About Mary Ann Forrest
Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest
Mary Ann Montgomery was born October 2, 1826, daughter of Elizabeth Cowan Montgomery and William Montgomery, a Presbyterian minister. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his twin sister Frances or Fanny were born on July 13, 1821 – the second and third oldest of twelve children born to William and Miriam (Beck) Forrest – in Bedford County, Tennessee. William supported his family as a blacksmith who had been part of the westward expansion across Tennessee, moving from one village to another as opportunity presented itself.
In 1834, Nathan's father packed the family up and moved to a small farm in northern Mississippi. Just three years later, William died, leaving Nathan to care for his mother and several siblings. During this time, Nathan had barely survived a typhoid epidemic that ravaged the region and took the lives of three of his siblings, including his twin sister. Forrest recovered and began thinking about his future.
Although he had no education or training, he provided well for the family, first as a laborer. He taught himself to write and speak clearly and learned mathematics, but he never learned to spell (as witnessed by the uncouth phraseology and spelling of his war dispatches).
With only the Mississippi hill farm, Forrest began making changes in the family's business affairs, and helped his mother scratch out a comfortable living for the family. Nathan always maintained close ties to his family and watched over them as best he could.
The frontier hardships drove Nathan to work hard and to become a successful businessman. He got involved in trading cattle and horses, and a slave trader, which was not an unusual profession at the time. It has been said that he never split a family and did not knowingly sell slaves to cruel masters. He had a few successes in the slave trade and investments in business and real estate, and slowly accumulated the capital to buy Mississippi and Arkansas plantations.
Although there are a number of differing accounts of the events that took place in the summer of 1845, Forrest did meet his future wife in a notable and romantic way. On an August Sunday, he met the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Mary Ann Montgomery, and her mother while they were on their way to church. The Montgomery's buggy had broken down while crossing a stream, and some local young men were on the river bank laughing and teasing Mary Ann and her mother. Forrest rode up on his horse, and immediately waded across the stream and carried Mary Ann her mother to safety.
After properly introducing himself, Forrest asked permission to call on Mary Ann. Impressed with his gallantry Mrs. Montgomery agreed. He and Mary Ann were married six weeks later, on September 25, 1845. And so began the lifelong love affair that would become part of the legend of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
On April 25, 1845, Nathan Bedford Forrest married Mary Ann Montgomery in DeSoto County, Mississippi. They had two children; a son, William Montgomery Bedford, born in 1846, and in 1848 a daughter, Frances, who died when she was five years old.
Forrest moved to Memphis in 1849, where he became active in city affairs. He developed his natural ability as a leader and held many civic posts throughout his young life. He worked as a law enforcement officer, magistrate, and was elected alderman for the City of Memphis.
He was in turn a horse and cattle trader in Mississippi, and a slave dealer and horse trader in Memphis, until 1859, when he began planting cotton in northwestern Mississippi. By 1861, he had become one of the wealthiest men in the South.
The Civil War
In June 1861, Forrest enlisted as a private in Captain Josiah White's Tennessee Mounted Rifles, along with his youngest brother and fifteen-year-old son. On July 10, 1861, Tennessee Governor Isham Harris, who knew Forrest by his reputation as a businessman in Memphis, and commissioned him a lieutenant colonel with the authority to recruit a battalion of mounted rangers. Forrest recruited and equipped his command, sometimes at his own expense.
By November, Forrest's Tennessee Cavalry Battalion included roughly 790 men from Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and Texas. In December 1861, in his first major combat experience at Sacramento, Kentucky, Forrest demonstrated the traits of common sense tactics and close-hand fighting that would characterize his military career.
Forrest set up winter headquarters at Hopkinsville, in southwestern Kentucky, on December 20, lodging his troopers in floored tents as they contended with the cold and an outbreak of measles. The lieutenant colonel shared his winter quarters with his wife Mary and their son Willie.
As a cavalry leader, Forrest displayed spectacular talent. His men were devoted to him, admiring his stature, commanding air, courtesy, even his ferociousness. He seemed to be a natural military genius with an intuitive grasp not only of tactics, but also of logistics. He is noted mainly as a highly successful raider behind Union lines, but also distinguished himself in several traditional type battles.
In February 1862, Forrest took part in the defense of Fort Donelson, and refused to surrender with the rest of the Confederate forces. He simply led his 700 men out before the surrender, establishing a reputation for boldness, and was promptly made a colonel and regimental commander.
In April 1862, Forrest fought with distinction at the Battle of Shiloh where he was severely wounded during the Confederate retreat. In June 1862, he assumed command of a cavalry brigade. The next month, he captured the Union garrison with its stores at Murfreesboro, and on July 21, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general, and began a long and illustrious association with the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
That Devil Forrest
A succession of commanders realized Forrest's talent as a raider and used him to wreak havoc behind Union lines. Forrest believed in surprise, audacity, and nerve, and trained his men to become splendid scouts and raiders. At the head of a mounted brigade, he took a brilliant part in General Braxton Bragg's autumn 1862 campaign.
In the winter of 1862-63, he was continually active in raiding the enemy's lines of communication, and succeeded in severing Grant's communications in western Tennessee in December 1862. He destroyed Union supplies and disabled miles of track and trestle work, and eluded pursuit until forced into a pitched battle at Parker's Crossroads on December 31, 1862. With the battle almost won, a second Union force appeared, and Forrest was fortunate to save most of his force. Several of Forrest's battles were minor classics of cavalry tactics.
On February 3, 1863, Forrest's command suffered a defeat at Dover, Tennessee, while under the command of Major General Joseph Wheeler. Then, following redeeming victories at Thompson's Station and Brentwood that spring, Forrest stopped a Union raid led by Colonel Abel Streight through northern Alabama in April and May 1863. In his final confrontation with Streight, the Confederate cavalryman manipulated his forces magnificently, convincing the Federals to surrender their numerically superior forces by artificially inflating his own command.
Not always affable, Forrest had troubles with some superiors, particularly General Braxton Bragg. In the wake of the Confederate victory at Chickamauga in September 1863, Forrest urged Bragg to pursue the defeated Federals, but he did not. Resentful of Bragg's ineptitude and poor treatment of him during the Chickamauga Campaign, the fiery cavalryman bitterly denounced his superior officer. Forrest took his grievance to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Davis transferred Forrest to an independent command in Mississippi. For the third time in his military career, Forrest created a new command of recruits and conscripts around a nucleus of battle-tested veterans. By this time, his fame as a cavalry leader had become legendary, and his exploits continued until the end of the war. He was promoted to major general on December 4, 1863. In the winter of 1863-64, Forrest was as active as ever.