Friday, July 20, 2012

That Devil Forrest

What follows is presumably one of Forrest's "failures in the saddle" (from pages 62 & 63 of Failure in the Saddle by David A. Powell):

"Determined to try and figure out what the enemy was up to [this event occurred August 11th] Forrest set out that night on a hazardous personal reconnaissance. He was personally brave to a fault and possessed a flair for the dramatic, but the undertaking demonstrated that he was still thinking and operating like a captain rather than a corps commander. Leading his personal escort company, Forrest reached the picket line of the 5th Tennessee Cavalry. Despite the best efforts of the 5th Tennessee's Lieutenant Allen, who had orders to let no one pass, Forrest brushed the officer aside and he and his men spurred their mounts north into Tunnel Hill, which was currently hosting Wilder's brigade. The reconnaissance triggered a brisk but short skirmish that left the corps leader and two from his escort wounded. One of Forrest's staff officers, Lt. Mattew Cortner, was captured by the 98th Illinois Mounted Infantry. The episode rankled Lieutenant Allen, who confessed, 'I formed an unfavorable opinion of him [Forrest] because he rode rough shod over me while on duty.'

"Fortunately for the Confederate cause, Forrest's wound was minor and did not render him unfit for duty. The only detailed description of the injury -- which was described as 'painful, but not dangerous' -- claims that the bullet struck him near the spine within one inch of a similar wound received at Shiloh. The wound seems not to have slowed down the vigorous cavalryman, as his movements over the next few days demonstrate. The reconnaissance, however, revealed nothing of importance and risked the life of one of Bragg's best officers. The effort was a risk no corps leader should ever have undertaken."

This "failure" considered: My first thought was that Powell is being anachronistic in order to consider this a failure on Forrest's part. I agree with Powell from our modern standpoint, that is, the South used up its officers at a rapid and self-defeating rate. However in 1863 the Confederate leadership and indeed the Confederate officers and troops believed that an officer who wasn't willing to get out there and lead wasn't worth his salt. Officers who stayed behind while their troops fought were viewed with contempt. There may be a climate today of "don't take chances" with your leadership, but no such climate existed in 1863 IMO).

My second thought was to wonder what Forrest was interested in finding out on September 11th. Powell says that since Forrest found out nothing of importance that he shouldn't have gone out.

When I refer to Robert Selph Henry's biography of Forrest, he tells us that Forrest wasn't interested in reconnaissance at all. The following is from pages 178 & 179 of Henry's book describing the events of September 10th and 11th: "So assured was Forrest that his message would bring infantry bent on Crittenden's desctruction, that he went ahead that night [the 10th] with all advance preparations for an attack early the next morning . . ."

"Getting no word of such an attack, at midnight he rode to headquarters . . . The reasons for the failure to deliver the attack became matters of controversy between the General and his lieutenants -- such controversy as seemed to be an inevitable aftermath of General Bragg's major operations -- but whatever the reasons, the attack was not made on the tenth, nor, indeed, was it to be made on the eleventh, despite the General's personal presence on the ground.

"Forrest, not being able to get the infantry force needed for an attack on Crittenden's seperate troops on the eleventh, went back before daylight and with such of his own force as was available undertook to hamper and delay the Union advance down the railroad in the direction of Ringgold and Dalton.

"The indefatigable Wilder, commanding Crittenden's mounted advance, struck Colonel Scott's brigade of Forrest's command at daylight of the eleventh, two miles north of Ringgold. After a sharp skirmish Scott fell back to the little town where, with Forrest himself on the field and in command, the Confederates made a stubborn stand of two hours. A division of Union infantry coming up on the Confederate left, Forrest fell back, fighting, along the railroad, to make another and final stand dismounted and fighting as infantry, at Tunnel Hill, where the welcome reinforcements of Dibrill's brigade came up.

"In the fight at Tunnel Hill, in which the Union advance down the railroad was brought to a halt, Forrest received another wound. It was not serious enough to cause him to leave the field or give up his command, or even to be mentioned in the Confederate official reports. By army grapevine, however, news of the wound did get across to the Union side, where it received official, and slightly exultant, mention. The effect of the wound upon Forrest himself, so far as it is recorded, was faintness from pain and loss of blood . . . ."

Someone, either Powell or Henry has the events of September 10th and 11th, 1863 seriously wrong.

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