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Publisher's Summary

He was a fierce and controversial Civil War officer, an unschooled but brilliant cavalryman, an epic figure in America's most celebrated war. A superb tactician and ferocious fighter, Nathan Bedford Forrest revolutionized the way armies fought in the course of rising from private to lieutenant general in the Confederate Army.

In this detailed and fascinating account of the legend of the "Wizard of the Saddle," we see a man whose strengths and flaws were both of towering proportions, a man possessed of physical valor perhaps unprecedented among his countrymen. And, ironically, Forrest - the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan - was a man whose social attitudes may well have changed farther in the direction of racial enlightenment over the span of his lifetime than those of most American historical figures.

©1993 Jack Hurst (P)1995 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Hurst presents a balanced, well-documented study of Nathan Bedford Forrest, whom many consider to be the most brilliant general of the Civil War....[A]n outstanding study of one of the Civil War's more controversial generals. Essential." ( Library Journal)
"Hurst's is the best all-around recent life of Forrest...." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"The irrefutable military record of an acknowledged tactical genius...the most complete and complex portrait yet of the Civil War Jekyll and Hyde." ( Chicago Tribune)

What listeners say about Nathan Bedford Forrest

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Dry but Thorough

If you could sum up Nathan Bedford Forrest in three words, what would they be?

Nathan Bedford Forrest was fearless, passionate and a leader. Although Bedford has had a controversial life I admire his generalship during the Civil War.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The complex Forrest

I came into this book loathing NB Forrest based on my knowledge of his Klan activity and his reputation for the massacre at Ft. Pillow. After reading Hurst's excellent book, I don't want to see statues of Forrest, but I did grow in appreciation for his toughness, his rejection of the supposed superiority of the planter elite, and his skill as a General. Hurst does an excellent job of not only looking at Forrest's military career, but also fleshing out his frontier upbringing and career as a slave trader in Memphis during the antebellum period. He also shows the complexity of Forrest as he joined the Klan after the war to keep blacks in check as well as bludgeoning the Republican Party. Yet he eventually rejected the violence of the Klan and promoted a measure of equality, including the vote, for African Americans. Hurst shows that Forrest was a man of his times, one who imbibed the racism and violence inherent in the frontier South. He was also a cut above as a war tactician and fighter, killing 30 men in personal combat. While not excusing the massacre at Fort Pillow, Hurst deftly puts it in the context of a racially charged war and how it fit in other periods of American warfare. I had no idea about Forrest's religious conversion in the last year of his life or how he mellowed and urged an amazing level of racial reconciliation. This book is why one should read good history. Hurst deftly shows the good, bad, and the very ugly sides of Forrest, but this reader came away with a greater understanding of Forrest, while certainly not forgetting his many sins. I heartily recommend this book.

12 people found this helpful

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I now know what Sherman meant

Having finished Sherman's memoirs, I went next to Hurst's biography of Forrest in order to gain an understanding of the admiration, trepidation, and mystery with which Sherman viewed the cavalry general. The book showed through the tenacity, improvisation of tactics, and cleverness that earned the highest praise of Sherman.
The story of involvement and even leadership of the Klan gave a context that did add some understanding of the forces at play early in reconstruction. That Forrest decried the terrorism that the organization utilized is not a subject upon which I can comment.
From this account, Forrest went a long way toward putting the war and his pre-war activities behind him. His post-war life begs additional study.

12 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

An Excellent book

I think that this is one of the most unbiased biographies I have ever listened to. A little tedius in places but very well done overall.

10 people found this helpful

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Most Comprehensive Biography of Forrest

Most biographies of Forrest concentrate on his years as a general for the Confederate States of America. But, this one gives ample time to his antebellum and postbellum years. The writer had a certain affection for his subject but faithfully records the opinions of many people hostile to Forrest and his controversial doings.

Whether one loves Forrest or hates him, this biography will surely give one a better appreciation of the man and his times.

4 people found this helpful

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Best Forrest book I've read!

This is the best, most detailed recording of the militaries greated general. Unbelievable military genious. Reading this books almost allows you to ride along with Forrest as he wages war for his country. Love it.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating man

You don't have to like anything about the slave owning south or support anything Nathan Forrest stood for to like this book. General Forrest was a fascinating man, most particularly in his military service which was my favorite part. As fearless and unkillable as a comic book super hero, a truly remarkable man.

9 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Best of Many Biographies on NBForrest

I have read lots of books on/about Gen. Forrest since junior high school.... at least 2 dozen. They range from retelling myth of a near-perfect warrior to trying to destroy both the man and the myth. Jack Hurst, I believe, to have painted the picture of the real man, warts and all, who had unequaled success on the battlefield, and who in later life spoke loudly and boldly for the black man's rights. It is a remarkable story, all the more so once the real person is portrayed.

7 people found this helpful

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The Rest of the Story

This detailed, nuanced biography includes what Paul Harvey would call "the rest of the story":
Three years before his death, Nathan Bedford Forrest experienced a religious conversion, after which he became an advocate of racial reconciliation.

6 people found this helpful

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A surprisingly effective general

History is messy. History is complex. History needs context. Nathan Bedford Forrest, was a Confederate calvary general who many historians believe was one of the most effective military leaders in the war. Forrest was so aggressive that he had 29 horses shot out from under him, was shot four times himself and reportedly killed 30 men in hand to hand combat. This is Knights of the Round Table stuff. Yet, General Forrest’s statue has been pulled down. He’s been cancelled.

As a sometime Civil War Buff I, surprising to myself, had never read anything about General Forrest. Here is my report:

He was a nineteenth century man, a Southerner, a slave owner and slave trader before the war. Post war he was Grand Wizard of the KKK for a year when it first started. He earned infamy in the North for his involvement in the massacre of black soldiers at Ft. Pillow.This is not a resume that will endear one to history’s current filter. Interestingly, in the slave owning South slave traders were not held in high esteem. It was not the occupation of the gentleman and, hypocritically, this worked against General Forrest in his military career. The high ranks of the Confederacy were filled with aristocrats who, although they might have done business with him, looked down on the former slave merchant. Had they taken him more seriously as a soldier he might have more significantly affected the outcome of the war. As it is, his military record is nearly unmatched having led too many charges to count and captured by his own count more than 30,000 prisoners. As a military strategist Forrest most always attacked. He was also famous for his ruses where he would parade soldiers in view of the Union forces, loop them around and parade them by again creating the impression that he had many more men than he actually had. As a result, he was able in many cases to demand surrender of a fort or stronghold, avoiding loss of life and resulting in the thousands of prisoners he claims to have captured.
As a young man he was combative and entrepreneurial. His energies were directed at making money and the slave trade became his best option. When the war started he was a very wealthy man. After the war, although he initiated many ventures including attempting to build a short line railroad, he ended up running a private prison and never regained his prewar position. That said, because of his reputation in the South he was highly respected and sought after as a speaker at reunions. As a KKK leader he quickly realized that those activities were counter productive to his business goals. He needed to raise money in the North and presenting himself as a Grand Wizard would not get the job done so he eased out of his KKK role. In fact, Tennessee, his state, was reconstituted early during Reconstruction and the state leaders all realized that the KKK was not that necessary. There is an interesting chapter in the book where Forrest testifies for four hours to the Congressional Committee investigating the KKK. He was not completely forthcoming in his testimony. At the end of his life he was reconciled to changes that needed to be made and was conciliatory toward the former slave population. As with most people old age gives one a different perspective.
In today’s highly polarized environment we don’t look at the entire arc of a life. He was a slave trader/owner. That is apparently all you need to know about N.D. Forrest. I was fascinated by the fact that a man with no military background or training in the art of war, who enlisted as a private soldier discovered the skill set that allowed him to rise to the highest ranks. He had an impact on military tactics that is still studied in war colleges today.

1 person found this helpful