In Shelby Foote's, "The Civil War", he describes how Nathan Bedford Forrest was injured during the organized rebel retreat from Shiloh on day 2. According to Foote, Forrest and his troopers encountered some Union infantry. Forrest called for a charge, but ended up largely alone among the Union troops. He ended up being shot in the gut (or the side) at point blank range as some called for him to be knocked off his horse. Forrest grabbed a union soldier, pulled the bluecoat onto Forrest's horse (for cover) and galloped off. Foote also seemed to indicate that Sherman was there? Or, was Sherman just proximate to the incident because he was commanding troops as part of the Union attack?

In the podcast "History Unplugged: History of the Civil War in 10 Battles, Part 4; The Battle of Shiloh" they tell the story and Forrest just pulling a bluecoat onto his horse for cover and ignore the injury all together.

This article on History.com suggests Forrest was injured leading a cavalry charge and then kept fighting.

Has anyone uncovered/organized some some info specifically about this incident? It's pretty fantastical (especially crazy if Sherman was there) and I'd like to know what happened.

2 Answers 2


As far as I can see, Forrest never spoke or wrote about the incident with the Union soldier publicly while he was alive. However, the story of how he was seriously wounded at Shiloh appeared in several books printed soon after the war, including at least one where Forrest seems to have collaborated closely with the authors.

The story about Forrest using a Union soldier as a human shield seems to have first appeared in the 1902 biography written by Captain James Harvey Mathes with the slightly unimaginative title, 'General Forrest'. Mathes, in turn, claimed to have heard the story from Forrest's son, Willie, who had also been present at the battle.

The story about using a Union soldier as a human shield certainly doesn't appear in The Campaigns of Lieut.-Gen. N. B. Forrest, by General Thomas Jordan and J.P. Pryor. This was written in close collaboration with Nathan Forrest himself, and was published shortly after the war, in 1868. (The account of the incident appears on pp147-148).

This account does, however, record the injury that Forrest received at Shiloh, which - it was thought at the time - might have proved fatal. Clearly, in the event, it obviously wasn't.

The story is certainly repeated in many biographies and accounts of the battle published after Mathes work was published. To be honest, the story is probably just too good for any historian writing for the public to ignore!

We can also be sure that Sherman was present during the incident. We have this from a dispatch included in Sherman's memoirs:

The enemy's cavalry could be seen in this camp; after reconnoisance, I ordered the two advance companies of the Ohio Seventy-seventh, Colonel Hildebrand, to deploy forward as skirmishers, and the regiment itself forward into line, with an interval of one hundred yards. In this order we advanced cautiously until the skirmishers were engaged. Taking it for granted this disposition would clear the camp, I held Colonel Dickey's Fourth Illinois Cavalry ready for the charge. The enemy's cavalry came down boldly at a charge, led by General Forrest in person, breaking through our line of skirmishers; when the regiment of infantry, without cause, broke, threw away their muskets, and fled.

  • Fascinating! So, all we "know for sure" - i.e. confirmed by someone other than Forrest - are two things: 1) Forrest was seriously wounded at Shiloh, and 2) Forrest lead a charge at Union skirmisher on day 2 of Shiloh that Sherman witnessed. The way Foote tells it, it sounds like Sherman was right there amongst the skirmisher and was yelling "Kill the Goddam rebel! Knock him off his horse!". That idea sort of blows my mind; two of the toughest SOB's in the war sort of facing off is very enticing. Is there any modern scholarship on the various Forrest legends? Feb 26, 2019 at 1:14
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    @dwstein Foote was an extraordinarily good storyteller with the ability to make history come alive for people who "don't usually read history". Battles fought at the time of the American Civil War were fought at much closer quarters than most people now realise. Sherman was certainly close enough to recognise Forrest, so Foote's account is probably not that much of an exaggeration. As for modern scholarship, The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest by Paul Ashdown and Edward Caudill is a good place to start. Feb 26, 2019 at 1:28

This site (the American Battlefield Trust) has a quote from Sherman talking about the incident.


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