original defenses
in 1862 before Memphis fell in June. They actually built Fort Pillow, it’s named after
Gideon Pillow, the Confederate general. It actually has, this is the best map I could
find, which is not the best map, but it actually had a ring of fortifications that went around
it; an outer ring and then it had an inner ring or an inner fort right there along the
river. Now as Forrest rode towards Fort Pillow, he had no idea that the impending collision
would be more than a test of arms. On this campaign, Forrest and his men would encounter
former slaves now fighting as soldiers in the Union army. I need not tell you my friends
that this site for the Confederate soldiers was an anathema. To exacerbate the situation
the white soldiers comprising the garrison at Fort Pillow were Tennessee Unionists, alright?
The garrison had been accused of several acts of uncivilized warfare over the previous months
and the fuse was lit for an explosive situation. Now James Chalmers’s command was the first
to arrive. I don’t know if Chalmers is up there or I’m looking at it upside – I guess
I could look at this one right? Chalmers is the bigger division commander. Chalmers is
going to push the Federals back toward the inner half of the fortifications, not that
they made that big of a fight right there. Confederate sharpshooters then began to pick
off the garrison of six hundred Union men inside the fort. The biggest loss for the
Federals came when the camp commander Major Lionel F. Booth was killed and command passed
to Major William F. Bradford. Forrest arrived at 10:00 AM. Now in the short time that we’ve spent on
Nathan Bedford Forrest, what is the first thing that Nathan Bedford Forrest is going
to do when he gets on the field? What will he do? He’ll look. He will reconnoiter.
But yeah? Attack. I could see that. I like your game. You’d get a lot of people killed,
but that’s alright. What does he do? He rides along. If Forrest has time, he will reconnoiter.
If he doesn’t have time he’ll just attack. You can never go wrong attacking. He identified
the key terrain features and he set about to take advantage of them. What he saw right
there was a ring, and this is hard to describe on this map, and if you ever go to Fort Pillow
– and you’ve got to be going to Fort Pillow to be going Fort Pillow, the only thing out
there is a medium security prison which you’ll pass on the way up there – but you’ve got
to go all the way up to the north before you turn west, there’s only one road leading in
and out of it. That’s the reason they put a prison there. If you think about it, if
you can imagine it I should say, you see these stars right here? These are going to be the
Confederate sharpshooters. These are actually ravines where you don’t see any drawings.
It doesn’t show up very well but these hilltops right here are going to dominate this area,
meaning the Confederate soldiers can shoot inside of Fort Pillow. Over here, you have
some huts right up next to the fort. Fort Pillow is not expecting an attack; it’s a
garrison, it’s a camp. So they’ve got these cabins set up because they want to be comfortable.
Who would want to sleep in a tent all the time? So McCulloch is going to swing around
here and the Federals are going to burn the first few cabins, but the Confederates are
going to get the possession of the majority of them. And what do they make the cabins
into? Forts, and they start shooting at Fort Pillow basically at point blank range. This
goes on for an hour or so and the Federals can’t even raise up and shoot because the
Confederates have them surrounded, they have them pinned down. There is nothing to do.
There is nothing left to do. What does Forrest do? He calls a cease-firing and he sends in
a white flag. “The conduct of the officers and men garrisoning Fort Pillow has been such
that it entitles them to be treated as prisoners of war,” Forrest wrote. “I demand the
unconditional surrender of this garrison, promising you that they should be treated
as prisoners of war. Should my demand be refused, I cannot be responsible for the fate of your
command.” Captain W.A. Goodman, Chalmers’ adjutant general and bearer of the note, said
later that he clearly remembered the offer to treat the entire garrison as prisoners
of war “because when the note was handed to me, there was some discussion about it among
the officers present, and it was asked whether it was intended to include the Negro soldiers
as well as the white. To which both General Forrest and General Chalmers replied that
it was so intended.” Captain W.A. Goodman, Chalmers’ adjutant general and bearer of the
note, would later on go on to say that he went up to the Federals and that Major Bradford,
who is now in command, the Union commander, tried to buy time by asking for an hour to
consider the terms. When this was reported to Forrest, fearing a ruse to get Union gunboat
support, and there was a gunboat down there, replied that he had twenty minutes to make
up his mind. Major Bradford responded: “Your demand does not have the desired effect.”
What do you think about that? “Your demand does not have the desired effect.” Now you
think about Nathan Bedford Forrest. What does that mean to a guy like Nathan Bedford Forrest?
Forrest responds “In plain and unmistakable English, will he fight or will he surrender?”
No, came back the Union response. Alright, he got his answer. Now here we get to the
crux of the whole Fort Pillow thing, the crux of it for me. This is my opinion, there’s
a hundred different books on Fort Pillow. During the flag of truce, the two sides obviously
quit firing, but they were in stone’s throw of each other. You’ve got these troops,
these Confederate soldiers, and you’ve got these Union soldiers within some places fifty
to seventy-five yards. They’re going to talk to each other. I’ll give you a quote:
“At the same time, the parapets of the fort were thronging with Negro soldiers, intently
watching the course of events and some of whom were heard also to say, ‘it was useless
to deny that general Forrest was before him’ for they knew him too well for that. And so
close were the lines that the white men of both sides were bantering each other from
their respective positions while some of the Negroes indulged in provoking impudent cheers.” A Confederate sergeant in the 20th Tennessee
said that the Federals “threatened that if we charged their breastworks to show no quarter.”
While a Confederate correspondent stated the Federals “boasted with an air of insulting
defiance that he,” Forrest, “could not take the place, and they asked for no quarter.”
So the flag of truce comes back, the Union forces say no, and Forrest ends up giving
the command to attack. With the rebel yell all along the line to synchronize stuff, the
Confederates charge up to the eight-foot walls, into the ditch, and they boost each other
over into the fort. Major Bradford was heard to cry out almost instantly, “boys save your
lives!” And all through this, the US flag continues to fly from the fort. These statements
are somewhat, and you know it’s a combat so nothing ever jives completely here. What occurred
inside of the fort is hard to ascertain in some cases. Achilles Clark, a soldier with
the 20th Tennessee cavalry wrote to his sister immediately after the battle. “The slaughter
was awful. words cannot describe the scene. The poor deluded Negroes would run up to our
men, fall upon their knees and with uplifted hands scream for mercy, but they were ordered
to their feet and then shot down. The white men fared but little better. Their fort turned
out to be a great slaughter pen. Blood, human blood stood about in pools and brains could
have been gathered up in any quantity. I, with several others, tried to stop the butchery,
and at one time had partially succeeded but general Forrest ordered them shot down like
dogs and the carnage continued. Finally our men became sick of blood and the firing ceased.”
Confederate surgeon Samuel H. Caldwell wrote, “We are just from Fort Pillow which fort
we attacked on Tuesday and carried by storm. It was garrisoned by four hundred white men
and four hundred Negroes, and out of the eight hundred,” his numbers are a little off, “only
one hundred and sixty-eight are now living, so you can guess how terrible was the slaughter.
It was decidedly the most horrible sight that I have ever witnessed. They refused to surrender
which incensed our men,” and here you go, to show you how you never know what exactly
happens, “and if general Forrest had not run between our men and the Yanks with his
pistol and saber drawn not a man would have been spared. We took about one hundred and
twenty-five white men and about forty-five Negroes and the rest of the eight hundred
are numbered with the dead. They sure lay heaped upon each other three days.” It was
actually far worse than you can imagine up under the bluff as the Federals tried to get
down to the river to escape. The Confederate correspondent said that the Federals reminded
him of a drove of hogs trying to swim across a stream. “The Mississippi River was crimson
with the red blood of the flying foe, and our soldiers grew sick and weary in the work
of slaughter and were glad when the work was done.” In twenty minutes, ladies and gentlemen,
out of the five hundred and eighty man garrison, 66% of the blacks and 35% of the whites were
killed. 66% of the blacks were killed. Whether a massacre did or did not occur is not in
doubt. When you have a percentage so lopsided, there is no doubt that a lot of, as they were
called at the time, United States Colored Troops were shot in that fight. The debatable
point is how much Forrest personally had to do with this. How can you have Forrest ordering
people shot down like dogs and then have him “run between our men and the Yanks with his
pistol drawn?” And there’s the crux of Fort Pillow and Nathan Bedford Forrest because
I don’t have the answer. I don’t know. I could keep giving you accounts and accounts and
accounts, but everything contradicts itself. My personal opinion on it, on Nathan Bedford
Forrest and Fort Pillow, as I said, there was a massacre. I don’t think that Forrest
ordered those men, those blacks to be shot. Why? Because there’s two thousand Confederates
there. There’s a chain of command, and there’s not one piece of evidence that those orders
floated down. Somebody would have said something about it. All we have are accounts of the
fighting. Now on the other hand, let’s be honest here, did it bother Forrest? I doubt
it. I don’t think it probably bothered him at all. Now it’s going to bother him later
when it gets out about Fort Pillow and what happened there but it does not bother him
at the time. That’s the best I can do for you as far as Forrest and Fort Pillow. Now
what it ended up doing for the USCT is it actually backfired for Nathan Bedford Forrest.
If Forrest was trying to send a message that blacks – that the white South I should say
– would never tolerate blacks in arms, he sent the wrong message, because it actually
galvanized, at the very least, the soldiers that had already joined the USCT units to
fight even harder. We’re about to look at Brice’s Crossroads to end up things here,
but if you look at the crater at Petersburg, what do the black troops shout as they charge
into the crater at Petersburg? Remember Fort Pillow. It was a wide-ranging rallying cry
for the USCT for the rest of the war. Alright, one more battle. You all got the gas, how
am I doing here? Okay so this is my watch and I’m currently trying to be a good person
and I have all these texts. Have you ever had Fat Tire beer? See what I get in the midst
of these conversations that we’re having right here? A little musical interlude? Everybody’s
like yeah man I’ve drank that, I haven’t had, I have to go get some. Okay! So this
is the best map I could get. I’m not very keen about it, but that’s the way it goes.
This is the best map I could get. I don’t have time, I’m just going to cover one last
battle, Brice’s Crossroads which is his best right here, but keep in mind, ladies
and gentlemen, that if you read about Nathan Bedford Forrest, all of he fights that Forrest
has with the Federal army in Mississippi are over one thing. The Federal government, specifically
William T. Sherman, will do everything in their power to do what? keep Nathan Bedford
Forrest from riding from Mississippi, up here to Tennessee, to cut the railroad line that
Sherman needs to get all the way back to Kentucky. The worst nightmare of William T. Sherman
is that Forrest gets into Tennessee, and as he said, he would break the treasury and cost
ten thousand lives if he could get that devil Forrest away from Tennessee. That’s a paraphrase
so make sure you look up the actual quote. Okay, so Brice’s Crossroads is part of that
effort to get him out of there or to keep him out of there. Now the Union column will
be under the command of this gentleman right here. This is June of ‘64. This is Samuel
Sturgis. He has about forty-eight hundred infantry of which about twelve hundred were
USCT. He has thirty-three hundred cavalry, he has four hundred artillerymen, twenty-two
cannon, and two hundred and fifty wagons. Okay, he has about eight thousand men. Some
of the troops, a lot of the troops, were armed with the newest Colt repeating rifles as well
as breech-loading carbines. On June 9th, Sturgis’s command were encamped about nine miles from
Brice’s Crossroads in Mississippi, a vital road intersection that led to Guntown, Mississippi
and the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, remember that from Okolona. On the other hand, Forrest’s
forces were of about half that size, about forty-five hundred men and eight cannon. That
is eight cannon versus twenty-two cannon. That is roughly four thousand versus eight
thousand. To top it all off, Forrest guessed wrong. He thought that Sturgis and the Union
forces would try to get astride the railroad further north. So what does that mean? Forrest’s
command is not together. It’s not concentrated. His furthest units from Brice’s Crossroads
were twenty-five miles away. On June 9th, Forrest is ordered by Stephen D. Lee – if
you ever go down to Antietam and you walk out of the visitor center at Antietam and
you walk up to the Confederate guns, they are under the command of Stephen D. Lee, and
now Lee is here in Mississippi. It’s a small world. Lee orders him to fall back to Okolona
to unite with other Confederate forces. There was more open country around Okolona as demonstrated
at the beginning of this program by the battle there. However, intelligence reached Forrest
late in the evening that Union forces were nine miles from Brice’s Crossroads. What
does Forrest know? He knows where the enemy is. What does the enemy not know? Where he
is, exactly. Although outnumbered, Forrest felt the terrain offered him advantage and
he ordered forward his command. Forrest explained his strategy to one of his subordinates. That’s
why you sat here the whole time John so you could hear this. Here is the crux, why you
came out here to learn about Nathan Bedford Forrest and his strategy, in this paragraph.
Now this is redneck jargon, but see if it makes sense to you. He turned to one of his
subordinates and he said, “I know they greatly outnumber the troops I have at hand, but the
road along which they will march is narrow and muddy and they will make slow progress.
The country is densely wooded and the undergrowth so heavy that when we strike them, they will
not know how few men we have. The cavalry will move out ahead of the infantry and should
reach the crossroads three hours in advance. We can whip their cavalry in that time and
as soon as the fight opens they will send back to have the infantry hurried up. It is
going to be hot as hell and coming on a run for five or six miles over such roads their
infantry will be so tired that we will ride right over them. I want everything to move
up as fast as possible. I will go ahead with Lyon and the escort and open the fight.”
Now most of you caught the reference to terrain but did you hear the reference to weather?
As my fellow ranger over here, John Nicholas, pointed out to me sitting by the door making,
sure none of you get out of this building before I complete this program, John used
to be a bouncer part time when he wasn’t killing people for the greater good of America. He
pointed out to me that Brice’s Crossroads is the only battle that at least he can think
of where weather is used as a multiplying factor. It’s used as an asset. Forrest is
counting on the weather to be his friend and he is counting on the weather to tire out.
Can you think of another instance of that? Who would think of that? Nobody asked you.
And as I said, it’s pretty much going to work out the way he foresaw it. Now Forrest had
his command moving at 4:00 in the morning. Sturgis moves out at 5:30; the Union infantry
moves out at 7:00. The advance guard are going to collide at about 9:30 in the morning and
the Federal cavalry arrive at the crossroads first and push down the Baldwyn Ferry road
– a little upside down right here – is this the crossroads I think? They’re going to
push down this crossroads right here. As the Federal cavalry pushes down the Baldwyn road,
the Confederates are very heavily outnumbered. They only have about eight hundred cavalry
versus thirty-three hundred Union cavalry. Forrest had a philosophy though, he said not
specifically at Brice’s Crossroads, but in general: “Whenever you meet the enemy,
no matter how few there are of you or how many of them, show fight. If you run away
they will pursue and probably catch you. If you show fight they will think there are more
of you and will not push you half so hard,” and Forrest did just that. He took his eight hundred men, he’s outnumbered
what? four to one? What does he do? He forms up an attacking line, he runs out there and
says, “Hey, we’re about to attack!” And what does the Union do? They stop, and they
hesitate, because they don’t know what’s up ahead in those scrub oaks. That buys Forrest
an hour and that hour that it buys him brings up another Confederate brigade of seven hundred
men, that’s under Rucker. Now he’s got fifteen hundred. Forrest bluffs again, thirty-three
hundred Union versus fifteen hundred Confederate. Forrest bluffs again and buys more time. Now
Johnson’s five hundred Alabamians show up. Forrest throws them on the Confederate right
flank. By eleven o’clock, Forrest was still without his largest brigade; almost half his
force. Bell’s brigade of twenty-seven hundred men had not arrived. He also lacked any artillery,
doesn’t have one piece of artillery. Forrest knew he was out of time though, he could feel
it. He must defeat the cavalry before the infantry arrive. In typical Forrest language,
he told the staff officer, “Tell Bell to move up fast and fetch all he’s got.” Forrest
then attacked and this time it was for real. At noon the Confederates went forward and
succeeded in pushing back the Federal cavalry towards the crossroads. By 12:30 the Union
cavalry was bent back on its heels and was calling for reinforcements. As Forrest had
planned, when the Federal cavalry was attacked, they called for the infantry and the Union
infantry double-quicked to the crossroads for six miles. The last mile they did at a
run. Folks let me put that into context for my northern friends, okay? Mississippi in
June is like, the air there is like you could take a knife and cut it. It is thick. There
is a reason Southerners don’t stir but in the morning and late in the evening, because
it’s too blasted hot to get out there and do that. These Federals are wearing what?
Wool. And what’s the going to make them do? Sweat profusely. By the time they get up there
across Tishomingo Creek up to the crossroads, they are tuckered out. Now Forrest’s command,
they are not super-humans, but they haven’t been running either, they’re on horseback,
and so the infantry starts to deploy. Forrest attacks them. As the infantry deploys, the
Union cavalry withdraws. That’s a tactical error right there. Now he’s got, I don’t know,
probably thirty-five hundred Union infantry if they’re all deployed versus roughly about
the same, a little less than that of the Confederates. Do you see how the odds have gone from four
to one to almost one to one because Forrest is fighting them in detail? There was a lull
in the fighting because finally Forrest had Bell’s brigade on the field, which is his
largest brigade. Bell is right here, his name’s upside down. These are his units, they’re
all kind of jumbled together, but they are in there. At two o’clock Forrest launched
another attack and when a gap appeared between Bell and Rucker – you all remember this
because I’m going to come back at the conclusion – when a gap appeared between Bell and Rucker
Forrest put his escort into the fray. See his tactical reserve there? In turn, the Federals
counter-attacked. They were here to fight too and at this point Bartow’s 2nd Tennessee,
that’s up at the top, look at what Forrest did. See this road? Before Bell even gets
here as the fighting hours before, Forrest has sent that regiment way up here to come
in behind the Federals by this road and now they’re coming into position at the right
time at the right place. But they’re only a regiment! So do you know what the 2nd Tennessee
does, Bartow does? He has his bugle caller start sounding the charge in every different
direction. If that’s behind you and it’s behind a set of woods and it’s underneath a hill,
how does that sound to you? That’s scary because you don’t know what? You don’t know
how many is coming in behind you. It’s really not that many, but you see the game of bluff.
The time is now four o’clock, we’re up to the second line by the way, forget the first
line on the right. The men are exhausted on both sides. I’ve described the heat to you,
but like a prize fight, ladies and gentlemen, it was the last round and whoever could muster
the most strength could win. Now a lull settled on the field. Ladies and gentlemen at this
time, when everything, the fighting died down etc. if you were looking, if you were at the
right place, you would have seen Nathan Bedford Forrest on King Philip galloping along that
line. Once again, Forrest is at the front and he is out there exhorting his men. He
says, “Get up men, I have ordered Bell to charge on the left. When you hear the guns
and the bugle sound, every man must charge and we will give them hell.” Forrest then
rode back to the right flank, Bell is on the left, he went back to the right flank, his
artillery had arrived, and I’m not kidding you folks, Forrest ordered his artillery to
charge. Literally. And when Morton, his artillery commander said, “Are you sure you want to
do this, my guns will be captured,” Forrest responded to him, “The guns were meant to
be captured, so go ahead,” alright? I’d like to thank Angie for taking this picture
for me. It was blasted cold. To show you what you’re looking at, this is Forrest’s line,
and you can’t see it very well, but this is the crossroads, here’s the Baldwyn Road,
and here is the crossroads right up here. The Federal infantry would have been in a
semi-circle right along through here. You can see how open it is, through, across
these fields. Forrest launches the last attack of the day and they start to push back. He
sends troops, typical Forrest, around the flanks, and his cannons start to roll forward.
Double-shotted with canister rolling down the road, hand-driven by the men, directly
at the Federals. Within sixty yards, these cannons are firing double-shotted canister.
The Federal infantry line started to collapse. As the Union forces started to panic with
the only escape route being across the Tishomingo Bridge. Remember Bull Run? The same thing
all over right here. The United States Colored Troops, remember those twelve hundred USCTs?
They came up to form the rear guard. They wore patches on their uniform that said remember
Fort Pillow. They fought as well as the white troops, but like the white troops, were soon
retreating along with the rest of the column. During the ensuing retreat, Sturgis was heard
to have remarked, “If Mr. Forrest will leave me alone I will certainly leave him alone.”
The casualties, ladies and gentlemen, for Forrest’s greatest victory for the Union forces
were 223 killed, 394 wounded, and 1,623 missing, for a total out of 8,000 of 2,240. That’s
roughly 26, 27, 28% of your force. That’s high, I mean that’s Gettysburg standards.
Confederate casualties were 96 killed, 396 wounded, for a total of 492. Forrest inflicted
five to one casualties. Forrest captured 16 cannons, 1,500 stands of small arms, 300,000
rounds of small arms ammo, 16 ambulances, 176 wagons, 161 mules, and 23 horses, alright?
The Confederate dead that were at Brice’s Crossroads were buried along here, and you
know, this is probably one of the meanest things I’ve seen, but there is a civilian
cemetery next to this one and years ago someone came in and vandalized it, I don’t mean spray
paint, I mean pushed them over. You can see what they did to the tombstones. That’s
why they’re all lopsided right there. But that’s the Confederate graves right here.
Now for those tired right now, we shall have small interlude. This – this is Ben picking
one of the flags off the graves and running around the cemetery waving it. This is me
trying to catch him. It’s an action shot right there. And then I had to explain to
him that we couldn’t take that. That was not an easy conversation. This is me trying to
get Ben to put the flag down. And then this is the family picture. That’s the keeper
right? You don’t show the first two. I considered that bad luck, I wouldn’t take that flag.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate your patience. Forrest was wounded four times
in the war. He had twenty-nine horses shot out from underneath him, and he killed thirty-one
Union soldiers in hand to hand combat. No other general in the Civil War can boast that.
No other general has that kind of record. He always, always was at the front and never
asked his men to go anywhere he would not. In the post-war years, he became the leader
of, not the founder, of the KKK. Everybody thinks he founded it, he did not found it,
but he did mold it into, well nobody knows the numbers, but into a pretty large organization.
Forrest would head this secret organization until 1869 when it was disbanded. Nevertheless,
his involvement with the Klan has overshadowed his military career to a certain extent. The
Fort Pillow massacre also hounded him until the end of his life. In his old age, Forrest
seemed to soften and he became, actually, right before he died, he became saved and
remarked that he was saddened that his whole life had been filled with violence from a
boy to his old age. His legacy today is still clouded and Forrest still elicits strong opinions
from both sides. Hero, villain, murderer, protector, racist, warrior. It depends on
who you talk to. He still is a good sell for magazines and books which are about to be
bought, right? So I can prove the bookstore manager wrong. I can tell you, ladies and
gentlemen – I’m glad you made it for this – I can tell you, at the very least, at the
very least, and I will argue this until the end of my days, that Nathan Bedford Forrest
is the recipient of the ugliest Civil War monument in the entire nation. That’s horrible.
I don’t know if you believe everything on the internet, but reportedly it has seven
bullet holes in it. It is located on I-65 south of Nashville. Even last year, a Florida
high school voted to change its name from Forrest High. I think you sent me that article,
you can tell her later when she’s paying attention. In Memphis, the park that contains his statue
and burial site had its name changed recently from Forrest Park to Health Science or something.
In Selma, two worlds collide. A monument honoring him had the bust stolen from it, this bust
right here, and has never been recovered. Forrest is still with us and his legacy will
always be debated. Now from a personal standpoint, sorry for the cloudiness of this, I was pleased
to find last year the picture of my great great grandfather William Lafayette Hill,
and he turned eighteen years of age in 1864. There were three kids in the family, three
boys in the family, the oldest died a glorious death of dysentery in 1862, the other brother
died in Pickett’s Charge, and their baby, William Lafayette Hill turned eighteen in
1864. You think about that. You already lost two and now he wants to go in the army. Now
family stories, whatever that’s worth, it’s not written down, but I know he does exist
because we know where his grave is, states that the only way the family would allow William
Lafayette Hill to go to war, W.L. Hill to go to war, was if he took his body servant,
slave, body servant, but when I say body servant I mean I don’t think they’re farming I think
they’re city folks, and generally they would get, I don’t know how old Dave was, but they’re
about the same age, but Dave and him went off to war. Now today, W.L. Hill is buried
in Houston, Mississippi, and if you go outside the chain-link fence to the other side, Dave
Hill is over there in that area. After the war he became, the slave, became a carpenter.
And I went to the courthouse one time and I looked up a piece of – they were tearing
down a house that reportedly Dave Hill, the slave, the free Dave Hill built – and I want
to know if that was him. And on that deed from the 1870s, 1880s, Dave Hill made his
mark. Know what I mean? He made his X and it was right there. What did that tell me?
That told me my ancestors didn’t educate him formally, but this is the intriguing part
and I’ll get on with it because I know I’m running overtime. Going back through the deeds,
that land was originally my grandfather’s and he sold it to Dave Hill and then Dave
Hill took a portion of that land and flipped it like a month or two later and made a profit
on it. Now what I don’t know is if Dave Hill was that shrewd a businessman or if my grandfather
was giving him a chance. He never gave anybody anything, he just gave them the opportunity.
I don’t know, I’ve always been intrigued by that. Now in conclusion, going back to the battle
of Brice’s Crossroads, you’ll remember when Rucker’s brigade broke, Nathan Bedford Forrest
charged in there with his escort. I have to imagine that my eighteen-year-old ancestor
saw General Forrest as he was running away. And this was one person that was very happy
that he did that day, okay? That’s pretty cool. Alright, in conclusion, ladies and gentlemen,
in family lore, William Lafayette Hill, when he went to Memphis, they would stop by Forrest’s
statue, That statue was erected in 1904. And I’ve often wondered, when I stand at Forrest’s
statue, what my ancestor thought. Family lore has it that my ancestor always saluted general
Forrest when he was in Memphis, that’s kind of neat, but he must have read the same passage
that still stands on the statue today: “Those hoof beats die not upon fame’s crimson soil
but will ring through her song and her story. He fought like a titan and struck like a god
and his dust is the ashes of our glory.” Thank you all very much. Thank you. Alright, if
you all want to buy these books, I’ve got two of them right here!