The Battles and Campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, 1861-1865. Brig. Gen. (ret.) John Scales.

Reviewed by David Lady, Tennessee Valley Civil War Roundtable

We are a most favored Round Table, to have as one of our members a soldier-scholar such as John Scales. In this, his third book, he presents a thorough but concise review of each of Nathan B. Forrest’s battles and campaigns, as well as a careful evaluation of Forrest’s contributions for good or ill to the outcome of the American Civil War

John’s straight narrative format guides us from Forrest’s first documented activities, as a Lieutenant Colonel leading a battalion of cavalry in 1861, though his surrender as a Lieutenant General in 1865. Drawing from his military experience as a general officer, John provides valuable evaluations of General Forrest’s maturing as a leader, tactician, and strategist. These evaluations are based on the careful comparison of original reports, letters, memoirs, as well as other evidence provided by Forrest, his soldiers and fellow commanders, and his foes. These evaluations are also based on years of careful research into the routes traveled by Forrest and his soldiers to every skirmish site and battlefield on which they fought.

The actual “trails” identified this book are John’s unique gifts to civil war historians and enthusiasts; he provides excellent maps but also detailed driving instructions and GPS positions, allowing readers to closely follow the trails taken by Forrest and his soldiers on literally every one of their campaigns during the war. Aided by the magnificent topographical maps of Hal Jespersen, John clearly illustrates and describes every one of Forrest’s battles during the war.

The assessment of Forrest’s strengths and shortcomings that concludes the book is very balanced and well-considered. This man was a magnificent tactical leader, a strategist and first-rate interpreter of military intelligence. Yet even as an experienced senior cavalry commander, his temper and penchant for front-line leadership made him less effective than he might have been, and gave his superiors good reasons for not entrusting him with the highest responsibilities.

This is not a book for someone searching for an N. B. Forrest biography. This is not the book for someone uninterested in criticism as well as praise for Forrest’s military actions. This is the best history and tour guide of Forrest’s military operations yet written. Get a copy and follow the trails!