12 January 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 41 comments

As you will recall, last week, I posted here about a thread that I had started on the Armchair General forum boards about the differences between Union cavalry in the Eastern vs. Western Theaters of the war.

When I began that thread, I was afraid the someone would hijack it and try to turn it into a “Nathan Bedford Forrest was God” discussion, and I worked very hard to try to prevent that. After years of study, I remain absolutely convinced that Forrest was nothing more than a nuisance, John S. Mosby on a larger scale (No, Val, this will not become a Mosby discussion, so please don’t go there). My only point was that it’s easy to run up a gaudy won-lost record when you only ever face the junior varsity, and with very few exceptions, that’s what Forrest faced.

One of the Forrest worshippers kept trying to shanghai my thread, and went on and on and on. I finally suggested that we simply agree to disagree on the subject and let it go, but he insisted on taking another shot at it, saying that I couldn’t call Forrest a nuisance until I definitively proved to him that I was right. I hope I just put an end to it. I put up a post saying that it was not my responsibility to prove my opinion, and that my opinion was just that: my opinion. In the hope of preventing an all-out flame war, I said that I would not respond to any further posts on the subject.

I just don’t get it. What is it about Forrest that inspires such emotional and hate-filled responses? Even things that have almost nothing to do with Forrest instigate the inevitable and very predictable response. I have to say that I find it terribly distasteful, and that I think that the best course of action from now on is to simply avoid the topic altogether. Which is sad, considering that I’m a cavalry historian and that that’s the focus of this blog.

Scridb filter


  1. Valerie Protopapas
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Well, I can’t say much about Forrest except that your guy Sherman wanted to bankrupt the Treasury if that’s what it took to get him. I would say that’s the opinion by a military man on the ground at the time rather than armchair generals looking at ‘the big picture’ many years later! I really don’t know how you can just ‘disregard’ Sherman’s opinion unless you don’t think much of Sherman as a general.

    Oh, and though you say, ‘don’t go there’, I would like to point out that what Sherman believed about Forrest, Grant, Hancock, Sheridan, Augur and Halleck seemed to believe about ‘you know who’. Again, I should think that the opinions of those who were there and dealing with both men and their commands must carry more weight than those who are mere spectators from a long way away.

    Just my opinion, of course! 😀

  2. dan
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 7:05 pm


    I just couldn’t resist replying, you know, being a Forrest fan.

    I think there are a few things about Forrest that make him so remarkable.
    First and foremost, Robert E. Lee himself, when asked after the War who the greatest commander was he said, “Sir, it is someone I have never met, Nathan Bedford Forrest.” I think that that alone is enough to give pause to anyone critical of the Wizard.

    I think that his demeanor, conduct, and brilliance at Shiloh, Fort Donaldson, and of course Brice’s Cross Roads make him very special. The Brentwood raid of course is a good one, too.

    Who can forget the famous quote of his when shot by an angry subordinate, “No one kills me and lives!”

    He is a fascinating fellow, a great untutored/non-West Point total natural leader and strategist/tactician. There is no doubt whatever in my mind at least that had he faced your favorite Yankee commanders in the Eastern theater he would have bested all of them. His loss at Franklin was due only to numbers, not effort or skill.

    Describing Forrest as a “nuisance” could be seen by some more partisan Forrest folks as inflammatory and that you’re likely scrapping for a conflict on the matter.

    Now, I know you better, I think, and know that you’d not tweak folks just to get a rise out of ’em. I believe that you believe what you say about Forrest, I of course disagree heartily.

    As an authority in this field folks are interested in your opinion certainly and how you reached your conclusions. But, Forrest’s battles are still studied today for good reason.

    I think Forrest is great and his reputation as a superior commander well-earned and well deserved.

    Best Regards,

  3. Mike Peters
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 7:59 pm

    We had this same discussion at our RT meeting Wed., specifically that NBF was very overrated. Wish you would have been there to back my argument. I replied that he was:

    A mounted infantry general who was only able to fight dismounted.
    Not effective in the traditional cav duties such as recon
    A horrible subordinate only good for independent command since he wouldn’t take orders.

    I did get a rebuttal from a gentleman who played the Shelby Foote card. My reply was “Shelby Foote didn’t use footnotes.” 🙂


  4. dan
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 8:07 pm

    >A horrible subordinate

    Greetings Sir,
    Any subordinate of Bragg was “horrible”, and most every subordinate wanted out from under him. Forrest was good enough to get just that.

  5. Ken Noe
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 9:06 pm


    Years ago in Georgia I taught an undergraduate who actually had Forrest’s face tattooed on his shoulder. When I asked him why, he read me the text of his Dixie Outfitter’s Forrest T-shirt. That seemed to be the depth of his knowledge.


  6. Matt McKeon
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Forrest appeals because:

    Forrest has name recognition. Some historical figures do, for various reasons, far beyond their influence on history. Once they have that foothold, its constantly reinforced by popular history/culture, i.e. Mort Kunstler calenders etc.

    Forrest is appealing to the civil war buff, because he is so personally violent. He displayed prowness, personally killing his opponents in combat situations(and outside of them), and that has a dark glamor appealing to a certain audience, like the tough talking Patton. He is the “pure warrior” who instinctly understood and thrived in battle, never having read the rulebook, he was unrestrained by its convention. The very criticisms you mention, his friction with his superiors, and not fulfilling a traditional cavalry role, become compliments.

    Unlike the popular conception of Lee, famously dubious about slavery and secession. Forrest unapologetically participated in slavery, as trader and owner, and in white supremacy terror after the war. He is the greatest anti politically correct figure this country has ever produced, the ultimate rebel agains the majority culture. Excuses are made for his participation, which can be extended to excuse the activities themselves.

    And let’s face it. Your opinion is hardly a universal one. It seems OK to me, but Forrest is well regarded by the well regarded for his military skill.

  7. Mike Peters
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Matt wrote:

    It seems OK to me, but Forrest is well regarded by the well regarded for his military skill.


    Please forgive my ignorance, but who are the “well regarded?”


  8. Ray Todd Knight
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 10:30 pm

    Just my opinion… But it seems to me that there wasn’t a lot of things in the Army of Tennessee and the West in general to be excited about during and after the war, so the few men that appeared to be successful were built up to that much of a greater extent. Forrest, Cleburne, Morgan, etc


  9. Mike Peters
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 10:39 pm


    Good point!

    I am of the belief that NBF is the poster child for the “Lost Cause” doctrine –hard fighter, guerilla warrior, slave trader, KKK member, rose from private to general, endorsed by Shelby Foote, etc.

    I think there’s a lot more legend/myth than substance where Forrest is concerned.


  10. Brooks Simpson
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 10:55 pm

    I once spoke before the Blue and Gray Education Society to argue that the CSA had misused Forrest and that at best he was a nuisance, much like the summer fly who annoys you no end, nothing more. Sherman’s rhetoric being what it was, it amuses me that the only time people take Sherman’s words seriously are when he’s talking about Forrest.

    He’s become the Joshua Chamberlain of the Confederacy, only not quite as literate. 🙂

  11. Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 11:11 pm

    I think that Ray has it just right. Excellent point, Ray.

    And Brooks, thanks for letting me know I’m not alone in drawing this conclusion about Forrest.

    Mike, there’s absolutely no doubt about the legend/myth angle.


  12. Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 11:11 pm

    And Ken, why doesn’t that surprise me a bit?


  13. Cash
    Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Blame Shelby Foote. 🙂


  14. Sat 12th Jan 2008 at 11:54 pm




  15. Valerie Protopapas
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:07 am

    I take Sherman’s words VERY seriously as his actions validated them – which I why I feel as I do about Sherman! Grant was known to say things when angry and then upon reconsideration come to regret their overly harsh nature, but I don’t believe that Sherman ever changed his mind – OR his tactics. He believed by his own words that death was the only “cure” for either a secessionist or an Indian and he didn’t much care whether the target was old or young, male or female, soldier or civilian. Indeed, I distinctly remember reading one author writing from a UNION perspective who noted with considerable alarm that Sherman’s letters could have been written by Adolf Eichmann. Having read at least SOME of the man’s diatribes, I tend to agree.

  16. Mike Peters
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:16 am

    Valerie wrote:

    He believed by his own words that death was the only “cure” for either a secessionist or an Indian.


    Re: Indians, the quote “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead,” was uttered by General Sheridan.


  17. Stan O'Donnell
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:24 am

    Other than Geronimo, Forrest was perhaps the greatest palefaced partisan horseman in the history of North American warfare.
    Mosby couldn’t carry his jockstrap.

    But neither Forrest nor Mosby could hold a candle to Murat and the old school.
    I’d say Wheeler flunked out of that school too.

    As far as non-West Point trained cavalrymen go, I think Wade Hampton would be considered the anti-Forrest.
    For me, this thing boils down to conventional vs. unconventional.

    It’s difficult to firmly categorize the multifaceted talents of Forrest, which, in turn, as I see it, makes it difficult to compare him to his “peers”.

    Didn’t the guy kill a panther when he was just a kid?

  18. Mike Peters
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:27 am


    I may be wrong here, but didn’t Wade III go to SC College?


  19. Stan O'Donnell
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:55 am


    I wrote “non-West Point….”

    That’s why I called him the anti-Forrest among non-West Pointers.
    LOL! If that makes sense?

    My point was that it’s difficult to caompare forrest to his supposed peers.


  20. Mike Peters
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 1:01 am


    I read “non-West Point.” I was just trying to refresh my memory. Too lazy to google. 🙂

    You make an interesting observation.


  21. Matt McKeon
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 8:48 am

    I think Brooks comment linking Forrest with Chamberlain makes sense. If the legend of Chamberlain is the civilized warrior, the man of culture who becomes a man of war, who upholds the the values of civilization and America, then the legend of Forrest is its negative image.

    Mike, your ignorance is excused. I’m pretty ignorant myself!

  22. Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 11:22 am


    Very early in the life of this blog, I put up a post titled “The TRUE Wizard of the Saddle” where I addressed precisely the same issues comparing Forrest and Hampton and came to the conclusion that if there was to be a choice, Hampton won, hands down.

    Hampton killed a bear with his bare hands, not a panther, by the way.


  23. Stan O'Donnell
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 12:35 pm

    Hey Eric,

    Well, I guess Hampton’s bear makes them even.
    According to JA Wyeth (I know….) a panther attacked Forrest’s mom and when Forrest found out he said, “Mother, I am going to kill that beast if it stays on the earth.” And so he did. That was well before he threatened to slap Bragg’s jowls. Pgs. 8- 9 of Wyeth’s That Devil Forrest.

    They’re still telling stories back in Kentucky about the time young Buford killed that mean squirrel with his slingshot. Buford needs a good press agent.

    Nice article, BTW!


  24. Eric A. Jacobson
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 3:50 pm

    I would not say that Forrest was simply a nuisance. His performance when operating as a true cavalryman, such as during the Tennessee Campaign of 1864, was superb. Also, let’s be honest, the Federal cavalry he was facing at that time was not second tier. Edward Hatch’s division was rock solid and John Croxton was an unknown star at the brigade level. James Wilson himself was no slouch. However…..Forrest is, in my opinion, overrated. God knows I have taken enough flack for that opinion. About the same amount as I have for trying to give J. B. Hood some scholarly balance. But Forrest was not the immortal he has been made out to be. I’ve always chuckled when the claim is made that Forrest should have commanded the Army of Tennessee. HA!!!! That’s funny.

  25. William Houston
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Perhaps Forrest was best suited to the role he actually fulfilled the latter part of the war…as a semi-independent leader of a few thousand cavalryman. In other hands, such as Wheeler’s, those men would have contributed little to the Confederate war effort. Forrest’s victories over Streight and Sturgis undoubtedly had a significant effect in maintaining Confederate civilian morale. Also, he, more than anyone else, enabled the Confederacy to effectively control much of Mississippi and Alabama after the fall of Vicksburg in 1863. This was of great importance if only in a logistical sense. I do not think those are insignificant accomplishments.

    I believe Wellington made a comment during or after Waterloo that Napoleon was a mere “pounder” or something to that effect. Tactically, Forrest was unsophisticated and usually won his victories by “pounding” methods. But he did win, most of the time, and was so badly outnumbered and outgunned at Selma that a victory was a near impossibility.

    Forrest left much to be desired as a cavalry commander attached to an army, as Eric has convincingly stated. He was often ineffective and disruptive. His contribution to the Confederacy was almost exclusively in an independent role.

    And finally, one last point. As a leader of men, one would have to concede that Forrest truly got the “mostest out of the leastest” !

  26. Valerie Protopapas
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 5:58 pm


    Re: Indians, the quote “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead,” was uttered by General Sheridan.


    Yes, Sheridan said that, but Sherman did also if not in those words. Sheridan – as was usual with him – merely reiterated his superior’s position.

    As for Sherman:

    Sherman, as general-in-chief of the army, had much to do with post-war Indian campaigns. This is covered in Michael Fellman’s book, CITIZEN SHERMAN (Random House, 1995). Sherman wrote in 1866, “It is one of those irreconcilable conflicts that will end only in one way, one or the other must be exterminated …” And again, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to the extermination, men, women and children.” [p. 264] Sherman became Sheridan’s superior, and biographer Fellman has this to say [p. 271]: “Although Sherman had not ordered an extermination campaign in so many words, he had given Sheridan prior authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary when they attacked Indian villages. However many they killed, Sherman would cover the political and media front. They were freed to do anything. At the same time, Sherman maintained personal deniability—he could assert in any public forum that he had not ordered any atrocities that might occur.”

    Sherman on Indians:

    “The more Indians we can kill this year, the less will have to be killed next year, for the more I see of these Indians, the more convinced I am that they all have to be killed or be maintained as a species of paupers.”

    Sherman on Southerners:

    “To the petulant and persistent secessionists, why death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better. Satan and the rebellious saints of Heaven were allowed a continuous existence in hell merely to swell their punishment. To such as would rebel against a Government so mild and just as ours was in peace, a punishment equal would not be unjustified.”

    “Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of it’s roads, houses, and PEOPLE will cripple their military resources….I can make the march, and make Georgia howl.”

    “I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South and the rest North.”

    “The Government of the United States has in North Alabama any and all rights which they choose to enforce in war–to take their lives, their homes, their lands, their everything, because they cannot deny that war does exist there, and war is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact.”

    “Enemies must be killed or transported to some other country.”

    “The United States has the right, and … the … power, to penetrate to every part of the national domain…. We will remove and destroy every obstacle – if need be, take every life, every acre of land, every particle of property, everything that to us seems proper.”

    Writing to his wife in 1862, Sherman said, “We are in our enemy’s country, and I act accordingly…the war will soon assume a turn to extermination not of soldiers alone, that is the least part of the trouble, but the people.”

    “There is a class of people [in the South], men, women, and children, who must be killed or banished before you can hope for peace and order.”

    “Next year their lands will be taken, for in war we can take them, and rightfully too, and another year they may beg in vain for their lives. A people who will persevere in war beyond a certain limit ought to know the consequences. Many, many people, with less pertinacity than the South, have been wiped out of national existence. To those who submit to the rightful law and authority, all gentleness and forbearance; but to the petulant and persistent secessionist, why, death is mercy, and the quicker he or she is disposed of the better.”

    As for Forrest vs. Mosby:

    It is akin to comparing a boxer with a surgeon – that is, no comparison at all. Since Eric doesn’t wish me to mention Mosby, I won’t point out how the comparison does not stand, but suffice it to say, Forrest operated in a different theater in different circumstances and with far more men. His tactics and aims were not Mosby’s, so I cannot imagine how any comparison could be made between them except that neither were ‘schooled’ in military matters. As one of Stuart’s subordinates once declared that the South lost the war because of West Point, it would seem to me that this fact was not necessarily a detriment to either man’s success.

  27. Jeff Mancini
    Sun 13th Jan 2008 at 7:09 pm

    The more that I read about Bedford Forrest, the more I become convinced that he would have been a total bust as a cavalry commander in the eastern theater of the Civil War. I view Forrest as I look at sports, basketball to be exact, from the standpoint that he was not really coachable, a bit of a ball hog, too trusting of his own abilities, devoid of compromise, enamored to those who believed in him but a lightening rod to those who would question him and his axioms. For crying out loud the Civil War was decided in the eastern theatre. If Forrest were committed as a subordinate to Stuart I’m convincved that he would have a commander as cantankerous as Grumble Jones but lacking the knowledge that Jones possessed as one of the finer outpost commanders of the war.Simple question: If I assign you a task can you perform it without you misinterpreting the orders and modifying them to extend your own personal beliefs and goals? Could he have evolved into a capable Brigadier content on following instructions like WHF Lee,Fitz Lee, Thomas Munford, Lunsford Lomax,Williams Wickham etc? I don’t think so. Forrest could excel in a quasi unstructered environment. Put him into a theatre of operations that requires careful communication and coordination and I think his volatile ego hangs himself and renders his talents as marginal. Put him up against a Buford or a Merritt or a Gregg or a Sherdian or a top flight cavalry commander: Would he be successful? Was Forrest the type of cavalry commander who could stop and fight not necessarily on his terms or his choosing.The Confederate eastern theatre cavalry commanders did and would. Is this guy a classic cavalry commander or a renegade guerilla operative who had a keen sense of leadership? Loaded question yes but I think his peculiar behavior after the war lends to his leadership rationale during the war. So Forrest achieved a cult like status in his theatre of operations. I call it right place, right time. Anywhere else and I see him as a capable commander only after some failures due to a regression of questioning authority and adapting to structure. Pistol Pete Maravich averaged over 40 points a game all three years he played at LSU. Those LSU teams never won an SEC title.Personal brilliance does not always translate into success for the team or for that matter ones army.

  28. Caswain
    Mon 14th Jan 2008 at 11:41 am

    One must de-conflict the various layers of interpretation, by one cause or the other, of Forrest in order to get to the real facts, in my opinion. And I’ll admit to being lax in that regard myself. In the previous decade, while in the service of the Army, I’d written some school papers equating Forrest’s battlefield behavior to the wonderful tenants of the then current Army doctrine. Sounded good and read well, with instructors pleased at the analysis. But in retrospect of years of maturity, I must say my presumptions were a bit off. Having walked many of Forrest’s battle sites over the years, and attempted to understand the historical events, I am not convinced that some higher understanding of the military art was at work. To be blunt, Forrest approached the battle with a degree of simplicity that we distort when attempting to explain with the higher concepts of military operations (or at least from the modern perspective).

  29. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 14th Jan 2008 at 5:06 pm

    I agree that Forrest would not have ‘thrived’ (thriven?) in an ordinary cavalry environment. He was, from what I have read, a sort of ‘portable army’ called upon to aid embattled forces here and there, showing up (firstest with the mostest) and generally doing very well, thank you. He was not given to following orders when commonsense told him that the orders were hogwash. Hence, he took his command and left when the ‘proper military authority’ chose to surrender after Forrest had come to defend the fort (or whatever it was) saying that he was damned if he came to fight and wasn’t going to surrender his men. He then rode off into the snowy night to fight again another day (made a great painting!). Forrest wasn’t ‘cavalry’ in the way that Stuart, Jones or even Mosby were cavalry. He was, in fact, mounted infantry if that makes sense. Furthermore, he was a force unto himself very much like Morgan, but unlike Morgan, he wasn’t out for plunder.

    It is essential, I think, to notice that in the west, commands like Morgan and Forrest pretty much did what they wanted (as did, of course, groups like Quantrill and Anderson). On the other hand, the ‘partisans’ in the Eastern Theater – men like Hanse McNeill, Liege White and John Mosby were much more disciplined and attuned to the need of the Army of Northern Virginia. Yes, they operated ‘independently’, but they were always mindful of the needs of Lee and his army and often coordinated with field commanders like Stuart and Early. Unless I am very much mistaken, that was NOT the mindset in the Western Theater.

  30. Dan
    Mon 14th Jan 2008 at 7:30 pm

    I recently read Grenfell’s Wars by Stephen Starr. The book was in no way complimentary to Morgan. Basil Duke was the brains in that outfit and Morgan the flash, with Grenfell adding some european “color” and certainly helping with drill and (trying) to help with discipline. Now, comparing Forrest and Morgan is like suggesting that fish and cows are somehow members of the same species. Forrest was a superb strategist and tactician, Morgan wasn’t. I find the Forrest revisionism “thang” more fascinating from a cultural/sociological perspective than from a historical one. This untutored natural quality of Forrest’s leadership and military abilities might cause some partisans of eastern theater horse riders to feel threatened but I can’t fathom why.

    While I think all of this criticism is fun, in an un-fun kind of way, I think it is not accurate and unfair.

    I think Sherman was quite accurate here when he spoke after the war about Forrest…”After all, I think Forrest was the most remarkable man our Civil War produced on either side. To my mind he was the most remarkable in many ways. In the first place, he was uneducated, while Jackson and
    Sheridan and other brilliant leaders were soldiers by profession.
    He had never read a military book in his life, knew nothing about
    tactics, could not even drill a company, but he had a genius for
    strategy which was original, and to me incomprehensible.”

    Now, if Marse Robert and Sherman both think that Forrest was amazing, I will defer to them on this point because, of course, I agree with them.

  31. Valerie Protopapas
    Mon 14th Jan 2008 at 8:25 pm

    The only comparison I made with regard Forrest and Morgan was their ‘independent’ status; they seemed to go where they wanted and do what they pleased without much concern about how the Confederate military authorities felt regarding their actions. I did not compare the men themselves.

    However, unlike Mosby, McNeill and White who worked with relatively small groups – Mosby’s largest contingent ever led into battle was some 300 in the Berryville supply train raid – both Forrest and Morgan lead much larger commands which enabled them to engage in much larger battles with their Union counterparts. Comparing either Forrest or Morgan to the partisans in northern Virginia is comparing apples to turnips and comparing the men themselves in either theater is equally futile.

  32. Stan O'Donnell
    Mon 14th Jan 2008 at 10:41 pm


    Then why did Bragg employ Forrest and Morgan as partisans?

    On a large scale, larger than back east, of course?

  33. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 15th Jan 2008 at 8:54 am

    Because they had the men and horses and the ‘fluidity’ of movement to be used for that purpose. Lee obviously used the partisan commands mentioned in the east in support of his army as well. Only White’s command went into the regular service upon the revocation of the Partisan Ranger Act. Both McNeill and Mosby’s commands were retained as partisans but then, neither command had the type of manpower that would have made them attractive to the cavalry wing of Lee’s army; the eastern partisans would have merely been a little extra cannon fodder as ‘regulars’.

    As well, neither Hanse McNeill nor John Mosby were schooled in the cavalry tactics of the day albeit Mosby at least had some tutoring by two giants in the field – Stuart and Jones. Yet, his few troops (no more than 1,000 at the most and usually considerably under that number) would hardly have made a dent in the huge Army of the Potomac – except under the circumstances in which they actually fought. As a regular command under someone like Early, the 43rd Battalion would have been decimated fairly quickly, disappearing from the pages of history.

    On the other hand, remember that Morgan got ‘into Dutch’ as they used to say, when he disregarded orders and ‘did his own thing’. He went to Richmond to get support but was given the cold shoulder there by the regular military. In the same way, Forrest refused to surrender when his ostensible ‘superior’ did so and took his men out from under Union noses at night in the snow to, as previously noted, fight again another day.

    I doubt that either man was anywhere near as responsive to orders from the regular military as was Mosby and McNeill. If Lee had told Mosby that he wanted ‘X’ done, Mosby would have done ‘X’. The difference here is that Lee would not have presumed to tell Mosby HOW to do ‘X’; he simply would have indicated that he wanted ‘X’ done and left the ‘how’ to Mosby. Obviously, there was a certain amount of command independence even in the regular service, but far less so than when the regular service was dealing with ‘independents’.

    There is no doubt that Morgan and Forrest did cooperate with the regulars and follow orders from men like Bragg, but in at least the two incidents above it is obvious that they felt far less obligated to do so than did the officers of the ‘regulars’ or even than the partisans in the Eastern Theater. I have no doubt as well, that had either man been less successful, efforts might have been made to make of their ‘independence’ a matter of court martial. But both were popular heroes in the South and I don’t believe that Richmond considered it ‘politic’ to press the matter. Heck, the regulars fought enough amongst each other, for heaven’s sake! Didn’t two Confederate generals engage in a duel that killed one of them?

    Parenthetically, one has to wonder how the EASTERN theater would have survived with Bragg in charge rather than either Johnston or Lee. Now THERE’S fodder for a thread! Certainly the partisans in that region would have had a very different time of it than they did!

  34. Steve Meserve
    Tue 15th Jan 2008 at 9:58 am


    I apologize for this message because I know you didn’t want this to turn into a Mosby thread; but some errors in Valerie’s last message need to be noted. I promise not to do this again.

    >Only White’s command went into the regular service upon the revocation of the Partisan Ranger Act.If Lee had told Mosby that he wanted ‘X’ done, Mosby would have done ‘X’.Forrest refused to surrender when his ostensible ’superior’ did so and took his men out from under Union noses at night in the snow to, as previously noted, fight again another day.<

    Gee, that sounds a lot like Arno Voss and the Union cavalry at Harpers Ferry in 1862, except for the snow, of course. That sounds more like determination than a lack of responsiveness to orders.

  35. Valerie Protopapas
    Tue 15th Jan 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Mr. Meserves is a very intelligent, well read and knowledgeable and I do not pretend to have even a scintilla of his expertise. However, it is also a fact that one man’s determination is another man’s insubordination. Forrest went to help in a ‘regular army’ situation and when he got there found out that the man in command (regular army, I assume) was going to surrender. Forrest merely decided that he had come to fight, not surrender – so he turned around and left. I don’t know what the fellow in charge thought about that – as noted, I know little about Forrest – but I doubt he could have stopped Forrest no matter WHAT he thought or said. Forrest was that kind of man, apparently.

    Secondly, I never said that any command OTHER than White’s – at least a command that was considered ‘independent’ – went into the regulars upon revocation of the Partisan Ranger Act. McNeill and Mosby were kept as partisans, whatever else was left probably either disbursed or ‘jined up’ somewhere else. Apparently, there were quite a few fellows in the area in business for themselves as well as the better known guerrilla groups. As to White, in one book I read, the author opined that White was glad to be mustered into the regulars. Perhaps he didn’t like the way things were going in northern Virginia – and who could blame him? I will tell you this, however, the Yankee press always referred to him – regular or irregular – as a guerrilla. In fact, one of the times Mosby was declared dead or too injured to return to the war, White was named by the newspaper as his successor! Frankly, I doubt that White and his Comanches being ‘mustered in’ would have saved them from being treated as guerrillas if they had fallen into the hands of the enemy. I can only surmise that Mr. Meserves misread my statement regarding White – or simply assumed it wrong by virtue the writer. C’est le guerre.

    I do not, however, quite understand the point he made regarding Lee and Mosby. Both Lee and Stuart made requests (demands?) of Mosby which he endeavored to carry out. That is what I meant by my comparison to Forrest’s interaction with the regulars when he refused to surrender. I also think that there were some other contretemps involving the Confederate high command in that theater, but I cannot swear to it. Regarding the matter of surrender, however, I will only say this. At war’s end, Mosby sent a scout to ask Lee what to do – fight on or surrender. Lee told the scout that he was on parole and could not give “Colonel Mosby” any military advice. But had Lee told Mosby to surrender, I do not doubt that he would have done so as he had obeyed every order Lee had ever given him at least so far as he was able.

    Furthermore, what would have been the point of sending someone to ask Lee if Mosby did not intend to do as Lee ordered? If Mosby – LIKE FORREST – intended to ‘do his own thing’, the LAST thing he would have done was contact Lee. Not knowing Lee’s desires in the matter at least gave him ‘plausible deniability’ if he determined to fight on. Somehow one has to doubt that Forrest would have bothered to consult with ANYONE before making that decision – and that’s the major difference between the two men and their command style.

    Let us remember something ELSE, however with regard to ‘raiders’. I have read MANY Union accounts of Confederate cavalry actions and most of them refer to such ‘regulars’ as Stuart, Imboden et al. as ‘raiders’. Stuart’s famous ‘ride around McClellan’ was considered a ‘raid’ not much (if in fact, ANY) different from Mosby’s depredations! There is also the famous incident during one raid wherein Stuart telegraphed Union Quartermaster Meigs and complained about the quality of the mules he was stealing! But, but the same token, Kilpatrick’s raid on Beaver Dam Station early on (which bagged him a rebel ‘captain’ if I remember correctly) was no different from Confederate cavalry raids. Again, one man’s ‘raider’ is another man’s ‘soldier’.

  36. Mike Peters
    Wed 16th Jan 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Valerie wrote the follwing:

    “However, it is also a fact that one man’s determination is another man’s insubordination.”


    Except when you play soldier. It is insubordination, plain & simple, & a punishable ofense. None of us like everything our parents, bosses, commanders have to say. But we play the game for fear of punishment, firing, etc.

    IMHO, that should have been the fate of NBF.


  37. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 16th Jan 2008 at 3:10 pm

    For some reason, the fact that the statement of mine which you quote was a response to another person’s statement seems to have been missed:

    The statement to which I responded was by Mr. Meserves:

    “Forrest refused to surrender when his ostensible ’superior’ did so and took his men out from under Union noses at night in the snow to, as previously noted, fight again another day. Gee, that sounds a lot like Arno Voss and the Union cavalry at Harpers Ferry in 1862, except for the snow, of course. That sounds more like determination than a lack of responsiveness to orders.”

    To which, I then responded:

    “However, it is also a fact that one man’s determination is another man’s insubordination.”

    As you can see, I am in agreement with you. My point was made in response to a belief that Forrest’s actions could be considered “determination” rather than “insubordination”, a belief with which I do not concur.

    I write clearly enough that this point should have been taken, but as apparently it was not, let us hope that this clarifies the matter.

    As for NBF’s “”, I would assume that his usefulness far outweighed the possible consequences of his “determination/insubordination” at the time and therefore, nothing came of it. Or, perhaps the Confederates were unhappy with the decision to surrender and therefore considered Forrest’s response appropriate under the circumstances. Or, perhaps, they were scared to death of the man who seemed quite ungovernable at times (if I read the history aright). Whatever happened, obviously no move was made to remove or replace Forrest. But then, perhaps, he COULDN’T be removed OR replaced!

  38. Steve Meserve
    Thu 17th Jan 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Valerie Protopapas said: “My point was made in response to a belief that Forrest’s actions could be considered “determination” rather than “insubordination”, a belief with which I do not concur.”

    Neither Forrest nor Voss was ordered to remain and surrender his forces. The choice was theirs. In Forrest’s case, it would have been highly hypocritical for Floyd to order the cavalry surrendered when he was already planning to leave the fort himself. Voss was given permission by Miles to attempt his breakout from Harpers Ferry. There was no insubordination involved in either case.

    I have asked Eric to remove the truncated message I originally posted and replace it with the version from which huge chunks were dropped for some reason. If he does, perhaps you will understand the points I was making.

  39. Valerie Protopapas
    Fri 18th Jan 2008 at 10:20 am

    Then I’m sure that Mr. Meserves will understand if I misunderstood his point under the circumstances. Sadly, editing often leads to confusion as in this case. If Forrest was not a part of the functioning military troops at the scene when Floyd surrendered – he obviously was free to determine (as Mr. Meserves notes) his own course of action and therefore he cannot be considered ‘insubordinate’. However, I do not believe that this was the only incident in which Forrest ‘crossed sabers’ with the Confederate military command in the area, but again, I may be wrong; it is not my area of study.

    From what little I have read, however, it seems that both Forrest and Mosby made their OWN determination regarding surrender at the end of the war. I don’t know why this was the case with Forrest unless he was not a part of any Southern force that had already surrendered. But Mosby WAS part of the Army of Northern Virginia. Indeed, in a book with the names of the officers considered as having surrendered at Appomattox, Mosby’s name is listed. For whatever reason, he did not see fit to surrender or disband after Lee surrendered despite his own claim to being a part of that army and therefore, I would assume, subject to its fate. It was only during the final meeting with General Chapman at which time Mosby was informed of the plan to level “Mosby’s Confederacy” using 40,000 troops under Hancock, that he made the final determination to disband. Mosby himself stated that he disbanded to prevent Hancock’s continued war against the people who had supported him during the war.

    In Forrest’s case, I don’t know if he was listed as belonging to a larger Confederate army or not. I DO know, however, that Sherman wrote to Grant that he feared men like Forrest AND Mosby would continue the war in their own way and that the bloodshed might go on for years. In this, however, he was proven wrong almost immediately.

  40. Sean Siberio
    Mon 21st Jan 2008 at 5:25 am

    “I DO know, however, that Sherman wrote to Grant that he feared men like Forrest AND Mosby would continue the war in their own way and that the bloodshed might go on for years. In this, however, he was proven wrong almost immediately.”

    Unless of course, you include the racial strife and violence that stalked the South from Reconstruction on. While it might be flippant to suggest that this was “the war continued” it is something to keep in mind; wars don’t end when the dotted line is signed and the guns piled up.

  41. Valerie Protopapaas
    Tue 22nd Jan 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Sherman was speaking of actual warfare. Since he cared little or nothing for the Negro, he was not concerned about ‘racial strife’ post war. However, he WAS concerned about him and his men getting shot by clever, resourceful fellows like Forrest and Mosby, both of whom he considered to be no better than outlaws if a whole lot more clever than most of that breed. Whatever complimentary things he had to say about his old nemesis Forrest was said years later when he could afford to be ‘generous’ as the man was dead and the South conquered.

    Sherman foresaw the need for a continuing military presence – and hence a target for evil guerrillas – not to assure the freedman’s suffrage or even his basic rights so much as to protect Northern carpetbaggers coming South to make hay at the expense of the devastated region and to be sure that the South and its people became obedient ‘subjects’ of the United States government. I doubt seriously – given Sherman’s QUOTED sentiments about blacks – that their well being ever crossed his mind save only where it was necessary to use them to maintain political and social control of the conquered colonies.

    Having ‘saved the Union’ by waging a war against civilians that made the Mongol horde look enlightened, Sherman then went west to continue his genocide against the American Indian. And the History Channel called him ‘misunderstood’ …. yeah.

Comments are closed.

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress