Saturday, May 26, 2007

Forrest’s 1864 Raids.

Dates: 16 March to 5 November, 1864


Union: Major Generals Samuel Sturgis and Andrew Smith, each commanding Union formations sent to find Forrest.

Confederate: Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, command an independent force of cavalry.

Prelude: Things in the Deep South were not settled as far as the Federals were concerned. Despite Union successes in the area, the Confederacy was not ready to give up just yet. There was not a major army in the immediate area; the Army of Tennessee was in Georgia, and soon be facing Major General William Sherman’s thrust into the state. The next closest army was in Arkansas and would not be of any help. The only creditable Confederate force was Forrest’s independent cavalry command, and he was about to make his presence known.

16 March, 1864: Forrest and his troopers depart Okolona, MS and began his raids.

Forrest rides north into Tennessee, cutting straight through until almost reaching the Kentucky line.

24 March, 1864: Forrest launched a surprise attack on the Union garrison at Union City, capturing the force of 500 troops and seizing 300 horses for his trooper’s use.

With those fresh horses, Forrest then punches into Kentucky.

25 March, 1864: A quick ride brings Forrest to Paducah, KY, on the Ohio River. First, he demands the surrender of nearby Fort Anderson, next, when that demand was refused, he orders the fort assaulted. After two unsuccessful tries, Forrest decides to head back to Tennessee.

With Confederate troops at the Ohio River, a general sense of panic erupted amongst the locals. Federal cavalry unite are assembled and ordered to meet the threat that Forrest represents.

30 March, 1864: One such Federal cavalry unit meets Forrest at Bolivar, TN. They quickly retreat to Memphis.

As April began, Forrest conducted raids on Union communication and supply lines and evading Federal patrols. Soon he would take the offensive once more on Federal garrisons.

12 April, 1864: Battle of Fort Pillow: Fort Pillow, on the Mississippi River, had been a Union garrison since 1862. At this point in the war, the garrison consisted of 557 Federal troops, made up of Tennessee Unionists and locally recruited former African-American slaves. Forrest went with his usual method of operation and demanded the surrender of the garrison. When that was refused, he ordered the fort assaulted. When he learned about the composition of the garrison, it must have angered Forrest greatly. The very thought of “slaves” opposing him must have been appalling. His attitude was due to the fact that one of his pre-war occupations was a slave dealer. In any case Forrest ordered a massed assault, which quickly overwhelms the fort. Afterwards, according to some accounts, many of the African-Americans were killed after surrendering. Total Union losses were 231 dead, 100 wounded, and 226 captured. Forrest loses 14dead and 86 wounded.

What was called the “Massacre at Fort Pillow” made great press in the North as well as resulting in a Congressional hearing on the battle. The charges of atrocities committed were denied by Forrest, who claimed that some Union troops kept fighting after their commander surrendered.

Forrest continued his raiding. He heads back into Kentucky.

13 April, 1864: Forrest’s troopers raid Columbus, KY.

14 April, 1864: This day sees Forrest’s forces skirmishing at Paducah, KY.

Sherman, in his new capacity as Commander of Union Armies in the West, decides that something needs to be done about Forrest. All of the supply lines that he needed for the push into Georgia would be in danger if Forrest was able to run unchecked. Sherman orders Sturgis to take a force into Mississippi in order to draw out Forrest.

1 June, 1864: Sturgis, with a force of 8100, departs Memphis and heads southeast, hoping to pursue Forrest.

Forrest was actually in Alabama preparing to raid Sherman’s supply lines. When news of the new Federal force was known, he was ordered to go back into Mississippi.

7 June, 1864: Sturgis engages a small Confederate force at Ripley, MS, driving them off. His cavalry, under Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson, pushes on to a junction known as Brice’s Crossroads.

10 June, 1864: Battle of Brice’s Crossroads: Forrest, trying to intercept Sturgis, does intercept Grierson’s cavalry at the crossroads. Forrest orders his troopers into the attack. The first assault was repulsed by Federals using revolving rifles. A second assault pushes the Union troops back to the crossroads itself. Five miles away, Sturgis’ main force was alerted to the fighting and began double timing to the sound of the guns. Despite the hot weather and muddy roads from recent rains, the infantry reach the crossroads. The form a line to meet Forrest’s attack, but the Union cavalry did not rally. Forrest took advantage of the exposed Federal flanks to launch several attacks over the next three hours. Finally the Federals had to withdraw, leaving Forrest in possession of the crossroads. As the Union troops fled, the Confederates pursued then until 12 June. Sturgis returns to Memphis with the remainder of his army. He lost 2235 troops to Forrest’s 492.

It was time to go back to the drawing board, Sherman decided on a larger force, this time about 14,000 and orders Smith to go after Forrest.

5 July, 1864: Smith and his forces depart La Grange, TN and head south into Mississippi.

7 July, 1864: Smith’s cavalry engages Confederates at Ripley in a small skirmish.

Forrest decided that he needed additional troops and ordered Major General Stephen D. Lee to join him at Okolona. At the same time, Smith was headed to Tupelo, north of Okolona.

13 July, 1864: As Smith approaches Tupelo, Forrest launches two attacks that are repulsed. Forrest decided to pull back and attack the next day.

14 July, 1864: Battle of Tupelo: Forrest launches attack after attack in the hopes of breaking the Federal line. Despite all of that, the Union troops hold firm and Forrest has to withdraw. Even so, he still has a formidable force in the field. Smith, on the other hand, despite the victory, has to withdraw due to the lack of supplies. Smith’s losses at Tupelo are 674 while Forrest lost 996. Forrest himself was wounded.

Smith orders his troops back to Tennessee.

Forrest stands his forces down for rest and refit. It would be a while before he would go back to the field.

18 August, 1864: At Oxford, MS, Forrest gathers his troops together and launches another raid.

They head west to the main rail line to Memphis and follow that to Hernando.

21 August, 1864: Forrest launched a pre-dawn raid into Memphis itself, almost capturing two Federal generals. The Confederates occupied part of the city briefly before responding Union troops managed to drive him off.

Once again, Forrest vanishes, leaving the Federals with egg on their faces. However, this would not be the last word from the Confederates.

29 October, 1864: Forrest goes out on another raid, this time to Fort Heiman, on the Tennessee River. He used his artillery to engage Federal steamboats, managing to capture two. He puts the vessels to good use, disrupting shipping along the river.

2 November, 1864: Forrest loses half of his “navy” when one of his vessels, the Venus, is driven ashore near Johnsonville.

4 November, 1864: The other vessel, the Undine, is burned to avoid recapture. Forrest orders his artillery dragged to riverbank opposite Johnsonville. He then proceeds to shell the town and the steamboats tied to the docks. This destroys a major Union supply center, several steamboats, and about $6,700,000 worth of material for the Union war effort. Satisfied with the destruction he had brought, Forrest then headed into Alabama, where he would join the Army of Tennessee in the ill-fated Tennessee Campaign (the one that ended with the destruction of that army at Nashville).

After that campaign, Forrest would operate in Alabama and Georgia before surrendering in 1865.

His black marks in history would be the Massacre at Fort Pillow as well as becoming one of the early leaders of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization made up of ex-Confederates aimed at suppressing the newly granted rights given to African-Americans. To his credit, Forrest did regret the KKK membership before his death in 1877.

Get there first with the most men.
----Forrest’s military philosophy.

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