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Nathan Bedford Forrest, Military Career (American National Biography)


Rodney P. Carlisle, "Forrest, Nathan Bedford," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

Forrest's military victories were remarkable for several reasons. First of all, he was not a literate man, and his writing reflected the fact that he never mastered spelling or standard grammar. As a consequence, some of his reports and communiqués that survive have a distinctly illiterate flavor when published without editing or correction. However, he was reputed to be excellent in mathematics, and his personal business ventures demonstrated the truth of that observation. Furthermore, he had no military training whatsoever. Thus, his tactics were entirely based on his own thoughts about his own forces and the disposition of the enemy. He moved rapidly, perfecting the techniques of the surprise raid, the flanking and rear attack, and escape through unexpected routes. Military observers at the time and later concluded that Forrest was a natural military genius. He had few precepts but was quoted as saying that his rule of war was to "get there first with the most men," a motto that was often attached to his name. A tall and commanding figure, usually astride a horse, he was revered by his men. Forrest was wounded several times. By the careful count of one admiring biographer, he had twenty-nine horses shot while he was riding them and was personally responsible in hand to hand combat for the death or serious injury of thirty Union officers and men.
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