Nathan Bedford Forrest — Facts and APUSH Notes

July 13, 1821–October 29, 1877

APUSH Definition — Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821–1877) was an officer in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He was a prominent Confederate cavalry officer whose reputation was stained by accusations regarding his role in the "Fort Pillow Massacre" on April 12, 1864, and is likely most well known for his connections to the first Ku Klux Klan

General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Civil War

On June 14, 1863, Nathan Bedford Forrest was seriously wounded and averted death at the hands of would-be assassin Lieutenant Andrew W. Gould. Gould. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Who was Civil War officer Nathan Bedford Forrest?

When the American Civil War erupted, Nathan Bedford Forrest responded to Tennessee’s call to arms. On June 14, 1861, he enlisted as a private in the Seventh Tennessee Cavalry, along with his youngest brother, and his fifteen-year-old son, Willie. By October 1861, he became lieutenant colonel of Forrest’s Tennessee Cavalry Battalion. In early 1865, Forrest was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.

Early in the war, Forrest took part in the defense of Fort Donelson, and he was wounded at the Battle of Fallen Timbers (April 8, 1862). Later, Forrest served at the Battle of Chickamauga and he was openly critical of General Braxton Bragg for his failure to pursue retreating Federals after the Confederate victory. Late in the war, Forrest’s reputation was stained by his role in the highly controversial Fort Pillow “Massacre.”

After the war, Forrest sold his plantations and moved to Memphis, and entered into private business, but he never regained the financial fortune he enjoyed prior to the rebellion. His membership in the Ku Klux Klan soiled his post-war reputation. Forrest joined the secret organization around 1866 and the members elected him as the Grand Wizard one year later. By 1869, however, he reportedly became disenchanted by the group’s increasingly violent nature and renounced his membership. Some people claim that Forrest never joined the Ku Klux Klan and definitely did not serve as the group’s leader, but most scholars accept Forrest’s membership as a historical fact.

Like many Americans, the Panic of 1873 ruined Forrest financially. He spent the last years of his life running a prison work farm on President’s Island near Memphis. Suffering from diabetes, Forrest died at his brother’s home in Memphis on October 29, 1877, at the age of fifty-six. Jefferson Davis delivered a eulogy at Forrest’s funeral, which thousands of mourners attended. Forrest’s body was originally buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. In 1905, he and his wife were re-interred in downtown Memphis in a park that had, until 2013, been named in Forrest’s honor.

Battle of Chickamauga, Rosecrans and Bragg in the Field
The Battle of Chickamauga. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Facts for APUSH

Birth and Early Life

  • Full Name: His full name was Nathan Bedford Forrest.
  • Parents: His parents were William and Mariam (Beck) Forrest.
  • Date of Birth: He was born on July 13, 1821.
  • Birthplace: He was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee.

Family Tree

  • Spouse: His spouse was Mary Ann Montgomery. They were married in 1845.

Death

  • Death: He died on October 29, 1877.
  • Place of Death: He died in Memphis, Tennessee.
  • Burial: He is buried at Health Sciences Park, Memphis.

Education

He had little formal education.

Career

He worked as a plantation owner, slave trader, and military officer.

Career Summary

He was a Lieutenant General in the Confederate States Army.

Nickname

He was known as The Wizard of the Saddle and Old Bed.

Nathan Bedford Forrest — Summary of His Life and Accomplishments for APUSH

  • Nathan Bedford Forrest and his twin sister, Fanny, were the oldest of William and Mariam Beck Forrest’s twelve children.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest received little formal education because he spent much of his youth helping his father provide for his growing family.
  • In 1834, when Nathan Bedford Forrest was thirteen years old, his family moved to Marshall County, Mississippi.
  • In 1837, sixteen-year-old Nathan Bedford Forrest became the family’s primary breadwinner when his father died.
  • On September 25, 1845, Nathan Bedford Forrest married Mary Ann Montgomery. Their marriage of thirty-two years produced one son and a daughter who died in infancy.
  • In 1849, Nathan Bedford Forrest moved to Memphis, where he used his accumulating riches to begin buying and selling slaves.
  • By the late 1850s, Nathan Bedford Forrest was one of the wealthiest men in the South.
  • On June 14, 1861, Nathan Bedford Forrest enlisted as a private in Captain Josiah White’s Tennessee Mounted Rifles (Seventh Tennessee Cavalry).
  • In October 1861, Nathan Bedford Forrest was appointed lieutenant colonel of Forrest’s Tennessee Cavalry Battalion.
  • In early 1862, Nathan Bedford Forrest refused to surrender his command during the defense of Fort Donelson.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest was severely wounded while his command was providing rearguard protection for escaping Confederate troops following the Battle of Shiloh (April 6 – 7, 1862).
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest was promoted to brigadier general on July 21, 1862.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest’s lightning raids in the Western Theater throughout the rest of the war earned him the nickname of “the wizard of the saddle.”
  • Following General Joseph Wheeler’s surrender at the Battle of Dover (February 3, 1863), Nathan Bedford Forrest denounced his commanding officer, and vowed never to serve under him again.
  • On May 3, 1863, Nathan Bedford Forrest scored a magnificent victory over a Union cavalry force commanded by Colonel Abel Streight at the battle of Cedar Bluff.
  • On June 14, 1863, Nathan Bedford Forrest was seriously wounded and averted death at the hands of would-be assassin Lieutenant Andrew W. Gould. Gould.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest took part in General Braxton Bragg’s retreat from Tennessee during the Tullahoma Campaign (June 24 – July 3, 1863).
  • At the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19, 1863 – September 20, 1863) Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry won accolades for dismounting and fighting alongside the infantry on the Confederate right flank.
  • Following the Battle of Chickamauga, Nathan Bedford Forrest openly criticized General Braxton Bragg for refusing to pursue the retreating Federals.
  • In November 1863, Confederate President Braxton Bragg arranged to have Nathan Bedford Forrest transferred to an independent command in Mississippi.
  • On December 4, 1863 Nathan Bedford Forrest was promoted to the rank of major general.
  • On February 22, 1864, Nathan Bedford Forrest defeated a force of over 7,000 Union cavalrymen commanded by Brigadier General William Sooy Smith at the Battle of Okolona, in Northern Mississippi.
  • On March 25, 1864 Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men forced the federal garrison at Paducah, Kentucky to retreat to the safety of Yankee gunboats on the Ohio River.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest’s career was stained by accusations regarding his role in the “Fort Pillow Massacre” on April 12, 1864.
  • On June 10, 1864, Nathan Bedford Forrest achieved near perfection as a battlefield commander, defeating a Union force much larger than his own at the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads in Northern Mississippi.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest’s successful raids in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama, prompted General William T. Sherman to declare in 1864 “that devil Forrest must be hunted down and killed if it costs ten thousand lives and bankrupts the federal treasury.”
  • In late November 1864, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry joined the Army of Tennessee to support General John Bell Hood’s desperate Franklin-Nashville Campaign (September 18 – December 27, 1864).
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest took part in the Confederate losses at the Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864).
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest took part in the Confederate losses at the Battle of Nashville (December 15-16, 1864).
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General on February 28, 1865, and placed in charge of the cavalry in the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.
  • On April 2, 1865, Major General James H. Wilson’s Union force defeated Nathan Bedford Forrest’s greatly out-manned command at the Battle of Selma.
  • On May 9, 1865, Nathan Bedford Forrest addressed his command at Gainesville, Alabama and announced that “By an agreement made between Liet.-Gen. Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama. Mississippi, and East Louisiana, and Major-Gen. Canby, commanding United States forces, the troops of this department have been surrendered.”
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest’s men were among the last to surrender at the end of the Civil War.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest joined the Ku Klux Klan around 1866 and was elected as Grand Wizard a year later. By 1869, however, he reportedly became disenchanted by the group’s increasingly violent nature and renounced his membership.
  • Financially ruined by the Panic of 1873, Nathan Bedford Forrest spent the last years of his life running a prison work farm on President’s Island near Memphis.
  • Suffering from diabetes, Forrest died at his brother’s home in Memphis on October 29, 1877, at the age of fifty-six.
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest’s body was originally interred at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.
  • In 1905 Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife were re-interred in downtown Memphis, in a park that had until 2013 been named in Forrest’s honor.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Nathan Bedford Forrest — Facts and APUSH Notes
  • Date July 13, 1821–October 29, 1877
  • Author
  • Keywords Nathan Bedford Forrest
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 18, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update February 21, 2024

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