Sunday, June 23, 2013

Forrest working with others

My Forrest library thus far consists of

That Devil Forest by John Allen Wyeth
First with the Most by Robert Selph Henry
Bedford Forrest and his Critter Company by Andrew Nelson Lytle
Nathan Bedford Forest by Jack Hurst
Men of Fire by Jack Hurst

I confess that once I've read a good biography from cover to cover I have difficulty picking up another biography on the same person and doing the same thing -- at least not right away. However I have sought out the controversial sections and have a fair feeling for them. With that introduction I want to say a few things without providing references; although I'm prepared to look for them and hopefully find them if challenged.

I have read and heard (not in the above books) that Forrest didn't work well with others, wouldn't do as ordered and insisted on doing his own thing -- and variations on those themes. I didn't find any of those things to be true. In his early days there are many references to his doing the "traditional" things, but there are also references to his providing warnings of approaching troops and being ignored. Bragg ignored him on occasion as did Hardee -- "go back to bed. You worry too much" -- words to that effect.

Forrest was "not to the manner born" but he was eminently pragmatic and being such he was very adaptable. That he couldn't have managed high command or high office because of a fixed personality is not supported by anything I've encountered. He did not suffer fools gladly, even fools in positions over him, but compare Forrest to Joseph Johnston. The latter's poor relationships with Davis and his secretaries of war Benjamin and Davis was extremely damaging to the Confederate cause.

To put this another way, most would probably agree that Forrest was very innovative. He would try one thing and if that didn't work he'd try another. He could size up a military situation and in an instant figure out the best approach to it. He was better than almost anyone (not Lee) I've read at figuring out what his opponent was going to do (better than either Sherman or Sheridan, for example). So take this malleable, pragmatic person, Forest, and put him in some new situation, say overall command and then tell me why he wouldn't be able to adapt to that as well? If you say he is "too fixed" in some area, then how do you explain his battlefield pragmatism. If you say he is too uneducated or not intelligent enough, then how do you explain his regularly outsmarting West-Point graduates?

Jefferson Davis when considering what he would have done differently if he had it all to do over again said that he would have used Forrest more.

After having read so much about Sheridan recently, I can't help comparing the two. Sheridan came up through the West Point ranks, distinguishing himself in battle but also played politics in order to advance in rank. Once he had proven himself then he was as arrogant in battle as Forrest. There was no longer any need for him to do the diplomatic things he did when of lesser rank -- although he didn't give that up entirely, only during battle.

Forrest on the other hand was from the beginning a warrior leading other warriors. He won and kept winning. We read about Grant's victory at Fort Donelson, but Forrest was there and Grant didn't defeat him. I encountered consideration about whether Forrest should have been reprimanded for not surrendering as the commander of Fort Donelson had commanded. Davis apparently thought about it.

If Forrest and Sheridan had equal numbers, and equal everything else, I would have difficulty picking someone to bet on, but I might pick Forrest because he was much better at guessing what his opponent was going to do. For Sheridan it didn't matter because once the battle had started no one (at least no one he ever encountered) could stand against him, but Forrest was (or seemed to be) just as good as he was once the battle started. I wonder if either of them would have survived such an encounter.

No comments: