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This book was written over 70 years ago and it creaks in many ways, but anything reasonably done on Bedford Forrest still makes for lively reading, and this is no exception. There just arent that many commanding generals who personally lead from the front, charging headfirst into hand to hand combat, often ahead of his own troops, surrounded time after time and personally cutting his way out and through the Yankee forces. and, of course it wasnt just a matter of his courage or skill with pistol and sword, he was clearly the true self-taught military genius of the war. This is a peculiar sort of historical work, with nary a footnote to bless yourself with, so one must take a lot of what the author says on faith, or not. Its a very preachy work in the first half, as Forrest represents the ideal yeoman farmer for the author and he goes to considerable length early on to promote this thought while denigrating the wealthy cotton plantation owners who solely pursue financial profit from the land. For those of you who are William Faulkner fans, you may find this fascinating, but the rest of humanity in the 21st century will likely find this portion dreadfully dull. And, to counterbalance Bedford Forrest as the ultimate ideal of the Southern farmer, the author feels compelled to present the devil himself for Forrest to wrestle with over and over again in the war, not Sherman or Grant, but Braxton Bragg. The author is so obsessed with the archdemon Bragg that for a considerable amount of the first half of the book it deals so much with Bragg that Forrest himself tends to disappear and we learn next to nothing about his pre-war life, aside from a few stories of his youth, when he kilt a bar when he was only three. Jefferson Davis and John Bell Hood also come in for a number of deserved lumps, but no one else gets the Bragg treatment. The book really gathers steam though when the author decides to concentrate on Forrest and his depictions of the various campaigns and battles are stirringly told. Some of the campaigns will be difficult for anyone unfamiliar with the geography to follow though as almost no maps appear anywhere in the book. But, the battles are the thing here and no other figure of the Civil War comes close to Bedford Forrest in raising and arming his own troops, often behind enemy lines, overcoming long odds against a wide variety of foes in highly original fashion, while constantly exposing himself to every conceivable danger from the very beginning of the war to its very end. Frequently wounded in personal combat and once by one of his own officers, with numerous horses shot out from under him, often more than one of the same day, the main wonder of his story is that he actually survived the war. Its also clear that he received a lot more respect and recognition from his foes than he did his own commanders. It should be noted though that this book is more than simply non- PC. It was written more that 70 years ago, by a man who was very much a product of his time and place. The N word repeatedly appears throughout, but its not simply that. He likes to add comic and unnecessary asides from time to time to provide a little color to his prose. Its clear he bears no respect whatever for the black Union troops who served in the war, and can never bring himself to actually refer to them as soldiers. Usually, when they are referenced, its along the lines of some battle had 3,000 Union forces and 500 negroes, as if they were some sort of mob. The final chapter of the book deals largely with Forrests role as the first Imperial Wizard of the KKK, an organization the author openly regards as heroic and praiseworthy in its efforts. The interesting thing for me was to read the forward, published by the author himself some 50 years later without apology or even acknowledgement of these things. Its clear enough that as brave and heroic and relentless as Forrest was during the war, he remains a figure of considerable controversy to this day even within his home state of Mississippi, given the very recent flap over the proposed state license tag bearing his name and image.
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